Josh Hamilton has reported to the Rangers’ spring home a week early. However, the resurfacing of knee pain serves to cast further doubt on the prospect of Josh being the full-time answer in left field for 2016.
The single largest positional question mark for the Texas Rangers heading into spring training continues to grow larger. Josh Hamilton arrived in Arizona on Tuesday, and promptly reported the return of pain in his knee. Despite the pain being manageable right now, such a revelation, while far from shocking for all of us familiar with the Josh Hamilton adventure. Does serve to magnify the question mark in the Rangers’ lineup being produced by left field.
“I don’t know. I really, I guess I have more hopes than expectations.” –Jon Daniels on expectations for Hamilton
I think Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels hit the nail on the head regarding the Josh Hamilton situation in a recent interview with Christopher Russo on MLB Network’s High Heat. Asked about realistic expectations for Hamilton, Daniels responded, “I don’t know. I really, I guess I have more hopes than expectations.” Those three words, “I don’t know.” Offer the perfect description of the soon to be 35 year old, Josh Hamilton, and correspondingly the Rangers left-field situation.
Unfortunately, hopes don’t win baseball games. Healthy and productive players on the field have exactly 100% more impact than talented and injured players off of it, who have zero. With the warning signs for injury already starting to rear their ugly head before baseball activities really even start. I, like others in the baseball world, have my doubts about Josh making it through the spring healthy. Even if he does, that he will be healthy for a large enough chunk of the season to make a significant impact, is a questionable proposition in it’s own right.
With the size of Josh’s contract, such a situation would typically merit the title of a burgeoning disaster. However, since the Rangers are paying next to nothing of Josh’s 2016 salary, they have the luxury of placing zero expectations on Josh to be an everyday player, and treating any production they do get as gravy.
So, the question becomes, when (not if) Josh can’t go, what player, or combination of players will man left field? The primary options that the Rangers will have in major league spring training include, Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Patrick Kivlehan, and James Jones.
Justin Ruggiano, the only veteran in the group, was brought on board by the Rangers as a fourth and/or platoon type outfielder. Because of his polarizing splits, (.143 BA vs RHP, and .301 BA vs LHP in 2015) Ruggiano is poorly suited to assuming an everyday left field role on what hopes to be a contending team.
As a result, there are several possible scenarios that could play out over the course of the upcoming season. If Hamilton can’t go out of spring training, or ends up on the disabled list early in the season. One likely contingency is a platoon situation between Ruggiano and a lefty like trade acquisition James Jones or maybe even new signee Ike Davis, who is likely to get some outfield work in Arizona.
Another possibility is giving one of either Ryan Rua, or Patrick Kivlehan a shot at the everyday role while Josh is out. Later in the season there is the potential for another possibility to arise. My gut tells me that 20 year old blue chip prospect Nomar Mazara will continue to knock on the door from Round Rock, and if Josh can’t go, I think the Rangers just might be inclined to open the door and let him in. Barring that, Joey Gallo could also get another crack at the job if improvements are shown in the spring, and early in the season at Round Rock.
Outside of the organization, the Rangers have quite frequently been linked to free agent outfielder Austin Jackson this off-season. Normally, spending the money for an everyday type outfielder like Jackson, would appear foolish for a team that appears to have a set outfield. However, the apparently “set outfield” for the Rangers is a mirage, and getting someone like Jackson or maybe Alejandro De Aza from the Mets could prove to be a wise investment of resources. Primarily because the Rangers will be lucky to get half a season out of Hamilton, but also because 2nd year center fielder Delino Deshields could very well have a bout with the infamous sophomore slump, and right-fielder Shin-Soo-Choo has an injury history of his own to contend with.
As spring camp prepares to commence in Surprise, the Rangers’ backup plan for Josh Hamilton, remains just as murky as the 2016 outlook for the talented but unreliable left-fielder. This should make left-field an interesting positional situation for Rangers management and fans alike to monitor as we start the spring slog towards opening day. External or internal, the Rangers need to lend some clarity to the left field situation beyond Josh Hamilton. Because his issues are starting early this year, and it’s darn near certain that alternatives will be needed.
How do you think the Rangers’ left-field situation will shake out this season? What are your expectations for Hamilton in 2016? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below