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Senior Baseball Columnist

No doubt Hamilton will produce, but for how long? And at what costs?


Out for 13 games in 2012, Hamilton still hit 43 HRs and 128 RBI -- both second most in MLB. (Getty Images)  
Out for 13 games in 2012, Hamilton still hit 43 HRs and 128 RBI -- both second most in MLB. (Getty Images)  

So do general managers line up at Josh Hamilton's front door at 12:01 a.m. Saturday armed with roses and security guards for the Brinks truck that comes next?

Or do they show up with ice packs and babysitters?

Those aren't the million-dollar questions for the man the Rangers still hope to re-sign and others are eyeing.

Those are the multimillion-dollar questions.

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There is no game-changer anywhere close to Hamilton on this year's free-agent market.

There also is no more enigmatic and utterly perplexing player.

Hamilton's bat comes with both thunder and baggage, and however the most intriguing negotiation of the winter plays out, I promise you it will begin with a date.

Sept. 18, 2012.

That's when Hamilton left a stretch-run game in Anaheim after three innings and proceeded to miss Texas' next five games with "sinus issues."

Two GMs I saw in subsequent days raised their eyebrows over that one. Sinus issues? During the final three weeks of the season? Who comes up with this stuff?

Three guesses, and the first two don't count.

Hamilton was suffering from blurred vision and eventually was diagnosed with a condition caused by too much caffeine and sports drinks, according to the Rangers.

Gee, didn't hear that mentioned at a World Series last month in which Gatorade showed and Hamilton didn't.

That's the thing about Hamilton. Just when you're about to anoint him as one of the greatest talents ever, he disappears like Jimmy Hoffa. You watch him smash four home runs in one game in Baltimore in May, then you watch him blame his inability to quit chewing tobacco as part of the reason he falls into a prolonged slump in July and August.

"Seems like I play four out of six months every season, whether it's because of injuries or going into slumps," Hamilton told me during a candid conversation just before batting practice on that fateful day in Anaheim when the blurred vision attacked. "It's cool. I still have numbers that match up with anybody else's."

That's Hamilton's career and life, perfectly encapsulated by ... Hamilton himself.

The first part of that statement is absolutely true. He's missed 156 games -- or, just six games shy of a full season -- over the past four summers.

If you're the Brewers or any other club prepared to dive into the deep end of the Hamilton negotiations this winter, based on that alone, how can you justify offering anything more than a fraction of Albert Pujols' $246 million or Prince Fielder's $214 million?

The second part of that statement also is true. Though he missed 13 games this summer -- his 148 played were the most since he reached 156 in '08 in Texas -- Hamilton still ranked tied for second in the majors with 43 homers and second in the majors with 128 RBI.

"He's the most gifted player I've ever seen," Rangers infielder Michael Young told me in September. "He's capable of making people scratch their heads."

That last part works in equal measures in divergent directions.

That May night in Baltimore, Hamilton became one of only 16 men in history to bash four homers in one game, and his 18 total bases that evening set an American League record. Furthermore, only twice before in more than 100 years of major-league baseball had a player crushed 17 homers in his team's first 33 games, according to Baseball-Reference.com: Cy Williams (Phillies, 1923) and Frank Howard (Senators, 1968).

His life story of overcoming chemical dependency -- both drugs and alcohol -- is incredibly inspirational and a testament to human will.

But it also makes you wonder how much older his body is than his listed age of 31? Hamilton may have been born on May 21, 1981, but with each new episode of blurred vision, chewing tobacco, the flu and other assorted maladies that have caused him to miss games over the past few years, it seems at times as if the ravages of a hard life have him closer to 41.

No question he's a gamer. It's why his postseason effectiveness (.227/.295/.424, six homers, 22 RBI in 34 games) was diminished in 2010 and 2011.

The first year, he was playing with two broken ribs, suffered when he ran into the outfield wall in Minnesota trying to make a catch.

The second year, he was playing with a sports hernia.

In the wild-card game this year against the Orioles, he went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. More vision issues?

No small part of Hamilton's charm and effectiveness is his intensity on the field. He will dive into first base attempting to beat out an infield hit in a 9-0 game.

Time was, Rangers manager Ron Washington benched him for things like that. The Rangers have talked to Hamilton repeatedly about playing smart and not taking ill-advised risks that could get him hurt. Then they pretty much gave up.

"Some guys, they smell a hit," Washington explained of Hamilton's periodic dives into the first-base bag.

Translation: Competitiveness comes from deep within, and cannot be turned on and off like a faucet. It's what makes Hamilton tick. It's part of the explanation for how he could sit out of baseball for three full seasons (2003-05) while battling his demons, then come back and play at an elite level when most others would have long since lost their timing and moved on to bagging groceries or washing cars.

It's part of the package.

Now it is up to Rangers president Nolan Ryan and GM Jon Daniels to determine what that package is worth to them while other clubs storm Hamilton's front porch.

The Brewers are expected to be one of those. Owner Mark Attanasio is aggressive, and Brewers hitting coach Johnny Naron is a close friend and confidante of Hamilton who once served as the slugger's "mentor" in both Cincinnati and Texas, a sort of babysitter and friend assigned to Hamilton the way Secret Service is assigned to the president, but in an effort to help keep the slugger sober.

"One thing has nothing to do with the other," Daniels told me during a conversation in September, referring to the balancing act of determining the value of a man possessing both the incredible ability to smash four homers in any given game with the unpredictable knack of disappearing without a trace of forewarning.

As Hamilton himself said, seems like he plays four months out of six each season ... and yet he still hangs numbers over the moon.

As pitcher Brandon McCarthy humorously tweeted earlier this season, "Siri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?"

A couple of better questions now might be:

Siri, in which four months will this guy produce?

And Siri, what, exactly, is Josh Hamilton worth?


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