In today's episode of "watch another reported Rangers target possibly go to someone who isn't the Rangers," multiple reports on surfacing on Twitter that the Angels are nearing a deal with Josh Hamilton. Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown is reporting that the Angels are "getting close"on a deal, but that it hasn't been nailed down as of yet. Both CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman and Bob Nightengale of the USA Today have confirmed the existence of on-going talks between the Angels and Hamilton's camp; one Los Angeles sports radio host called the talks "serious negotiations."
And now, as of 1:15 p.m., ESPN 103.3 FM's Ben Rogers is reporting on Twitter that Hamilton to Los Angeles is a done deal. FOXSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi is reporting that the contract will span five years. If true, that would destroy the notion -- or perhaps hope -- that this afternoon's sudden jolt of movement on the Hamilton front was a grand act of posturing. For what it's worth, Hamilton insisted all along that he would give Texas the first chance to beat his best offer, and assuming that his best offer is indeed materializing from the Angels, it would seem that the Rangers have declined their option to match or beat the Angels.
1:20 p.m. CST Update: The deal is done, per everyone. Ben Rogers is reporting that the deal is five years, $125 million (via Twitter). Jon Daniels has confirmed that the Rangers have been told that Hamilton is signing with the Angels, and also indicated that Hamilton never gave the Rangers to match the Angels' offer even after pledging that he would do so back in May, which doesn't seem to be going over particularly well within the Rangers' front office:
"It was our full expectation that the phone call was going to be before he signed, and certainly not after," Daniels said. "Josh had indicated recently, last week, that he felt it might be time to move on, but we were still talking. We had had addition conversations this week that I thought had moved in a positive direction."
Daniels confirmed that the Rangers spoke with Hamilton about a deal that could have been more lucrative than the Angels' final price, believed to be $125 million, but Daniels said that the Angels' deal is for more guaranteed money.
I'm inclined to believe that this proposed deal referenced in the last paragraph would have looked something like four years, $90-95 million, with fifth- and sixth-year vesting/team options that could have escalated the total value above $125 million. According to ESPN.com's Buster Olney, though, Hamilton had grown frustrated by the Rangers seemingly dragging their feet in negotiations, and once the Angels began to move on Hamilton, progress materialized quickly. I'll leave it to someone else to make the final binding determination on whether Hamilton's camp played dirty in reneging on its pledge to give Texas one final chance to match his best offer, or if the Rangers misplayed their hand in the Hamilton negotiations ... though for what it's worth, I can't feel animosity towards Hamilton on this count. Things change, verbal pledges are broken on both sides, and s--- happens. It's baseball, and even if Hamilton had given the Rangers one last chance to match, it sounds like the marriage was already over and his mind was already made up.
So, this is where we stand -- Hamilton is gone, and he's gone to the Rangers' prime division rival for $25 million annually over the next five seasons. This is a tough one for me to wrap my head around, because even though Hamilton walking for that kind of guaranteed money is almost certainly in the Rangers' long-term best interest, this still isn't a good day for the Rangers organization. Quite the contrary, in fact. Hamilton may be a basketcase fraught with risk, and a poor bet to generate $125 million of value over the next five years, but he still figures to be a major offensive threat over the next two, maybe three years -- a threat who, in the short run, is going to make the Angels a better team, and is leaving a fairly substantial void in the Rangers' lineup for the time being. We can be thankful that the Rangers aren't going to be entangled with the back end of that deal whereas the Angels are, but the short run also matters, and in the short run, the Rangers' chances of reaching the post-season in 2013-14 just took a measurable hit.
The other thing gnawing at me about this is how it feels like the relative back-end negative impact on the Angels may be smaller here than it would have been for the Rangers, had they managed to sign him to an identical (or even slightly lower) sum. Texas has been very judicious in picking and choosing its spots to commit large quantities of money while showing a clear aversion to contracts with poor ROIs, and letting Hamilton walk conforms perfectly with that policy. The Angels, meanwhile, are incurring additional risk that Hamilton turns into a late-contract vegetable, that their spending efficiency (dollars spent per win) craters, and that they ultimately reach a point of payroll unsustainability where they have to re-rack and lay low for a couple of years until they can bring their payroll scene back under control. In that sense, the Angels' loss would be the Rangers' gain, but the issue is that the Angels boast their own massive income streams (No. 2 media market, $3 billion TV deal, etc.) and their own well-capitalized owner who seems fully prepared to go toe-to-toe with the Dodgers in terms of spending. Yeah, the Hamilton contract could set the Angels back in a big way ... but what if it doesn't?
I should reiterate that I am in no way, shape or form close to panicking, that the Rangers still have an excellent front office with some payroll manueverability, and that the off-season isn't close to being over ... but that doesn't change the fact that today isn't a good day for the Rangers, that the last week hasn't been good for the Rangers, and that one of the Rangers' front-line winter options will now be pummeling the baseball for their chief divisional rival next season. Things could still very well work out for Texas; it's the fact that they haven't as of yet, though, that's planting seeds of doubt in our minds, that's contributing to our anxiety, and that's turning what was supposed to be a fun off-season into a not very fun off-season.