The St. Louis Cardinals let Albert Pujols walk away last year, and nearly went back to the World Series. The Texas Rangers, likewise, should let Josh Hamilton walk in free agency this year.
No, the St. Louis Cardinals aren't in the World Series.
Yes, 2012 was a successful year for the St. Louis Cardinals. A team that won the World Series in 2011 (sorry, Rangers fans) came within one win of returning to the World Series in 2012.
St. Louis' successful 2012 began last December, when general manager John Mozeliak let Albert Pujols leave St. Louis, and sign with the Los Angeles Angels. The Cardinals were unwilling to offer their bona fide franchise icon and sure-fire Hall of Famer a blank check for 10 years.
Instead, Mozeliak decided to invest the money elsewhere. To replace Pujols, St. Louis signed Carlos Beltran to a modest two year, $26 million dollar contract -- perhaps the biggest bargain of last year's winter.
Like the Cardinals in December 2011, the Texas Rangers are going to be faced with a similar decision this offseason, albeit on a smaller scale. Josh Hamilton will certainly command more on the open market than he will from Texas, and Jon Daniels undoubtedly knows this.
Needless to say, Daniels should take the same approach to Hamilton that Mozeliak did to Pujols.
Josh Hamilton is no Albert Pujols. He isn't even in the same stratosphere. Yeah, Hamilton can currently put up numbers on par with or better than Pujols, but that doesn't make him Albert Pujols. What Pujols accomplished as a member of the Cardinals was historic, and one of the greatest displays of hitting baseball has ever seen over an 11 year period.
Pujols also doesn't come with the baggage that Hamilton came with. Big egos? Sure, they both have them. Pujols, however, doesn't miss time in September during the stretch run with unknown injuries and ailments. Pujols doesn't have the drug history that Hamilton has, and doesn't need to be handled with kiddie gloves outside of the ballpark.
It's not a knock on Hamilton; his story is remarkable. But it does play into the decision making process for a franchise, as it should. If an employer is going to invest over $100 million dollars into an employee, it needs to consider all aspects of the employees life, and how it'll affect the organization.
In Hamilton's case, his background and recovery work against him.
Unlike Hamilton, Pujols had only minor injury history, and there were no questions about his background, other than his age. Maybe Pujols is a year or two older than what he's listed at, but other than that, he's spotless, and in St. Louis, he was the closest thing to a living baseball deity. Despite all this, St. Louis still let him walk.
Letting an icon go isn't an easy thing for a team to do, and it sure isn't easy for a fanbase to deal with. It is, however, the right thing to do in some cases. It was in the case of Albert Pujols, and it almost certainly is in the case of Josh Hamilton.
St. Louis fans watched Pujols limp out of the gate with the Angels, and finish with the worst statistical year of his career in '12. Pujols probably bounces back in 2013, but there is no way he performs at a level high enough for the duration of his contract to justify the amount of money he will earn as an Angel.
Likewise, Rangers fans will watch Hamilton underperform sooner rather than later in his next contract for his new team over the winter. It'll be bittersweet. Hamilton was such an instrumental part of Texas' recent success, but, the chances are minimal that he remains in Texas at a cost that will be beneficial to the organization. Watching Hamilton underperform will help fans realize it was the right decision, but it'll still be a strange feeling.
Had the Cardinals retained Pujols, it would make it difficult in 2017, 2018 to retain future stars such as Oscar Taveras and Shelby Miller. It would make it difficult for the team to extend Adam Wainwright after his contract expires in 2013. Taveras, Wainwright and Miller could, and most likely will, be more valuable to a team than Pujols during the next six years.
Who knows, maybe the financial commitment to Pujols in five years will handicap Los Angeles' ability to sufficiently buyout Mike Trout's arbitration years, or to prevent him from hitting the open market.
No matter what, the Rangers should, and almost certainly will, let Hamilton walk. And you know what? They're going to be just fine -- and very well may end up winning the World Series next year without him.