Results tagged ‘ Francisco Rodriguez ’

Love Me Non-Tender Candidates 2008…Part Two

 

 

As they leave the bright lights and glitter of Las Vegas tonight, the decisions and the problems of the 30 MLB General Managers and their respective departments are not over.  Even if they are flying in luxury accomodations, the GM’s and their staff know that the next 24 hours can also make or break a season by selecting the right players to help the squad in 2009. For tomorrow bring more sticky situations to try and either keep or jettison players who might make a difference in 2009.

 

So in the morning on this Friday, December 12th, every team in the major leagues must decide to either tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, or set them free as more glut in the 2009 free agent market. And while in past years the non-tendered players weren’t considered to be difference-makers, the list could be more interesting this year.  There are several players on this list who either had bad situation on their teams or might have been fighting back from injuries in 2008.

 

Players who are “tendered” on Friday are considered signed for 2009 at a salary to be determined, not less than 80 percent of his salary the previous season, and both sides continue negotiating. If a deal cannot be struck, the team and the player will each file a proposed 2009 salary in early January. Those figures are exchanged on Jan. 19, and a date for a salary arbitration hearing is then set for Feb. 1-21. 

 

If the sides still cannot come to terms before the date of the hearing, a representative for the team and one for the player present a case before a panel of arbiters, which chooses one salary or the other.  On the other hand, if a player is not tendered a contract before Friday’s deadline, he becomes a free agent.

 

A nationwide economic downturn has affected how Major League Baseball teams are conducting business, and in an effort to cut corners, the number of non-tendered players could increase, based solely on the market’s projected rise in their salaries based on arbitration data and past results.. The same can be said for the quality of those players. Some of the guys being considered for non-tender have been great contributors to their teams in the past, but not during the 2008 season.

 

Past  players non-tendered include David Ortiz, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Franklin, David Eckstein, and Chad Durbin.  Usually at least a few useful guys are unearthed. I am going to submit a few names that are being considered to be non-tendered starting at midnight tonight. Some of these names might sign free agent contracts with their old teams, but usually if a player is released from that team, they tend to float to another organization instead of resign with their old clubs.

 

                   

 

 The Toronto Blue Jays will have to make decision on four of their players on Friday as to if they are being considered as future pieces to the Blue Jays  picture in 2009. General manager J.P. Ricciardi said this week that Jason Frasor, Brian Tallet, Brandon League and Jose Bautista are all likely to receive an offer.  Ricciardi noted that Frasor, Tallet and League are all in the plans to rejoin Toronto’s bullpen, which led baseball with a 2.94 ERA this past season.

 

Of the three relievers, Frasor is the most likely to not receive an offer, considering he’s due for a raise after making $1.125 million in 2008 and the Jays are strapped for cash this winter.  Last season, the 31-year-old Frasor posted a 4.18 ERA in 49 games for the Blue Jays, serving as a middle reliever. Across 47 1/3 innings, the right hander struck out 42 batters and issued 32 walks. Frasor limited hitters to a .208 batting average, including a .174 mark against right-handed batters.

 

The 31-year-old Tallet, who earned $640,000 in his first year of arbitration in 2008, established a career best with a 2.88 ERA last season. The left hander appeared in 51 games and registered 47 strikeouts against 22 walks over 56 1/3 innings. Tallet was especially tough on right-handed hitters, holding them to a .230 average. 

 

 

League, 25, is eligible for arbitration for the first time this off season after making $400,000 in 2008. Last season, the hard-throwing right hander posted a career-best 2.18 ERA out of the bullpen, with 23 strikeouts and 15 walks in 31 appearances. In his 33 innings, League had a 3.71 groundball to flyball ratio and limited right-handed hitters to a .200 average.  The Blue Jays acquired the 28-year-old Bautista in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates in late August and the utility man appeared in 21 games for Toronto down the stretch. Overall, Bautista hit .238 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in 128 games with the Pirates and Jays in ’08, when he earned $1.8 million.

 

 

 

Another ex-Rays has popped up on the non-tender candidates list coming into Friday night’s deadline to offer contracts to arbitration eligible players. The Braves aren’t sure exactly how Matt Diaz fits into their plans for the 2009 season, but the veteran outfielder can at least feel good about the fact that he seemingly fits into these plans. 

 

Among the group of Braves who are eligible for arbitration, Diaz, who missed most of this past season because of a torn ligament in his right knee, was seemingly the only candidate to be non-tendered by Friday’s midnight ET deadline. But all indications are that the Braves are looking forward to having a healthy Diaz on their roster. He could platoon in left field or simply provided a reliable right-handed bat off the bench. Diaz, Mike Gonzalez, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson and Omar Infante are the arbitration-eligible players expected to be tendered contracts by the Braves on Friday.

