Hamilton Needs the Rangers More Than They Need Him
There are many other struggling people in baseball and in this life. Elijah Dukes was a young, talented baseball player, but too many off the field incidents and arrests led to his release and disappearance from our minds. Why does no one support him?
Lenny Dykstra is another troubled man, he’s gone through rehabs and drug abuse, but no one wants to be connected with him anymore. Dykstra is now the punch-line and is no longer the direction of people’s praise. People only love Hamilton for what he can do for us, and when that day is over there will be more Hamilton jokes than supporters.
We are human, but why do we blur the lines of person and player? Josh Hamilton, the person, has difficulty with an addiction, and everyday of sobriety is a victory. Josh Hamilton, the player, is approaching a pivotal crossroad in his baseball career, where he is on the verge of getting heavily compensated for his baseball talents. Hamilton is owed $13,750,000 this season, and his market value could be ten times that amount.
When Hamilton’s salary rises, so will the expectations of his play. This is why each issue is magnified. You would hope that in the next five year span there are no more issues that arise with Hamilton off the field. But the reality is, it has happened twice in three years. It is possible to likely that it will happen again. Also, let’s not forget Hamilton is just one failed drug test away from being banned from baseball. With that always looming, can you realistically build a team around him?
Look at it this way. You own a pizza place, you have an amazing employee. He brings in new customers, makes the best pizzas, and gets the highest tips. He’s the best pizza employee you ever had. But, it’s evident he has troubles outside of work and only shows up to work 75% of the time. Would you be interested in giving this employee a significant raise and a guaranteed job for the next five years?
The Rangers are a team that rarely shies away from risks. It was a huge risk just to acquire Hamilton four years ago for their top pitching prospect. Asking the Rangers to commit a large sum of money over several years might be asking too much. Spending $15.5 million on a Cuban ballplayer is an insignificant risk compared to giving around $100 million to a former drug addict, in his 30s, who has had several relapses.
One relapse in four years is far different than two relapses in a three year span. This second relapse weighs heavily in contract negotiations. It was already going to be difficult for the Rangers and Hamilton to find common ground on a possible contract extension. This probably shifts the Rangers even farther back, to debating whether they even want to employ Hamilton for another four to five years.
With his second relapse, Hamilton has lost all leverage in upcoming negotiations, and now it’s evident Hamilton needs the Rangers more than the Rangers need him.
The Rangers have coddled Hamilton; no other player in the majors has a hired accountability partner. The Rangers have provided this to Hamilton knowing it could disrupt the team chemistry. The Rangers have a wonderful clubhouse, by all accounts, so nothing has come up yet. Would another team even provide a personal advisor? How would other clubhouses handle it?
When Hamilton was with the Reds, he was not accepted or understood within their team atmosphere, he was an outsider in Cincinnati. His teammates ripped him and didn’t understand him, or his story. They didn’t care about him.
Hamilton is cared for in Texas. In his first press conference with the Rangers, Ian Kinsler, Hank Blalock and Michael Young all attended his introductory press conference. It moved him to tears. He had never had that support in baseball from his teammates. They were genuinely curious and concerned about him.
Would Hamilton get that support elsewhere, in another major league clubhouse? Probably not. Hamilton has a wife and four little girls that live in the metroplex. Moving to another unfamiliar and possibly unwelcoming city could be very difficult for the Hamilton family.
Prince Fielder was linked to the Rangers this off-season, and it was said that he could hit 50 HRs in the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Josh Hamilton has certainly been aided too by the short porch in RF. Beyond the ballpark dynamics, the line-up is also littered with all-star caliber hitters that help protect Hamilton and pick up his slack when he’s injured or in a slump.
When the news broke about Hamilton’s second relapse, many people ran to back Hamilton up. Would Yankee fans support Hamilton to that measure if he were a Yankee? Would the Red Sox fans bite their tongue if Hamilton got off to a slow start for their Red Sox? No, and No.
Rangers fans irrationally love Hamilton. I don’t think I will ever hear Josh Hamilton get booed at the ballpark. Fans are notorious for turning on players who have bloated contracts and don’t perform. Ask Giants fans about Barry Zito. Ask White Sox fans about Adam Dunn. Or ask Carl Crawford how fun that first year in Boston was. Fans can turn sour fast, and Hamilton has unending equity with Rangers fans. It might be in his best interest to stay put at whatever dollar amount Rangers deem appropriate.
However, Hamilton may just be too much hassle for the Rangers. They have bent over backwards for him, cared for him and protected him for four years. Do they want to continue this at a higher salary, and likely declined production as he ages, all while tiptoeing around Hamilton land mines?
Hamilton misses on average 25% of games per year. He is turning 31 this year, and it is likely he will miss even more games as he ages. The drug abuse in his 20s could shave some of his prime years off in his 30s. The Rangers do not need to continue this song and dance with Hamilton to compete in the American League.
The Rangers have always been an offense that doesn’t rely on one guy. They have always relied on multiple mashers to generate runs. The Rangers are well-versed in playing without Hamilton; they do it 25% of the time every year.
Furthermore, if they extend Hamilton at market value, it could prevent other deals for other players. There are too many other players the Rangers could pursue that do not come with the baggage Hamilton has. Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Ian Kinsler, Derek Holland or others could be signed or locked up in place of Hamilton and all would be a wiser investment.
Hamilton is replaceable on and off the field. In a Rangers uniform he has averaged 4.3 WAR. Nick Swisher is a free agent after this season just like Hamilton, and has averaged 3.6 WAR over the last three seasons. Swisher would also cost far less, allowing the Rangers flexibility to possibly reel in Hamels or Greinke too. The Rangers also spent $117 million on Yu Darvish for him to become the “Rangers’ Face” very soon.
The Rangers are a playoff contender without Hamilton in the line-up, and a World Series favorite if he is playing a healthy LF. The Rangers organization cares about Josh. It is clear, their interest in Josh goes beyond the baseball field. But, the Rangers also care about winning, that’s why they traded for him. It was a risk to acquire him initially, and it paid off greatly. The risk associated with extending him might prove to be a risk not worth taking.