Josh Hamilton’s Return to a New Place

In the moment, it’s easy to focus only on the things that annoy you, on the things that you wish would be better. The greatest challenge in the world is to appreciate the moments that you get before you stop getting them, and it becomes all the more difficult when things aren’t going like you imagined. After the moment, everything shifts. The irritating bits fade into nothing, and what remains are images of the good times. In large part these are the principles driving the Angels’ sale of Josh Hamilton to the Rangers, and perhaps here more than anywhere else, it’s evident that the same thing can always be viewed in contrasting ways. The Angels see Hamilton in one way, the Rangers see him in another, and the great question concerns which side is closer to the truth. Josh Hamilton’s truth isn’t changing; it just happens to be somewhat unknown.

At its core, this really is just a baseball move. The Angels wouldn’t be paying for Josh Hamilton to go away if they thought he could still be a productive member of a contending team. And the Rangers are taking a shot because their financial risk will be laughably small, and they’re a team that could use a helpful left fielder. The Angels think they’ll be better for this, and the Rangers think they’ll be better for this. Obviously, it’s a little more complicated. It just always tends to come down to performance.

When I refer to the Angels, I’m mostly referring to Arte Moreno. He’s the reason this is happening — he’s the reason the team is pushing Hamilton elsewhere. Which is silly, in one way, because Moreno isn’t the guy Moreno hired to make baseball decisions. But then, Moreno is ultimately in charge, and this is a matter of his own investment, and once you become disappointed in something it’s hard not to see everything through that lens. Hamilton’s performance with the Angels was never enough, not enough to justify the other things. Moreno understands that Hamilton is a person who needs help. He also understands that he has a business to run, and if a player is no longer helping said business, it’s best to get what you can and move forward.

Without question, there’s emotion here. Moreno feels hurt, rightly or wrongly, because Hamilton hasn’t delivered, and because he reported his relapse straight to Major League Baseball and not to the Angels. A promising relationship never developed, and Moreno hasn’t spoken with Hamilton for months. Emotional decisions are decisions that can be taken advantage of by competitors, but it does need to be remembered that this is what the market determined. As soon as the Angels made their statements regarding Hamilton’s relapse, it was obvious that he could be had. And he is being had, but with the Angels picking up most of the money. Nobody out there wanted to take more of a risk. The Rangers are going to be on the hook for something like $5 – 10 million, for someone who made his fifth consecutive All-Star Game just a few seasons ago.

What’s so intriguing about Hamilton is the perception that he’s unique. And he certainly does have a unique backstory. His raw skills have been matched by few others. Injury-prone but talented players are easy to dream on, because they make you wonder what they could be when they’re healthy. Hamilton takes that idea and turns it up to max power. For everything that goes wrong, there’s an excuse. He isn’t healthy. He had too many energy drinks. He isn’t all there; he doesn’t feel supported. There’s this idea that, if Hamilton can play close to 100%, and if he’s in the right environment, he’s an MVP candidate again. In a sense this is like the ultimate change-of-scenery transaction.

Typically, changes of scenery don’t yield changes in performance. For one thing, for Hamilton, how often will he really be playing at or around 100%? How often will he be sufficiently focused and motivated, if that’s been an issue for years? People don’t change because of decisions made by other people. People change based on their own decisions and actions, and Hamilton will be facing just about all the same challenges. And also, there’s this part: in a few weeks, Hamilton will officially be a 34-year-old outfielder coming off shoulder surgery, playing with a body that’s been through some things. Most recently, he’s been a decent player, but a flawed and inconsistent player. Those were younger seasons.

All of which isn’t to say that Hamilton is toast. It just explains why the Angels weren’t able to shed more money than they are. Hamilton is a riskier player than most, and the Rangers happen to be in a position where they have almost nothing to lose. The team, again, has been devastated by injuries, and there’s nothing present in left field. Their commitment to Hamilton will be smaller than the White Sox’s commitment to Zach Duke. It’ll be smaller than the Pirates’ commitment to Jung-Ho Kang. So why not see? Strictly in terms of money, Texas will pay Hamilton to be worth about a win or so. He could do that. He could do twice that! And if it goes poorly, it’s not like postseason chances hang in the balance, and the Rangers have grown familiar with paying money to players not doing anything for the team.

It’s undoubtedly exciting. Hamilton’s going to be a draw, even despite how his Rangers tenure ended last time. At least temporarily, he’ll be welcomed back and embraced by the fans who also remember how things used to be. Hamilton’s Texas days were the glory days, and it’s only natural to think two parties who had something before could get back together and stick. But both parties have changed, and not in ways that would lead you to believe this time will be even better. Hamilton’s performance and health have declined. He and the area once had a bitter separation. And the Rangers are worse, and the players are different, and the coaching staff is different, and the support system is different. In a way this is a homecoming, but even the ballpark environment has changed, with Texas no longer being so friendly to lefties. Josh Hamilton isn’t going home. He’s going to the place where home was.

Yet something had to change, and you want to bet on talent. You get the sense Hamilton wouldn’t have found himself again with the Angels. Maybe he won’t with the Rangers — probably, he won’t, with the Rangers — but the odds are at least a little bit higher, and the final decision should please all parties. The Angels are thinner now, but Hamilton was unreliable, and Moreno isn’t going to care if Hamilton could’ve been worth another few million. The experiment was a failure, so they’ve stopped the project. Hamilton gets a breather, and a front office that supported him before, and there’ll be less pressure in Texas, where he isn’t being paid by the team to be a superstar. And the Rangers get a talented player with enough question marks to drive down the price tag. In the worst-case scenario, the Rangers are forced to eat basically the salary of a veteran middle reliever. They won’t have to put up with the problems if they don’t want to. This is going to be Josh Hamilton under very different circumstances.

Said Adrian Beltre:

“Is he going to help us win ballgames? […] I’m open. Who doesn’t need a guy like Josh?”

The most recent Rangers version of Josh Hamilton had the highest whiff rate in the American League, and slugged .577. The most recent Angels version of Josh Hamilton had the highest whiff rate in the American League, and slugged .414. Everybody’s going to see something a little bit different, yet no one can be sure about the current reality of Josh Hamilton. Probably not even Josh Hamilton.

We hoped you liked reading Josh Hamilton’s Return to a New Place by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Cory Settoon
Member

For what it’s worth, Hamilton was still crushing it while playing in Arlington over the last two years. It’s a small sample against an iffy rotation.

Getting his life on track will be the best way for him to produce. Hope he gets well.