BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The Super Bowl had barely ended when Chuck Morgan, the Rangers’ stadium public address announcer sent out this tweet “It is now baseball season.”  With the last pro or college football game in the books and spring training just a couple of weeks away, it IS officially baseball season.  Most of the rosters are generally set, and in many cases, equipment trucks are already rolling to spring training sites.  Arbitration cases are getting settled on a daily basis, and hearings are scheduled for the ones that don’t get settled.  This shapes up to be a very exciting and competitive season with all the player movement this winter.

Since Friday’s press conference in which Josh Hamilton admitted and provided some detail to his use of alcohol last Monday at Sherlock’s Pub and Grill in Dallas, there have been persistent rumors of photographs taken of him that evening becoming available.  Randy Galloway mentioned in the Star Telegram that there are people claiming to have the photographic goods that are looking for a fee ranging from $10,000 – $100,000.  The Start Telegram has so far not been willing to pay the money and provide those photos to us.  Undoubtedly though, we fans will see photographs from the evening, which hopefully will not cause Hamilton more damage than has already been incurred.

It is noteworthy that during the press conference, Hamilton thanked the Rangers for the care, attention and support for him in dealing with his addiction problems over the four years he has been with the team.  In the past, his stance regarding his contract negotiations was that he owed it to other players to be a good “union man” by getting the most money possible out of his upcoming contract.  He has never even hinted that he would make any financial accomodation to the Rangers for working so diligently to put him in a situation where he can succeed on the baseball field.  Friday’s acknowlegement may or may not be a softening of that stance.

In any event, the incident involving Hamilton’s use of alcohol may make the situation more likely that he signs a contract extension with the Rangers.  No one really knows what other teams will offer next fall if Hamilton becomes a free agent.  However, most local commentators feel that he cost himself bundles of guaranteed money because of the incident.  That would seem logically true, but then again it seemed logical just a couple of weeks ago that Prince Fielder had drastically over priced his services in the market place until Detroit came out of the blue with an inconceivable offer.  In any event, both Hamilton and Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels acknowledged Friday that discussions of a contract extension for Hamilton are currently on hold while he deals with the problems from last Monday. There has been no indication that Hamilton has softened his stance on having a contract extension agreed by the start of spring training.

The Rangers’ hiring of Hamilton’s new “accountability partner” to take the place of Johnny Narron is expected to be announced shortly, perhaps even later today.

OTHER MATTERS:  Monday afternoon, the Rangers announced they had signed first baseman/outfielder Conor Jackson (29) and left-handed relief pitcher Joe Beimel (34) to minor league contracts with an invitation to spring training.  Beimel was actually drafted by the Rangers in 1996, but did not sign with the team; and signed two years later with the Pirates.

It is generally believed now that Roy Oswalt has little chance of joining the Rangers.  Oswalt is said to be looking for a one-year deal with a salary in the $8 – $10 million range and a committment for a spot in the starting rotation.  Such an addition to the Rangers would likely prcipitate the move of Matt Harrison to the bullpen coming off a 14-9, 3.39 season.  It is questionable whether the Rangers would be wise to give up on Harrison for a 34 year-old veteran with back problems.  It is also questionable whether the Rangers’ can or wish to stretch their budget to add $8 – $10 million.  The current projection for the Rangers’ collective salaries is $125 – $130 million.

Arbitration cases are still open for Elvis Andrus, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz.  The Rangers have not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since 2000 with Lee Stevens.  Andrus’s hearing is set for this Thursday, while Napoli and Cruz are scheduled for next week on the 15th and 17th respectively.

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