The impending free agency of Josh Hamilton has already been an epic saga of a tale, and it’s just getting started. Talks between Hamilton and the Texas Rangers have ranged from “close” to “on hold” to the latest development, a rumor that a club official said of Hamilton’s chances of re-signing with the Rangers: “not even if he wants to play here for free next season.”
So, there is that. That response came after Hamilton’s coup de grâce of the 2012 season, an 0-4 appearance with two strikeouts in which he only saw eight pitches. Eight pitches in four at-bats with two strikeouts means that on two occasions Hamilton swung and made an out on the first pitch, and the other two times he went down on three straight strikes. Because that “performance” came in the game that eliminated the Rangers, and combined with a costly error in Game 162 was certainly Hamilton’s low point of the season, chances of Hamilton re-signing with the Rangers appear grim (although perhaps not quite as grim as that rumored club official response makes it appear).
The reality is that in multiple interviews this season, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has stated that the club would “love to have Hamilton back next year”. Of course, there is obviously plenty of context in such a statement as that, which is contingent on several “ifs” becoming realities. For instance, if the Rangers are comfortable with Hamilton’s long-term health, and if being in Texas is still a good fit for him and his family, and if the two sides can agree on dollars, and if the two sides can agree on the years of the contract, then the Rangers would “love to have Hamilton back next year”.
Despite Hamilton’s struggles in 2012, particularly in June and July, and even more poignantly in the last week of the season, he will still be among the top free agents this off-season. In his exit interview with the media after the Rangers final game, Hamilton once again stated that the Rangers would get the “first shot” at signing him, and that they would have the opportunity to match any offer he receives.
However, based on the Rangers track record in the past two seasons with soon-to-be high price tag free agents, it is very unlikely that Hamilton will return to Arlington. In 2010, the Rangers did make a play for signing Cliff Lee, but were outbid by the Philadelphia Phillies, and Texas avoided engaging in a bidding war. After 2011, the Rangers never even entered into negotiations with C.J. Wilson, instead allowing him to test the market and see what it would bear. Once Wilson did that, the Rangers knew that they valued him much less than the market did, and so they graciously moved on.
The most likely outcome for Hamilton and the Rangers is something along the lines of the C.J. Wilson treatment. Hamilton is one of the most volatile, polarizing, interesting, and confusing free agents in MLB history. While the Rangers may still have some interest in bringing him back, they will likely want to survey what the open market is setting Hamilton’s value at first. If the market and the Rangers value Hamilton’s services similarly, there may still be hope for Hamilton continuing and finishing his career in Texas. At this point, based on the sentiment that is coming from the Rangers and their fans, and the Rangers recent track record, don’t hold your breath.
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