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Hamilton's wild winter could end in arbitration

Hamilton's wild winter could end in arbitration

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Hamilton's wild winter could end in arbitration
ARLINGTON -- Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is healthy and working out again.

He is out of the hospital, over his pneumonia and will be at the Rangers Mid-Winter Banquet on Friday to accept his award for being the club's Player of the Year. On Saturday, he will fly to New York for a banquet to accept the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

On Feb. 14, he could be in an arbitration hearing to decide his 2011 salary. He is asking for $12 million while the Rangers are offering $8.7 million. Hamilton is preparing for the possibility that his contract could end up in arbitration. His offseason remains an ongoing event for the Rangers.

"Honestly, I haven't thought about it," Hamilton said. "That's why I have an agent ... to handle all that stuff. Either way, I'll be OK.

"It could be worse ... I could be somewhere digging a ditch."

The Rangers haven't had an arbitration hearing since 2000, but have two pending cases with Hamilton and reliever Frank Francisco, now that Darren O'Day has been signed for 2011.

"Our preference is to avoid a hearing," general manager Jon Daniels said. "But sometimes reasonable well-intentioned people disagree. It's there for a reason. I'd like to think we don't have to use it, but if we have to, we will."

Either way, Hamilton will be in the Rangers' outfield in 2011. He can't be a free agent until after the 2012 season and the two sides are expected to talk about the possibility of a long-term contract at some point in Spring Training. Discussions in the past have not led to an agreement.

"If we can find common ground beyond a one-year deal, we'll look at it," Daniels said. "If not, we have time."

It hasn't been easy in the past and it won't be in the future. Hamilton made that clear. As much as he wants to stay in Texas, he doesn't appear to be willing to settle for less than what his side perceives as a fair-market deal.

"It's not just me," Hamilton said. "I have to think about other players coming up behind me. That's what makes our association great, guys not thinking about themselves but the players behind them. I'd love to stay in Texas the rest of my career ... we'll see what happens."

Clubs have been aggressive on signing their best players to long-term deals, but there are several factors that the Rangers have to consider. Hamilton knows that as well as anybody.

Hamilton had a terrific season in 2010, leading the league with a club-record .359 batting average while hitting 32 home runs, scoring 95 runs and driving in 100. He led the league with a .633 slugging percentage and was second with a .411 on-base percentage.

He also turns 30 in May and missed almost the entire month of May with a ribcage injury. Similar injuries limited him to 89 games in 2009. He also dealt with a sore knee for much of last season. A long-term commitment from the Rangers would have to come with the confidence that Hamilton can stay healthy.

"Health is a factor we have to consider with every player, not just Josh," Daniels said. "You consider value on the field, value in the community, what a player has done in the past and what he projects to do in the future. Health enters into it.

"There is no doubt that if Josh is healthy, nobody doubts his talent. We're a better team with him. There's no one factor we dwell on. We love the player and we love being here."

All of Hamilton's injuries the past two years have come from running or falling into an outfield wall. He said he feels he can limit that by playing the game smarter than he has in the past, but he also doesn't want to limit himself as a player.

The thought of that seems to repulse him.

"I have to ask myself what kind of player I want to be," Hamilton said. "That's the question I have to ask myself. Do I want to be the player that fans want me to be and go all-out? Or do I want to play 80 percent and try not to get hurt. Do I want to do that? Probably not. I don't want to set the example of a guy going through the motions.

"I know how I need to play. If you talk to fans, I think they love how I play. If you play, you risk injury. If you play hard, you risk more injury. I don't have the answer. Physically, I feel as good as I did the last two years."

Hamilton is hardly the only Rangers player with physical issues. Second baseman Ian Kinsler has never made it through a season without going on the disabled list. Nelson Cruz went on the DL three times last year because of hamstring problems.

Cruz has started working out with Kyle O'Day, a physical instructor who is the brother of pitcher Darren O'Day. Cruz is learning a new way of running that he hopes will help put less stress on his hamstring.

Hamilton's biggest issue this winter was a week-long bout with pneumonia that put him in the hospital for a week. He said his temperature got up to 105 and that's why he was admitted to the hospital on the morning of Jan. 11. He was released last Sunday.

"It was bad, man," Hamilton said. "I went to the hospital at 2-3-4 o'clock in the morning and didn't remember coming out of it until Thursday afternoon. I was just miserable. I was acting crazy ... just in and out of it. My little girls were also sick so they kept me in an extra day or two. They wanted to make sure.

"My wife, Katie, was driving me to the hospital and I kept asking her, 'Where are we going? Are we going to the stadium?'"

Hamilton lost about 10 pounds in the process, dropping from 233 to 223. But he has resumed baseball activities and expects to regain his strength before Spring Training.

"My appetite is coming back after all the medicine they pumped into me in the hospital," Hamilton said. "I got back on my regular schedule on Monday. I'm not worried. I've been swinging and my swing feels good. My body feels good."

The pneumonia is behind him. An arbitration hearing is ahead of him and then Spring Training begins. Beyond that remains unknown other than an ongoing drama with the Rangers.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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