/Associated Press

The Day Josh Hamilton Fled Texas

We were told Josh Hamilton was going to give the Rangers the final say. We were told he was to go out, find his market, then come home, and get matched whatever offer it was he found. We were told there was mutual interest in his return to Arlington, that we wanted him to stay, that he didn’t want to leave.

We were told a great many things.

Then news broke a couple hours ago that Josh Hamilton had agreed to sign a lucrative 5-year, $125 million deal with the Rangers’ chief division rival, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. And so the never ending saga that is Josh Hamilton goes, and goes, and goes . . .

In the offseason of 2007 Jon Daniels traded what was arguably the Rangers’ best pitching commodity, Edinson Volquez, for the embattled Hamilton — the former #1 overall pick in 1999 — who had struggled with addiction, nearly ending his baseball career, and, well, what could have taken his life. I was 17 at the time, and I along with just about everyone else was curious what the superstar-caliber Hamilton could bring to the table.

The Rangers faith was rewarded from the outset, and over the last five years Josh has been one of the most productive hitters in the sport. In that time, he’s posted a triple slash of .305/.363/.549, generating a wRC+ of 135, cumulatively worth 22.4 fWAR. Basically, he’s been worth nearly 5 wins per season over the last five seasons.

And with that success came, expectedly, the baggage he’s carried with him virtually since the beginning of his involvement in professional baseball. Twice he’s relapsed with alcohol, once a few offseasons ago in Arizona, and most recently before the 2012 season in Dallas. Certainly personal demons are no reason to begrudge another individual, however, conflating his questionable off-field decisions with the all-out style he brings with him on the field, has proved to be a quite volatile cocktail recipe — at least at times.

But I suppose that’s what you get with Josh Hamilton; you have to take the good with the bad. And as much as I hate using cliches, often times they prove to be accurate. They symbolize the truth better than any combination of words I could attempt to dazzle you with.

That said, I will miss Josh Hamilton.

Sure, along with the mammoth risks he brings he also reaps gargantuan rewards, showing glimpses where he’s literally put the team on his back and single-handedly carried the offense for various stretches over the last half-decade.

Along with those Hall-of-Fame caliber intervals he’s also disappointed the fan base quite a bit, taking month-to-two-month-long dives into the sub-replacement level abyss, garnering many to question his effort, and loyalty to the franchise. I don’t think it’s ever been a severe disappointment where he’s actually hated, but more of a playground disappointment, like you’re the best we’ve got; you’re supposed to be better than this. 

I’ll remember Josh Hamilton for being the one polarizing figure who was talented enough, and grabbed everyone’s imagination enough, to put the Texas Rangers on the map from a national perspective. For nearly all of the 2000′s decade the Rangers were arguably only the second most most popular team in their own state, and of the numerous moves Jon Daniels has generated over the last several years, I’d have a tough time convincing myself that any were better than the Volquez-for-Hamilton flip way back when.

Of the many things that sadden me internally about Hamilton’s decision today, I think the most poignant is that it’s another of the “original” Rangers who will not be competing for, or, winning a World Series while they’re here. Last week Mike Napoli left for Boston; a few days ago Michael Young was traded to Philadelphia. And now, here, Josh Hamilton, the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player, has also left. And we’ll painfully be reminded of his presence is Anaheim.

I don’t dislike him leaving for $125 million; I don’t dislike him for leaving to the team we’ve all been groomed to hate over the last several years; I’m just unhappy that he couldn’t have enjoyed sipping apple cider alongside Ian Kinsler and Michael Young and Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre. More so than reality, what bums me out is the reality that will never be.

* * * * * *

From the Rangers’ end, this is a very good thing. I’m skeptical that Hamilton would have been able to justify the same deal if he was here, given his prior injury/mental history, along with the fact that he’s on the wrong side of 30. He could very well produce one to two more MVP-like seasons in Anaheim, but $25 million AAV is quite a hefty load to shell out to an aging veteran who figures to experience a sharper decline than most with his given skill set.

What we’re dealing with in the case of Josh Hamilton is actually much like we saw with C.J. Wilson last off season. We kept hearing there was some sort of “interest” from the side of the Rangers’ front office, but no deal was officially in place. It makes you wonder: “How much did the Rangers really want him back?”

If you remember at the beginning of last year, Hamilton was more or less irked at Rangers’ brass for not offering him an extension after the 2011 season. And when the year began, Jon Daniels was quoted as saying “We don’t negotiate with players during the season.” Well, less than a month later, Ian Kinsler was given a 5-year, $70 million extension. I’m not trying to make anything of this, but it’s worth considering as a slight aside.

You have to figure, if the Rangers were seriously interested in Hamilton returning, they would either have (a) offered him a contract after the 2011 World Series, (b) during the 2012 season, or (c) directly after the 2012 season before he hit free agency. They can talk and talk and talk through the media about what their plans are, but actions speak louder than words, and, well, nothing happened — just like Wilson the year before.

One glimmer of hope you may be able to cling onto is that, after C.J. Wilson signed with the Angels last season, the Rangers’ real plan manifest shortly thereafter, as they won the posting and eventually signed Yu Darvish. Usually I believe every event acts independently of one another, which is why I typically don’t read much into anything. But as we know, history does have a strange way of repeating itself, and now that the Angels have somewhat drastically punched Texas in the gut while simultaneously improving their club by 4-5 wins, I suspect we’ll see the Rangers offer a counterpunch sometime soon.

Whether that’s Nick Swisher, Justin Upton, A.J. Pierzynski, Anibal Sanchez, all of the above, who knows? But I have a hard time accepting that the Rangers are just going to keel over and die watching the Angels steal the headlines along with the division.

We’ve won it two of the last three years. This is our division right now. It’s time to make the adjustments and go for three out of four.

 

 

 

 

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