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The Josh Hamilton conundrum

Does it do any good for the Rangers to have Josh Hamilton for cheap if he can't stay on the field?

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Bill Parcells famously said that the problem with injury prone players is that they tend to get injured.

That aphorism came to mind yesterday when the news broke that Josh Hamilton was going on the disabled list, putting him out of action until rosters expand in September.

This is Hamilton's third trip to the disabled list this season.  He started the year, of course, on the d.l. while rehabbing after shoulder surgery.  He was activated by the Rangers in late May, played in a week's worth of games, and then was back on the d.l. with a hamstring strain, injured while running out a game winning walk-off RBI double.  He was activated again in June, but then missed a couple of games in early July with a groin issue it was thought might put him back on the d.l.  Now he's on the d.l. with a knee issue.

I went to BP's Josh Hamilton page, and looked at their injury history detail for Hamilton.  There are 69 separate entries, dating back to 2000, when knee surgery ended his first full minor league season, skipping 2003-06, when he was out of baseball, and running through the end of the 2014 season.

Hamilton's struggles with substance abuse are well-chronicled, and his ability to come back from multiple lost seasons and a crippling drug addiction to perform at a high level is in and of itself remarkable.  The fact that he was able to do so, and that his body was able to hold up as long as it has, when he had issues staying healthy even before the drugs robbed him of prime years makes what he's accomplished even more astonishing.

His return to the Rangers, the prodigal son come home, makes his story all the more compelling.  You want to root for Hamilton.  You want to see him do well.  People have accused me of hating Hamilton and wanting to see him fail, but aside from the fact that I want to see any player on the Rangers do well, and aside from the fact that I can't hate anyone who was a meaningful part of the 2010-11 Rangers, I want to see him do well because, when Josh Hamilton is at his best, he's the most amazing, most transcendent player I've ever seen, other than, maybe, Bo Jackson.

But I wasn't as excited about his return to Texas as many folks, mainly because, as I've said before, I didn't think he could stay on the field, and I didn't think he'd be that good when he was on the field.

And those fears have been borne out, so far.  Josh Hamilton has played all of 38 games this season.  He has a .254/.296/.430 line on the season.  He has had some key hits this year, and because of his performance in extremely high leverage situations, Wins Above Replacement understates his value, but WAR has him at around replacement value on the season.

I've had folks tell me that this is just a bad year for him injury-wise, but he's going to work hard over the winter, get his body where it needs to be, and be back in 2016.

But early in the 2016 season Josh Hamilton will turn 35 years old.  He's at an age where even players with a history of good health start to break down, an age where players fall off a cliff in a hurry in terms of production.  There's not much reason to expect he's going to be better, or healthier, next year.

So, how do the Rangers prepare for 2016, as it relates to Josh Hamilton?  I said a couple of days ago that I don't see how this team can go into 2016 with Hamilton as their Plan A in left field.  At a minimum, they're going to have to have a fourth outfielder that they feel like is a starting caliber outfielder, given the likelihood that that player is going to be playing a whole lot.

And how does that impact the future of Shin-Soo Choo?  There's been much speculation that the Rangers are going to look to move Choo this offseason, eating a good chunk of his contract in the process, to help clear the way for Joey Gallo (and, soon thereafter, Nomar Mazara) in the lineup.  Can you do that, though, if you aren't sure how much Hamilton will stay on the field?

The simplest thing may simply be to bring back Leonys Martin, and have him as your fourth outfielder, moving into the starting lineup at CF when Hamilton isn't available, with Delino DeShields going to left field.  Or maybe Ryan Rua is on the team as a platoon partner for Hamilton, moving into the regular lineup when Hamilton isn't available.  Maybe the Rangers move Choo and use the savings to pursue Justin Upton, one of the organization's white whales, and plug him into right field as a righty middle of the order bat, making the presence or absence of Hamilton less of an issue.

However the team proceeds, though, it appears they are going to have to assume that anything they get from Hamilton going forward is a bonus.  With the Angels paying most of his salary, he's a rounding error on the Rangers' budget, and the fan enthusiasm and general goodwill his presence generates means that he's a net positive in the overall scheme of things regardless of whether he can stay healthy or hit.

But from a roster planning perspective, and from an on-the-field standpoint, Hamilton's 2015 hasn't provided much in the way of clarity.