Josh Hamilton’s decision looms large over Texas


The Rangers would love to have first-half Josh Hamilton back in the lineup. Second-half Josh? Not so much. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

If Josh Hamilton wanted center stage all to himself, he got exactly what he asked for. With Zack Greinke off the free-agent market, signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend, Hamilton now has teams looking in his direction and trying to make a decision whether he’s worth the money he’s been asking for.

That debate is raging, not only in Philadelphia, but also in Seattle and right here in North Texas.

When the 2012 season came to a close, you wouldn’t dare ask any Ranger fan about bringing Hamilton back. Not because you didn’t want to know their opinion on the matter, but because you knew their answer was going to be “No!”

Now, two months after the painful loss to the Baltimore Orioles, after losing what looked to be an insurmountable lead in the AL West to the Oakland A’s, that opinion has shifted. So much so that some believe the Rangers have to re-sign the controversial outfielder. Most of that feeling comes from losing out on Greinke, watching James Shields get traded from Tampa to Kansas City, and essentially seeing the end of any sort of Justin Upton trade after the Arizona Diamondbacks completed a three-team deal with the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night.

“Clubhouse chemistry is overrated,” said Rangers’ infielder Ian Kinsler earlier this week. All do respect to Kins, but I don’t know that he wants to deal with drama day in and day out during a long 162-game season. Maybe he should try, then let’s see if he changes his tune.

Just mention free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to Ranger fans and see how fast they mention the words “clubhouse cancer.” Evidently they don’t believe clubhouse chemistry is overrated.

That leads to my opinion on Hamilton.

I believe in clubhouse chemistry. A lot actually. I believe in teams that meshes well together, play well together and stay on the same page for six months. That’s a long time to be around the same group of guys. It can also feel like eternity if those six months are spent pulling teammates apart because they’re ready to bring the MMA into the clubhouse.

Josh is one of those cases that you’ll never be able to fully explain. He’s one of those guys you either love or you hate, there’s really no one who sits on the fence on someone like this, and everyone has an opinion.

The one fact most won’t argue: Josh Hamilton is one of the best players in the game right now. His ability and his tools match up with some of the best this game has ever seen. The only problem is Josh’s ability to keep himself mentally focused. For a guy to be as good as he is to have two absolutely attrocious months, and two even worse weeks when the team needed him the most, just seems downright impossible.

Knowing all that, and keeping everything he’s shown teams around the big leagues over the last three to four years, what kind of money do you throw his way? Is there really a team that’s willing to risk everything and lock him down to a seven-year deal, or will they tell him they’re willing to give up three years and that’s it?

What do his teammates really think of him? There are so many rumors flying around that he wasn’t one of the most liked guys in the clubhouse. But for every one of those rumors that floats to the surface, there’s always someone to say there’s no truth to any of them. Only the people truly inside the organization, inside the clubhouse, or have sources who know both, truly know the answer.

There’s no question the Rangers’ lineup is one of the best in baseball with Hamilton in the middle of it. There’s also no question he makes opposing pitchers think twice about certain pitches when he’s standing at the plate. He can change a game with one swing of the bat — and one drop of a simple fly ball.

When it comes to Josh Hamilton, the debate will continue to rage hot and heavy in the cities contemplating his signing. I used to believe it was in the Rangers’ best interest to bring him back. Knowing what I know now, however, and looking back at his epic failures, as well as his unbelievable accomplishments and feats, I have to wonder if my opinion was ever right.

He’s a great player, one of the best. But, just as I knew it was time for the Rangers and Michael Young to part ways, maybe it’s time for the Rangers and Josh Hamilton to do the same.

It’s not a simple debate, and you won’t find a simple answer. Whether or not Josh returns to Texas hinges, I believe, on this very question: Is the risk worth the reward?

Or, better yet, is there really a reward?

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