Hamilton likely to become free agent, but Rangers may still try to lock him up first

Josh Hamilton is worthy of an elite salary, but for 10 years? (US Presswire)

Rangers president Nolan Ryan has said he expects superstar outfielder Josh Hamilton to file for free agency at year's end. However, that doesn't mean the team has totally abandoned the idea of trying to sign him long-term during the season.

Hamilton and the Rangers have maintained a terrific relationship through their wildly successful and occasionally stormy four-plus-year relationship, so there's a bit of hope they can get something done before free agency. However, they would very likely have to bridge a big gap on the issue of the length of the contract.

The Rangers are believed to be willing to offer Hamilton, 31, a big annual salary reflective of his enormous talent. However, the Rangers, a team that has been very much against extremely long deals along the lines of the Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Joey Votto, do not want to give a deal of close to the length of those deals (which were 10, 9 and 10 years) to anyone, much less Hamilton. Hamilton is said to be looking for a contract befitting an "elite" player, which isn't hard to identify these days.

Irrespective of their usual team policy to limit deals for stars, Hamilton carries a particular risk.

The Rangers have assigned a "life coach'' to chaperone and monitor Hamilton, and he's had only two relapses that became public since he's been in Texas. But people who have spoken to the life coaches suggest it is a very demanding job. Hamilton was on the restricted list for failed drug tests before making a comeback with the Reds, who traded him after one year to the Rangers because Reds team doctors questioned whether he'd stay healthy.

Not only has he remained healthy, he's become one of the best and most productive players in the game. He leads the American League with 21 home runs and 57 RBI, has a .348 batting average and is a major threat to win his second MVP in Texas.

The Rangers have three other important free agents: catcher Mike Napoli, starter Colby Lewis and reliever Mike Adams.

But the attention, understandably, is on Hamilton.
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