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.