We're getting close to Opening Day and that means it is time to focus in on nine of the stories worth following this Rangers season. We'll run them down one a day between now and April 6th, with Josh Hamilton up for discussion in the ninth inning.
Josh Hamilton has been many different things to the Rangers over the last four years.
He's been an inspiration, a cautionary tale, an MVP, an injury risk, a sympathetic figure, a frustrating figure, a left fielder, a center fielder and much more while also being the face of teams that have completely changed the way the world looks at the Rangers. And the fact that he's been so many different things over these last four years makes gauging his impending free agency very difficult.
It's been a thorny, if not downright contentious, topic over the last few months. News of Hamilton's latest relapse all but took the idea of an extension before the season off the table, although Hamilton's vow not to take any kind of discount might have done that anyway. Things quieted down for a bit, but they flared up again this week when it became clear the Rangers were going to send Hamilton to play center whether or not it broke his body.
"I don’t know," Hamilton said, "you think it's got anything to do with free agency and get as much out of me as they can before they get rid of me?"
Hamilton followed that up by saying that he was kidding, but they do say that there's a little truth behind every joke. Moving Hamilton to left field was always about keeping him in the lineup as long as possible, but now the Rangers are clearly looking for as much immediate bang for their buck as they can get.
That doesn't mean there's no chance of Hamilton sticking around beyond this season, of course, but it does show that the Rangers have changed their thoughts about his value as a long-term play. The change probably isn't because of the injuries, relapses or asking price alone. The combination of the three has made for a very different equation, though, and it isn't one with an obivous solution.
All we do know is that it will be the backdrop for everything that goes on with Hamilton this season. Any slump will lead to people wondering if Hamilton is distracted while every hot streak will have them agitating for an extension. It will all turn out to be more than a little tiresome, especially since neither side has shown much aversion to negotiating through the press to this point.
What's best for the Rangers might not be what's best for Hamilton, something that seems wrong on the surface but makes sense the more you think about it. Not all relationships are meant to stand the test of time, even the ones that burn so brightly at the start. You get to know more about the other person and little spats turn into deep fissures and, well, one day it is all over.
Or perhaps this little rough patch will make everyone realize they were meant to be. The final chapters of the novel (or of Act I) will be written this season.