Once upon a time the Rangers regularly avoided playing Josh Hamilton in center field because they hoped moving to a corner spot would help keep him healthy, but those plans are out the window now.
Hamilton is slated to be the primary center fielder for the first time since 2009 and because he prefers center field that decision is fine with the former MVP, but he also suggested that perhaps the Rangers’ changing their minds has to do with his impending free agency:
I don’t know, you think it’s got anything to do with free agency and get as much out of me as they can before they get rid of me?
Hamilton previously made headlines for saying that he didn’t owe the Rangers anything in contract negotiations, so he was quick to make it clear that the “get as much out of me as they can before they get rid of me” comment was a joke.
Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas notes that Hamilton “made that comment with a big grin on his face” and then followed it up by saying:
I was just kidding. I was just kidding. I was just kidding. Kidding, kidding, kidding, kidding.
Kidding or not, there’s probably some truth behind the comment, particularly since there’s speculation that Hamilton’s injury history and off-field issues have made the Rangers extremely hesitant to sign him to a long-term deal.
Much like a team being more willing to ride a free agent-to-be starting pitcher for high pitch counts before he hits the open market keeping Hamilton healthy long term may not be the Rangers’ problem beyond this season.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.