The Texas Rangers are a very good team going through a rough patch, recently losing seven of their past ten games.
And while I don't advocate overreacting to a poor stretch, the Texas Rangers are a good team, but there's room for improvement, especially in the starting rotation. I look at the way their roster is constructed, and see the opportunity to reload for the future in a way that may not totally sacrifice their season today.
All they have to do is trade Josh Hamilton before the 2012 trade deadline.
Hamilton is already the leading candidate for AL MVP, but he's also an impending free agent who comes with a host of risks. Don't get me wrong, most ballplayers come with their share of risk, but Josh Hamilton in particular bears more than his share.
The 2010 MVP is a moderate injury risk, missing substantive time in 2009 and 2011 with various ailments, but almost every player plays under the threat of freak or chronic injury. But Josh Hamilton also plays with very real, well-documented personal risks -- his past troubles with drugs and alcohol. There's always a chance that off-the-field troubles rear their head, and cause him to miss time or lose effectiveness.
Josh Hamilton also presents a performance risk. He doesn't have the preternatural batting eye of a Barry Bonds or Ted Williams; instead he possesses the ability to hit balls for power whether they are thrown over the plate or far away from it. While his plate discipline skills may improve over time, sustaining his mad level of production is highly unlikely going forward. ZiPS only projects three wins above replacement (via FanGraphs) for Hamilton for the rest of the season. Losing that kind of production won't completely ruin 2012 for the Rangers.
More importantly than anything, though, is the fact that Josh Hamilton is a flight risk. A free agent for the first time after this season, Hamilton hasn't yet agreed on an extension with the Rangers. The Rangers may not be ready to shell out the massive cash outlay that would come with a Hamilton contract, nor may they even be the high bidder for Josh's services.
Of course, the only way the Rangers should deal The Natural is if they can get a good / fair return for Hamilton. And while the Rangers are a solid team as presently constructed, they have to look to the future. With players like Jurickson Profar, Michael Olt and Martin Perez coming up through the system, the Rangers have the potential to be an excellent team years down the line as well as today. Hamilton is the type of player who could bring back a return that would help the team recover from his loss, as well as building towards the future.
Here are a few teams that could make a compelling offer, and might take on his risks. Any of these deals would probably have to come with a contract extension window and agreement, thus nullifying the "flight risk" issue.
Toronto Blue Jays - Do you think the Jays could compete with a Bautista-Hamilton-Encarnacion-Lawrie lineup core? A deal for Hamilton could start with uber-prospect Travis d'Arnaud, Travis Snider or Colby Rasmus, and one of the Jays' sharp pitching prospects like Texas native Noah Syndergaard or Aaron Sanchez.
St. Louis Cardinals - St. Louis, as a city, would probably be a pitch-perfect landing place for a player with Hamilton's particular needs. The low-key urban atmosphere and dynamic, appreciative fanbase would love having an outfield of Hamilton, Beltran, and Holliday. The price would naturally be steep though...I could see the Cardinals giving up rising offensive star Allen Craig as well as elite pitching prospect Shelby Miller as part of a Hamilton trade.
San Francisco Giants - Sure, why not include the other team the Rangers recently lost a World Series to? The Giants could offer a nice long-term upgrade at 1B in Brandon Belt, as well as the surging Melky Cabrera and a pitching prospect or two in exchange for Hamilton. (Just don't expect them to make any deal without signing Hamilton as well, as you'd think they've learned their lesson from the Beltran-for-Wheeler deal.)
So Giants fans, think for a moment when you watch Hamilton and the Rangers roll into AT&T Park tonight, would it be worth the cost to add a power outfielder of Hamilton's ilk? And Rangers fans, are you preparing for life without Josh? Should you steel yourself for the loss of the already-legendary slugger, or should you be slobbering at the young players he could bring back in a trade?
For the Rangers, Josh Hamilton's otherworldly production in 2012 simply isn't worth the risks he poses. Why not get a great return for him while his value is so high.
So what do you think? Do you agree with this bold statement? Do you disagree, and want to let me know why? Get the conversation going in the comments below.