Texas Rangers secure Hamilton for $24 million

The Rangers’ hectic offseason remained abuzz Thursday, when outfielder Josh Hamilton was able to avoid salary arbitration and agree to a two-year, $24 million contract with the Texas Rangers. It was immediately clear that Hamilton hoped that this deal will eventually lead to a future long-term contract that would keep the All-Star and 2010 American League MVP in Arlington for many years to come.

“I want to be here for a long time,” Hamilton said at a news conference at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Thursday. “Hopefully, this will be just a drop in the bucket.”

While a mega-contract may be in the works for the future, both sides were content to cover Hamilton’s final two arbitration years with the deal. Hamilton and his agent were set to be in Phoenix Monday for the arbitration hearing, but that obviously will not be necessary.

Hamilton, the former first overall pick with the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999, will make $7.25 million in 2011 and $13.75 million the following season, along with a $3 million signing bonus. Hamilton finished first in the AL with a .359 batting average and fifth in the AL with 32 home runs in 2010.

Obviously, the Rangers’ front office understands his value to a ball club that made it to the World Series last season.

“When we started talking this offseason, it was apparent both sides wanted to do something that would recognize Josh’s importance to the club and his desire to be here for an extended period of time,” Texas General Manager Jon Daniels said. “This gets us through the arbitration period. We’re hoping it’s an indication of a long-term relationship and two multi-year deals.”

The timing for Hamilton to reach a deal could not have been better. Amidst the swell of negative press regarding veteran third baseman Michael Young’s desire to be traded after the decision was made to make him a designated hitter and a super utility infielder, something positive needed to come from the Rangers’ front office.

While losing Young could have a tremendous chemistry and leadership impact within the locker room, there is no doubt that Hamilton is the more important commodity for Texas in terms of on the field production.

Hamilton started in the outfield for the AL All-Star team for the third straight season last July, won his second Silver Slugger Award, and was MVP of the AL Championship Series versus New York. He was the last of seven Rangers to avoid arbitration this offseason, and for the team’s sake, that is a good thing.

Chances are, Hamilton definitely would have won the hearing and made the $12 million he and his agent were asking for, as the decision is based on the player’s contribution to the club in performance and leadership, the club’s record and attendance, the player’s awards, and salaries of comparable players. Well, all those categories bode well for the outfielder, to say the least.

As for the future, a big key for Hamilton will be staying healthy. He played only 133 games in 2010 and will need to prove that he can play at least 150 games for Texas in the coming years. If that happens, Rangers fans should expect to see Hamilton playing in North Texas for many years to come.

Nathan DeWitt is a freshman journalism major from Nashville, Tenn.