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One more time, Josh Hamilton leaves the Rangers with a headache

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
Some members of the Rangers' organization didn't even want to make an offer to Josh Hamilton. (US Presswire)

When we last saw Josh Hamilton, he was tearing apart the Rangers' season.

Thursday, he tore apart what remained of their winter gone wrong.

Is it possible for this guy to leave this team any more depressed?

Well, only if he helps the Angels climb back ahead of the Rangers in the American League West.

"Of all the teams to go to," one Rangers official complained Thursday afternoon, after the Angels' stunner of a free-agent signing.

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This was a bad day for the Rangers, almost as bad as that day in October when Hamilton dropped a fly ball as the Rangers dropped like a rock while the A's took away their AL West title. And almost as bad as that night when Hamilton's four feeble at-bats against the Orioles helped end the Rangers' playoff ride almost as soon as it began.

This was a bad day, and it's kind of shocking to say that, considering that by the end of the collapse, the Rangers didn't really want to sign Josh Hamilton at all.

He wasn't supposed to be able to ruin their winter, because their winter wasn't supposed to involve him.

They were done with him. Some in the organization didn't even want to make him an offer.

They were going to say goodbye, and they were going to get bigger. They were going to sign Zack Greinke, or they were going to trade for James Shields, or maybe they were going to trade for Justin Upton.

The Rangers were going to do just what they had always said they would do. With a strong team in place, they were going for someone who could top it off. They were going for a difference maker, and they wanted it to be someone more dependable than Josh Hamilton.

But then they missed on Greinke ("missed by an eyelash," the Rangers official said). They missed on Shields ("missed by an eyelash," he said again). They couldn't find a way to get Upton.

Hamilton wasn't their first choice, but he was their last choice.

When they looked at the market (free-agent and trade) after Greinke and Shields (and basically Upton) were gone, they saw one guy left who looked like a difference-maker.

At least they could bring Josh back.

At least until they couldn't.

They never went to five years, but they never got the chance. Hamilton had always said he would give the Rangers the last word, but then he didn't. The first call the Rangers got Thursday was the one telling them that he was already gone.

That wasn't supposed to bother them, let alone devastate them.

But you better believe that it did.

There are other free agents out there. The Rangers could go after Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher or Adam LaRoche, or a pitcher like Edwin Jackson or Anibal Sanchez or Kyle Lohse.

There are other trade possibilities out there. The Rangers could try harder for R.A. Dickey, or maybe even take one more shot at Upton.

There are plenty of things the Rangers could still do. There's not one thing remaining that excites them right now.

There's not one guy out there that they could convince themselves is the difference maker. Not anyone they could realistically get, anyway.

They love Upton. But it's hard to see how they find any kind of match with the Diamondbacks now, when they couldn't do it when Kevin Towers still needed to find a shortstop.

The Rangers will almost certainly find a spot for Jurickson Profar in their 2013 lineup, probably at second base with Ian Kinsler moving to another spot. But as much as they love Profar (they wouldn't trade him for Upton, or for Shields), and as much as they think he grows into becoming a difference maker, they won't count on him being that guy yet, at age 19 (he will turn 20 in February).

With Profar and Elvis Andrus and Kinsler and Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz, the Rangers still have a team that can win.

But their winter so far includes saying goodbye to a third of their everyday lineup, with Mike Napoli and Michael Young preceding Hamilton out the door.

They didn't mind the subtractions, as long as they could make one or two big additions. As long as they could find their difference maker.

There's plenty of time left before spring training. There's even more time left before opening day.

But the options the Rangers liked are already gone, every last one of them.

Even Josh. Even the guy they had nurtured, the troubled guy they had helped turn into a big star, a star who could get a $125 million contract.

He was gone, too -- gone to the Angels. Of all the teams.

The Rangers will regroup. They still have a good team. They're smart.

"We pride ourselves on thinking everything out," the Rangers person said. "But right now, we're just giving ourselves headaches."

That's Josh Hamilton's Texas legacy, right there with the franchise's first two World Series appearances.

He gave them headaches.

Thursday, he gave them one more.

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