I'm about a week away from making the grand Tyler-to-Dallas jump, which means things are quite a bit more hectic and discombobulated on my end than what I consider the norm, which means that my synapses and neurons are firing in a decidedly odder fashion than usual ... and that all tends to give rise to some strange thoughts. For instance, I dreamed the other night that Popeye Jones came off the bench in the Mavericks' season opener against Miami. (Jason Kidd was there, as well, though neither Jimmy Jackson nor Toni Braxton made a cameo appearance). I'd like to tell you that their first two regular season games were also imagined products of my distorted mental state, but those unfortunately landed on the other side of the reality/fiction divide.
Of course, you don't want to read an extended basketball soliloquy any more than I want to write it, and that wasn't really the point I was attempting to flesh out anyway. What I did want to emphasize is that my presently odd mindset is about to give rise to one of the more speculative posts I've ever written. If you don't like the sound of that, I suggest you avert your gaze immediately.
But there's something that's been gnawing at me for the last three weeks, and the only way I'm going to make it stop is by saying something about it.
We've heard quite a bit over the course of this off-season about the Rangers making a priority of signing up their own "core" players" to multi-year extensions before they are bestowed the opportunity to auction off their services to the highest free-agent bidder, and we've also been privy to some rumors at seem to indicate the Rangers aren't just blowing hot air into the wind. We've heard talk of the Rangers (a) pursuing a five-year deal (with a sixth-year team option) on Derek Holland, (b) engaging Ian Kinsler's representatives in preliminary talks about an extension, (c) trying to lock up Mike Napoli (which apparently has a "very good chance" of happening before Opening Day), and (d) attempting to hammer out a long-term deal with fan favorite and one-time MVP Josh Hamilton.
And none of that is too surprising, nor especially noteworthy unless/until ink is put to paper and an agreement actually materializes. What's been persistently bugging me, though, is what Hamilton told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram three weeks ago when word initially started circulating about the Rangers having "preliminary discussions" with Hamilton's camp:
"Treat me fair," said Hamilton, who was on hand at a free hitting exhibition with MLB Network's Harold Reynolds at the Special Events Center in Garland on Tuesday afternoon. "Don't come here with no ridiculously low stuff. You know, just be fair.... Obviously I love it here in Texas, but it always comes down to getting treated fairly."
Three uses of the word "fair." One use of the sentence "don't come here with no ridiculously low stuff." All crammed into the same abridged interview. That bothers me. It may not bother you, or the guy that lives next door whose awareness of the Rangers extends about as far as knowing that they play across the street from Jerry's multi-billion homage to himself, or practically anyone else ... but it does bother me. It's true that we're missing out on the very important non-verbal component of Hamilton's message, but when he harps on about being treated fairly by the Rangers and talks about not wanting to field a "ridiculously low" offer, it suggests to me that he doesn't feel as though he was treated completely fairly when opportunities for a long-term deal arose in the past.
Which, I suppose, isn't really much of a revelation itself either. In the spring of 2009 (shortly before his disastrous, injury-riddled second year in Texas unfolded), the Rangers made a push to sign Hamilton in what we can fairly safely assume was an Ian Kinsler-esque "let's buy out as many years as possible" gambit, and promptly had that thrown back in their faces, with Hamilton deeming the initial offer "disappointing." The season began soon thereafter, and nothing more of substance was heard on the possibility of a long-term deal until the 2010-11 off-season, when some rumblings of such a deal actualizing culminated in a two-year contract that had no impact on his free-agent eligibility.
For whatever it's worth, SI.com-turned-CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman reported in March 2010 that the deal Hamilton turned down the previous spring was a four-year, $24 million extension, which would have covered his one remaining pre-arbitration season and all three of his arbitration-eligible seasons, but none of his free agency-eligible seasons. Something never sounded quite right about that, but I suppose it is possible that Hamilton's on-the-record insistence that he be treated fairly can be traced all the way back to some perceived low-balling by the Rangers back in the spring of 2009.
That isn't tantamount to Hamilton trying to hold the Rangers hostage, of course. I'm sure that what Hamilton wanted both then and right now actually is fair, at least in his own mind. But it strikes me that this thing of the Rangers and Hamilton having quite dissimilar interpretations of what constitutes "fair" isn't anything new, and it's really not sounding as though the two sides -- as of three weeks ago, at least -- are creeping any closer towards a state of agreement. To put that another way, this was actually a problem three years ago, and, if anything, is an even larger-looming problem now, because the stakes are substantially greater and the clock is beginning to run down towards zero.
And to be clear, it's not a problem solely because Hamilton wants lots of money, and because the Rangers likely aren't inclined to commit as much money to him as he would like. If, on the one hand, they decide to bite the bullet and meet whatever his asking price is, they're saddling themselves with another heaping dose of long-term risk in a deal that could conceivably rival the Yu Darvish commitment in overall precariousness, and also facing the reality that paying him for his past performance could blow up in their faces if/when he fails to sustain that level of production going forward, as Adam laid out previously in his argument against signing Hamilton.
But, on the other hand, letting Hamilton walk after the 2012 season with two draft picks as recompense won't be viewed by very many as a wholly desirable outcome, and would pose its own set of P.R. problems, as well as forcing the Rangers to come up with a viable solution to replace some of that lost short-term production. And though a few of those issues could be alleviated by a Hamilton trade, a World Series-contending team in win-now mode isn't going to trade one of its star outfielders for anything less than other quality major leaguers -- and because of his service time situation and risk profile, the only teams that would be seriously involved in any Hamilton trade discussions would be other legitimate playoff contenders dangling either major leaguers with similar risk/upside profiles and identical service time (unlikely), or prospect-loaded packages.
I don't envision the Rangers trading Hamilton for a bunch of prospects. I doubt you're seeing it either. And the more I think about it, the more I'm not expecting Hamilton to be here beyond 2012. I'm not sure I've done the best job of articulating that position, or that I've provided much in the way of concrete evidence to undergird that position ... but if you made it this far, well, you bought your tickets, and you knew what you were getting into. I assume you know how the rest of that goes.