Sep 24, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Josh Hamilton (32) follows through on two run single in the third inning as Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36) watches at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
At the time, it seemed like a reasonable gamble. Josh Hamilton was one of the top free agents available, and was coming off a five year stretch with the Texas Rangers where he produced a .305/.365/.549 batting line with 142 home runs. He had been an All-Star every season he played in Arlington, and even won an MVP award in 2010. Although Hamilton had dealt with injuries and drug addiction in his past, the five year contract that he signed with with Angels did not appear as though it would be that bad, at least through the first few years.
Now, approximately fourteen months after Hamilton inked the five year, $125 Million contract, that deal appears to be quite the albatross. While it was not expected that Hamilton would age gracefully, his precipitous decline in Los Angeles was unfathomable. Hamilton was relatively healthy, playing in over 150 games for the first time since 2008, but his .250/.307/.432 batting line was merely a shadow of his performance for the Rangers. Even more alarming was Hamilton’s decline in power, as he hit only 21 home runs after hitting 43 in Texas in 2012.
While Josh Hamilton was expected to drop off from his performance in Texas since he was moving to a ballpark that is not the launchpad that the Rangers call home, that type of decline was not anticipated. His plate discipline, which was never a strength, was exploited by the opposition. Instead of looking like a 32 year old slugger who was entering the last couple of years of his prime, he appeared to have aged beyond his years.
Hamilton’s fragility, and the abuse he put himself through with his drug addiction, were expected to catch up to him at some point. Is it possible that they have caught up to him now? Is this simply the type of player that Josh Hamilton is now, someone that will hit around .250 with twenty home runs?
For the Angels to compete in the American League West, they are likely to need Josh Hamilton to return to the form he displayed from 2010 through 2012, when he was one of the best hitters in the game. It is possible that the 2013 season was merely a blip on the radar, an aberration caused by a combination of adjusting to a new environment and putting pressure on himself to live up to the contract. Otherwise, what the Angels have for that investment is a replacement level outfielder who would be starting strictly due to the amount of money remaining on his contract.
At this time last season, a middle of the lineup that consisted of Albert Pujols and Hamilton appeared to be quite formidable. It is still quite possible that both will rebound in 2014, and become to 1-2 punch in the middle of the lineup that the Angels envisioned. Chances are, we will know the answer to that question early in training camp.
Josh Hamilton is likely going to be a major factor in the Angels fortunes this season. All that is left is to find out in which direction those fortunes will go.