Hamilton’s hot start raises contract questions

With every swing of his mighty bat, Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton appears to gain more leverage in his final year of his contract with the club.

Games such as the one he had Tuesday night don’t hurt the cause either.

Hamilton’s record-setting performance in Baltimore included four home runs and a new American League record for total bases in a game, 18. Hamilton, 30, is now the major-league leader in all three Triple Crown categories with a .406 average to go along with 14 home runs and 36 RBI.

His hot start has fans fired up about his contract situation. Both Hamilton’s representatives and the Rangers would like to get a long-term deal worked out.

They just aren’t going to let public opinion sway them.

“We want to keep Josh in Texas, and I believe he wants to be here,” Texas general manager Jon Daniels said. “Beyond that, we’re not going to discuss anything contract-related.”

Daniels was on Jim Bowden’s MLB Network radio show Tuesday and said that negotiations between both sides continue. That’s nothing new as Hamilton said that was the case late last month. Anything more on contract talks will be hard to come by.

“All I said on the radio is that there’s nothing new to say,” Daniels said.

Hamilton said the Rangers will be the first team he talks to if he reaches free agency. The likely sticking point between now and then will be setting a market value for Hamilton, whose past puts him in a unique situation.

The Rangers have already locked up Ian Kinsler through 2017 with a contract worth $75 million and doled out more than $28 million on Derek Holland in spring training.

Those kinds of dollars won’t keep Hamilton in Texas.

Since the end of last season baseball has already made three players — Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Joey Votto — $200 million players. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who is having a similar season to Hamilton, has a $160 million deal through 2019.

But Kemp is three years younger than Hamilton and has played in at least 155 games in each of the past four seasons. Hamilton has played in more than 133 games only once in his career and has been on the disabled list three times since he’s been with the Rangers.

The only year he has avoided the DL with the Rangers is 2008, when he hit. 304 with 32 home runs and 130 RBI in 156 games.

The injuries are only one of the concerns with Hamilton. He also has had two alcohol relapses since he has been with the Rangers, including one this past offseason. It was the second one that put long-term contract talks on hold.

Those talks aren’t tabled anymore. Hamilton’s play is making sure of that.