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Acquired OF/DH-L Josh Hamilton from the Angels in exchange for cash considerations. [4/27]
There's no point rehashing every detail; the larger gist of Josh Hamilton's story is well known. He stands as contemporary proof that fame and fortune are ineffective immunizations against addiction. Hamilton has learned that truth firsthand, and will continue to struggle with the disease for decades to come. Such is the difficult, unenviable life of an addict.
The past few months have included both encouraging and discouraging acts as they relate to Hamilton's situation. Hamilton self-reporting his latest relapse is the former, on the grounds that he asked for help. An arbitrator ruling against punishment in favor of rehabilitation—a strategy recommended by Russell Carleton, a former mental health worker, and recently echoed (to a small extent) by the government—also qualifies as encouraging. The Angels occupy the other side of the ledger. Comments made by high-ranking officials all but revealed how they cared more about Hamilton's contract than his well-being; kids, remember: sports are about cohesion, unity, and working as one to achieve a greater goal—unless money is involved, then it's everyone for themselves.
Where does this trade fall on that spectrum? Seemingly to the encouraging side.
Hamilton and the Rangers parted on poor terms. There were largely trivial barbs exchanged—e.g., whether Arlington was a football-first town—that both parties have recognized as such and buried with yesterday's bone. What's important is Hamilton had a comfort level and support system in Texas that he never achieved in Los Angeles for whatever reasons. (It's worth noting the Angels hired Hamilton's former accountability partner, Johnny Narron, in November to serve as their Triple-A hitting coach.) Returning to what could be looked up as a sanctuary ought to help Hamilton to some degree.
The baseball aspects of this move are of lesser importance than Hamilton's welfare, but this is a baseball transactions column and certain expectations have to be met. So here goes.
While the Rangers are acquiring Hamilton, they are not acquiring his contract. In fact, Hamilton's contract no longer exists as it was signed and previously understood. Instead, the pact has been reworked as part of the trade's conditions. Hamilton sacrifices $6 million in exchange for an opt-out following the 2016 season; the Rangers, for their part, assume responsibility for a few million per year; the Angels will receive no further compensation beyond the salary relief.
That Hamilton was allowed to forgo some of his guaranteed money is a surprise. The obvious reference to make is to the Red Sox' failed trade for Alex Rodriguez, a deal that collapsed after the union wouldn't allow Rodriguez to take a reduced and deferred salary. (Coincidentally, Commissioner Rob Manfred was involved in those talks.) Devaluing contracts wasn't a good idea then and isn't one now, but you can understand the union prioritizing a member's condition over hard party lines.
Finally, there's the on-the-field portion of the trade.
Though Hamilton's time in Los Angeles was considered a disappointment, there's reason to believe he can help the Rangers. For one, most of that frustration stemmed from his salary and comparisons to his time in Texas. Hamilton's Angels career ended with a 110 OPS+, and he managed a .269 True Average in the worst of his seasons there—for reference, last year's batch of AL designated hitters posted a .270 TAv. Point is, Hamilton wasn't a total negative.
Hamilton does not (and has never) fit the mold of an ideal hitter in a post-Moneyball world. His aggressive approach has led him to swing at more than half the pitches he's seen during the PITCHf/x era, including more than 40 percent of those located outside the strike zone. What's more is Hamilton's free-swinging ways have produced whiff rates exceeding 35 percent in two of the past three seasons.
Still, for all those flaws, Hamilton has been a fairly well-rounded hitter. He puts the ball in play enough to avoid ridiculous strikeout rates, and hits the ball hard enough to maintain respectable averages. He's not patient by any means, yet his walk rates have floated above the seven-percent mark in each of the past five seasons. Obviously the real appeal in Hamilton is his world-class power, but only God knows whether his ISO will return to its old heights or stays closer to the league-average mark.
How Hamilton fits onto the Rangers roster is another mystery. Presumably Jeff Banister will use Hamilton in the outfield and at DH, likely in place of Jake Smolinski. Banister will have some time to think about it, because Hamilton will report to the Rangers' Arizona complex and continue to rehab his achy shoulder for the time being.
No matter what Hamilton does for the Rangers, and no matter what he didn't do for the Angels, here's hoping that by the time his 35th birthday arrives—and he's only a few weeks shy of his 34th—he finds himself in a better state.
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I agree that a rehabilitative approach was probably best with Hamilton, given his history of long periods of remission. I don't know enough about the specific facts of the relapse to know if the Angels are just on the other side of a close call on whether Hamilton needed more motivation to push his recovery, or were just moralistic.
In any event, a punitive approach to Hamilton would just be a bad business decision. It was clear that Hamilton was going to play. Once that decision is made, it is best to rehabilitate the trade value, not destroy it. It is best to create the best environment for the team on a day-to-day basis to win. I think management and the ownership was very short-sighted here, and that probably affects the team in other ways that are less obvious. It will prevent the team from having the success it should.
Subsequently his substance abuse relapse and the related fallout has become an albatross around the neck of the franchise. They wanted to purge Hamilton from the team so they could avoid future distractions and, sadly, the extremely high risk of another relapse. For the Angels it is not about the money but the negative vibes Hamilton was sure to have on the team going forward.
Hopefully Hamilton can stay clean in Texas and concentrate his efforts on the baseball field.
But I am really worried about all the precedents Rob Manfred allowed this to set.
The next time the Dodgers want to take on 90% of a bad contract and give literally nothing in return, how can Manfred say no?
The next time a player wants to rework his contract in order to facilitate a trade, how can Manfred say no? The Players Union will surely complain, but they can't do anything about it.
How long can the "this is only for drug addicts who need to escape a terrible situation" caveat apply?
The end of the bone was shaved, which should make a huge difference in his ability to swing a bat; it must have been very painful to reach for anything on the outside of the plate, which is where he is usually pitched.
In addition, he tore ligaments in his thumb last year, look what this injury did to the great Bryce Harper last year.
I expect Hamilton's numbers to improve significantly over his time with the Angels, although certainly not to his MVP years. I love that he asked for an opt out after 2016 when his contract was reworked. Best of luck to Josh in his struggles.