Hamilton heads to free agency, leaving us with more questions than answers

ARLINGTON, Texas -- So what do you think of Josh Hamilton now?

More importantly, what do owners and general managers around baseball think of Josh Hamilton now?

Oh, and why does every discussion of Josh Hamilton include more questions than answers?

He could have spent the rest of this month giving us answers. He could have spent the rest of this month building his free-agent case, building his reputation as the most talented player in the game.

He could have proven to the Rangers that there's no way they could let him go. Instead, the prevailing feeling in the Rangers organization seems to be, "Thanks for the memories, and we'll see you next year (in another uniform)."

If his Ranger career did indeed end with Friday night's 5-1 wild-card loss to the Orioles, it ended ugly. It ended with a feeble 0-for-4 night at the plate, with a first-inning double play that might have been the most important play of the game, and with an eighth-inning strikeout that was accompanied by the loudest boos of the night.

"Personally, it wouldn't matter how high I was, if I went to a sporting event, I would never boo, never yell obscenities," Hamilton said later.

He also suggested strongly that health issues caused his late-season fold (which helped lead to the Rangers' late-season fold).

Asked directly if his eyesight was still a problem, Hamilton said: "I plead the Fifth."

The problem is that his health really should be an issue for any team thinking about signing him. The Reds traded him to Texas five winters ago because their doctors said his body wouldn't hold up.

The Rangers can't ever regret that trade, not after two World Series and one MVP award. But they know better than anyone that it's sometimes an effort to keep Hamilton in the lineup.

They also know better than anyone what Hamilton can do when he's healthy and in the lineup.

Even Friday afternoon, even after watching Hamilton struggle over the last week, manager Ron Washington spoke glowingly about his center fielder.

"It's his production," Washington said. "It's his presence. He can change the thought processes of a pitcher. He can make managers make moves they don't want to make.

"We're certainly tonight looking to jump on his back and take a ride."

The ride Friday took the Rangers to the end of an stunning collapse. It took them into a winter of uncertainty.

It took Hamilton into a winter of uncertainty, too.

"I went out and gave my all, like I always do," Hamilton said. "We came up short.

"I had a great year."

Now it's over, and we're left with questions.

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