The Rangers Have More Options Than Josh Hamilton Does

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The Rangers announced decision to let free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton test the market before coming back to them is reminiscent of the Yankees telling Derek Jeter the same thing when Jeter was unhappy with the offers the Yankees presented. In a different context, the Yankees knew that Jeter had nowhere to go because he was coming off a substandard season and the consensus was that no matter what, the then-36-year-old Jeter was eventually going to wind up back with the Yankees. The same could hold true with Hamilton and the Rangers, but in a different way.

If he returns to the Rangers, it will be for far less money and fewer years that Hamilton and his agents implied they wanted. The name Prince Fielder and the number $214 million were kicked around in the media as a comparison when the negotiations were broached in the spring. Those negotiations were put on hold as Hamilton was caught drinking. The Rangers are not going to overspend to keep their talented and troubled outfielder. In fact, it’s becoming clear that the Rangers may not be all that bothered if another team does go overboard to sign Hamilton and he can walk away from them before they walk away from him.

The Rangers have been good to Hamilton. They’ve done everything possible and necessary to try and keep him clean and sober while coming close to the line of enabling without crossing it. Of course much of that was in their own self-interest, but other teams wouldn’t have gone that far. They would’ve gotten rid of Hamilton as soon as he slipped up. The problem Hamilton has as a free agent isn’t limited to his off-field issues anymore. He was mediocre in the second half of the season (16 homers, .833 OPS) following a gargantuan first half (27 homers, 1.016 OPS) and he appeared disinterested as the season wound down. His error in the last game of the regular season against the Athletics is viewed as a culmination, but his mind looked to be elsewhere for quite some time prior to that.

He’s not getting $200 million and he’s not getting an 8-10 year contract. I seriously doubt that he’s even going to get a 5-year contract. It’s also a question now as to how the Rangers want to approach the possible end of their run of dominance in the American League. There’s a chance that they make the preemptive strikes and clear out some key components of their 2010-2011 World Series participants. Other clubs failed to make those hard decisions and led to their downfalls by staying the course with the players who could’ve and should’ve been replaced before they faltered. Teams have to evolve and make intelligent and gutsy alterations. That the Rangers blew a large division lead and got bounced in the Wild Card play-in game—a game they shouldn’t have had to play in in the first place—gives them a basis to let the likes of Hamilton go without much of a media/fan firestorm.

If they make significant changes such as listening to offers on Ian Kinsler to make room for Jurickson Profar, then it’s also a good bet that they’ll also move on from Hamilton and bring in one of the available center fielders on the free agent market such as B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, or via trade with Dexter Fowler or Denard Span.

Hamilton’s talents are worth a significant amount of money; his personal demons are foundation for letting him leave. What the Rangers have to decide is where the line is on how far to go to keep him and when to say it’s not worth it and let him walk.


Hamilton’s Poised For A Run At The Home Run Record, But Which One?

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Josh Hamilton‘s home run binge is making a run at the major league record a legitimate possibility.

The question is, which record? Is it 61 or 73?

Given the retrospective knowledge that Mark McGwire was using steroids as he achieved his massive power display that led to him hitting 70 home runs in 1998 and the allegations that have followed Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds as they hit 66 and 73 respectively, is Hamilton going to be after Bonds’s record? Or will he be judged as the “clean” home run king if he beats Roger Maris’s 61?

It’s ironic that someone with Hamilton’s history of substance abuse has the word “clean” next to him in a context other than recreational drugs and alcohol. There have never been any performance enhancing drug allegations levied against Hamilton. He’s a supremely talented and streaky individual who’s playing his home games in a hitter’s heaven. He’s not someone who would need PEDs to achieve those heights, validating a home run chase even more.

Hamilton hit 4 homers in one game against the Orioles last week and has 18 in the Rangers’ 36 games so far. The big obstacles in his path are staying healthy on and off the field and which record he’s chasing. By mid-summer, that’s going to heat up with the weather.

Hamilton has put up bigger power numbers at home than on the road. In his MVP season of 2010, he had a slash line of .390/.438/.750 at the Ballpark in Arlington with 22 homers in 69 games; on the road, it was .327/.382/.512 with 10 homers. The numbers at home and on the road were similar last season with a .912 OPS and 14 homers at home and .852 and 11 homers on the road.

So far in 2012, he has a 1.464 OPS with 11 homers on the road and a 1.159 OPS and 7 homers at home. Obviously he’s not going to keep that up, but he’s gotten off to this blazing start and is singing for his free agent supper. The injuries wouldn’t stop a team from paying Hamilton after the season; but his substance abuse problems could very well dissuade an interested team from paying him for his talent. There are real and understandable concerns that he’s a risk to return to alcohol and/or drugs if he’s lavished with a guaranteed contract of untold riches.

If he approaches or sets the record for home runs, there will be a team to pay him something close to the $214 million Prince Fielder got from the Tigers. Positives are easy to sell when signing a player. Negatives are seen as excuses to be cheap. Home runs are more entrenched in the public consciousness than his off-field woes and there will be one team to roll the dice.

Bonds, McGwire and Sosa all broke Maris’s record, but given what we know now, it’s not old-school whining to suggest that Maris is still the home run champion. There’s an argument for just that position. In the record books, Bonds is the home run king, but the fans do have a say in the matter.

Hamilton’s not hitting 74 home runs. But he might hit 62.

Which record will it be?

Let the debate begin.


Josh Hamilton and Accountability

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Josh Hamilton has a new “accountability partner”.

Let’s call a thing what it is and say that the “accountability partner” is a babysitter.

You can read about the new hire, Shayne Kelly, here on FS Southwest.

Accountability and the Rangers attempts to keep Hamilton straight are fine, but it works both ways. Without getting into an armchair psychoanalysis of a supremely talented athlete who’s had problems with addiction, let’s stick to fact: Hamilton can’t be trusted.

Hamilton is a free agent at the end of the 2012 season and his representatives have alluded to the Prince Fielder contract as a comparable number for what Hamilton is going to want.

Whether or not you believe that Hamilton’s two public falls off the wagon—one in 2009 and the other last week—were isolated incidents (and I don’t), Hamilton is a person who needs to have someone watch him. Does that make Hamilton a player and person to whom you’d give $200 million? $100 million? Any long term contract at all?

Even if he lived his off-field life like Dale Murphy, Hamilton’s home/road splits and frequent injuries would make him a risk to give a massive contract on the Fielder scale. As a former addict, he’s a definite “no” for such a contract.

If Hamilton is truly committed to sobriety, then he needs to have true accountability. The Rangers want to keep him, but aren’t going to give him the money he wants. Some owner might. But if Hamilton were willing to put his paycheck on the line in the interests of consequences, he could either take a shorter-term deal of 3-years, $60 million or have language inserted into the contract that if he’s caught drinking or using drugs, the Rangers have a right to void the deal immediately.

It’s fine that he has a new “accountability partner” to go along with his devotion to God, but if his demons still call to him and draw him back into his cycle of addiction, apology, religion and back again, then the Rangers—or any team—has to have the legal right to say they’re not paying him.

Checkbook accountability is a strong motivator and forgive me if I sound cynical when I say I wouldn’t give someone with Hamilton’s history a guaranteed payday of nine figures no matter what he does. He’s repeatedly proven that he can’t be trusted and an accountability partner, babysitter, Jesus or whoever aren’t going to change that.