NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Josh Hamilton left here Tuesday night without a contract. He had arrived on the same flight as Texas Rangers executives, which was either a nice bit of serendipity or another slice of an awkward courtship that is proceeding with all the trappings of a teenage romance.
The games. The drama. The uncertainty. And here we are, at the winter meetings, baseball's three-day-long prom, and Hamilton is going home without so much as a boutonnière while the Rangers do their best to convince the real prom king to dance.
Zack Greinke is their latest flirtation, he a willing coquet, and Hamilton shunted aside – again. First Rangers owner Nolan Ryan ripped Hamilton for quitting tobacco midseason, and then the team said it wasn't going to even offer him a contract, and now the Rangers and Hamilton are stuck in this odd place where they both need each other and neither is altogether willing to commit because of the mutual uncertainty borne of this discomfort that has permeated their relationship since the season ended.
It is time for this to end. All of it.
It is time for the Rangers to bow to the inevitability of the Los Angeles Dodgers' bottomless checkbook. Greinke enjoyed his time in Los Angeles with the Angels, and the firepower surrounding him with the Dodgers would allow him to blend into the periphery even when he becomes the highest-paid pitcher in history, and anyway, the Rangers really don't want to go seven years on an arm, not with Yu Darvish in the midst of a six-year deal.
It is time for Josh Hamilton to stop shopping for a deal elsewhere. Texas is where he belongs, even if Rangers fans booed him off the field during the final game of the 2012 season, even if Nolan Ryan went all Robin Ventura on him, even if the Rangers tried to pull the whole it-isn't-you-it's-me gambit.
Look, this is business, and a number of executives believe the postseason salvos sent toward Hamilton were very calculated. The Rangers understand the position of weakness teams have when superstars hit free agency, and there are two ways to approach it: be interested or be coy. The Cardinals last season lobbed multiple offers Albert Pujols' way, and he took them and got a more lucrative one from the Angels. The Rangers weren't going to let that happen. Come on back to us when you're ready, they told Hamilton, and while he hasn't yet, logic suggests he ought.
As immaterial as Hamilton wants teams to believe his drug and alcohol addictions are – while he has fallen off the wagon in recent years, the episodes have not affected his play – teams are scared if they give five years or more to a recovered junkie something awful is going to happen. This is paranoid and it is not altogether likely and it is still completely understandable. A $100 million investment needs as much due diligence as possible, and addiction chews up any attempt at such and spits it back on the ground. No matter how long he stays sober, he remains an addict, and every addict, even the strongest and most diligent to his sobriety, remains vulnerable to its vagaries.
Just look at what the Rangers have done to help him stay clean. Hamilton needs a full-time employee to babysit him. He can't carry around an excessive amount of cash. The Rangers respect his wishes to stay away from alcohol. His longtime teammates especially understand his disease and tread carefully. And the prospect of that not being the case anywhere else he goes is a threat on which he can't possibly risk his sobriety, not when he understands it is the only thing that keeps him in the major leagues.
There may be a robust market for Hamilton that's forming in the corners of the Gaylord Opryland hotel, where whispers get caught in ostentatious foliage. Hamilton's agent, Mike Moye, isn't the sort who leaks much, and with top-end free agents, there are teams that don't like their names involved publicly, either, because those that miss out will be prone to criticism from fans who believe they whiffed on a high-profile free agent.
The easy compromise for Hamilton and the Rangers is a four-year deal with a high per-year number – say $25 million – and a pair of vesting options based on games played. Hamilton wants years? He'll get them – if he stays healthy. For a player who has not been able to throughout his career, it's a fair compromise: He gets big dollars, stays where he fits and, if he produces, earns those years.
Texas still needs Hamilton, 31, to anchor a lineup that looks mighty dangerous with him. Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar, Michael Young and Geovany Soto, with Mike Olt either trade bait or waiting for everyday at-bats, is plenty full of punch to back up a Greinke-less rotation, which still looks plenty good: Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Colby Lewis and a trio of kids, Martin Perez, Justin Grimm and the coming Cody Buckel.
On his way out Tuesday, Hamilton tweeted out a picture of him and his wife with the words "heading home!!" He was off to Texas, and he was right: It is home, and it should be in the future, too.
No more games. No more drama. No more uncertainty. Just a dance and, finally, a deal.
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