File photo of Texas Rangers' outfielder Josh Hamilton waiting to hit during workouts in preparation for Major League Baseball's World Series in San Francisco

Should the Rangers bring up Josh Hamilton’s substance abuse history if they go to arbitration?

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Unless they settle with either a one-year deal or a big lockup package, Josh Hamilton and the Rangers are slated to head to an arbitration hearing sometime soon.  From that an interesting question emerges: how hard do the Rangers hit him — if they hit him at all — with his substance abuse history?

The immediate answer that comes to mind may be “none at all! How rude that would be!”  I get that, and as I’ll write below, I agree that they ultimately shouldn’t go there.  But arbitration is litigation and the litigation process is such that it’s really, really difficult to pull one’s punches.  And not just because of rudeness concerns, but because of precedent.

An arbitration doesn’t just set the current player’s salary. It’s used as a baseline for later players with similar production and similar service time who head into the process themselves. If one team eases up on Josh Hamilton, other teams heading into arbitration with their Hamiltonian super stars will have a tougher hill to climb in order to prevail.  In a way, then, the integrity of the process requires that the parties fight their hardest case possible.

And it’s not hard to see how Hamilton’s history could, theoretically, be used against him.  Not on moral grounds, per se, but because his drug use took away from many important development years. Hamilton has had an injury history.  If the Rangers want to argue that that history gives them pause, could they not — and should they not — point to Hamilton’s abnormal development as a player as a potential reason for concern?  Could they not also point to his brief and highly-publicized relapse in 2009 as an added risk factor with respect to future playing time?  Another relapse and — bam! — he’s in rehab. I’m not saying that they should do that, just that they could.

MLB Trade Rumors spoke with someone today who cautioned the Rangers on that front:

The Rangers could bring up Hamilton’s injury history and past substance abuse, but they would have to do so subtly, says Michael Vlessides, a veteran arbitration consultant.  “It’s the fine line between how much do you pick on the guy who’s the MVP. If you do it too much, you can lose a lot of credibility” Vlessides said. Beating MVPs in arbitration hearings isn’t easy, but the Pirates beat Barry Bonds after he won his first MVP in 1990 and again the following offseason.

I’ll go one better and say that trashing an MVP is not just a bad thing to do for credibility purposes, but that it’s a bad thing to do with Josh Hamilton and his drug history specifically for strategic purposes.

Why would Hamilton’s history be a detriment to his value?  Sure, it may be for many other players, but Hamilton is a unique case. That relapse notwithstanding, he’s turned his story into something of a fairytale. It’s triumph-over-adversity stuff, and if anything it has made him a much more popular player than he otherwise would be.  There’s value in that. Actual financial value to the Rangers that could make bringing the subject up worse for them than if they leave it alone.

Personally, I’d have a hard time seeing the Rangers go there. They’re not a dumb organization. Since Nolan Ryan took over, they seem to go out of their way to avoid ruffling their own players’ feathers, and I see no reason why they’d start with Hamilton.

But I also suspect that they know what Hamilton is all about, both as a player and as a phenomenon.  It’s not easy for baseball to bring totally new fans into the fold. People who wouldn’t otherwise pay attention.  If anyone has brought those kinds of fans into the game in the past couple of years, it’s Josh Hamilton, and I presume the Rangers are well aware of this.

Phillies sign outfielder Michael Saunders

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 3: Michael Saunders #21 of the Toronto Blue Jays runs to first after being walked during the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 3, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Phillies have signed free agent outfielder Michael Saunders.

Saunders was an All-Star in 2016 due to his wonderful start, but he cratered in the second half of the season. Overall is numbers looked good — he hit 24 homers and posted a line of .253/.338/.478, but his second half line was .178/.282/.357 in 58 games. He’s not the best defender around either.

The Phillies could use him, however, and if he has another red hot first half, there’s a decent chance they could flip him if they wanted to.

Jose Bautista and the Blue Jays nearing a two-year, $35-40 million deal

Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista flips his bat after hitting a three-run homer during seventh inning game 5 American League Division Series baseball action in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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It was first reported that the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista were close to a deal last night. Now Ken Rosenthal reports that the deal is near completion. It will likely a two-year contract in the $35-40 million range.

Bautista had a tough 2016, hitting .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI, and some clubs likely considered a long-term deal for the 36-year-old too risky, this leading to the relative lack of reported interest in Bautista by other clubs. But back-to-back ALCS appearances by the Jays and the success and popularity Bautista has experienced in Toronto make his re-signing there a pretty sensible move for all involved.

The Jays, who already lost Edwin Encarnacion to free agency, get their slugger back on a short term deal. Unlike anyone else, they don’t have to give up the draft pick attached to him via the qualifying offer. Bautista, in turn, will make, on average, more than he would’ve made on the qualifying offer if he would’ve accepted it and a raise over the $14 million he made in 2016.