Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Josh Hamilton talk: What about his health?
By Richard Durrett
Editor's Note: This is the second of a five-part series looking at the issues surrounding Josh Hamilton and free agency as it pertains to the Texas Rangers.
Today's topic: Health
When any team -- whether it's the Rangers or somebody else -- discusses what kind of parameters to consider for Hamilton, injury history has to be at or near the top of the list. And in Hamilton's case, with his history and age -- 31 -- it's an important factor.
Hamilton managed to both help and hurt his value in this area this season, if you ask me. First, he played 148 games, his most since playing 156 games in 2008. He avoided the big injury, which cost him time in previous years. He played just 121 games in 2011 after sliding into home plate in April in Detroit tagging up on a fly ball in foul ground and missed nearly six weeks with a fracture in his right humerus bone. In 2010, he missed nearly all of September with hairline fracture in his ribs, and multiple injuries caused him to play just 89 games in 2009.
This season, though, Hamilton did miss games with back stiffness, an intestinal virus and ocular keratitis. The last one came at a bad time for the Rangers, with the club on one of its biggest road trips of the season in late September. Turns out that Hamilton was consuming too much caffeine, which was causing him vision issues. He got off the sports drinks and the extra cups of coffee at home and said he felt better. Still, what does it say to prospective teams that you missed a critical part of the season for what Hamilton himself admits is a "weird" reason?
But in my opinion, it's the injuries (more than the fear of any kind of alcohol relapse), that have teams worried about giving Hamilton huge years. Well, at least it should concern them to give him more years. How healthy will he stay during the life of a contract that's any more than three years? Is that a risk worth taking when you're talking about a player that could command at least $20 million a year?
The difference in the deals that Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols is that both of those players have a longer track record of high production and staying healthy than Hamilton. Pujols had played at least 158 games in seven of his 11 seasons in St. Louis (and the fewest games he'd played in a season was 143 in 2006) before getting a 10-year deal from the Angels (I still can't believe he got 10 years, but he was a top hitter for a long time before he got it). Fielder played at least 157 games in all six of his seasons in Milwaukee before inking his nine-year deal in Detroit. He was also 27 when he signed.
When he's on the field, Hamilton is a productive player overall. I know that's tough for some Rangers fans to admit after he struggled in all facets the final few weeks of the season. But in his big league career, Hamilton is batting .304. He has hit at least 32 home runs in three of his seasons in Texas, including a career-high 43 this year. He's had at least 100 RBIs in three seasons as a Ranger, as well. When Hamilton gets in a groove, there are few in the game like him (see parts of his 2010 MVP year and April and May this year).
How confident teams are that Hamilton can stay healthy will dictate how willing they are to go out and give him a handful of guaranteed years. So his injury history -- and what those injuries were -- will certainly play an impact in his overall value.
Can Hamilton stay healthy and play most of the season for each of the next three years? What about five? Seven?