The thing about the Hot Stove season is that when it seems to be going well for your team, it feels like a stack of the best presents ever to unwrap.
And when it’s not, it’s just really cold outside.
I’m (pretty sure I’m) not going to waste any space here bullet-pointing all the reasons that it makes tremendous sense not to commit five years and an eighth of a billion dollars to Josh Hamilton, a 31-year-old with more age than that on his body. Or listing a small sample of the moments of extraordinary greatness that Hamilton provided the Texas Rangers. Or pointing out examples of the extraordinary accommodations and support that the Rangers provided Hamilton.
I’ve already spent too much space talking about some of those things.
And anyway, it’s all history, and under that bridge there’s a rip current moving in the other direction that’s not worth dwelling on now.
I’m sure it will all be in the second autobiography.
And some of it will survive the cut during movie post-production.
He’s streaky. He’s undisciplined. He’s brittle, if not unreliable.
He can be, as he’s reminded us, “very deceptive, very sneaky in a lot of ways” when he wants. His unpredictability is completely predictable. It’s him, Josh, it’s gonna be something weird.
He’s deeply flawed to the point at which he’s an unusually risky long-term proposition.
And I wanted him back here.
But not at any cost.
Texas and Los Angeles clearly approached this with differing philosophies, and that’s really all I have the energy to talk about this morning as far as what just happened.
The Angels obviously went all in on Hamilton. There was little sense, even going into the winter, that he would get anything close to the seven years and $175 million that he was rumored to be seeking, a package so preposterous under the circumstances – even for a player so gifted – that any mention of it in the press was followed by the caveat that no team was ever going to come close to those numbers. Los Angeles came closest.
The near-consensus as late as last week’s Winter Meetings was that the Rangers had played things right, choosing not to open the off-season with a formal offer on the premise that they didn’t want to establish a market floor for a player who might have trouble stirring up a huge competition for his past-prime years of service.
But Los Angeles, who we now know discreetly met with Hamilton at his off-site Nashville hotel last week and then met with him again at his Metroplex home this week, came in and made Hamilton an offer that wasn’t so startling in the AAV as in the term of commitment.
We may never know whether Texas would have ventured outside its comfort zone and offered Hamilton the fifth year that the Angels did, but Los Angeles made the offer and, according to some trying to piece together the chain of events, might have told Hamilton that if he was planning on taking it to the Rangers and shopping it that they’d pull it off the table.
There’s a handful of reasons that the 5/125 deal is far more understandable from the Angels’ standpoint than it would have been for the Rangers. The Angels are fighting not only to catch Oakland and Texas in the division, but also for market relevance as the Dodgers go crazy (including making off with Zack Greinke, interestingly enough for a lesser AAV than Hamilton will get). They have a TV contract that dwarfs even the landmark deal that the Rangers will soon move into.
And they have the Albert Pujols window during which they simply have to win, with a bad farm system that hardly promises opportunities to extend the window by way of anything other than big cash and Mike Trout.
I don’t blame Hamilton for chasing the money. They all do, by which I mean they all do.
I don’t blame the Angels. They have to win now, even if it means they’re paying Pujols and Hamilton more than a combined $50 million for seasons in which both will be shells of themselves physically and productively.
There’s an Icarus feel to what the Angels have done these last two winters. But I don’t blame them.
And I don’t blame the Rangers. It’s a bad contract, at least on the back end.
Again, I wanted Hamilton back, and could live with an extra year beyond the three that felt about right, but at five years I’m guessing the club would have walked away even if he’d come to them (as he’d reportedly said for months he would) for a last chance to come to terms after he had the Los Angeles offer in hand (even if whichever Rangers official said in October he wouldn’t bring Hamilton back “even if he wants to play here for free next season” backed off of that stance).
Plus, even if Texas did come back with a reasonably competitive proposal (Jon Daniels told reporters that he presented a deal with less guaranteed money – reportedly four years and $108 million – but the potential for more than Los Angeles via incentives and/or options), it sounds as if Hamilton might very well have thanked his old club for the offer and the last five years, and moved on to Anaheim. (Even though, as New York Post columnist Joel Sherman puts it, he “is leaving a cocoon he knows for something nearer TMZ Central,” an issue that Hamilton, as much as any player in baseball, probably ought to have factored in.)
Despite yesterday’s rankling events, this is probably where things were going to end, one way or another, once the Angels resolved to back up the truck.
But here’s the itch I can’t seem to scratch away, and it has less to do with Hamilton, maybe, than this off-season as a whole and an even larger view of things.
Grantland’s Jonah Keri wrote just before the Winter Meetings, regarding the Rangers: “This is a team with big-market resources that plays in the fourth-biggest market in the country, but still maintains the small-market discipline that helped it build a winner.”
I view that as a really great thing about this organization. Best of both worlds. The kind of restraint and fiscal poise that bodes well.
Just as St. Louis GM John Mozeliak was “privately lauded by other GM’s” when he allowed Pujols to walk a year ago, writes Buster Olney (ESPN), “Daniels [is] sitting in that seat now.” In the long term, which Texas always has an eye on, the decision not to pay Josh Hamilton elite superstar money for his age 36 and 37 seasons, especially when he’s shown year after year that his body is breaking down (will this contract be even partly insurable?), makes all kinds of rational sense, even if the move runs counter to emotional attachment and marketing imagination.
