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Hamilton ready to get paid

Slugger done with being a bargain value

Phil Rogers

January 22, 2012

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For Josh Hamilton, these could have been truly glorious days.

If not for the Cardinals' fifth rally in Game 6, Hamilton still would be taking bows for hitting an extra-inning, game-winning home run in the World Series. His drive to center field should have been one for the ages.

But Darren Oliver, like Neftali Feliz before him, couldn't finish off the Rangers' clincher and nothing has gone quite right for Hamilton since.

Hamilton wasted no time recovering from a hernia that had left him moving awkwardly and hitting without his usual power throughout the Rangers' second consecutive run to the World Series. He says he was running after a week and has felt well throughout the process.

Hamilton's security blanket, Johnny Narron, was hired away from the Rangers to work alongside his brother, Jerry Narron, as the Brewers' hitting coach. His father-in-law, Michael Dean Chadwick, agreed to the Rangers' offer to replace Narron in being there for Hamilton 24/7, in a position the Rangers created to help their best player avoid a stumble in his battle with substance abuse, but Chadwick decided he couldn't make the commitment.

Bad deal. But that's not the only commitment that is hanging in the balance for Hamilton.

A financial bargain for the Rangers and Reds since he got his act together, the 32-year-old Hamilton is eligible for free agency after this season. He has hinted he is looking for market value in his next deal after the team's approach stung him in previous negotiations.

"It always comes down to being treated fairly," Hamilton told MLB.com in December. "…Treat me fair and don't come in with ridiculously low stuff."

Hamilton said a week ago he will not negotiate with the Rangers after spring training begins — the stance Albert Pujols took last year with the Cardinals. It's an interesting position for Hamilton as he knows general manager Jon Daniels historically uses spring training as a window to explore extensions.

With Japanese ace Yu Darvish wrapped up with a $111.7 million commitment, Daniels continues to explore ways to add Prince Fielder to the lineup. But this is a delicate process, as the recent comments of Rangers co-chairman of the board Bob Simpson illustrate.

Simpson went out of his way after the Darvish signing to say he "would love" to re-sign Hamilton. He said his "personal preference, at this moment" is a long-term deal with Hamilton over adding Fielder. But that's not the smartest move.

The Rangers should do what it takes to get a Fielder deal with agent Scott Boras. Fielder and Hamilton could chase a championship together in 2012, with Fielder's presence ultimately allowing Hamilton to explore free agency without sending his club into crisis mode.

With Fielder aboard, Daniels could make his best possible offer — say four years at $15 million per — to Hamilton and see if anyone beats it. They might not, as Hamilton's age, past and a playing style that has led to frequent injuries.

Hamilton might decide he likes his comfort level in Texas but with Fielder aboard, the Rangers wouldn't be nearly as dependent on him.

Their kind of guy: Darvish is expected to become the true ace the Rangers have lacked for all but the short time they had Cliff Lee. It's a tall order but one a lot of people around baseball believe he can fill.

Tommy Lasorda first watched Darvish pitch in 2004, when he was a high school senior competing in Japan's prestigious high school championships.

"I fell in love with him," Lasorda told the Los Angeles Times. "Wow, he had a great arm. I would have signed him on the spot."

Clay Daniel, who was then the Angels' international scouting director, had seen him two years earlier, when he was 16.

"He was (built like) a fungo bat, about 6-feet-4 and 160 pounds, and he was only throwing 85-88 mph," Daniel said. "He was still a baby, but you could tell he had a chance to be something special."

Daniel saw Darvish pitch about a dozen times as an amateur. He tried to convince Darvish's father to let him sign then, coming directly to the United States. If Darvish had done that, he would have been seen as turning his back on countrymen.

"His father wasn't going to have any of that,'' Daniel said.

"(The Rangers) have probably seen about 50 games the last two years,'' said Don Nomura, who alongside Arn Tellem represented Darvish. "They were very thorough in how they evaluated. …"

Disconnect: After three months, the Theo Epstein compensation dispute finally has landed on Commissioner Bud Selig's desk. He essentially had ordered the Cubs and Red Sox to settle it between themselves, and isn't happy he has been dragged into a decision that is going to upset a fan base in Chicago or Boston, if not both.

A sense of expediency caused Major League Baseball to allow Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts to talk to Epstein without having agreed on the price he would pay if the Red Sox allowed Epstein out of the year left on his contract, and that was clearly a mistake. But the alternative could have been really ugly.

If the Cubs had declined to accept the Red Sox's terms up front, the Red Sox would have had a decision to make — fire Epstein or allow him to run the team another year knowing he was looking to leave at the end of the season. That could have forced the Cubs to operate under interim GM Randy Bush in 2012 as they waited on Epstein, or to go another direction entirely in the GM search.

Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, a former mentor to Epstein who now feels scorned, wants at least one top prospect from the Cubs to help his hurt go away.

It's clear Ricketts has placed his own high value on Epstein, and Selig easily could come to the same conclusion.

The last word: "When you look at him, you realize pretty quick that he is special." — Nolan Ryan on Darvish.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers