I’d like to continue the offseason ritual of baseball writers pretending to be able to see into the future by looking into Josh Hamilton’s future. As you may know Josh Hamilton is entering into the offseason as perhaps the number one free agent in Major League Baseball. I realize that last sentence may anger Zack Greinke and his agent, but I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that neither of them is reading this. So what should the Rangers do about Hamilton’s impending free agency? If they let him walk, how would they replace him? How many questions in a row is it appropriate for a writer to ask his readers? I’m going to go ahead and answer the last question now with three. Three questions is the maximum appropriate amount of questions to ask your readers! Now that I’ve graciously answered the last question for you lets move on to answer the first two.
I’m a huge Rangers fan myself, but I’m going going to do my best to remain objective here. I personally don’t think the Rangers should resign Josh Hamilton. That’s a heavy statement coming from me that I don’t say lightly. I love Josh Hamilton and appreciate all that he’s brought to the table for the Rangers. I don’t say they should let him walk because he has had substance abuse issues in the past, he had a bad end to his 2012 campaign, or because he had a drunken night out in February. I say this because he will be 32 for the majority of next season and has a very checkered injury history. His strikeout rate also concerns me. It’s up to 25.5% from 17.3% in 2011 and his career mark of 19.7%. 2012 may have been an aberration, but an aging outfielder with a strikeout rate shooting through the roof concerns me. I wouldn’t be so concerned if I thought he would get a reasonable contract at around 4-75 or 5-90, but I’m worried that the “mystery team” will be back this year to offer Hamilton something outrageous like 6-120. The Fangraphs contract crowdsourcing results were released this morning and have Hamilton pegged for 5-100. I believe this is a conservative estimate and even that scares me. Nobody can deny his raw talent, but the risk is too great for a contract that his virtually no margin for error. Still, players like Hamilton don’t exactly grow on trees. How would the Rangers replace a guy like Hamilton? Well, the obvious answer is that you don’t. There is nobody else on the free agent market that compares to him. The closest rumored to be available player is Justin Upton, but he would not be a cheap get for the Rangers and I’m not even sure he is actually available. With that said, I believe there is a way to allow Hamilton to walk and still remain a contender.
The biggest asset that the Rangers have in being able to let Hamilton walk is the presence of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin. I’m sure many of your baseball traditionalists and choking on your own tongues at the moment with laughter, but hear me out. I don’t expect Craig Gentry to hit 40 home runs next season, but the fact is that he has put together 4.6 WAR over the past two seasons in 422 PA. Hamilton, in contrast, put together 4.4 WAR in 2012 over 636 PA. I’m not saying that Craig Gentry is a better player than Josh Hamilton, but the value of Gentry’s fantastic defense and baserunning can’t be denied. Not to mention he has put up an 88 wRC+ over his career (105 in 2012) which is more than adequate for a speedy, great defense CF. The reader may now be saying, “But Chris! The Rangers lineup is already dominated by right handed batters. Don’t the Rangers have any hot centerfield prospects that bat from the left side?” to which I would reply, “Yes!”. Leonys Martin is still developing, but his is performing VERY well in the Dominican Winter League at the moment. I would much rather have Gentry and Martin for a combined price of ~$4,000,000 in 2013 than Hamilton for possibly over $20,000,000. The Rangers have too many other holes to fill in the rotation and bullpen to take that kind of risk.
If I thought Josh Hamilton was going to be a Back to the Future type player I’d sign him to $20 million a year in a second, but it looks as though he’s a Back to the Future II type player at best at the moment. Not to mention the terrifying odds that he would end up as a Back to the Future III type player. Not even the power of love could save the Rangers if they made that kind of mistake. You’re not going to get this kind of hard hitting analysis anywhere else, folks.