The thing I’m starting to wonder about is this whole idea of overpaying.
Let’s take the Angels out of the discussion so there’s no irrational, rivalry-fueled aspect to what I want to get into.
After the 2007 season, Detroit traded center fielder Cameron Maybin and lefthander Andrew Miller – both of whom went into that season among the top 10 prospects in all of baseball – plus righthander Burke Badenhop and a couple other prospects for corner bat Miguel Cabrera and albatross reclamation project Dontrelle Willis. A month earlier, the Tigers had also traded righthander Jair Jurrjens and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, both legitimate prospects, for one year of aging shortstop Edgar Renteria.
After the 2011 season, Detroit gave far too many years and too much money to Prince Fielder.
In July 2012, the Tigers traded three solid prospects, headed by righthander Jacob Turner, a top 20 prospect in the game, to Miami for rental righthander Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante.
Depending on how you viewed things, what Detroit did to get Cabrera, and Renteria, and Fielder, and Sanchez and Infante was either gutsy or genius. Maybe the Tigers overpaid.
Maybe they’d even admit that. Without a shred of remorse.
Look at what Cincinnati gave up this week (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs) to get one year of control over Shin-Soo Choo, and what Arizona parted with (righthander Trevor Bauer and more) to get Gregorius.
Or what San Francisco traded in July 2011 (righthander Zack Wheeler) to get two months of Carlos Beltran’s service.
Or the prospect haul (Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, Patrick Leonard) the Royals just gave up for Rays righthanders James Shields and Wade Davis.
Texas was reportedly interested in Torii Hunter early this off-season, before Detroit heard his price and immediately met it.
Pittsburgh blew catcher Russell Martin out of the water. Texas had been interested.
Boston blew Mike Napoli out of the water.
Kansas City blew Tampa Bay out of the water to get Shields.
The Dodgers blew Greinke out of the water.
The Angels, and Hamilton.
It goes against my instinctive focus on allocating trade-chip assets carefully, but would it make some sense for Texas, as steeped in minor league prospects as any organization, to just go out and blow someone away?
No, I wouldn’t have traded Jurickson Profar to get Shields.
Or Elvis Andrus for Justin Upton.
But would a roll of the dice to seriously boost the short term while unquestionably compromising the long term to some degree – and I’m not talking Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks for Ryan Dempster, but something a lot bigger – be in order?
Easier said than done, of course. If teams are going to hold Texas up for one of the two shortstops for a number two starter with two years of control, or for an enigmatic and (surprisingly?) very available outfielder who’s probably just a younger version of Nelson Cruz, you’re not going to do that.
But do you think the Tigers regret Maybin and Miller for Cabrera – or that they would even if Maybin and Miller had fulfilled expectations?
It goes back to the idea of never looking back when you move Justin Smoak and more for Cliff Lee, no matter what Smoak was thought at the time to be. Flags fly forever.
This comes from Joe Frisaro (MLB.com): “At the Winter Meetings, the Marlins told teams that Giancarlo Stanton is not available. That was then, prior to Hamilton relocating to Southern California. The Rangers have a loaded farm system, and if they are willing to offer some of their top young players, the Marlins may be in position to cash in, if they don’t consider Stanton part of their long-term plans. Would Miami be tempted to move Stanton if suddenly Jurickson Profar and/or Mike Olt are centerpieces in a deal?”
Not Josh Hamilton.
But the others, yeah.
This is no time to panic. The Rangers have a very good roster, with a number of players who ought to produce more in 2013 than they did in 2012. Texas has money to spend, and there are still free agents out there, and probably trade opportunities, that can make this team better, even if not at an impact level of Hamilton or Greinke.
But maybe that sort of impact acquisition is out there after all, escaping the shine of the national Twitterati. It just might involve the type of cost – in prospects – that causes some amount of long-term panic to set in, offset by potentially super-awesome implications in the short term.
Texas made a great decision five Decembers ago to acquire Hamilton and all the associated risks.
And a good one to let him go.
The Rangers saw him elevate his game into a prime that was dominant as anyone’s – and you can argue the franchise had a lot to do with him reaching those heights – and then saw signs that the prime may now be a closed chapter.
I’ll miss Hamilton. At some level most of us have a soft spot for him, I imagine, even if the events of this summer chipped away at that. The redemption story, the Superman feats, the flawed child that he is – the stuff movies are made of played out in Arlington these last five years, and now he’s chosen to spend as many years in Hollywood as he’s spent in Texas and push the story line forward.
My farewell to Hamilton is part fond, part #bringit.
Some of you may be devastated that he’s leaving. Those of you who are happy to see him go away probably didn’t feel that way until the last half of this year, but this isn’t a good week for you, either, especially since he’s going to suit up for the rival Angels, and you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think he’s got a rebound in him on some level.
It hasn’t been a good week for the Rangers, or a good month – really, the last three months have been pretty terrible – but the winter’s not over, this front office isn’t conceding anything, and I’m starting to think that I’d be pretty OK with things if there’s an opportunity cooking for a trade that might hurt to make but almost needs to be made, a deal in which Texas might just decide to blow another team away, and in the process do that for you and me, too.