BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The possibility of this week turning into a blockbuster in Ranger history went out the window when free agent Prince Fielder signed with Detroit.  In the aftermath, there is still incredulity that Fielder received such a mammoth contract at the 11th hour with seemingly few bidders in the mix.  Jon Daniels was on the “Ben & Skin” show on ESPN radio this morning, and indicated the Rangers were always looking at Fielder on the basis of a limited number of years, and the team was never a player to make a contract offer in the neighborhood of what Fielder ultimately received.

As it turned out, there were actually two mystery teams in the hunt.  Even a few days before the signing, the Tigers were not mentioned as being a bidder for Fielder.  They only became interested after Victor Martinez suffered and injury that will force him to miss most if not all of the 2012 season.  It turned out that the Los Angeles Dodgers were the other mystery team.  The most rumored team to be in on Fielder prior to signing with the Tigers, other than Texas, was the Washington Nationals.  Ultimately, the Nats never even made a formal offer.  They simply talked parameters, which apparently included a contract no longer than six years.  Certainly Fielder is an outstanding hitter, but his fielding deficiencies and the Tigers’ pitcher friendly ball park make the size of Fielder’s contract astounding.

The Rangers now turn their attention to Josh Hamilton, who is in the final year of a two-year contract and can be a free agent at the end of 2012.  Hamilton has indicated that he wants an extension agreed upon prior to the start of spring training (27 days away); and if one isn’t, he won’t negotiate during the season, preferring to concentrate on baseball instead.  Quite frankly, Ranger fans should not hold out much optimism.  Hamilton has indicated he wants a “fair” deal, with “fair” undoubtedly meaning a total contract value in nine digits.  He has stated flatly that he will not be giving the Rangers any “hometown discounts”; that as a union man, he owes it to other players to get the best deal he can, which will serve as a positive comparable for other players in free agency and arbitration. 

There is no question that Hamilton is a tremendous defender and as feared a hitter as there is in baseball when he is healthy.  Healthy is the key word.  He has played about 125 games a season in his four years with Texas.  His bouts with drugs and alcohol earlier in life delayed his arrival in the majors, such that he will be a few years older when he reaches free agency than the usual high end player.  There is also the fear that his physical decline will come sooner because of those alcohol and drug bouts.

It is disappointing that Hamilton professes so little loyalty to the Rangers.  The team has gone above and beyond to create an atmosphere that has enabled Hamilton to stay on the straight and narrow and succeed (indeed excel) in the major leagues.  If he does leave, you have to wonder if a new team will support Hamilton with the same special treatment; and if they do, you also have to wonder whether his new teammates will be so accepting of the special treatment he receives. 

The MLB Network unveiled their list of Top 100 prospects this week.  They named four Ranger farmhands:  Jurickson Profar (#7), Martin Perez (#29), Mike Olt (#43), and Leonys Martin (#89).  For the record, these are the top four prospects in order as listed in Jamey Newberg’s top 72 Ranger prospects in this year’s edition of The Newberg Report.  (Yu Darvish was not considered as a prospect.)

Interestingly, Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout was the number one prospect a year ago.  All he did in 2011 was hit .326 with a .414 OBA, 11 home runs and 33 stolen bases at AA Arkansas, his first season at the AA level.  In two call-ups with the Angels he hit only .220, but hit five home runs in 40 games.  This year, he dropped to the number three prospect behind Tampa Bay’s left hander Matt Moore and Washington’s outfielder Bryce Harper.

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