Rangers had time to sign Hamilton

December 13, 2012

The Texas Rangers lost their best player to a division rival Thursday. General manager Jon Daniels responded by telling reporters he was “disappointed” to not receive a phone call from Josh Hamilton or his agent with an opportunity to match.

If the Rangers truly wanted to keep Hamilton, that wouldn’t have been the end game.

Hamilton wasn’t the Rangers’ first choice among free agents. Zack Greinke was. He wasn’t their first choice among readily available outfielders. Justin Upton was — and may still be. Amid the spin following Hamilton’s sudden decision to join the Angels for five years and $125 million, it’s obvious that re-signing Hamilton wasn’t much of a priority for the no-longer-reigning American League champions.

Hamilton signed a two-year extension with the Rangers after the 2010 season. The sides discussed the possibility of a long-term contract last offseason. The Rangers played their final game of the 2012 season on Oct. 5, giving them the past 69 days to get a deal done. At all of those junctures, the team could have offered Hamilton the chance to remain in Texas through 2017 at $25 million per year — ultimately the deal he accepted with the Angels.


The Rangers didn’t come out and say whether they would have matched Arte Moreno’s offer. They didn’t need to. Their inaction — over a period of months and years — revealed the answer. It merely became official Thursday, and eerily so, on the two-year anniversary of Cliff Lee’s decision to leave Texas for Philadelphia.

Good thing that "BUDGETARY RESTRAINT!" will look handsome on the season-ticket brochures, over photos of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin.

Hamilton said after the Rangers’ season-ending loss to Baltimore in the AL wild-card game that Texas would “get the first shot” to re-sign him. He also told ESPNDallas.com that he would “absolutely” give the Rangers the right to match any offer.

Did he instruct the Rangers differently once negotiations began? What exactly was said in private? Only a few people know for certain. And one of them — Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye — told FOXSports.com, “Neither Josh nor Moye Sports ever told the Rangers they would be given the right to match offers received. Any media reports to the contrary are inaccurate.”

The Rangers always handled Hamilton with great sensitivity, helping him effectively battle his drug addiction for five years. They should be commended for that. But this decision was about business for both parties. The Rangers had sincere interest in keeping Hamilton — on their terms. They weren’t comfortable offering him the years and dollars he received from the Angels, because of concerns about his long-term durability.

Maybe that was prescient. The Rangers know him better than any other team.

But pennants aren’t hoisted for coming up with proper valuations of free-agent players. The Rangers have a unique mandate to win after missing their first World Series title by a single strike two seasons ago. And yet they are running out of time to make an impact move this winter.

Yes, intriguing options remain. The Miami Marlins may say that Giancarlo Stanton isn’t going anywhere, but does anyone believe them after last month? Daniels still could pry away Upton with the right package, possibly prospect Mike Olt and left-hander Derek Holland. The Rangers also can spread their money more evenly across three free agents — Nick Swisher, Adam LaRoche and A.J. Pierzynski — as my colleague Ken Rosenthal pointed out Thursday night.

Jason Kubel? Mike Morse? Sure, they make sense, too.

But now the problem is cost. Agents and rival general managers know the Rangers need to do something — probably more than one something. A front office that clearly held the line on Hamilton because of price now must operate from a position of reduced leverage. And the rotation, effectively untouched since the offseason began, remains an area of need. The Rangers didn’t get Greinke. They didn’t get James Shields, either. Is bringing R.A. Dickey into a hitter-friendly AL ballpark the best course of action?

In the end, the Rangers will put a contender on the field in 2013. Daniels is too good at his job — and the organization has too many good players — for the opposite to be true. The Rangers, after all, have won more games than any AL team other than New York over the past three seasons.

But that success was predicated on Daniels making the right moves at the right times — Hamilton, Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli — while Michael Young ensured the new arrivals fit into the team’s clubhouse. Now Hamilton and Napoli have new deals elsewhere. Young, whose relationship with Daniels alternated recently between sour and nonexistent, was traded to Philadelphia earlier this month.

Daniels speaks intently about his desire to build a winning culture in Arlington that sustains itself for years to come. He wants Rangers greats to continue their association with the team when their playing careers are over. But now Young and Hamilton — the most recognizable players on back-to-back World Series teams — have left within a week of one another, their feelings coated with more frost than a Winnipeg windshield.

The Rangers need a hitter, a pitcher and an identity, with only two months left before the start of spring training. I’ll bet your holiday shopping list doesn’t seem so daunting anymore.