We're a little more than two weeks away from the official outset of spring training, and while little actually happens at that point in time beyond a mass influx of interview fodder for the team media and our truthful exclamations that spring training has finally arrived, there is/was something else significant about that mid- to late-February window -- the self-imposed deadline on the Josh Hamilton extension talks.
As one might expect, those talks have been tabled indefinitely while both sides attend to the critical matters of making sure Hamilton's healthy (relatively speaking) and getting any potential league- or team-imposed punishment squared away. There was one off-hand media reference to his new accountability partner being announced as early as today, but we can reserve further comment on that until more information is disclosed.
At some point beyond Hamilton's self-imposed negotiating deadline, though, the two sides are going to resume talking about his next contract -- and, heck, none of those talks may end up mattering in the grand scheme of things. We saw multiple reports indicating that "little progress" had been made towards a long-term deal well in advance of the Hamilton relapse, so I'm not inclined to think of what happened last week as a stumbling block that killed an impending deal, as the primary obstacle from day one has been wildly differing opinions in what the Rangers and Hamilton -- who has supposedly set the bar at six years, $120 million -- believe he is worth.
There's something else about this that has been gnawing at me though, and while I did mention this in passing last week, I feel the need to bring it up one more time -- the notion that Hamilton just drank away any and all leverage he may have wielded in those contract talks, as well as the notion that now signifies the point where Hamilton can no longer be trusted.
I'm probably verging into redundant territory here, but let's think this through one more time: The Rangers are bargaining from a position where they are forced by necessity to include the risk of a relapse -- or more than one relapse -- into their overall risk assessment and offer sheets to the Hamilton camp. You could make the case that last week's incident gave them cause to ratchet up that risk a little bit higher, but you could also make the case that what happened last week was a function of seemingly exigent circumstances, with whatever stress was being created by the contract talks being compounded by his unspecified family situation, a lack of baseball to keep him preoccupied, and the lack of a team-appointed accountability partner.
You could, then, make the argument that these were unusual circumstances that may not arise to such an extreme degree again during his time spent in the Rangers organization, and that the greatest concern should still lie with his expected production/health, as opposed to a greatly enhanced concern that his sobriety will falter altogether over the next 4-5 years. I don't see that one heavily publicized relapse at Sherlock's changes much of anything on this front from the Rangers' perspective -- and while this incident may have served as a wake-up call to other organizations that had been monitoring Hamilton in anticipation of his post-2012 free agency, I find it difficult to imagine that this is going to overshadow whatever he ends up doing on the field in 2012 from the perspective of the open market.
It's one thing to say that Hamilton's bargaining position is a tad weaker today than it was one week ago today. It's another thing entirely to write that "all of his leverage is gone," such as several DFW-area columnists have done in the last 3-4 days. Hyperbole is exciting and attention-grabbing and all, but I'm not seeing how it makes much sense in this particular case.
Nor, for that matter, does the Rangers-can't-trust-Hamilton-anymore argument, which strongly implies that the Rangers actually trusted him before all of this went down and now that's all just been blown to smithereens. Does a team take this many precautions and make this many allowances for a player that it implicitly trusts? Have the Rangers actually "trusted" Hamilton at any point in time since they've acquired him, at least in the way the media seems to suggest? More importantly, though ... how much does the existence of that trust really matter? If Hamilton had the same sobriety problems but was 2-3 years younger and not nearly as injury-prone, would we be seeing the same reluctance on the Rangers' part to sign him up for the long haul?
I won't begrudge anyone for skipping over this post in its entirety simply because they're sick and tired of hearing about Hamilton. I'm not even sure writing it has been a very productive experience, but, well, what else are we really going to talk about? Joe Beimel? Josh Lewin? Body language?