The baseball world is running out of superlatives for him in 2012. Through 41 games, Hamilton is hitting an absurd .376/.428/.758, with 18 home runs and a wOBA of .490. He's been worth 3.4 WAR to date (per FanGraphs), and that's the highest of any player in baseball.
Hamilton has been a big reason for Texas' success so far this season, so Rangers fans should be thrilled that their superstar is playing like the MVP that he was in 2010.
There's one problem with Hamilton's success in 2012, and it's quite obvious and simple -- he's playing so well that he's pricing himself out of Texas' budget for his next contract. And that next contract is coming this winter.
This will undoubtedly irk many Rangers fans, and there's probably an irrational sect of Texas' fan base that believes the Rangers will retain him at all costs. Those fans really need to consider Jayson Werth. In December of 2010, when Werth was 31 years old, the Washington Nationals signed him to a seven-year, $126 million dollar contract.
Jayson Werth. Seven years, $126 million dollars. Sure, Werth was a nice player between 2008-10, but he was exactly that -- a nice player. His WAR those three years were 5.2, 5.0 and 5.3, and those are very fine numbers. Good enough to deserve seven years and $126 million dollars? Definitely not. Certainly not, and the Nationals did not get a good return in year 1 of their $126 million dollar investment.
Point is, Werth is no Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was an 8.5 WAR player when he won the MVP in 2010, 4.2 WAR player last year in 121 games, and through 41 games, he's a 3.4 WAR player in 2012. Werth isn't even in Hamilton's stratosphere. Hamilton will get paid more. Much, much more than Werth.
Like Werth in December 2010, Hamilton will be 31 years old in December 2012. The Rangers have not been negotiating with Hamilton throughout the season, as Nolan Ryan said that he believes it is unfair and that it would be a distraction.
And he's certainly right. If the Rangers are smart, which they are, they will not match whatever the highest bidder offers Hamilton come December. Hamilton is an injury prone player who will be entering his age 32 season in 2013, with a lot of wear and tear on his body, moreso than the average baseball player. Hamilton's recovery from his addictions is nothing shy of commendable and remarkable, and he deserves all the credit in the world for it. It has still taken a toll on his body, and, as aforementioned, he is quite susceptible to injury. Hamilton has played over 133 games in a season in his career just once -- with the Rangers in 2008.
Some team out there is going to offer Hamilton a lot of money in December. A ton. And he'll have earned every last penny of it. Some team is going to offer him seven, eight and maybe even nine years to play baseball for them. The Rangers should not be that team. It's simply not wise to invest in hitters longterm as they enter the back end of their prime. Albert Pujols, the world's best hitter, received a 10-year contract, and I'd be willing to bet the Angels would already like a do-over on that just two months into it.
Do the Rangers have a chance to keep him? Absolutely. They'll offer him a fairly handsome contract, as they should. How long-term will it be? No idea -- but personally, I would not go much further than five years, maybe six, and even six is pushing it.
Do the Rangers have any leverage? Not really. They have essentially decided to let him test the free agent market. The only leverage the Rangers have is Hamilton's affinity for the Dallas area, and how he's thrived both personally and professionally in Texas. He's clearly comfortable there, and his family is, by all accounts, happy in Texas as well. If Hamilton cares about being comfortable, then clearly, there is no reason to leave Texas.
However, Hamilton has stated that he will not give the Rangers any type of home-town discount. The Rangers will have to hope that a discount is built into Hamilton's decision-making process come December, because there is little chance the Rangers will offer as much as other suitors. The Los Angeles Dodgers' new ownership group could very well be looking to make a big splash this winter, and grabbing the best free-agent bat would be one way to do it. The Seattle Mariners are starved for offense, and swiping Hamilton away from a divisional rival is one way to add offense.
Josh Hamilton's story has been nothing shy of remarkable. Acquiring him for Edinson Volquez is one of the best moves in Texas Rangers history. Josh Hamilton is one of the best players in Texas Rangers history. Hamilton's recovery from his abuse is remarkable, and he most certainly won over all of America and baseball in the 2008 Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Josh Hamilton story will likely begin a new chapter in 2013. And you know what? That's OK. Life goes on. The Cardinals are doing just fine without Albert Pujols this year. The Rangers will be just fine without Josh Hamilton.
Of course, I'm not rushing Hamilton out the door just yet. There's a chance he stays, sure. But Rangers fans should enjoy watching Hamilton throughout the remainder of 2012. He's a magnificent player, and this could very well be his encore as a Ranger. Enjoy it. Enjoy every second of it, as he's clearly locked in so far in 2012.
Hopefully for Hamilton and Rangers fans, he, like Pujols in 2011, can go out a World Series champion.