It’s pretty obvious that the Josh Hamilton we see today is a different player than the Josh Hamilton we saw win an MVP award and make five straight All-Star appearances with the Texas Rangers.
It’s also pretty obvious that Los Angeles Angels overpaid for the 33-year-old former superstar. Prior to moving to the Angels from the Rangers for a 5-year $125 million contract, Hamilton hit .305. He averaged 28 home runs and 101 RBI a season over his five seasons with the Rangers.
Hamilton led the league in RBI in 2008, his first season as a Ranger having spent his rookie year with the Cincinnati Reds, with 130. During his MVP season in 2010 Hamilton batted a whopping .359, also leading the league in slugging percentage and OPS.
Since joining the Angels his average over the past two seasons has dropped to .255. He hit 21 home runs in 2013 but spent most of 2014 on the disabled list and hit just 10.
Granted Hamilton started the first week of the season on a tear until literally tearing a ligament in his thumb sliding head first into first base (ok, what made him do that? I had to ask!). That kept him out for the majority of the season but once he returned to the team Hamilton had strange ailments that affected his play.
He suffered a shoulder injury which somehow evolved into a chest and rib cage injury (assuming the two might be related) that made it hard for the star outfielder to breathe and threatened his availability for the postseason.
Hamilton did play in the Angels’ American League Division Series loss to the Kansas City Royals but he went 0-13 with no walks. It’s safe to safe he was feeling even less like the old Josh Hamilton than usual.
Now the Angels have traded for left-handed hitting outfielder Matt Joyce. They gave up reliever Kevin Jepsen, who is coming off of a career year, to the Tampa Bay Rays. Seemingly Joyce’s presence is to not necessarily replace Hamilton – yet – but to be there so that manager Mike Scioscia can rest Hamilton any time he wants. That sounds a bit close to being a replacement to me.
The move shows that the Angels may have lost faith in Hamilton who still has $83 million left on his contract.
There have been rumors that the Angels have even been trying to move him, possibly even back to the Rangers or the San Diego Padres.
However, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writes that Angels’ general manager Jerry Dipoto “emphatically” said that the trade talks were exploratory in nature and that the team is not giving up on Hamilton.
“We do believe in Josh,” Dipoto said. “We’ve seen it every day when he takes batting practice. We’ve seen him hit balls that humans shouldn’t hit. What he does, 99 percent of the players can’t do.
“We are absolutely of the belief that the ability is there for him to do the things that he has done in the past. Now we have to help him turn the key to bring the ability out.”
Rosenthal goes on to say that while a trade is not imminent, it is not unlikely in the future if the Angels can show that Hamilton is still an asset. They do not want to end up paying for the majority of his contract.
“Of course the Angels would move Hamilton, if such a deal could make them younger, cheaper and more athletic. The problem is that Hamilton’s value is down, and a trade only might be possible if the Angels assume nearly all of his remaining obligation — something they are not presently willing to do, sources said.”
“The question now is whether the Angels can salvage Hamilton as a player, knowing that he occasionally seems distracted and even defeated when things do not go his way. Teams want to know what to expect from their players. It’s difficult for the Angels to know what to expect from Hamilton.”
The Angels have hired Johnny Narron, Hamilton’s former “accountability partner” with the Rangers, as their Triple-A hitting coach meaning Hamilton will be able to work with him on hitting as well as hopefully getting his head on straight during spring training.
With both Joyce and Narron to keep Hamilton rested and emotionally under control they may just be able to convince opposing teams that Hamilton is still an asset (he is still hitting at an above-average level) and when he is finally traded be able to do so without taking on the rest of his salary.
For the moment though, Hamilton is and likely will be a member of the Angels when the 2015 season begins. They have not given up on him completely, even though there have been some red flags. The Angels are not ready to go there, not just yet.