Why the Rangers Won't Trade for Josh Hamilton

Last night over at the DMN site, Tim Cowlishaw posited that, in the midst of a one-sided media feud in LA involving Josh Hamilton and the Angels, the Rangers should consider trading for their former all-star and MVP slugger. In fact, he even went as far as to offer up an exact trade: Shin-Soo Choo for Josh Hamilton, straight-up.

As I read the piece, I couldn't fault Tim for being creative and at least reminiscing a bit. Truthfully, I'd be lying if I said I didn't find myself occasionally wondering if Hamilton might have succeeded at a higher level if he'd remained in Texas instead of taking the big contract with the Angels.

Judging by the poll he put up at the bottom of the article, many fans are reminiscing and wondering as well, as about 63% of over 5,600 -- according to Cowlishaw on Twitter this morning -- feel that the Rangers should indeed trade for Hamilton.

Ignoring the actual trade scenario that was proposed for a moment, it's important to consider that Angels owner Arte Moreno doesn't exactly appear to be willing to take on more salary commitments at the moment. Instead, he appears to be looking into possibly shedding himself of a significant portion of Hamilton's remaining contract. Per Bill Shaikin of the LA Times:

Two people familiar with Hamilton’s contract say it contains at least three provisions Moreno could use to pursue his case, including one that would enable the club to void the deal if Hamilton could not perform because he had engaged in “dangerous activities” that include drug and alcohol abuse. The Angels also could cite a provision that would allow the club to walk away if it determined Hamilton was not in “first-class condition” because of substance abuse.

Although such language is not uncommon in player contracts, it is uncertain whether the Angels — and perhaps the commissioner’s office — could persuade an arbitrator that the team should be relieved of Hamilton’s contract if he is physically ready to play.

If, as has been suggested by many -- including Bill Shaikin -- a buyout becomes a possibility looming on the horizon, that would seem to indicate that the Angels are looking to shed an expensive salary commitment, not trade it for another. Furthermore, if you're the GM of a division rival, are you pulling the trigger on a trade for a player that might be a free agent in short order? I'm not.

Then we get to the part of the equation that involves Shin-Soo Choo. Yes, after one full season (2014) in which he was injured, and a poor start to 2015 -- an insanely small sample size, mind you -- that 7-year, $130 million deal doesn't look very prudent. Having said that, I'm not sure that means it's time to give up on him simply to trade for another player that brings exponential amounts of baggage to the table.

It's easy to forget that pre-injury in 2014, Choo was playing lights out. He was getting on base, hitting to all fields, and didn't appear to be struggling with left-handed pitching as much as had been advertised. After turning his ankle running to first base, that was all over. Eventually, he required both ankle and elbow surgery, and the jury is still out on whether he can be the same guy the Rangers wanted when they offered him the big payday.

There are also a few other factors at work that have helped push Choo's value down a bit. The biggest benefit the Rangers were getting in signing him prior to the 2014 season was a patient approach, one that lent itself to a .423 OBP in 2013 with the Reds. That approach hasn't changed significantly since coming to Texas, but the results have. We can see below.

 Called strikes since the beginning of 2014

Called strikes since the beginning of 2014

In the heat map above, you can see all 113 pitches Choo has taken -- as in, not swung at -- that were outside the strike zone since the beginning of the 2014 season. Rangers fans may remember that David Murphy got some of the same treatment regarding the strike zone during the end of his tenure in Texas.

Of those 113 pitches, a significant portion are on the outside edge of the strike zone. You may remember these were the types of pitches Josh Hamilton was swinging at (and missing) during the 2nd half of his 2012 campaign. If those pitches are strikes, what is Choo supposed to do with them, exactly?

Having said that, I don't have a solution for "fixing the strike zone". However, I do think that, if healthy, and with a bit of better fortune at the plate, Shin-Soo Choo can once again be an important cog in the Texas lineup. Will he be an all-star? Perhaps not. Will he be considered worth his contract? Who knows. That doesn't mean that Texas should simply trade him away for another player that brings his own set of unknowns to the table.

It's easy to forget that Hamilton is rehabbing a shoulder injury in Houston right now. He's been unable to stay healthy for most of his career, and is now dealing with an injury more significant than the list of many he dealt with in Texas -- sports hernias, pulled muscles, too much caffeine, and the like -- so no one really knows if he can even be as valuable as his 1.2 fWAR season in 2014. Do you think 1.2 fWAR is what the Angels thought they were getting? Absolutely not.

In other words, I don't think there's a chance in you-know-where that Josh Hamilton is coming back to Texas. Not via trade. Now, if he comes to some sort of buyout agreement, the Rangers can get the proper support system in place, and sign him to a team-friendly deal with team-options loaded on the back-end? That's a deal that might be worth considering. But until then, Tim Cowlishaw's proposed deal is a hard pass.