How much is anybody worth? Josh Hamilton, OJ Mayo, and whiskers on kittens

Jared Wickerham

Although Mavs Moneyball is a vibrant international community, more so than many another, there are probably still plenty of people here for whom today's Josh Hamilton news had a lot of relevance.

For those of you Dallas fans who've managed to skip the news so far, Josh Hamilton, the Texas Rangers' best offensive player the last few years, though an injury prone one and a risk, in many other ways, has officially left the Rangers for their arch-nemesis, the Los Angeles Angels. This is thanks to a 5 year, 125 million dollar deal.

Though Jon Daniels, the Rangers' GM, had thought he'd have a chance to match the best offer Hamilton received, it eventuated that he did not. Although Daniels is evidently a little miffed about this, few serious observers expected he would match that deal, given the opportunity.

There were a lot of discussions, over the course of the year, over what Josh Hamilton was "worth". Though a lot of these opinions were written by serious baseball people, people who know more about baseball than I could hope to in three lifetimes, most of these belonged in the literary category of "bilge" or at least "utter nonsense".

It may be true, as some of these pundits averred, that Josh Hamilton, owing to injury concerns and his now repeated slips back into addictive behavior, was not "worth" more than a high-salary three year dollar deal. However, an exercise in determining what Josh Hamilton is objectively worth is, and was, as useful as determining what Mitt Romney's 9th action as President of the United States would be.

If you could comparison shop. If you did not like what Target was charging for a Josh Hamilton and go to a Walmart, what Hamilton was objectively worth would matter. You might find that Walmart had a special on Zack Greinkes or Prince Fielders, while you were at it.

Because you can't, Josh Hamilton is worth whatever the market would bear, which turned out to be 5 years, 125 million. Since there was a 107% certainty (don't ask me where the extra 7% comes from, I'm not a mathematician) that Hamilton would be offered at LEAST a four year deal in a league in which Prince Fielder, a 28 year old in much worse physical shape than the 31-year old Hamilton got a 9-year, 214 million dollar deal last summer, and Albert Pujols, a 32 year old who is probably 35, got a 10-year 240 million dollar deal, everybody who was writing that Hamilton "deserved" a three year deal was writing "I don't understand free agency, or vanishing commodities."

The Rangers may very well have made exactly the right move here, much more obviously than with, say, Tyson Chandler. One of the bigger problems with Hamilton, of late, has been his attitude. He is fragile because of his drug addiction, he does not have a reputation as a particularly hard worker, he's an unbelievable talent and an unbelievable story who nevertheless was doing what he could (with the complicity of Dallas media) to turn the fanbase against him. Not easy to do when you bat .285, with 43 homers and 128 rbis.

None of that changes the fact that people who wrote that Hamilton was "worth" three years was waiting yours, my, and their time.

The Mavericks will have a similar quandary this offseason. For the second year in a row, the only players they certainly have under contract are Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and some unproductive young guys. There will be a lot-a lot-of talk over the next few months as to what OJ Mayo is worth, or Darren Collison, or even a guy like Chris Kaman, an All-Star as recently as 2010.

But basketball has a different problem. Basketball has a salary cap. While what players are worth in baseball is limited only by the terrible imagination of multi-billionaires, what they're worth in basketball has to be tempered by the imagination of players yet to come. Dallas fans know this very well, and though optimism about a big score has certainly faded somewhat around here, it's also the case that with an aging Dirk Nowitzki, there may not be much else that will keep this team relevant for the foreseeable, and stave off a truly horrifying interregnum to which the current team's hiccups will seem a fond memory of bygone days.

Because of this, it is much more reasonable to try to evaluate what a player is truly worth because available money is a real, not a nebulous quantity. At the same time, it's absurdly less reasonable, because of salary structures.

If Josh Hamilton, an absurdly talented player, but one of 9 batters and 9 fielders in a game, is "worth" 25 million a year for 5 years, LeBron James, a twice or three times in a lifetime player, is worth 50 million a year or more. He is, however, making only a few million more than such stalwarts as Roy Hibbert or Brook Lopez. Part of that is because he took a little less than he could have. More of it is because a max player is a max player is a max player.

If the flaw in the Rangers' thinking was that any player as talented as Hamilton could be had reasonably, or Zack Greinke, or Cliff Lee, could be had reasonably, the flaw in the Mavericks' approach to free agency, if it is a flaw, is the fact that every player they really covet is not only going to be equally coveted by all other NBA teams, but is in fact going to be offered the exact same contract by all the available suitors except the team which they're playing for, who can offer them a better one.

You can only pay LeBron 20 million or so, should he opt out of his contract in 2014, as he's able to do. Whatever the number is, everyone who can will offer it. Even if the Mavericks want to offer one of those guys a stupid contract, or Dwight Howard or Chris Paul or whoever, they are not legally allowed to offer a stupider contract than anyone else with cap space.

So the money will not be enough on its own. And that's what the Mavericks have to weigh. It's one reason this offseason might be different, than the last two. While a 32 year old Dirk Nowitzki with a Finals MVP trophy on the shelf is a pretty big draw on top of the money, a 35 year old Dirk Nowitzki after at least one and probably another rough postseason, is less so. On the other hand, the Mavericks could decide that they've gone so far in this quest it's full speed ahead.

OJ Mayo has a player option next year at 4.2 million dollars, but it's as good as gone. That's why it was a player option. Mayo was confident in his ability to prove himself worth more than 4 million, and he has. You'll hear a lot of discussion about what Mayo is worth. On the one hand, it's becoming clearer that Mayo is a scorer capable of carrying the offense, and that for the most part he's especially good in the clutch. And he is a phenomenal shooter. While Steve Novak is feasting on the Knicks' opponents to the tune of 42% from three, he's doing it as a fourth or fifth offensive option. Mayo is shooting 53% from three as the focal point of the opposing defense.

On the other hand, Mayo is hugely turnover prone. His 9 against the Celtics was nearly matched by 6 against the Suns, 8 against the Knicks. He's averaging nearly 3 a game, a startling number for a non-primary ballhandler. Additionally, though he is both a deadeye shooter and an excellent finisher, he somehow hasn't been particularly effective working out of the pick and roll.

If you look at the scorers Mayo is competing with this year-just behind LaMarcus Aldridge for 8th in the NBA, and shooting a higher percentage than anyone in the top 10 besides LBJ and Durant-it's not unreasonable to suggest that he'll be worth 12 million a year on the open market. Is he worth that?

It would more or less remove the Mavericks from serious free agency contention next year, as Mayo, Marion and Dirk at that point would be worth 43 million, leaving only 15 million for the whole rest of the roster, unless they traded Marion (who, as an expiring deal with some skills left, would probably garner some interest). On the other hand, as I've said many times, there's not much the Mavs COULD do at this point to NOT have cap space in 2014, in which they currently have 0 dollar guaranteed.

Like I always say, the Mavericks and Rangers will both open the floodgates just as soon as an absolutely perfect free agent walks through the door, no one has any doubt about that. But in the NBA, if such a person existed, he'd be confronted with at least five identical offers, and that's the problem.

At some point the Mavs have to decide what imperfect person is worth spending money on after all, even if it's more than they want to spend.

Is Mayo that guy?

What do you think?

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