Josh Hamilton appears to be an excellent fit for the Orioles.
The O's need a left fielder. Hamilton is two years removed from an MVP season. He hit 43 home runs with 128 RBI for the Texas Rangers this year. In terms of performance and name recognition, he is a superstar talent.
Owner Peter Angelos has had no problem paying top dollar for free agents in the past. Over the past few years, players like Mark Teixeira and Victor Martinez have decided to go elsewhere. But the Orioles are a contender again. Is Angelos willing to meet Hamilton's reported price of $175 million over seven years to keep them competitive in the AL East?
There's one other consideration with Hamilton, however. Though his bat fits well in the Orioles lineup and his glove suits the team's outfield, how would he get along with Baltimore's hardline manager, Buck Showalter?
While Texas Rangers skipper Ron Washington likely isn't a pushover, he's been pretty lenient with Hamilton during the five years the two have worked together in Arlington. Hamilton has averaged 130 games over the past five seasons, missing time with various injuries and ailments.
Perhaps Showalter would have allowed Hamilton to sit out as Washington did. If Hamilton can't play to the best of his ability—or believes he can't—then perhaps it's better to put someone else in the lineup who can. But would another manager have pushed Hamilton a bit more?
For instance, how would Showalter have reacted to Hamilton missing five games with what was initially diagnosed as a sinus infection?
Given that Hamilton was complaining about blurred vision and problems with his balance, Showalter probably wouldn't have risked his player hurting himself in the field. Since the condition turned out to be ocular keratitis, however, caused by excessive consumption of caffeine, it's not difficult to imagine the O's skipper telling his player to lay off the coffee and Red Bull and get on the field.
What about Hamilton's midseason slump, which—as reported by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman—was eventually attributed to his trying to quit chewing tobacco? During the month of July, the outfielder hit .177 with a .607 on-base plus slugging percentage.
At the time, Hamilton told reporters (including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson) he was being "disobedient" but couldn't share more than that. Washington gave Hamilton a day off for mental rest, though the outfielder said his body needed the break.
Again, maybe Showalter would have come to the same decision if he felt Hamilton would benefit from a day off.
But the Orioles' star players were in the lineup nearly every day this season. Adam Jones played the full 162 games. J.J. Hardy appeared in 158 games. Matt Wieters took the pounding of catching 144 games. How many days off for mental rest did those guys get?
Hamilton is surely a delicate case to handle.
His past troubles with drug abuse, his obviously addictive personality (the chewing tobacco and caffeine consumption implies that he doesn't do very much in moderation), and the toll that takes on his body isn't seen in every player.
But is it possible that Washington coddled Hamilton a bit too much in Texas, not only taking his past into consideration but his status as a star player? If Mitch Moreland, for example, had demonstrated the same behavior, would he have been handled the same way?
There's no doubt that Hamilton plays the game hard and throws his body all over the field. That's part of the reason he gets dinged up through the course of a season.
But with the other off-field issues, would Showalter have been less tolerant?
Even Rangers team president Nolan Ryan questioned the timing of Hamilton trying to quit chewing tobacco during the season. That seemed insensitive on Ryan's part, especially if it was a matter of Hamilton's health. But someone with Showalter's experience may have been better at questioning the player's judgment.
Showalter's reputation as a joyless, militant manager probably isn't entirely fitting. He wouldn't have had any success as an ESPN analyst with no personality. And getting through the grind of 162 games—in addition to the postseason—would be unbearable if fun died in Showalter's presence.
However, the Orioles manager showed he's aware of his reputation when he participated in a prank on reliever Darren O'Day for MLB Fan Cave. Though Showalter eventually showed he was capable of playing a joke on someone, it was entirely believable because of the prevailing belief that Showalter is a humorless taskmaster.
"We're trying to win here! We're not trying to ride—what is that called—a Solowheel?"
Hamilton might not be accustomed to an approach like Showalter's. Perhaps he wouldn't like being pushed a bit when it's necessary.
But other players in the Orioles clubhouse appreciated Showalter challenging them to play at their best. As Jones said to CBS Sports' Matt Snyder, "he makes you play like you got a pair."
Hamilton could very well benefit from having a manager like that. Maybe he needs a softer touch, considering what he's been through. But Hamilton looked like a beaten, worn-out player by the final game of this season. Someone who can ride him a bit and guide him down the winning path might not be the worst thing for his career.
But just in case, he probably shouldn't drink any Red Bull or dip chewing tobacco while riding a Solowheel. Then fireworks could go off.
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