Relapse robs Josh Hamilton of leverage

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Josh Hamilton, wearing a black T-shirt and matching sweatpants, leaned back after delivering a 12-minute soliloquy about his latest relapse during his never-ending quest for sobriety.

"I am sorry it had to be this way," he said. "It would've been nice if it was talking about a contract, but we'll put that on the back burner for a while."

Hamilton and the Texas Rangers had been discussing the parameters of a new contract throughout the offseason.

Those discussions have ended.

Not forever, but long enough for the Rangers to gain a full understanding of what's happening in Hamilton's life after he admitted to having three or four drinks Monday night at a Dallas bar before heading to another establishment for more drinks.

He has jeopardized a huge payday, which reveals everything we need to know about the depth and strength of his addiction.

Hamilton, the first selection in the 1999 MLB amateur draft, was suspended from 2003 through 2006 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Anytime he has a drink, it's a big deal. If you can't understand why, all I can do is shake my head.

This is Hamilton's second known sobriety slip in the past three years, which is why Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and Michael Moye, Hamilton's agent, have put all conversations about a new contract on hold.

If Hamilton can't control his addiction, any contract talks are irrelevant anyway.

"This is not a baseball story how we view it, how I view it," Daniels said. "This is real. This is something that Josh deals with, an addiction, an issue that he has that affects him and the people around him that care about him. He's a husband, he's a father, first and foremost, and that's where our head is, to make sure he has the support he needs and his family needs going forward."

Hamilton is in the last year of a two-year, $24 million deal. He's been adamant about not giving the Rangers a hometown discount, which makes sense because he turns 31 in May, and this is the father of four's last chance to sign a contract that will provide for his children's grandchildren.

More than once, Hamilton has said he wants a fair deal, which means he'd like to earn $20 million to $22 million a year. Well, he just lost all his leverage because the Rangers can't trust him.

A franchise can't give a player it doesn't trust a guaranteed deal worth more than $100 million -- no matter how much it loves him. Or prays for him. Or needs his left-handed bat in its lineup.

The Rangers should wait until this season ends to start contract talks again. Then they can see how the relationship develops between Hamilton and his new accountability partner, who's expected to be hired early next week.

The time also will give them a chance to see whether Hamilton can maintain his sobriety and perform at the high standard he's established.

If all of that looks good, the Rangers can offer him a three-year, team-friendly deal. If the club wants to add a fourth year based on play-time incentives, fine.

Yes, the deal should include language that voids the contract if MLB suspends him for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

That's not negotiable.

This isn't personal; it's business.

If you've never really dealt with addiction in your family, drop to your knees and consider yourself blessed.

Crack turned my aunt, a successful hair stylist for years, into a corner-working prostitute for a decade until she finally gained control of her addiction. The reality is we all have addictions -- food, gambling, sex, work, nicotine -- we struggle to overcome. All you can do is pray your addiction isn't illegal or so destructive you lose your family or job.

The Rangers don't owe Hamilton anything.

He's paid because God has blessed him with a skill set that makes him among the best in the world at his job. Hamilton is a likable guy and as down to earth a superstar as you will ever find, which drives home the insidious nature of addiction.

Hopefully, Hamilton eventually signs a long-term deal with the Rangers, but this isn't the time for sentiment. The Rangers must take a hard line with Hamilton's negotiations just like they've done recently with Prince Fielder and Roy Oswalt.

This remains a perfect environment for Hamilton because of the team's strong clubhouse and the respect Hamilton's teammates have for his addiction. The fans adore him, and the organization supports him.

All of that trumps money.

If Hamilton eventually chooses to leave the Rangers for a more lucrative deal, so be it.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.