In what might be an even more shocking development than the signing of Albert Pujols in 2011, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have signed the biggest free agent of 2012 (and perhaps any other year) to a 5 year contract worth $125 million. That man is the former Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, he of the prolific power and equally iconic backstory. The Angels possibly have the two or three best hitters in baseball on the team and now, the sky is the limit for these Halos. It had been a trying offseason for most fans of the club, having traded for injury prone Tommy Hanson from Atlanta and the signing of maligned starting pitcher Joe Blanton. Little did the fans of the team know that they would soon make the most surprising free agent pick up in recent history. On paper, the Angels look to be the team to beat in the American League but if you take a deeper look into what makes Hamilton what he is, can he push the team into their first championship since 2002?
Josh Hamilton was the first overall pick of the 1999 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly named the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) but as we all know, his major league career would not start in Florida, due to his addiction to alcohol and several drugs. Coming out of high school as a “can’t miss” prospect at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, Hamilton was seen as one of the few possible draft picks that could turn out to be a star, along with Josh Beckett among others. Two years after being drafted by Tampa Bay, Hamilton started experimenting with several unfortunate vices and in 2002, the Rays sent Hamilton to rehab at the Betty Ford Center in California. In 2003, while still part of Tampa Bay’s minor league system, Hamilton failed a drug test and from 2004 to 2006, he was out of baseball. Most thought he would never return and his story would have an extremely sad and predictable ending. Thankfully, that would not be the case.
Hamilton reportedly gained sobriety in 2005 and in 2006, his career would start for real and in a bang. He was the third pick in the 2006 Rule 5 draft by the Chicago Cubs and his rights would soon be traded to the Cincinnati Reds. He would spend a single successful season in Ohio and then, he was traded to the Texas Rangers for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. He would spend four extremely successful season in Texas, bringing the team two American League pennants, a number of amazing nights and what has proven to be Hamilton’s most iconic moment, the 2008 Home Run Derby. Although he ended up finishing in second due to Minnesota’s Justin Morneau’s final round tally (the scores are reset when it comes down to two players), Hamilton set the single round and overall total Home Run record with 28 and 35 respectively in New York that year. It was magnificent performance to watch and it is still being shown on the highlight shows to this day.
The year where Hamilton succeeded the most would probably be 2010 where he posted a WAR of 8.4, 100 RBI, 32 home runs and a .359 batting average that led the league. Hamilton would go on to win the American League MVP award in 2010 and his Rangers would lose to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, the first of two that the team would go to. The next season, Hamilton and Texas would lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in a World Series that most consider to be one of the most entertaining in the sport’s long history. It was downhill from there however as the Rangers would lose a substantial division lead last season and ended up losing in a one game AL Wild Card playoff game. Many Texas fans questioned Hamilton’s “will to win” and if you’re looking for what was the beginning of the end for Hamilton in Texas, it would have to be the last few games of last season. The fans booed him and it was heard, very clearly.
In my opinion, the Rangers were not concerned with keeping Josh Hamilton on the team. They were focused on other players, including Arizona’s Justin Upton and new Los Angeles Dodger, Zack Greinke. If they were to obtain one of those two players, one could see why they would let Hamilton go. Upton would possibly be a better choice for the team in the long run and Greinke is the exact type of pitcher that a contender needs. Fortunately for the Angels, the Rangers’ gamble blew up in their faces. Losing Hamilton isn’t the main problem with Texas right now, it is the fact that he is now on their biggest rival’s team. With this move, the Angels get better and the Rangers get worse, simply just by having his name on the dotted line and not in Texas. Hamilton is one of the league’s most likeable stars but it does make you wonder, does the front office in Texas know something that the rest of the league doesn’t?
Hamilton’s UZR in 2012 was not the greatest at -12.6 and we all know the struggles he had during the season. The problem with Hamilton is really quite simple, he needs to be more consistent and not fall into such low valleys of inadequate performance. This may be due to his injury history (he’s usually going to miss at least 10, 15 or 20 games to injury each season) or it could just be part of what a Major League hitter goes through but it is troubling. One has to wonder if he can keep his productivity up in a ballpark that’s not as friendly to hitters as the Rangers’ park is and that will factor into his performance as well. However, I believe Hamilton will still be worth the five year and $125 million dollar contract by the end of the five years.
If it weren’t for Hamilton’s injury history and previous problems with addiction, he would probably be getting a deal like Albert Pujols got last season. In baseball, most teams won’t give out a contract that keeps one player on the team for ten years like the Angels did with Pujols but believe me, most teams would give one to Hamilton, if he were just known for his performance. It’s a fair deal to Hamilton and the Angels as a whole and in my opinion, a perfect fit. Hamilton got the amount of money that he deserves and five years is great for both the player and club. What’s yet to be seen is where Hamilton will play on the team but odds are he will land in left field. Keep an eye out on young outfielder Peter Bourjos as he will likely be traded very soon.
On the other hand, this deal leaves a lot of options open on the table for the Angels. They could trade Bourjos, Mark Trumbo or Kendrys Morales and get some worthwhile pieces back. The main rumor that won’t go away since the Hamilton signing this morning is the possibility of trading Peter Bourjos to the Mets for R.A. Dickey. I don’t believe that is the best course of action that the Angels could make. A better option would be to find an equally young pitcher in return for Bourjos and if at all possible, try to include Morales in a trade as well. How does Morales/Bourjos and Randall Grichuk to San Diego for Chase Headley/Clayton Richard and Yasmani Grandal sound?
There’s simply a boatload of possibilities and that’s what happens when you sign one of the best players in the league. It’s tough to predict the future of Hamilton but one thing is for certain, the Angels will be contending this upcoming season and for a long time to come. Personally, I believe this move makes up for the loss of Zack Greinke and it will turn the team into a seemingly superhuman force to reckon with. If you couldn’t wait for baseball to be back already, this deal only strengthens that want (or to some, need).
In closing, this deal turns one of the league's best offenses into what is likely the best and if the Angels can trade one of their young players/prospects for a quality pitcher, the Angels just might be your 2013 World Series Champions.