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.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.

Watch: Cody Bellinger breaks NL rookie home run record

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Cody Bellinger helped the Dodgers to their first lead on Friday night, going deep for his 39th home run of the season and setting a new National League rookie home run record in the process. With two on and two out in the third inning, the Dodgers’ slugger launched a 2-1 pitch from the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, skimming the right field fence to give the team a three-run cushion:

The three-run bomb was Bellinger’s sixth of the season. In what is undoubtedly a Rookie of the Year award-worthy campaign, he’s logged 21 solo shots, 11 two-run blasts and a single grand slam. His historic home run topped former NL rookie leaders Frank Robinson and Wally Berger, at 38 homers apiece.

The Dodgers need to stay on top of the Giants to clinch the NL West or, barring that, have the Marlins pull off a win over the Diamondbacks. They currently lead the Giants 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Marlins, meanwhile, are staying just ahead of the D-backs with a 9-7 lead in the top of the sixth.