In one of the more bizarre twists of the still-young 2015 season, Josh Hamiltonwas traded back to the Texas Rangers from the Los Angeles Angels in April. After nearly a month of waiting, Hamilton's shoulder has healed, he has completed a 12-game minor-league rehab, and he'll be in the lineup on Mondayin Cleveland. A once-star player has returned home.
When Hamilton takes the field in a Texas uniform for the first time since 2012, there are sure to be mixed emotions. The lasting image for Rangers fans was a dropped pop fly in a crucial loss to Oakland and a free-swinging approach that didn't help the postseason cause that year.
It's easy to forget that Hamilton very easily could have been the hero in the 2011 World Series, when the Rangers were twice one strike away from victory. His home run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 6 was of the go-ahead variety. Instead, when Hamilton signed a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels, he became the enemy in the eyes of Texas fans, and his public comments -- and those of his wife -- certainly didn't help. He made the "baseball town" remarks. His wife implied that if the Rangers had wanted him back, they should have "put a ring on it."
After two disappointing seasons with the Angels, it became clear in April that Hamilton wanted to go back to the organization that he experienced the most success with. He admitted to an alcohol and cocaine relapse, and Angels owner Arte Moreno made it publicly clear that Hamilton was no longer welcome, which helped push the trade along. The MLBPA even allowed Hamilton to relinquish some money -- presumably on the basis of no state income tax in Texas -- in order to allow the deal to happen.
For now, it's clear Hamilton needs support. The battle he fights daily with drug addiction is one that is never over. In admitting, essentially, that he needed his comfort zone back, Hamilton made the first step toward fighting back. He needs the support of fans, family, friends, teammates, and his own front office.
There will be an instinctual reaction for many fans that makes them feel like booing the first time Hamilton steps to the plate. Before doing so, consider this: The Angels will pay most of the remaining three years on Hamilton's contract to play for a division rival. Meanwhile, Texas will end up on the hook to him for less per year than Mitch Moreland makes.
How well Hamilton plays remains to be seen, but if he can even play at his 2014 level, he'll be considered a success by many of the analytics. Anything beyond that becomes a bonus. No, he likely won't replicate his 2010 AL MVP performance, or even 2012 when he hit 43 home runs, but Texas isn't paying him to do so.
There's a good chance that Rangers fans who were opposed to this move will change their minds if Hamilton can be productive. The upside is that, should the plethora of prospects Texas has in the minor leagues pan out over the next two seasons, Hamilton will still be in the thick of the lineup -- and not counted on to carry the team. He will be counted on to provide only some excess value.
If you're a Rangers fan, you might be rubbed the wrong way by Hamilton's persona. He never has been particularly good in front of a microphone, and he has made his fair share of eyebrow-raising remarks. When it comes to injuries, you can be sure that he will have some odd maladies. We're talking about the player who missed time due to overindulging on energy drinks and blamed some of his struggles because he gave up chewing tobacco in the middle of the season. Those issues were always covered up by Hamilton's prodigious talent and eye-popping plays. While some of that talent has certainly eroded for a player who just turned 34, a supportive environment just might milk out the best baseball Hamilton has left in his body.
Will this be the return of a prodigal son, or is this just another guy trying to stay in baseball as long as he can? Only time will tell, but Josh Hamilton is home. He’s ready to play. For my part, when Josh comes up to bat for the first time when the Rangers return to Arlington on Thursday, I'll be standing and cheering.
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