If the Texas Rangers weren’t already preparing themselves for losing MVP Josh Hamilton to free agency this winter, they might want to get used to the idea, especially if they had designs on having any available money left over.
According to John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus, Hamilton is believed to be seeking a seven-year contract this off-season that will pay him upwards of $175 million. That’s $25 million per year, which would rank Hamilton among the highest-paid in the sport in terms of average annual value.
The Rangers have taken a passive approach to Hamilton’s free agency, one that is eerily similar to how they handled C.J. Wilson last season. Of Course, when push came to shove last Winter, Wilson left for the rival Angels and Texas never even officially made an offer. Hamilton has indicated that he’ll give the Rangers an opportunity to match any offers he gets on the open market, but the feeling is that Texas won’t sign off on a long-term deal for the 31-year-old outfielder. If Hamilton can land a deal of even four-years in length, you have to expect the Rangers will refuse to match.
What that means, of course, is that the final games of Hamilton’s career in Texas have likely already been played. And the Rangers seem somehow alright with that idea.
Look, Hamilton has a sordid past; everyone knows about the suspensions, the heroin use, the addictions to drugs and alcohol that cost him the early portion of his professional career. We have also heard tales of relapses; not just the one that happened a few years ago, but also a night of drinking last Winter. That night just, rumor has it, took place while Hamilton’s agents were negotiating a possible extension with the Rangers. Shortly thereafter the two sides agreed to table discussions.
Still, even with the off-the-field baggage, the Rangers have gotten plenty for their initial investment, even as they’ve had to deal with the special treatments Hamilton needs to stay on the straight and narrow. Judging by the way the season ended for the Rangers, however, it appears Hamilton’s act has worn thin on Rangers officials. Team president Nolan Ryan has been openly critical of Hamilton on at least a couple of occasions for his approach at the plate and also for his decision to quit using smokeless tobacco in the midst of the pennant race; a process that Hamilton blamed for a protracted slump.
It didn’t help, I’m sure, that during the final weekend of the season, one that saw Oakland sweep the Rangers out of first place and into a winner-take-all one game Wild Card (that they wound up losing), Hamilton dropped a routine fly ball during a 5-5 game, then made little effort to retrieve the miscue. That play allowed two runs to score in a game the Rangers had lead 5-1 and eventually lost 12-5. Hamilton and manager Ron Washington were seen exchanging words in the dugout after the inning.
Even during his season in Cincinnati, there were rumblings that Hamilton carried a “big league attitude,” and this was before he’d really done anything in the big leagues. There have been times in Texas where Hamilton has come across as elitist and entitled with some of his actions and comments in the press. I’m not saying this is the reason the Rangers will be okay watching him leave, but you have to wonder what else it could really be.
The Rangers have a storied history when it comes to offensive performers and not a one of them has been as impressive as Hamilton at the plate. He’s coming off the second-best season of his career (it would be tough to match 2010); a season that saw him post a .930 OPS, 43 homers, and 128 RBI. If not for Miguel Cabrera winning the triple crown, Hamilton would be getting plenty of press for his second MVP award. If this guy can’t sniff a long-term contract from the team that knows him best, there has to be more going on here that would appear on the surface.
Because it’s not about performance or production. It can’t be.
There will be a team that signs Josh Hamilton to a contract this Winter, it just probably won’t be the Rangers. That team will get one of the best pure hitters in the game and a true five-tool elite player. They’ll pay handsomely for all that talent, as they should. And they’ll get all that comes with Hamilton; the personal accountability partner that lands on team payroll, the missed time due to injury – an issue many fear will only get worse as Hamilton’s drug-ravaged body ages – and they’ll get the big league attitude Hamilton reportedly carries. They get the whole circus.
From all appearances, the Rangers are just fine watching the big top pack up and leave town.