One of the mantras you'll see repeatedly in this space is that in baseball no one injury usually derails a team. The average fan still overrates the value of a star player. There are no Kobes or LeBrons in this sport.
HamiltonYes, losing an ace like Adam Wainwright for the entire season is a major blow; losing Josh Hamilton for two months with a broken arm is more like a bump in the road for the Rangers -- bigger than a pothole, but one that can be navigated.
Earlier today, Dan Szymborski wrote on ESPN Insider that the Rangers -- after starting 9-1 -- were now projected to win the AL West by eight games. Last season, FanGraphs had Josh Hamilton with a WAR of 8.0 -- eight wins better than a Triple-A level replacement. His projected WAR for 2011 wasn't that high -- after all, 2010 was a career year and he's battled injuries in the past. Projection systems, by nature, are conservative. Baseball Prospectus' version of WAR had Hamilton as a 3.8-win player in 2011. Even if we're more generous and say Hamilton would have been a 6-win player in 2011 that would still give the Rangers cushion for a long-term Hamilton injury.
Except the Rangers won't be replacing Hamilton with a replacement-level player. David Murphy, one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball, takes over the starting position. He hit .291/.358/.449 in 2010. He isn't that great against lefties (.692 career OPS), but not a complete disaster. The team could also move Mitch Moreland to right field (where he played a lot in the minors), move Nelson Cruz to left and insert Michael Young or Mike Napoli at first base. That weakens the defense, but it still leaves Ron Washington with some lineup flexibility.
Anyway, it all adds to a small hurdle for the Rangers, maybe two wins. They're still the heavy favorites in the West. It's just a shame it happened when this team was running on all cylinders, playing quality defense, the front office and Washington looking like forward-thinking risk-takers with the Alexi Ogando-to-the-rotation move, and winning despite a mediocre start from Hamilton.
The bigger issue: Hamilton is signed through 2012, when he becomes a free agent. What kind of offer do you make to a 31-year-old outfielder who will have missed significant time with injuries in 2009, 2010 and 2011?