ANAHEIM, Calif. – With any luck at all, and lord knows he could use some, Josh Hamilton will find Texas Rangers fans to be more forgiving and more compassionate than Arte Moreno.
Hamilton was booed out of Texas when his production declined. Two months later, upon signing with the Los Angeles Angels, his wife observed, "They let us go out and date people and kind of gave our hearts away. …In hindsight, I'm so glad they didn't [sign Josh]." Not long after that, Hamilton noted Dallas was, "Not a true baseball town," and so, as they say, it was on.
It appears now Hamilton is on the verge of returning to Texas, where he played five mostly glorious seasons, and to the ballpark that discovered its vicious side when he arrived in an Angels uniform. A couple liners in the gaps ought to clear that up.
On Friday, the Angels and Rangers neared a trade that would send the troubled Hamilton back to Texas. The Angels will send about $68 million (other reports suggested the number would be even higher) – Hamilton is due $83 million over the next three seasons – to Texas. In return, the Rangers will take Hamilton out of Moreno's sight.
Three years at about $15 million (other reports suggested the number would be even lower) was the risk the Rangers were willing to take on Hamilton, and it's hardly risk at all. On that side, it is the Angels who are betting Hamilton – drug addict, old body, declining production, wavering interest – will not make them look as bad in a baseball sense as they've looked in a morality sense. Because, on that front, they lost the trade weeks ago, long before the trade was even discussed.
The Rangers gamble Hamilton will return home, tend to his family, get healthy, rediscover friends and then hit again. He is in the last stages of recovery from shoulder surgery. Those who have seen him say Hamilton is big, strong and fit. He has been swinging a bat for a month, recently advancing to batting practice. He is smiling again, especially as trade conversations between the Angels and Rangers began to feel real.
In Anaheim, members of the 6-9 Rangers, many of whom lost 95 games last season, had heard the news of Hamilton's imminent return before the clubhouse doors opened. He is a supreme talent, when upright and fully directed. He has other moments that appear unfocused. He comes with an accountability partner and other accessories to his recovery. So, in some corners and in private, there is some ambivalence to Hamilton walking through that door again. There's also the reality that their team isn't very good. The Rangers are in the bottom half of the league in the major categories – hitting, pitching and fielding. There could hardly be a complaint when general manager Jon Daniels brought in Hamilton for pennies on the dollar.
"Is he going to help us win ballgames?" Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "I'm open. Who doesn't need a guy like Josh?
"We all hope everything is resolved. We wish him the best whether he comes here or not. …If he comes here we hope he's healthy, we hope his mind is in a good position, and he has the support to be the Josh we all know he can be. There is nobody perfect. We know who Josh is."
No one needs a decent left fielder more than the Angels. The position had pumped a .148 batting average, no home runs and three RBI into their offense in the first 16 games. But they will pass on Hamilton because he relapsed in January. So the Rangers could have Hamilton play left in an outfield with Shin-Soo Choo and Leonys Martin. They could have him DH. First, they'll have to get him healthy and on the field and settled into his old digs, new again.
"I can't tell you what's good for him or not," Beltre said. "I'm not in his shoes. I just know that as a teammate, if it happens, we'll do the best we can to keep him thinking about baseball.
"We all know Josh. We all know his story. I'm not an expert on this, but it's a disease, right? Who are we to judge? It could happen to any of us. That's life."
Said shortstop Elvis Andrus: "He's a human being. We're not perfect. …I mean, I like him, you know? Cool guy. Great guy to talk to. Good conversations. Between me and him, everything was fine."
And pitcher Colby Lewis: "I love Josh. I loved him when he was here. I was sad to see him go. The possibility of us getting him back excites the team. I'm all for it.
"Apparently, he's moving forward in life. If we end up getting him we'll greet him with open arms."
The trade awaits approval from the commissioner's office, so as of Friday night was unofficial.
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