Josh Hamilton a Tiger? It’s a ‘Wild Card’ Possibility, MLB GM Tells Buster Olney

The still have plenty of business to take care of before the 2012 season wraps … but it may not be too early to start dreaming about joining and in the heart of the Tigers’ order next spring.

The 31-year-old Hamilton, who has 42 home runs and 123 RBI so far this season, is set to become a free agent this winter after making more than $13 million this season. And ESPN’s Buster Olney speculated Monday that the Tigers, despite an already-huge payroll that includes Fielder’s $214 million contract, might get into the mix.

(Olney’s column is an ESPN Insider feature, so most of it appears behind a paywall):

Detroit? “They’re always the wild card, aren’t they?” a GM said.

Yep. And Hamilton could play left field for the Tigers, given ’s presence in center field. Only Mike Illitch knows if he’d be willing to give yet another slugger huge dollars, as he did with Fielder last winter.

All it took for Fielder to get a $214 million contract was the sudden and surprising interest of Detroit. All that Pujols needed to get a $248 million deal was the sudden and surprising interest of Angels owner Arte Moreno.

That’s all it will take for Hamilton. But there would appear to be a very confined field of potential bidders.

Olney spent most of his column ruling out potential suitors for Hamilton — he scratched close to 20 teams off the list, including both Chicago teams, Seattle, Baltimore, San Francisco, Washington and Miami, for various reasons.

Detroit has to be considered a substantial long shot in the Hamilton bidding — hence the “wild card” comment — and Texas may still get him re-signed at some point. Adding Hamilton to the mix, with Justin Verlander due for a new contract in the coming years, would push the Tigers’ payroll well over $120 million for the 2013 season and might force Detroit to deal some higher-paid pieces.

Still, the thought of a Hamilton-Cabrera-Fielder punch in the order with Hamilton lining up next to Austin Jackson in the outfield is a pretty enticing one.

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