BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Friday night the twitter universe lit up with the news that the Angels would soon be parting ways with Josh Hamilton and that Hamilton’s next Major League stop would be the same as his last Major League stop – he would be returning to the Texas Rangers. As illogical as it seems, apparently it’s going to happen, probably tomorrow. The Rangers, Angels, Hamilton, MLB Players Association and Major League Baseball are all signing off on various aspects of the transaction to make it happen.
The rumored deal has Hamilton joining the Rangers with an agreement to reduce the approximate $80 million he is owed under the five year contract he signed with the Angels after the 2012 season, by $6 million, and with the Rangers paying somewhere in the $2-$3 million per year range for the remaining term of the contract. The $6 million reduction of the amount owed Hamilton represents the approximate tax savings he will realize by moving to Texas, a state with no income tax. The benefits to the Angels are getting rid of a player the team no longer wants and knocking $12-$15 million off their obligation to Hamilton.
The MLBPA agreed to the salary reduction, something that they would not do earlier this century when Alex Rodriguez wanted to reduce his contract to induce a trade from the Rangers to the Red Sox. However this time around, there is new management at the MLBPA, which apparently realizes Hamilton needs to move to a new team. Hamilton isn’t really losing any money in the deal with the tax savings, and he also is to receive an opt-out clause for the final year of his contract. It’s doubtful that Hamilton will exercise the option, but it’s another theoretical economic benefit in return for the salary reduction.
With the amount of money changing hands, MLB also needs to approve the deal, which is expected.
As for the Rangers, the move smacks of desperation. So far this season, the Rangers’ offense has been abysmal. Texas went into play Sunday with a .211 team batting average, which ranked 30th out of 30 Major League teams. Four players in Sunday’s starting lineup were hitting below .200, and in the cases of Sin-Shoo Choo, Jake Smolinski and Rougned Odor, WELL below .200. This is the 10th year since Jon Daniels became general manager of the team, and it is clearly the worst offensive unit he has put together. Its ineptitude matches the woeful Ranger teams in the early 1970s.
On the surface, the general thought is that the Rangers have little risk in this deal, gambling the $2-$3 million per year for as many as three years. In the world of Major League baseball, that’s relative “chump change”. The upside for Texas lies in the hope that Hamilton can recapture the form he showed in the five years he was with the Rangers in which he made five straight All-Star teams.
Certainly Daniels has to be worried about his own job security. When Bob Simpson and Ray Davis bought the team out of bankruptcy in 2010, it was in first place. They quickly saw two trips to the World Series, but the team has gone downhill since. They sided with Jon Daniels in the power struggle to run the baseball aspects of the team and ran Nolan Ryan out of town to hand the reins to Daniels.
Now they look out and see a team that looks awful on the field. The starting pitching isn’t good, the bullpen is worse, the defense is terrible and they can’t hit. It’s on the road to a second straight year of at least 85-90 losses; and worse, Ryan has moved on to be involved in directing Houston’s rebuilding program that finds the Astros in first place with a good looking up and coming team.
Daniels then is obviously feeling the pressure. Finding a middle of the order bat at any time is difficult, but much more so at this point in the year. He has hamstrung the team’s payroll flexibility when he acquired Choo and Prince Fielder before the 2014 season. They collectively zap up about a third of the entire payroll. I. E., he has few options.
Since taking over the team, Daniels has tried the formula of low financial risk with high potential gain in player acquisitions. Most have failed miserably, such as Rich Harden. The odds aren’t good that Hamilton will return to the form he showed in his first stint in Arlington. He is three years older than when he left and injuries limited him to 89 games a year ago. He’s on the disabled list now, currently rehabbing in Houston from shoulder surgery. The earliest he’ll be seen in Arlington is mid-May, and that would be a rush job.
His personal life is also in turmoil. The event that ultimately led to his departure from the Angels was his admitted use of illegal drugs and alcohol during the winter. It has now become public knowledge that he has filed for divorce from his wife Katie. They were married in 2004 and have four daughters.
He has been booed in his Arlington’s appearances as an Angel, so it will be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets as a returning Ranger. The guess here is that he will be welcomed with open arms. This team’s offense is so bad that fans will be willing to overlook the comments he made about Dallas/Ft. Worth not being a baseball town to welcome him back.
The Rangers would like to convince fans that they have a team that can contend. The reality is, they are in a rebuilding process and are not likely to reach the playoffs for at least two or three more years. Their opening day roster was the youngest in the Major Leagues, and top prospects such as Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro, Nomar Mazara, Lewis Brinson and Alex Gonzalez will arrive soon. It’s questionable as to whether the team wants to have Hamilton around as an influence on these young players. There could be more downside to the acquisition than the financial aspects of the deal indicate.
It’s not likely that this ends well. On the other hand, the Rangers had virtually nothing to lose. This team was going nowhere without him. It probably goes nowhere with him.