Whoever signs Josh Hamilton will be making a big mistake. Hamilton’s two-year, $24 million contract extension expires at the end of the season and the former MVP will become a free agent.
Yesterday, Hamilton said it would be “miraculous” if he signed another extension before Opening Day. It would be a greater miracle for the Rangers if it didn’t happen at all.
Hamilton, a career .308/.366/.543 hitter, will turn 31 in May. As is well known, Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, but his arrival in the major leagues was delayed for years by drug and alcohol problems.
Since finally making it, he has often played excellently, but as is to be expected, has struggled with his addictions and has sometimes suffered relapses, most recently this offseason. Addiction is a disease, and Hamilton should not be condemned for his struggles, but these issues do make re-signing him a riskier proposition than it would be for another player of the same age.
However, there is a greater issue in re-signing Hamilton than addiction. Hamilton has had five trips to the disabled list in five seasons and had eight interruptions of play lasting at least 15 days. He has fractured his arm and his ribs, suffered a sports hernia and injured his shoulder diving for a ball.
He plays all out on defense, and the Rangers’ inability to find a regular center fielder has meant that they repeatedly put Hamilton at that stressful position. He may not be able to handle the additional mileage.
We also have to consider his substance abuse problems in a different light: What if his body is fatigued in ways that we just can’t see? What is the physical toll of abusing your body with drink and drugs?
Consider the going contract length for a player of Hamilton’s abilities. A Prince Fielder-style contract would tie Hamilton up until he turned 40, but no one can say how much time he has left as an elite player, or how many more times he will play more than 120 games in a season.
Forget nine years; five years might be a risk. Maybe three years, even.
Yet, we know someone will gamble, someone will give in and spend so much over so long that even if Hamilton remains sober (fondly do we hope and fervently do we pray that he does), they will surely get burnt by his fragility.
Hamilton would be an excellent fit anywhere in the AL East, particularly in Boston and New York, where there are openings waiting for him. The Red Sox currently have Carl Crawford (when healthy), Jacoby Ellsbury and a mediocre platoon. The Yankees have outfielders, but no DH of note, and Nick Swisher’s contract is up.
Detroit could use an outfielder of his abilities—Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch are hardly worthy complements to Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. The Giants or the newly wealthy Dodgers could benefit from him as well.
But this ducks the question; Hamilton’s hitting ability is not in doubt. The runs will be there on the scoreboard. As with Fielder and Albert Pujols, the short-term benefit is real and inarguable. Hamilton (and his agent) will drive a harder bargain than that, though, so acquiring him entails real risk.
The Rangers know better than anyone else what that means, and if they hesitate to prevent Hamilton from testing the free-agent waters, possible buyers should take that as a clue that they should temper their enthusiasm and bet the under in terms of years.