Commentary

Decision is easy: Sign Josh Hamilton

Even with known risks, Rangers can't afford to let rare talent get away

Updated: May 16, 2012, 4:05 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Whenever the urge hits this season, Josh Hamilton arrives at the ballpark hours before the game and heads to Ron Washington's office.

Usually, Hamilton lies on a couch, and they talk.

Hamilton will reveal some of life's frustrations, and Washington listens before providing some of his to-the-point advice about how to handle life.

Then Hamilton will search his Bible for a verse or a story that bridges their conversation. It might take 20 minutes. Or an hour. Maybe longer. There's no time limit on the personal and confidential conversations between player and manager.

Once his spirit has been purged, Hamilton returns to the clubhouse with a clutter-free mind, so he can do what he does best: pulverize baseballs.

[+] EnlargeJosh Hamilton
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJosh Hamilton's ability to crush baseballs was well known before his recent home run binge.

And that's among the reasons Hamilton's contract situation isn't complicated. He's a five-tool player, a left-handed hitter at that, whose skill set can't be replaced.

Signing Hamilton to a long-term deal isn't about his unbelievable start -- 18 homers and 44 RBIs through 35 games -- this season. All that's really done is remind us that of the 750 players in the majors, he's one of a few five-tool players in the game.

The Rangers can feel good about paying Hamilton because he's still improving. He's not yet reached his apex.

He's still learning some of the game's subtleties.

Before, he used to occasionally gripe about doing outfield work before games. Now he understands the reason it's smart to practice throwing to bases before games is outfielders don't have many opportunities to do it in a game.

In previous seasons, Hamilton's first swing of an at-bat dictated the entire at-bat. Swing at a pitch in the dirt and miss, and he'd give up the rest of the at-bat.

No more. He's fighting through the entire at-bat.

Michael Young won't be here forever. When he's gone, Ian Kinsler and Hamilton will be the team's caretakers.

You don't get to hide in the shadows when you sign the nine-digit contract he's going to get. You must take responsibility for the team's fortunes.

Hamilton is ready to do that.

Finally, he understands his presence -- regardless of whether he feels 100 percent or gets a hit -- is a huge emotional lift for the lineup. His teammates feed off his confidence.

"I tell him all of the time just give me what you got," Washington said. "That's good enough. The rest of the guys will pick up the rest."

Some team is going to pay him. It should be the Rangers.

You just don't let transcendent players leave when you can afford them.

The Rangers are one of baseball's big boys these days with a huge network TV deal and a couple of money men -- Ray Davis and Bob Simpson -- at the top of the organizational flow chart.

They're not the Milwaukee Brewers, who couldn't afford Prince Fielder. Or the St. Louis Cardinals, who couldn't really afford Albert Pujols.

They're certainly not the Rangers of yesteryear, who spiraled into bankruptcy trying to pay Alex Rodriguez's $250 million salary.

The Rangers can afford Hamilton, in part because of a talented farm system that ensures they will have several quality, low-priced starters every season.

Hamilton has played more than 133 games just once, but he's never sustained an injury we could characterize as chronic, such as Nelson Cruz's hamstring and quadriceps injuries.

He's hurt his ribs running into walls and injured his upper arm going headfirst into home. Like many baseball players, he has occasional back spasms and tightness, but nothing chronic.

Any talk about the effects of his substance-abuse issues on his body is purely speculative.

Obviously, you wish he wouldn't slide headfirst so often, but Washington has discussed it with him more than either can remember -- and it hasn't stuck yet.

Hey, what can you do? It's hard to knock a guy for playing as hard as he can even if he does some stupid things on the base paths every now and then.

Guys get hurt every day.

But Hamilton has shown us he's tough enough to play through a groin injury that required surgery soon after the World Series ended last season, and if not for the bullpen meltdown in the 10th inning of Game 6 his number would already be retired for the homer he hit in the top of the inning.

If you want guarantees, then find another business. Major league baseball, with its crazy salaries, is not a place for those who frighten easily.

Hamilton's addiction has been well chronicled and he'll be fighting that battle long after the Rangers retire his number.

He's had two embarrassing incidents in five years with the Rangers and each occurred in the offseason, when he has an abundance of free time on his hands.

He has peed in a cup more than any other player the past four years and the Rangers will get some financial relief if he's ever suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

The Rangers have one of baseball's smartest organizations. They understand the importance of having a left-handed bat in the middle of their lineup, especially in this ballpark where the jet stream can carry lazy fly balls into the stands.

This isn't letting Cliff Lee or C.J. Wilson go. Hamilton is the national face of the Rangers.

He's synonymous with the franchise and winning. He puts butts in seats every night.

He's flawed like all of us, but he's the best in the world at his job. Paying him is an easy decision.

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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