Spring training is barley underway and Josh Hamilton is already on bad terms with his former club, the Texas Rangers.
The comments regarding his former city’s fanbase definitely won’t produce a standing ovation when he returns to Arlington, but the way it created such a stir shows that Hamilton’s shadow still touches the Rangers’ clubhouse.
How could it not? The man crammed more highlights into five years than most players collect in a decade. Replacing such a talent is a tall order, something Nolan Ryan even admitted recently (via ESPNDallas), although he still expects the team to contend.
The loss is significant—that much isn’t up for debate. What Ranger fans are eager to gauge is just how much the 31-year-old’s move to Los Angeles will hurt the team. Befitting Josh, the answer isn’t easy.
Statistically, his absence in the lineup is the biggest blow. Hamilton vacates the third spot in the order, where he had 43 home runs and 128 RBI, and in his spot the Rangers signed Lance Berkman, a 37-year-old DH with a bad knee.
Even with the addition of A.J. Pierzynski, the lineup isn't quite as intimidating.
That’s the bad news, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. Nolan Ryan’s faith in his club moving forward is justified.
While Hamilton deserves a healthy amount of credit for what the organization accomplished these past few years, the Rangers’ success wasn’t totally built on the heroics of No. 32.
In baseball, too much emphasis is often placed on one player. This isn’t a situation like the Cleveland Cavaliers losing LeBron James or the Indianapolis Colts losing Peyton Manning. The World Series may look further away, but Texas won’t be relegated to the league cellar without Hamilton the way Cleveland and Indianapolis were the first year without its superstars.
The Rangers organization is built on more solid ground. It helps to have two of the top 25 prospects (Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt) in baseball waiting in the wings when they lose a player to free agency.
The roster still has six All-Stars returning from a year ago, and the Ballpark in Arlington is not exactly a difficult place to score runs.
As many fans probably know, Hamilton takes some baggage with him as well.
Despite his accomplishments, it wasn’t all good times and ginger ale baths. Injuries were a common theme, and unfortunately toward the end of his tenure, so was his commitment and focus. His last few months in a Rangers uniform were highlighted by a mysterious illness during a crucial stretch of games, critical gaffes in the outfield and more strikeouts (86) than hits (68) after the All-Star break.
In all likelihood, the Rangers made the right decision in the long term. The chances these next five years of Hamilton’s career will be as productive as his five in Texas are unlikely.
The dilemma is in the short term, a problem that should soften as spring training moves forward and the team begins to answer some of its biggest questions, especially regarding prospects.
Will the Rangers miss Hamilton? Yes, players like him do not grow on trees. However, bigger things appear on the horizon. Management hasn't failed the fanbase yet. They have money in the bank and prospects shooting through the system.
It’s time to turn the page.