The Rangers are saying all the politically correct things when it comes to the Josh Hamilton free agent negotiations. They halfheartedly make it sound as if they want him back, but they really don’t. Hamilton’s off-field issues were one thing, but his fragility on the field; profound disinterest for extended periods last season; and his age (32 in May), make him simply not worth the aggravation regardless of his immense skills.
With Hamilton having had nearly identical production at home and away this season, if it were a player without his history he would absolutely get the $175 million over 7-years he’s said to want. But those scary demons of drugs, alcohol, and emotionality that nearly demolished his career are constantly bubbling beneath the surface. Handing him a guaranteed check for even half of what he wants is walking the tightrope without a net. The Rangers, rebounding from back-to-back World Series losses and a 2012 late-season collapse that cost them the AL West and got them bounced from the playoffs after one game, may be looking to make substantial changes to the constitution of their club and clubhouse. The easiest and safest thing to do in the long and short term is to let Hamilton walk.
The team has shown little enthusiasm for preventing Hamilton’s foray into free agency and they’re content to let him go and see what the market offers with a perfunctory and “come back to us” dripping with the underlying implication that they don’t care whether he comes back to them with the offer or not. That, in and of itself, was a signal that they’re exploring other options, but now after Hamilton’s contract desires were leaked and the Rangers said they weren’t going past 3 years, the impasse is too great to meet in the middle.
What I would expect to happen is that the Rangers will move first while Hamilton is taking his free agent tour. Either they’ll make a trade for a Justin Upton to account for the lost offense at a corner outfield spot and use the saved money to keep Mike Napoli and sign an arm such as Zack Greinke, or they’ll sign a free agent center fielder along the lines of B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino.
Hamilton’s time with the Rangers is over in every way. It’s not official yet, but it will be soon.