by Eddie Middlebrook
I’ve said my goodbyes to Josh Hamilton before. In fact, Josh and I parted ways in the middle of his last great season. In 2012, when all of Ranger nation wanted to #PaytheMan, I made my peace with the idea that Josh was moving on to greener ($) pastures.
Then a weird thing happened in 2015.
In late April, the prodigal son returned to the team and city that had treated him so well for five years. Through his first seven games with the team, Hamilton was hitting .273/.385/.636 and the team went 5-2 in those games. In that seventh game, Josh played the role of hero as he has done so many times before in a Rangers uniform.
That was the famous Emily Jones’ Gatorade bath game. It was also the last time Hamilton would play in a game until June 30. He would only play in 50 games and finished the season below league average as a hitter (94 OPS+).
Odd Man Out
As of late February 2016, it appeared that Hamilton was penciled in as the primary leftfielder (with a possibility of platooning with Ryan Rua), but then the news broke that he wouldn’t play until early May. Four days later, Ian Desmond was signed and guaranteed the leftfield position.
This move left many wondering what will happen to Josh? With Desmond, Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo manning the outfield positions, and Prince Fielder as full-time DH, spaces are limited.
In early March, Jon Daniels told ESPN’s The Afternoon Show (via Dallas Morning News), “If you’re healthy and you come back and you’re playing the way you’re capable of playing, I’m very confident we’ll sort it out. I’m very confident that we’ll find spots where Josh can play and contribute to the club and at the same time still protect his body.”
That’s a big “If.”
The $28 Million Platoon DH
Then a funny thing happened on Sunday. Hamilton reported that he is 100 percent pain free and could be back on the field as early as this Sunday.
Within that report was this nugget from Evan Grant:
Rangers Assistant General Manager Thad Levine said Sunday that the club has not closed the door on a May 1 return for Hamilton if he has no setbacks.
If the team is seriously considering playing Hamilton in 2016, they will have to get creative. If you want to maximize his value, then he simply can’t play the outfield on a left knee that is weaker than my G.I. Joe’s I had as a child.
This leaves first base and designated hitter as the only options. It is safe to assume that playing Hamilton at first base suddenly makes Fielder look Gold Glove caliber so my guess would be Hamilton is the team’s designated hitter versus lefthanded pitching. Despite having his best season to date in 2015, Mitch Moreland still hit .245/.293/.387 against LHP. Hamilton didn’t fare much better versus lefties (.236/.271/.455), but he would be an upgrade in the lineup.
There’s Still Time
So there you have it. If everything goes to plan, starting May 1, Hamilton will be the team’s platoon DH, late-inning pinch hitter and fan ambassador. We all would like our sports heroes to leave the game on a high note like John Elway or Peyton Manning, but more times than not, they leave to little fanfare and a shell of what they once were.
The sun is setting on a career that makes you constantly say “What if?” What if Josh hadn’t experienced the car accident as a minor leaguer? What if the Home Run Derby was cumulative? What if he’s the Game 6 and World Series hero? What if he catches that ball in Oakland? What if Arte Moreno wasn’t a complete tool?
Sports and life are so fickle. There’s such a fine line between greatness and mediocrity. Maybe there’s still time for 32.
Eddie Middlebrook is a husband, father of three and saved by grace. Senior Writer for @ballparkbanter9. Formerly with @wfaasports, @shutdowninning and @FoxSportsSW. @IBWAA member. Eddie can be found on Twitter @emiddlebrook.