By: Mark Lane (@therealmarklane)
ARLINGTON, Tx. — The Texas Rangers announced Tuesday they signed free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton to a one-year minor league deal that includes an April 1 opt-out clause.
Hamilton, who was released by the Rangers on Aug. 23, 2016, will have the opportunity to play first base for Texas, a task that he has hinted for years to management he would like to try.
“I’m excited about it because I’ve been wanting to play first for years,” said Hamilton. “And to have the opportunity to be involved in the game because you are there is exciting. I’ve played in the past. I enjoyed it. So, I’m just going to take it as that. It’s something new again because I haven’t done it in so many years.”
According to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, the five-time All-Star has always been brought up as a possibility to play first base, but the finalization of such a move never occurred as Hamilton believed some of his teammates were more deserving of the position.
“Even last year, he was respectful of the guys on our roster, specifically Mitch [Moreland] that he was not pushing to do that at the time,” said Daniels. “But he has brought up in the past that he thinks it will help him physically.”
Hamilton started the 2016 season on the 15-day disabled list. In late May, the club stated Hamilton had undergone knee surgery, the third one in nine months, and he would not play at all the entire season. The Rangers activated Hamilton on Aug. 23 to release him as part of the “administrative” part of retaining Hamilton’s rights as a release prior to Sept. 1 would ensure Texas could play Hamilton in the big leagues before mid-May if he was re-signed.
A three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, Hamilton has been unable to recapture his golden days with the Rangers from 2008-12 when he had a .305 batting average, 142 home runs, and 506 RBI’s which led Texas to three postseason berths and two American League Championships. Hamilton appeared to check out mentally from the team in 2012, the last year on his contract. That December he signed a five-year deal worth $125 million with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim. The results in Los Angeles weren’t what the club expected, and a relapse into drug addiction in February 2015 along with shoulder surgery to repair the AC joint led the Angels to trace Hamilton back to Texas. In 2015, Hamilton played the fewest games of his career (50) and had the second-worst batting average of his career.
When Hamilton didn’t play at all in 2016, he says he, “got a taste of life after baseball.”
Said the the 2010 AL MVP: “I was able to spend more time with my girls and really be a dad full time for the first time to them. So, at the same time, I hate that I didn’t get to play and that I was hurt. But it was a blessing in disguise. It just let me know that I’m going to be okay when baseball’s over that I can be a dad and part of the community as that.”
Hamilton has four daughters from a previous marriage to Katie Chadwick. It was for his children that Hamilton wanted to come back to the Rangers “focused” and “motivated,” attitudes Daniels hasn’t seen in a long time out of Hamilton.
Said Daniels: “I asked him. We got together. ‘Why do you want to come back?’ And he wants to win, unfinished business, things like that. But he also said, ‘I’ve got these girls and I want them to see me do what I’m capable of doing. I want them to remember me in that light.’ He’s motivated for good reasons. And when you’ve got a talented guy that’s got some motivation behind it, it’s a good risk for us to take.”
“There’s no guarantees, which I’ve always found I like,” said Hamilton. “It just pushes you and drives you to be better and to get personally where you feel you want to be as a player. So, I’m excited about it.”
“To Josh’s credit, he’s really embraced it,” Daniels said. “He understands it’s a true competition. He’s, as crazy as it is to say, a minor league free agent coming into camp as a roster invite.”
The Rangers could use Hamilton’s versatility as they lost Moreland to the Boston Red Sox in free agency and Prince Fielder to a career ending injury. The move, if successful, would also preserve the 35-year-old veteran and add more years on his career.
“His willingness to learn first base over there increases the number of spots he could play from a versatility standpoint, the ability to fill a roster,” Daniels said. “He can play the outfield, the knee durability wise a little bit of a question. If we feel it may be healthy to stay on the dirt, less wear and tear running around the outfield, but certainly outfield is an option. DH is an option. A lot of it is going to depend on where he’s at swinging the bat.”
Hamilton has been cleared for all baseball activities and is expected to be a full go when the team starts spring training in Surprise, Arizona.