Editor's note: This is the first of a five-part series looking at the issues surrounding Josh Hamilton's free agency and how the Rangers should handle it.
Today's topic: Contract
I'll bet that there was a fairly large group of you that read that question and immediately answered $0. That's understandable with the season's last two weeks fresh in everyone's mind. Hamilton missed one of the biggest road trips of the season -- one in late September against the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners with the Rangers trying to build their AL West lead -- because of ocular keratitis. Perhaps only Hamilton could miss five full games because of too much caffeine in his system. He returned and finished the season with a terrible error in shallow center field in Oakland in the division-deciding game and then went 0-for-4 in the wild-card loss to the Orioles, including a three-pitch strikeout late in the game. He saw eight pitches, swung at six of them, and never took a ball. Hamilton didn't deliver when it mattered most in those final games, and that's the final image of him.
But the other side of Hamilton is that he gave the club 43 homers and 128 RBIs. He hit .285 and managed to play in 148 games, his most since 2008. There were games when Hamilton looked completely out of it at the plate and yet found a way to hit a home run or deliver some sort of RBI hit that helped the club. What he didn't seem to do was take the offense on his back in the second half of the season the way we've seen in previous years. We'll get to more of Hamilton's overall numbers later in the week here on the blog.
Put all of that together -- the bad finish, the odd injuries, the whole Josh Hamilton package -- and the Rangers have to figure out what, if anything, they want to offer him. We've seen this front office take different approaches over the past few years to their own free agents. They fought hard on Cliff Lee, but in the end Lee chose Philadelphia. They had certain parameters on C.J. Wilson and never really made a formal offer because they knew those weren't close to what a few other teams were offering.
So if they decide to at least discuss parameters with Hamilton and make some sort of offer, what makes sense? I really think this comes down to the term of the contract, not the dollar amount. I could argue that the last two weeks have hurt Hamilton's overall value, but he's still in the $25 million range, isn't he? It could be more or less depending on those guaranteed years. But how many do you give Hamilton, who has had an injury history and is now 31 years old? I think three guaranteed years is all I'd go. Maybe there's a vesting option for a fourth year based on whether he stays healthy. But you don't want to get into a situation where you're paying a player that kind of money and not getting a return on the investment.
Does any other team give Hamilton more than that? I'd say the odds are good just because it takes one owner or one team to take that extra step out there. And I just don't think the Rangers will do that. I think they'll decide what they're comfortable with -- and it may not be what I've suggested -- and stick to it. If the market doesn't open up for Hamilton, the Rangers would have a shot. And one reason it might not open up like crazy is that teams could get scared off by the unknown of Hamilton. The Rangers know all about him and what it takes to have him on the team -- the support he needs, the patience when the strange injuries happen (even he acknowledges that "weird" things happen to him) and what to expect. The other clubs don't.
What Hamilton's final week did, though, was give the club plenty of cover with fans. This staff doesn't make decisions based on public opinion polls anyway, but if Hamilton doesn't return, my guess is that many fans won't be as upset as they would have been just a few months ago. Remember when many felt the Rangers should have given Hamilton the big deal after his April and May? But for those who think the Rangers shouldn't even bother with Hamilton, keep in mind the team needs to figure out how to get those 40-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs from someone else (or maybe a few folks).
Should the Rangers offer Hamilton a contract? What do you think is the right offer? How many guaranteed years are you willing to give him?