You Must Be Joshing
Just please go away. I want you gone. Really and truly, please go away. Right now. Unsettling words that many have unfortunately heard in life; whether it be from a former boss, a former girlfriend or boyfriend, or maybe even from an institution of higher education for some. But I bet none of you were so despised, hated or considered so cancerous that you were offered $68 million to split. Well, welcome to the mad, mad world of Josh Hamilton.
In case you missed the news over the past few days, the Texas Rangers are expected to announce today that they have reacquired the troubled outfielder from the Anaheim Angels in a trade that, get this, involves no other players. The proposed deal which would bring Hamilton back to Arlington where he had his most productive years, including five All-Star appearances and the 2010 league MVP, is all about the money involved.
The deal still has to be approved by the players association because Hamilton, to get the deal done, will have to forfeit about $6 million of the more than $80 million left on the five-year, $125 million contract he signed in December 2012. Giving back money is something the MLBPA severely frowns upon, but with the lack of state income tax here in Texas, the deal would be pretty much a wash financially for Hamilton, so an approval is expected.
The Rangers will pick up $6 million of the contract and pay it to Hamilton over the remainder of this season and the next two, obviously a minimal amount in the big money world of Major League Baseball. The shocking part of all this is that the Angels are willing to pay Hamilton the remaining $68 million just to be rid of him, and to go to a division rival no less. Mind boggling when you think of it.
We all witnessed the on-the-field train wreck that was the final last couple months of Hamilton’s time with the Rangers in 2012, as well as his publicized relapses with alcohol and drugs in Tempe and Dallas. The warning signs were everywhere. The Angels for their part, however, were somehow oblivious to all the red flags and offered him the ridiculous contract which Jon Daniels and the Rangers wisely had no intentions of matching. So off to Southern California went Hamilton with a smile on his face, a bank account that would be the envy of many small nations and a parting shot for Rangers fans when he said DFW just wasn’t a “baseball town.”
Hamilton’s first season in Anaheim? A .250 batting average, 21 home runs and and 79 RBIs – solid numbers but hardly worth $25 million a year. Then last year he missed nearly half the season with injuries, had career lows of 10 homers and 44 RBIs and proceeded to go hitless in 13 at bats during the playoffs as the Angels got swept in the divisional series.
I saw that coming two and half years ago – diminishing skills, body breaking down, major off-the-field demons. I’m not sure how Angels GM Jerry Dipito was blind to it (or how he still has his job for that matter after inking that deal) but this past February, as the Angels were preparing for the upcoming season and Hamilton was recovering from shoulder surgery, Hamilton reported to an MLB official that he had another relapse in his battle with drug addiction. Dipito said in a statement regarding the situation, “The Angels have serious concerns about Josh’s conduct, health and behavior, and we are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment which he made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans.”
The Angels as an organization were going to be thrilled to see Hamilton put on the suspended list by MLB, allowing them to recoup some of that enormous salary owed him (suspended players don’t get paid), but in the crazy world of Josh there was a loop hole. Since Hamilton hadn’t actually failed a drug test, and even though he admitted to a relapse, an arbitrator ruled that MLB could not punish him. And that was the proverbial final straw that broke Angels owner Artie Moreno’s back. He wanted Hamilton and all his issues gone.
A little back drop for those not as familiar with the Hamilton saga as the Rangers faithful are: Hamilton was the first overall pick in 1999 by Tampa Bay, a sure fire can’t miss prospect. But drugs derailed his career as he failed at least six drug tests as a minor leaguer and was suspended from 2004 to ’06. He was reinstated in 2006 and finally began his major league career in 2007 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. The Rangers rolled the dice on a trade for Hamilton with the Reds for pitcher Edinson Volquez and the rest is history as they say, a career as unlikely as Roy Hobbs’ in the movie The Natural. Hamilton became the best player in baseball and helped lead the perennial doormat Rangers to back-to-back World Series appearances.
So what’s the end game here that Jon Daniels is chasing by bringing Hamilton back to town now? Even the Josh Hamilton of 2010 isn’t going to make this current Rangers team a legit contender, and for a player who’s turning 34 on May 21, no one should expect anything close to that. My first thought when I heard of this deal was the Rangers would be able to unload a significant regrettable contract back to the Angels, such as that of Shin-Soo Choo (his 7 year deal for $130 million runs through 2020), basically dumping each others problems into one another’s lap. But that’s not what’s happening here. So then I thought the Rangers were making this move to have some trade bait if Hamilton could show any signs of being a significant bat again – appealing trade material with a minimum financial commitment that could be sent to a contender in exchange for young players or draft picks at the trade deadline. But Hamilton has a no trade clause, and my guess is he isn’t planning on going anywhere else, even though many of Hamilton’s former support group such as Ian Kinsler and Mike DeNapoli are long gone from the Rangers clubhouse.
So count me as confused on this one, as to why Daniels and the Rangers are making this move. Hamilton probably still has a month or so left to go on his shoulder rehab, and if that goes well and he’s deemed healthy enough to begin playing soon after, the absolute best case scenario in my mind goes something like this; the fans forgive Hamilton for his derogatory statements, he bats .250 with 15 or so homers and 60 RBI’s, stays off drugs and alcohol and the Rangers don’t finish in last place again with maybe 75 wins. Granted he will immediately be the best bat in the outfield, but that’s more an indictment of what the Rangers are running out there now than what Josh has left in the tank. The worst case? He poisons a clubhouse filled with young players, fans don’t welcome him back, he’s a shadow of himself on the field, he falls prey to his addictions once again and management’s recent decisions get questioned even more by ticket buyers and media alike. Hardly seems worth the gamble to me, but heck it is a bargain price.