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.

Report: Marlins will retire Jose Fernandez’s No. 16

MIAMI , FL - SEPTEMBER 09:  Pitcher Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Marlin Park on September 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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The entire Marlins roster will wear the number 16 on the backs of their uniforms in remembrance of pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died in a boating accident on Sunday morning. After that? “No one will wear No. 16 for the Marlins again,” team owner Jeffrey Loria said on Monday evening, as Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reports.

Though Fernandez only pitched parts of four seasons for the Marlins, he already ranks fifth in career WAR in club history, according to Baseball Reference. He also owns the best career winning percentage as well as the second-lowest single-season ERA (2.19 in 2013) and the second-lowest single-season WHIP (0.979 in 2013). Fernandez was already one of the best pitchers in Marlins history and was on his way to becoming a perennial All-Star, if not a Hall of Famer.

Then add to that his outstanding personality and what he meant both to the Marlins organization and to the city of Miami. Loria has gotten a lot of criticism over the years, but he nailed it with this decision.

Report: Majestic workers stayed up all night making No. 16 jerseys for the Marlins

MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 05:  Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins looks on during 2016 Opening Day against the Detroit Tigers  at Marlins Park on April 5, 2016 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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As Craig mentioned earlier, the Marlins will all wear No. 16 jerseys to honor pitcher Jose Fernandez, who tragically died in a boating accident on Sunday morning. It’s a fitting tribute as the Marlins return to the playing field after Sunday’s game was cancelled.

We don’t often hear about the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on during these special circumstances. As Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports, workers at the Majestic manufacturing facility in Easton, PA — about two hours north of Philadelphia — stayed up all night Sunday night into Monday morning in order to make those custom No. 16 jerseys for the Marlins. They were shipped via air so they would arrive in time for the game tonight.

FanGraphs writer Eric Longenhagen notes how hard those Majestic employees work — often for low pay :

Kudos to Majestic for making a concerted effort to help the Marlins out in their time of need.