SDI Debate – How Do You Solve A Problem Like Josh Hamilton?

With Patrick DeSpain

The following is a conversation between Patrick Despain (Shutdown Inning editor/writer) and Peter Ellwood (Shutdown Inning writer) all about Josh Hamilton and his future with the Texas Rangers.

Peter: 
So Patrick, for the past month or so, much of Ranger nation has been debating whether the Rangers should sign Josh Hamilton, or Prince Fielder, to a long-term deal. Well, Fielder was signed by the Tigers for 9 years and $214 million, so what does that mean for the Rangers and Hamilton?

Patrick:
The impact on the Rangers and Josh Hamilton, probably goes from “if” they’ll sign Josh to “when and how much”. The years and dollar figures for Fielder, in my opinion, won’t have much to do with Hamilton. I think Josh has made a home here, and he might accept a little less to be here with Wash and his friends in the clubhouse. That being said, it won’t be cheap – probably somewhere in the 5/6 year range with an option at an AAV of $17M to $21M.

Peter: 
What if I were to suggest to you that I don’t think the signing of Prince should have ANY impact on the Hamilton contract conversations? Furthermore, what would you say to the proposal that I don’t think it’s a good idea for the Rangers to sign Hamilton, unless it is at a rate well below the market value?

There are three things that scare me about Hamilton and his contract negotiations:

1. Obviously, health is a big concern. He is a big body, and is possible too strong and fast for his own good. Too many things that can too easily break. Giving any kind of long-term deal to a 31-year old with his health risk is scary because you never know which year is going to be his last.

2. There has been an extraordinary increase in the talk of Hamilton being a fan-favorite, the face of the franchise, etc. The last time those kinds of sentiments found their way into contract negotiations, we ended up with a Michael Young contract that we are regretting for the last three years of the deal.

3. Hamilton is a great guy, strong Christian, and very friendly. However, he seems to have a pretty good ego on him, and I don’t think he sees his value the same way the Rangers need to see his value. In Hamilton’s words, he wants to be treated “fair”, doesn’t want to even hear any kind of “lowball” offer, and he thinks he can “stay healthy a whole year and put up as good of numbers as anybody”. Those aren’t the words of a player willing to cut any kind of team-friendly or hometown discount type of deal.

Patrick: 
I agree on the impact of Prince. No bearing at all on Hamilton.

(1) Health is a HUGE concern. However, some of his injuries have been of the “freakish” nature. The ribs from 2010, were a result of him turning his ankle. The shoulder last year was another one that just seemed strange, but it did happen. Giving a contract to him at this age is a risk, but one I’m willing to take…but at a comfortable level of yrs/$.

(2) When negotiating, the Rangers cannot fall into the “Face of the Franchise” mentality, like they did with Young. When that deal was made, the Rangers were a losing team and had to keep someone to put people in the seats. They don’t need that now.

(3) I think his comments are just posturing. It’s negotiating. However, pulling a Pujols and not talking about an extension once the season or Spring Training starts, is a concern for me. It should be a concern for Hamilton too though. If he gets hurt without an extension, his market value will decline drastically. The smart move for him is to get his agent on the phone with JD and work out a fair deal that works for both parties.

Peter:
You make a good point about it being in Hamilton’s interest to get a deal done before the season starts. I have always looked at it from the other side – if the Rangers want to keep Hamilton, it’s in their interest to get a deal done before free agency. Since Jon Daniels took the reins, and since the new ownership has come in, I think they have demonstrated they are willing to loosen the purse strings to make impact moves, but they aren’t willing to over-extend to get a deal done. Allowing Hamilton to hit the open market and start pulling in other offers would almost assuredly guarantee he will no longer don a Texas Rangers uniform. Some team will pay him for his 2008 value for every year of a long-term deal, but the Rangers front office is smart enough to not do that.

What if this turns into another pre-2011 C.J. Wilson type of scenario? It’s essentially the same situation: a stud player under the Rangers control for one more year, who is very good but is not a sure thing for years to come. The Rangers offered C.J. a 3/$36m type of deal, which Wilson saw as being far too low. Wilson bet on himself to have a great 2011, and then he went out and did it, and made himself $40m in the process. I can see the Rangers making a similar offer to Hamilton. Lower than what he wants, but it’s in their comfort zone. Hamilton would likely make the same choice Wilson did, bet on himself to have a great year, and then go get paid a bigger contract by someone else.

If that’s how it plays out, how do you react to that? And, how do you think Hamilton reacts to that, would it have an impact on his play in 2012?

Patrick:
I think that will be Josh’s plan. Play it out, hope for a good year. The one thing Josh has is his faith in himself. He’s a confident guy, so he may very well take the route of CJ.

But, I don’t think it impacts his play. I think he’ll go out and do the same thing he’s always done, run through walls, dive, slide head first, etc. I think he’ll have a great year, depending on injuries. If he goes injury free, he’ll be an MVP candidate once again. This is a real enigma for the Rangers. Take the chance by letting him play it out and having to pay big money, or get him low, or try to lock him up now and possibly over pay. What do you think?

Peter:
If I’m Hamilton, I want to hit free agency at the end of 2012, and see what an open bidding market would get me. To not get to that point, any extension offer from the Rangers before the season starts would have to be within 10% of what I believe my maximum value is. So if I think I’m worth a 6 year, $120 million deal, a pre-season extension would need to be 5-6 years at $18 million per year. The 10% reduction is my risk coefficient for the “what if” of another serious injury in 2012. Anything less than that and I’m just going to play it out.

The Rangers have to consider the opportunity cost of signing Hamilton. If he is signed to a long-term deal, are you paying him to be your LF? 1B? DH? He is certainly not your CF any longer. This has to factor into the amount the team is willing to pay him. What kind of restrictions would it place on the club if all of a sudden Hamilton is the $18M/year “face” holding down the DH spot in 2 years? Isn’t that what is driving us nuts about Michael Young’s contract right now?

With the Yu Darvish and Rangers negotiations, I never doubted that a deal would get done. It was to the advantage of both sides to come to an agreement. With Hamilton and the Rangers, I’m not sure it is to the advantage of both sides to come to an agreement. Hamilton wants to hit free agency, and the Rangers probably want to have more time to see how some of their OF prospects develop before determining just how much they need Hamilton in the future.

No matter what, if a deal is not inked by Opening Day, I don’t think Hamilton is a Ranger beyond 2012. Someone will pay more than the Rangers are willing to extend themselves for.


Peter and Patrick are Staff Writers for Shut Down Inning. You can contact Peter at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @Peter_Ellwood. You can email Patrick at Patrick.Despain@shutdowninning.com or Tweet him @ShutDownInning.
Peter Ellwood

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