ARLINGTON, Texas -- As Opening Day nears, the plan to protect Josh Hamilton by keeping him out of center field is a thing of the past.
That’s great news to the 2010 American League MVP, who has always made it clear that he’d prefer to roam center field for the Rangers. But it could also be cause for a conspiracy theory as Hamilton enters the final season of his contract with negotiations for a new deal stalled.
“I don’t know,” Hamilton said, “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?”
Maybe this is a case of some truth being told in jest, but Hamilton made that comment with a big grin on his face.
“I was just kidding. I was just kidding. I was just kidding,” said Hamilton, whose comments about not feeling like he owes the Rangers in terms of negotiations sparked a pretty strong controversy at the beginning of spring training. “Kidding, kidding, kidding, kidding.”
The Rangers, however, are completely serious about committing to Hamilton as the regular center fielder for the first time since 2009, when he played only 89 games. Manager Ron Washington will keep a close eye on Hamilton, giving the slugger a day off when the skipper sees fit, but the plan is to put Hamilton in center, David Murphy in left field and Nelson Cruz in right field most days.
“The biggest thing is just go into the season healthy and give what I’ve got every day,” Hamilton said. “And hopefully, it’s every day that I’m out there.”
Hamilton missed some time last week with a tight groin, but he said it’s something he would have played through if the games counted. He’s still getting treatment, but it’s not a significant concern and not related to the sports hernia he dealt with during the postseason and had surgically repaired in the offseason.
Hamilton acknowledged that playing center field is more taxing than playing left over the long haul of the season because of the additional running involved. But it’s Washington’s job to decide when Hamilton needs to rest. It’s Hamilton’s job to go all out when he’s on the field, although the Rangers would like if he chooses wisely when to crash into walls.
The stress of playing center field on Hamilton’s body, however, is no longer reason enough for the Rangers to not use their best lineup on a regular basis.
“Like anything else, things change,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “It's fluid. As we sit here today, we feel that's our best club. That's what Wash plans on running out there.”
Things could change drastically next season. Never mind which position Hamilton plays. Who knows which franchise he’ll be playing for?
The Rangers and Hamilton will deal with his free agency when the time comes. For now, they’ll just try to get as much out of Hamilton as they can, and that’s no joke.