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The Texas Rangers spent last week quietly trying to pick up the pieces of their stunning late-season collapse. And instead of making a push for their third straight World Series, they were thrust into a much-earlier pondering of what to do about Josh Hamilton.
The 31-year-old outfielder is a face-of-the-franchise kind of guy coming off a season that saw him hit .285 with 43 homers and 128 RBIs. But the Rangers don't seem in any hurry to re-sign him and that 10-year deal you would think teams would line up to offer isn't likely to surface either.
“If you've gone this far, you're going to test the [free-agent] 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.”
Could the Braves or Giants think about it? Do big-money teams in need of a quick fix like the Red Sox or Phillies get involved? The Yankees are trying to lower the payroll (although you wonder if they could get the Dodgers interested in Alex Rodriguez to make room for Hamilton). And there's been plenty of talk the Blue Jays need a big bat in the outfield and might be willing to spend the money.
But while there's no question about Hamilton's talent, there are too many warning signs for him to warrant hitting the jackpot. He might do no better than a three- or four-year contract. Based on Daniels' comments, the Rangers aren't going to negotiate with themselves on a mega Hamiltion deal.
Hamilton, remember, had to hold a news conference in February to apologize for an alcohol relapse over the winter and talked about it again when he arrived at spring training. Talks on an extension were put on hold at that point and it was clear the Rangers were already seeing major red flags.
He missed time this year with back stiffness, with an intestinal problem and the bizarre cornea issue that developed in September that was attributed to an overabundance of caffeine from sports drinks and coffee. Say what? Hamilton looked in a fog at the plate at times and who will ever forget his faux pas in center field on the key play of the season finale in Oakland?
Then Rangers president Nolan Ryan added to chatter last week on ESPN Radio in Dallas with this bizarre diatribe over another Hamilton issue.
“His timing on quitting smokeless tobacco couldn't have been worse,” Ryan said. “You would've liked to have thought that if he was going to do that that he would've done it in the offseason or waited until this offseason to do it. So the drastic effect that it had on him and the year that he was having up to that point in time when he did quit, you'd have liked that he would've taken a different approach to that. So those issues that are created that caused unrest, and it's unfortunate that it happened and the timing was such as it was.”
So here's a guy who clearly has an addictive personality with all kinds of past demons and you're saying he should have waited until after the season? I thought the Rangers were Hamilton's safe zone, with all kinds of steps taken — remember the ginger ale celebrations? — to keep him under wraps.
There are plenty of perils to Hamilton's deal even if you throw out the off-field issues. Look no further than the burgeoning albatross A-Rod has become for the Yankees, a player whose skills have eroding so badly the last two years he couldn't even crack the lineup for a decisive Game Five of a playoff series (and good call by Joe Girardi on that).
Look at A-Rod's contract. Unreal. The Yankees owe him $28 million next season, when he will turn 38 on July 27. He gets $25 million in 2014 (age 39), $21 million in 2015 (40), and $20 million in both 2016 and 2017 (41-42). All this for a guy averaging just 17 homers and 60 RBIs the last two seasons. Not even the Dodgers would be willing to take that kind of deal on. Maybe.
What will Josh Hamilton be around age 40? So many different variables here. Can't imagine anyone takes that chance.

Nats go down

The fallout from the Stephen Strasburg decision will certainly linger around the Nationals all winter long and GM Mike Rizzo was not happy when USA Today quoted a couple of unnamed GMs last week ripping the Nats for their know-it-all stance on their young stud.
“I hope they go down in flames,” said one, in a prescient comment about Friday's ninth inning against the Cardinals. “I hope it takes another 79 years before they get back to the playoffs. That's how strongly I feel about it.”
Retorted Rizzo to CBSSports.com: “Who knows, maybe that came from an executive on a team that lost 120 games.''
Of course, Rizzo was the target of the backlash after he unleashed this not-to-be-forgotten crack during the Nats' division-clinching celebration: “We'll be back and doing this a couple more times.”
He better hope so. Rizzo was steadfast about his decision again Friday night after the Nats' collapse and you have to give him credit for never wavering on this one since spring training. I may disagree but props to Rizzo for standing on principle.
Where did the Nats go wrong? Forget no Strasburg or Drew Storen's blown save. They messed with the Gods far too much by letting Teddy [Roosevelt] win the nightly mascot Presidents Race. Winless for life, Teddy won in the regular season finale and all three playoff games, setting the crowd wild in Nationals Park. But the team won all year while he was losing.
Didn't these guys ever watch “Bull Durham”? Don't, um, mess with a streak.

Wizard of Ozzie

After finishing last in the NL East and having the lowest attendance in the first year of any new ballpark that's opened since 2000, the Marlins are known to be thinking about removing Ozzie Guillen in a Bobby Valentine-like sacking after just one season. That's OK with him.
Owner Jeffrey Loria is known to have a quick trigger for managers. Joe Girardi, remember, got fired after one season even though he had just been named National League Manager of the Year.
“If Jeffrey thinks I don't do the job I should do, it's not the first time he fired the manager,” Guillen said. “I know if it's going to be easier for him to fire another one. I don't worry about that. I expect to be back 100 percent.”
What went wrong?
“No pitching. No coaching. No managing,” Guillen said. “When the manager makes a move and the move no work out the right way, you're a dumb manager. That's the way it is. And when you're in last place, you're very dumb because every move you make all year long and every lineup you write, it was the wrong lineup.
“… At the winter meetings, the expectation was really very, very, very high, with the players, with the manager, with the new park, with the new logos, with new faces and new things. Well, maybe we learn from the experience. It's not about new and expectation, it's about how people perform on the field, and we have to figure out to pick the right people.”

Around and About

• Five postseason games in five days at Yankee Stadium. Pretty chaotic schedule baseball put together this year by cramming in those extra wild-card games. Good thing there wasn't any rain.
• Dusty Baker is one of those managers who is great at winning a ton of games in the regular season but never gets his teams past a certain point (see 2002 Giants, 2003 Cubs). Leaving Mat Latos in Game Five to give up Buster Posey's grand slam was a classic example way. It's Game Five. Get him out. He stayed in and the Reds became the first team to blow a 2-0 division series lead by losing the final three games at home.
• Oakland GM Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin had an end-of-season news conference Friday afternoon, a few hours after the Game Five loss to the Tigers. Daniels and manager Ron Washington did likewise for the Rangers the day after the wild-card loss to the Orioles. Guess they weren't wracked by the same emotions that prevented Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff from talking after the Sabres fell short in April.
• A bunch of Blue Jays pitchers who could have been in Buffalo next season all declined minor-league assignments and opted for free agency last week. The last includes Aaron Laffey, who pitched here during the Cleveland days, Jesse Litsch and Scott Richmond. The Blue Jays will need to sign several minor-league free agents to fill the Buffalo staff.
email: mharrington@buffnews.com