Josh Hamilton‘s bizarre performance this season has had the seemingly contradictory effect of increasing the number of his suitors, if only by putting him affordable to a great deal more teams than was previously the case. In fact, its possible that the Rangers, who previously were almost certainly priced out, will now be interested in keeping Hamilton on the team.
If, of course, he is affordable. There are still teams like the Dodgers who are interested in building a dominant outfield, and who have a great deal of cash to throw at the problem. Meanwhile, the Rangers have dramatically increased payroll the last couple seasons, and now find themselves having to carefully consider the purchases they make. If an alternative exists, perhaps poorer but at least cost effective, it should be seriously considered.
And in fact, there are an abundance of such in-house alternatives. Murphy and Cruz will be with the team next season, and both players are more than capable of holding their own at their respective positions. Although 2012 looks like a “breakout” year for Murphy that may not be sustainable in the long run, he has been walking more, hitting more line drives and fewer ground balls, and has also developed something of a power stroke, all of which are sustainable changes. He may not be this good in 2013, but he’ll be cheap and effective. In CF, Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry should both be ready to take on full-time position player duties. Gentry’s 2012 has been incredible, but its possible that he is greatly benefiting from limited exposure through reduced playing time, so its possible his numbers could drop some with a full-time role. Still, all in all, it would appear the Rangers are going to be more or less OK in the outfield, Hamilton or otherwise.
Still, Hamilton is a tantalizing target. He has had stretches where he has been the best player in the major leagues, hands down. In 2010, he exploded for a league-leading 8.5 WAR, and virtually single-handedly propelled the Rangers to a playoff berth. After a good but not great 2011, his 2012 started out with possibly the best two months of his career, where he was twice as effective as the average major leaguer at the plate. Since then he has slipped to being roughly half as effective as the average major leaguer in July. Such a combination of sustained highs and sustained lows begs the question of where his true talent level really lies. Is Hamilton an excellent major leaguer whose slumps are simply more pronounced than usual, or is he instead a headcase whose personal life, be it an addiction to tobacco, a collapsing marriage, or his other addition to alcohol, interferes with his baseball acuity to such a degree that he is unable to string together a consistently excellent performance over the course of a season, no matter how naturally talented he is.
Regardless of where the answer really lies, the simple fact is that signing Hamilton is a huge gamble, arguably one the Rangers don’t need to make. If his stock has fallen to the degree that he is now affordable to the Rangers, it is an excellent sign that the Rangers shouldn’t be pursuing him in the first place.