Arbitration hearing draws near for Hamilton, Rangers

BY foxsports • February 2, 2011

Feb. 2, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers and Josh Hamilton are set to meet on Feb. 14, but it's not a Valentine's date either is looking forward to.

Feb. 14 is the date for Hamilton's arbitration hearing. That's when an arbitrator will decide whether to award Hamilton his proposal of $12 million for the 2011 season, or the Rangers' offer of $8.7 million for the season.

It would be best for all parties if the Rangers and Hamilton never make it to their Valentine's date. Since they are only $3.3 million apart, a compromise would be better than going through the potential nastiness of an arbitration hearing. Arbitration hearings have been known to create lingering hard feelings in players. That's one of the reasons the Rangers haven't gone to a hearing since 2000.

"Our preference would be to avoid it," Daniels said. "The reality is, sometimes reasonable, well-intentioned people disagree. That's why the process is set up the way it is.  Your priority is to avoid that setting if you can, but it's there for a reason."

Hamilton said a week ago he's "counting on" the arbitration hearing taking place, although he didn't rule out a deal getting done before then.

"How messy can it get?" Hamilton said. "You can talk about injuries. That's it."

Actually, there's a lot more the Rangers could bring up if they wanted to play hardball. There are the three years Hamilton lost to drug addiction, plus the infamous lapse from sobriety he had in an Arizona bar in January 2009.

Then there are the questions no one can answer: How much has Hamilton's past drug abuse affected his ability to stay healthy? And long-term, will the damage he has done to his body through drugs ultimately shorten his career even more than it already has?

Hamilton, who will turn 30 on May 21, doesn't think his background has had any effect. He said he felt fine a few days after being released from a hospital for a bout with pneumonia, during which he lost 10 pounds.

"Physically, I feel good. I really do," he said. "That's the great thing about being an athlete your whole life. Your body bounces back from things."

If the Rangers and Hamilton can't even agree on a one-year deal, what about a long-term deal?

"If we find a common ground and do something beyond a one-year deal, that's great," Daniels said. "If not, it doesn't preclude us from doing it in the future."

Asked if Hamilton's unique circumstances would play a role in long-term negotiations, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said: "It all plays a part. There's no one factor I would dwell on or spend too much time on. The reality is we love the player, I think he loves being here."

Do the Rangers love Hamilton enough to give him more of a raise from the $3.2 million he made last year? Even if Hamilton wins his arbitration case, he will still make $4 million less than Michael Young this season, and $2 million less than new addition Adrian Beltre, who got a six-year deal that could average $16 million a year.

What might keep Hamilton waiting for a long-term contract is his injury history. He played only 89 games in 2009 because of injuries. Last year, he missed 29 games but still won the AL batting crown and the MVP.

"There's no doubt that when Josh is healthy, no one's questioning his talents or anything like that," Daniels said. "We're obviously a better team when he's out there."

But there will be questions raised about Hamilton's health if the two sides end up in an arbitration hearing. The Rangers will be compelled to present a convincing case as to why Hamilton doesn't deserve more money. Otherwise, it could set an expensive precedent for other clubs.

Hamilton speculated that the Rangers might be afraid to give him the security of a long-term deal because he might play with even more reckless abandon. Hamilton, a natural center fielder, has a habit of crashing into walls.

"I think that's what they're worried about," he said. "Give me a multi-year deal and knowing how I play, maybe they're scared I won't be playing as much as they want me to."

Hamilton said he has come to understand the value his presence brings to the lineup. At the same time, he believes he is no more an injury risk than any other player.

"I've never had any regrets with how I play. Thinking about a long-term contract is not going to make me not play hard, or not get after it," Hamilton said. "I guarantee you one thing: I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I'm not going to think about it at all."

Arbitration decisions are often decided by a player's comparables -- how much other players with similar careers earn. But is there any other player who has had the career, the life journey, Hamilton has had?

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