Hamilton signs minor league deal with Rangers, will try 1B
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Josh Hamilton walked into a room at the Texas Rangers’ ballpark carrying a new first baseman’s mitt and feeling the way he did 10 years ago.
Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP who has had surgery three times on his left knee since last playing in 2015, knows he has to earn a spot on the roster this spring. The five-time All-Star outfielder will also be learning a new position.
”The first thing that comes to mind is 2007 spring training with the Reds. I had to make the team, remembering how much work I had to put in to make that happen, and remembering how much fun that was, because every day mattered,” said Hamilton, who will turn 36 in May. ”That mentality, I feel like, is back.”
Hamilton and the Rangers completed a minor league contract Tuesday that includes an invitation to spring training. If he makes the team, he will make the major league minimum of $535,000. No matter what happens, he also is owed $24 million for the final year of the $125 million, five-year deal he signed with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent before the 2013 season.
Hamilton was recovering from shoulder surgery when the Angels traded him back to AL West rival Texas in 2015 after his two injury-plagued seasons with Los Angeles. He played 50 games for Texas in 2015, but hasn’t played since.
”It’s a prove-yourself thing,” Hamilton said of coming back with no guarantees.
”I haven’t seen him in a long time as focused, motivated, and for all the right reasons,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. ”He wants to win. Unfinished business. … When you’ve got a talented guy that’s got some motivation, that’s a good risk for us to take.”
Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo and Ryan Rua are the other current first base candidates for the Rangers. Mitch Moreland, the primary first baseman last season, signed a free agent deal with the Boston Red Sox, and Prince Fielder was forced to retire last season after his second neck surgery.
After his first two knee operations, Hamilton tried cortisone shots along with a stem cell and platelet-rich plasma injection during spring training last year. But he played only one game at Double-A Frisco, with two at-bats.
After he was the first overall pick in the 1999 amateur draft, Hamilton’s career was nearly destroyed by drug addiction. He returned to baseball with Cincinnati in 2007, when he hit .292 with 19 homers in 90 games before getting traded to Texas.
Hamilton had his third surgery in June to reconstruct his ACL and repair cartilage damage. He was cleared by his doctors in early December to resume baseball activities.
”I feel good right now, feel healthy,” Hamilton said.
Texas put Hamilton on unconditional release waivers in August after his third knee surgery, but the timing of that was to leave open the possibility that he could play all season for Texas if healthy. He wouldn’t have been able to play for the Rangers until after May 15 under Major League Baseball contract rules had the move been made after that.
Hamilton has never played first base as a professional. While in Houston rehabbing, he got together with Lance Berkman, who also was an outfielder before moving to first base during the second half of his career.
”Just thinking about ultimately what’s the biggest thing that they could want from me, and it’s probably at-bats, get up there and do some damage at the plate,” Hamilton said. ”As far as fitting in with the team, what’s the best opportunity and best chance of getting those? Is it DH? Possibly. Is it first base? Maybe. Is it playing some left field? That’s an option, too. It’s about finding the spots, get in there and be in the lineup and get those at-bats.”