Commentary

Pick Josh Hamilton over Prince Fielder

Both are great, but Rangers outfielder is more versatile and a better long-term fit

Updated: January 18, 2012, 12:43 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

If pitcher Yu Darvish joins the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, as expected, then Jon Daniels' top priority becomes finding a way to fit Prince Fielder into the club's budget.

Daniels just shouldn't do it at Josh Hamilton's expense.

If Daniels must ultimately choose between Hamilton and Fielder long-term, then he should spend his dollars on Hamilton.

Hamilton, entering the final year of his contract, has said he'll cut off negotiations when spring training starts.

It'll probably take six years and at least $110 million -- you can forget about a hometown discount -- but that's the cost of doing business these days for an outfielder of Hamilton's caliber.

[+] EnlargeJosh Hamilton
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelJosh Hamilton has shown his ability to win games with his glove, as well as his bat.

Jayson Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals before last season, and Carl Crawford cost the Boston Red Sox $142 million over seven years.

Hamilton is better than each of them. Just so you know, the 27-year-old Fielder will want more years and more cash than Hamilton, and if there's an opt-out clause, say after three years, then Fielder and his agent, Scott Boras, will have considerable leverage in a negotiation.

But the reason Daniels must commit his dollars to Hamilton instead of Fielder, if he can sign only one, is that we've all seen the 30-year-old win games with his bat. And his glove. And his legs. And his arm. And we've all seen him do it multiple times.

Fielder can win games only with his bat.

If the Rangers sign Fielder, they're doing it for one reason: He's among the game's best mashers. With the right-field jet stream to right field, Fielder will hit 40 homers.

Guaranteed.

If he has a great year, he'll hit 50. Maybe more.

We've been there, done that in Dallas-Fort Worth. Since the day in 1975 when my mom packed me and my sister in our red VW bug and made the 22-hour drive from Buffalo, N.Y., to Oak Cliff, I've seen some of baseball's best hitters wear a Rangers uniform.

Al Oliver in the '70s. Ruben Sierra in the '80s. Julio Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Pudge Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro in the '90s. Alex Rodriguez this century.

While those players captured batting titles and home run crowns and earned MVP awards, the Rangers managed just one playoff victory.

The playoff victories and World Series appearances didn't begin until Daniels hired Ron Washington to implement an aggressive style of baseball.

Don't misunderstand, the Rangers still have one of baseball's best offenses, finishing first in batting average (.283), second in homers (210) and third in runs scored (855).

But they also go from first to third and steal bases better than most teams, which is how they create runs without homers. And they play defense and pitch with the AL's best teams.

They can win 2-1 or 10-9.

Some of y'all seem to have forgotten just how integral Hamilton's skill set is to the Rangers' ability to win in a multitude of ways. The 2010 AL MVP hit .298 with 25 homers and 94 RBIs in what most folks would term an off-year for him.

He struggled throughout the playoffs with a sports hernia and a painful groin injury that he's had surgically repaired, but remained a presence in the middle of the lineup and in center field.

And if the bullpen could've made the two-run homer he hit in the top of the 10th inning of Game 6 hold up, then he'd be a national hero.

You have every right to question Hamilton's injury history since he's played more than 135 games only once in Texas. His injuries, however, aren't the hamstring and quadriceps pulls Nelson Cruz gets that make you wonder if his body is predisposed to them.

Hamilton suffered an abdominal injury when he ran into a wall twice in 2009, as well as a strained groin. He cracked a rib running into a wall in 2010. He fractured his shoulder sliding headfirst into home plate last April.

None of those are chronic injuries. They're the result of a man who plays every game like it's his last because his drug and alcohol addiction has robbed him of so much of his career.

Any talk about the effects of drug and alcohol abuse on his body are pure speculation and without scientific merit. Concerns about a drug or alcohol relapse have more merit, but he's never missed a game because of that since he's been in the big leagues.

Yes, he had a relapse a couple of springs ago, which served as a reminder of his insidious disease. As much as we would all like a guarantee that Hamilton's body will hold up, sports doesn't work that way.

He could suffer any number of injuries on the field that would dramatically affect his career.

Let's not act like Fielder doesn't come with questions, too.

He's been among the most durable players in the big leagues, playing in Milwaukee's delightful summers, where the average temperature is 79.1 degrees in August and the stadium has a retractable roof.

There's certainly no guarantee his 275-pound body can withstand the average 96-degree temperatures in July and August in Arlington year after year.

Fielder and Hamilton are both great players. Hamilton's versatility makes him a better long-term fit and worthy of a long-term deal.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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