Many things are known about Josh Hamilton — far more details of the man's personal life have been made public information than just about any other athlete. We know he's a recovering alcoholic, we know he's devoutly religious, we know he's injury prone, we know he's trying to quit caffeine and tobacco and we know, when he's on the field, he's one of the best, most talented players in the game.
However, all these knowns only lead up to one big unknown — what to expect from the enigmatic outfielder going forward.
On Tuesday the word came out via ESPN Dallas that the Texas Rangers will allow Hamilton to at least test the free-agent market, and won't offer him a contract during the period between the end of the World Series and the point six days thereafter when free agents can sign with other teams.
"If you've gone this far, you're going to test the market," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. "The realities are when a guy goes out and tests the market and
it's this close, you're not going to pre-empt it. I think he's going to
go out and test the market and see what's out there and get back to us.
"No door has been closed. We're also very realistic about when a star
player hits free agency at this point and the history of them returning
to their original club. So we have to prepare both ways and prepare the
club for the possibility that he's not back."
Although Daniels' comments seem perfectly reasonable and realistic given the fact that Hamilton and the Rangers didn't work out a contract extension during the regular season despite mutually agreeing to extend contract talks into the official campaign, it's hard not to read them as a sign that Texas is completely prepared to go in a different direction. And so it may be that Hamilton's — who seemed the picture-perfect face of the franchise under the big skies of Arlington — only chance to return to the Rangers may be a tepid market for the star — which is a distinct possibility.
Like Hamilton's future production, what to expect for the 31-year-old this winter is a tricky proposition to predict. It's very easy to see Hamilton stepping into an enormous Prince Fielder-like contract this offseason, but it's also well within the realm of possibility that the bottom drops out of the market for him due to all the extenuating circumstances affecting his life.
There are few players in the game who possess the raw ability that Hamilton does, a true five-tool player with a proven track record of utilizing that talent. However, there have been few players in history who's health — both mental and physical — has seemed so tenuous from year-to-year, month-to-month or even at-bat-to-at-bat.
Of course, it isn't saying anything terribly new to point out that Hamilton's ever-present predilection to addiction makes him an inherent risk, or that his extensive injury history is another huge mitigating factor. But these are the reasons that both make it so difficult to guess what kind of offers he receives this winter, and make the Rangers' decision to let the market decide how much Hamilton is worth such a keen decision.
In short, if Hamilton receives a huge offer that reaches into the six- or eight-year range, then that is likely somewhere the Rangers wouldn't want to go, even with their vast economic resources. In the luxury tax era, even teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are wary of taking on long-term, high-money deals because of how it hamstrings their budgets.
But there's also the very realistic scenario that — with teams like New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Los Angeles of Anaheim very unlikely to join the bidding on Hamilton — there simply isn't the market for him many have speculated. In that case, the Rangers would run the risk of bidding against themselves for a player that carries a ton of baggage.
So either way the Rangers win. If Hamilton's offseason market turns into a high-end bidding war, then Texas can happily watch someone else take on a contract which probably won't yield equal value. However, if the bottom drops out of the market, the Rangers have a strong chance to retain Hamilton for compensation much, much closer to his real value in his mid to late 30s.
But, like everything else that's happened in Hamilton's career, who knows what to expect.