Men predict free agent destinations, God says “hah!”

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Today Buster Olney speculates about where Josh Hamilton may wind up.  He runs through any number of teams, notes that there are either fit or payroll problems, and ultimately lands on the Tigers, noting that (a) they have a spot in left field for Hamilton: and (b) they have recently been something of a free agent wild card, going big money and multiple years on Prince Fielder, who many thought would also pose a long-term/durability risk like Hamilton does.

It’s as fair a guess as any other team, I reckon. But — and I am in no way picking on Olney here when I say this, because it’s fun to guess — handicapping free agent destinations seems like more of a sucker’s game now than it ever has been.

I’m struggling to think of the last top shelf free agent who landed where most people suspected he’d go as the season came to an end. Pujols was supposed to go to Miami, wasn’t he? Cliff Lee was supposed to land in New York.  CC Sabathia preferred to stay on the west coast.  And that all worked out … differently.

I think such predictions are going to be even harder going forward than they have been. Mostly because of the new world of TV money we’ve talked about so often over the past year. The teams we think have money and the teams we think are broke are changing pretty rapidly. The risks associated with long-term, nine-figure deals aren’t as great as they were even a few years ago.  There are probably more players for top free agents now than there ever have been.

Which is not to say that Josh Hamilton will be the subject of a bidding war.  Indeed, he does have issues and even if more teams can take risks on a guy like him, it doesn’t mean they will. If anything, teams are wiser about such things now than they ever have been.

Ultimately, though, it only takes one team to give Josh Hamilton or someone like him a big deal. And, if recent history has shown anything, guessing which team that will be beforehand is damn nigh impossible.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).