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The Offseason of Josh Hamilton

As far as individual player stories go, for the Texas Rangers it has seemingly become an annual tradition to spend most of the winter talking about Michael Young. After being forced to move from shortstop to third base by the promotion of Elvis Andrus, and then moved from third base to first base and DH by the signing of Adrian Beltre, and then seeing his potential at bats cut down by the acquisition of Mike Napoli, it has been no secret that Young was unhappy with his individual circumstances. No other player on the Rangers made more headlines in the offseasons following the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

This year, in the offseason after the 2011 season, without a doubt the individual player drawing the most attention has been Josh Hamilton. Unlike Young, the Hamilton offseason has not revolved around a single event or issue, but is a mosaic of stories that seems to have no end. Chronologically, here are the top news stories Hamilton has generated this offseason, none of which are insignificant in regards to impacting his performance in 2012 or his future with the Texas Rangers.

December 6, 2011 – When discussing his expectations of his contract status with the Rangers beyond 2012, Hamilton gave insight into his mindset going into negotiations:

“Treat me fair, don’t come here with no ridiculously low stuff. You know, just be fair…. Obviously I love it here in Texas, but it always comes down to getting treated fairly.”

Februrary 3, 2012 – In what was possibly the biggest story of Hamilton’s offseason, he held a press conference to confirm reports that he had a relapse with alcohol at a Dallas-area bar. As a recovering drug and alcohol addict, this made national news. Both Hamilton, and Jon Daniels (Rangers GM), expressed that any contract talks would be put on the back burner after this event, as the focus would be re-directed to making sure Hamilton’s sobriety and his family were the top priority.

February 24, 2012 – During his first press conference in Surprise, Arizona, Hamilton was asked if he felt like he owed the Rangers for all of their support for him as a recovering addict. The question was intended to determine if Hamilton might give some kind of hometown discount in contract negotiations. Hamilton’s response surprised many.

“The Rangers have done great things for me. Let me ask you a question: Have I done great things for the Rangers? I think I’ve given everything I had. This is still a business. It’s the entertainment business, but it’s still a business. I love Texas. I love my fans. I love fans of the Rangers. I love the organization. I love my teammates. I love everything about it. But I’m not going to sit here and say that I owe the Rangers. I don’t feel like I owe the Rangers.”

“I don’t feel like I owe the Rangers” was the sticking point that many took away from Hamilton’s direct and honest response to the question.

February 27, 2012 – After a weekend in which the above comment from Hamilton was run through the gauntlet of Dallas media, Hamilton attempted to clarify what he felt was a misconstrued statement.

“If it does go to free agency, the first place I’m coming is here. If I owe anything, it’s that. My loyalty is here…What I owe is 100 percent on the field,”

March 6, 2012 – During an interview with Galloway & Company, Hamilton revealed the following two nuggets:

“I enjoy getting more chances [to rob people of hits]. You get more chances to do it in center field…but it’s not like I’m going to be pissed or upset if I’m not playing center field, you know I’m happy to be playing anywhere.”

“I’ve got a plan. Play outfield for four or 5 years, then ease on over to first base, then ease on over to DH.”

These stories are made significant only because they center on Josh Hamilton. If the source of these quotes, or the subject of these stories were Mitch Moreland, for example, each of these would be a non-story. Hamilton is a pivotal figure in the Rangers organization, MLB, and in his community. Additionally, it is not Hamilton’s style to provide clichéd responses, or indirect answers to the questions presented to him. This honesty peels back the curtain into the lives of professional athletes, and to the surprise of many, athletes are not the perfect role models they are often expected to be.

In the end, all that will really matter coming out of this hectic offseason for Hamilton is that he returns to his peak playing abilities. On-field performance goes a long way to overcoming off-field transgressions.

In regards to Hamilton’s contract status with the Rangers, I am skeptical that a deal gets done to keep him in a Texas uniform for the foreseeable future. However, in a Dallas Morning News chat, Jon Daniels voiced a level of optimism that is encouraging:

“The comments don’t play into it much. Maybe I’m an optimist but I’d like to think that at the appropriate time, we’ll sit down and be able to work something out. Bottom line is the club would like to keep Josh in Texas, and I think he’d like to be here. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship, without a doubt. [Every] situation is unique and requires some level of creativity. If that’s the mindset on both sides, we’ll be ok.”