Should the Texas Rangers commit nine or 10 years and at least $200 million to Josh Hamilton when his current deal expires at the end of the 2012 season?
That is the question likely confronting club executives Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels, and according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, camps from the team and player will not discuss a new contract until the off-season.
Earlier this year, it appeared that the 31-year-old Hamilton was on pace for one of baseball’s most spectacular seasons after recording a slash line of .368/.420/.764 line to accompany 21 home runs in April and May, but since May 31 his numbers are .209/.284/.383.
Over his last 10 games, Hamilton has emerged from his skid. In his team’s 10-9 win over Boston on Wednesday, the slugger was 3-for-5 with a home run, triple, four RBI and two runs. He now has a seven-game hitting streak, and is batting .326 (15-for-46) with two home runs and 12 RBI in the aforementioned 10-game stretch.
During the spring, Heyman reported that a source told him Hamilton wants to be paid like an elite player. This, Heyman speculates, could mean that the first overall pick of the 1999 draft by Tampa Bay will require a reward in the vicinity of the nine-year and 10-year deals of $200 million plus that the Angels’ Albert Pujols, Detroit’s Prince Fielder and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto received.
Heyman noted that the Rangers generally do not ink any player to an extreme long-term deal. Heyman’s story pointed out that one rival GM projects a contract for five years and $100 million “tops” and another rival GM forecasts five years and $125 million to $140 million.
Moreso than Pujols, Fielder and Votto, there are risks associated with keeping Hamilton for even five years.
He has earned an American League MVP Award, won a batting title and helped the Rangers reach the World Series the last two seasons. His home run off Josh Beckett on Wednesday was his 30th of the year. That marks the third season in Hamilton’s five years with the Rangers that he has reached the 30 home run mark (he hit 32 in 2008 and 2010).
Yet Hamilton’s battle with substance abuse is widely known, as are his two relapses. He has battled injuries at times, and recently he was seen yelling at first base coach Gary Pettis and third base coach Dave Anderson in the same inning on the bases. The high maintenance Hamilton has also made news several times with off-the-field comments, including that he “doesn’t owe the Rangers anything” and that the team could sign him for less money during the season than they will be able to if he reaches free agency.
The Rangers could benefit by using the money they would allot for Hamilton to acquire a legitimate ace for their rotation, or another reliable starting pitcher and a productive yet less expensive bat. The club recently called up high-ceiling corner infield prospect Mike Olt, and they have a lineup that features Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Mike Napoli.
In the farm system, Texas boasts shortstop Jurickson Profar, who MLB.com rates as the game’s fourth best prospect and projects as an impact bat.
The Rangers must also decide if they want to bring back the recently acquired Ryan Dempster, who can become a free agent at season’s end. Napoli is another potential free agent.
Discussion about Hamilton’s return to Texas will likely become irrelevant if a team loaded with disposable income it is prepared to spend – like the Los Angeles Dodgers – backs up its’ own Brinks truck at the outfielder’s front door.
The Rangers once hamstrung their organization for years when the former owner signed Alex Rodriguez to a monstrous deal. With a more sensible executive like Ryan running the team, don’t expect Texas to do the same with Hamilton.