 

 

The Dodgers face a handful of non-tender decisions by Friday night’s deadline, with the focus . Takashi Saito. He is arbitration eligible, but only if the Dodgers tender him a contract. And even though he’s the highest-rated reliever in the National League over the past two years, the club might effectively release Saito, who missed two months with an elbow injury.

 

 

 

 

Money isn’t the burning issue for the Marlins as they approach the non-tender deadline. If they want, they have the allocation to sign all 10 of their remaining arbitration-eligible players. The team must decide if it wants to retain everyone, or pursue other options. 


 

In all, Florida has 10 arbitration-eligible players who must be either tendered a contract or not. The list includes much of the team’s nucleus: Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross, Jeremy Hermida, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Alfredo Amezaga, Logan Kensing, Joe Nelson and Dallas McPherson. Of the group, the possible non-tenders appear to be Nelson and McPherson.

 

Uggla, Cantu, Ross, Hermida and Amezaga are position players who will be tendered. Now, the Marlins are continuing to explore possible trades for Hermida. Johnson and Nolasco are the leading candidates to be the Opening Day starter. Kensing and Nelson are right hander relievers.

 


 

Baseball’s non-tender deadline should come and go on Friday night without consequence for the Mets, whose arbitration-eligible players will play significant roles on the team in 2009.  But the Mets have little reason not to retain their eligible players: Ryan Church, John Maine, Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez and Jeremy Reed.

 

Church, 30, hit .276 with 12 home runs in 90 games last season, his first with the Mets. He was the team’s most productive hitter until a concussion sidelined him in May and created a series of lingering effects that plagued him for the rest of the season. Church, who agreed to a $2 million contract to avoid arbitration last off season, will enter Spring Training as the starting right fielder.

 

Maine, 27, is expected to be the third pitcher in a starting rotation that also includes Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey. Coming off right shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his season, Maine will be arbitration-eligible for the first time. Feliciano, 32, produced a 4.05 ERA and two saves last season as one of the Mets’ two primary left-handed relievers. He also avoided arbitration last season by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $1.025 million.

 

Reed, 27, is the outfielder the Mets received as part of the 12-player trade Wednesday that also landed them Putz. He is expected to assume Endy Chavez’s role as a fourth outfielder.

Sanchez, 29, will begin his second full season since missing a year and a half after two surgeries on his pitching shoulder. General manager Omar Minaya has said publicly that he expects Sanchez to be more successful this season, especially now that the presence of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz will allow him to pitch earlier in games.

 

 

 

 

Pitchers Shawn Hill, Scott Olsen and Tim Redding, outfielders Willie Harris and Josh Willingham and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman must be offered contracts by Washington or they will become free agents. Entering the Winter Meetings, the Nationals had to make decisions on seven players, but the club released reliever Jesus Colome on Wednesday.

 

He appeared in 61 games and had a 4.31 ERA while being used as a setup man last season.  As for the rest of the players, Olsen, Redding, Harris, Willingham and Zimmerman most likely will be offered contracts. However, Hill will be a tough decision. He has had elbow problems the past four years in Washington and has pitched in a combined 34 games.

 

 

The White Sox are expected to tender contracts to Bobby Jenks and DeWayne Wise prior to Friday night’s 11 p.m. CT deadline for all arbitration-eligible players. This duo stands as the only two arbitration-eligible players on the team’s 40-man roster.

 

 

                        

 

Jenks, 27, could earn 10 times more than his $550,000 salary for 2008 if he goes through the arbitration process, having emerged as one of the game’s steadiest closers. Despite being attached to a great deal of Hot Stove trade talk deemed by general manager Ken Williams as “just rumor and innuendo,” the burly right hander enters the 2009 season as the second-fastest pitcher to reach 100 saves in Major League history. Jenks accomplished this feat in just 187 games, trailing only Kazuhiro Sasaki’s total of 160.

 

Wise had a rags-to-riches story in 2008. Independent baseball in New Jersey looked to be his season-long vocation, until Minor League director Buddy Bell, who knew Wise from their days together with the Reds, encouraged the White Sox to bring the 30-year-old veteran into Minor League Spring Training.

 

Wise ended up becoming an outfield starter against primarily right-handed pitchers during the final two weeks of the season, replacing the injured Carlos Quentin, and hit .248 with six home runs, 18 RBIs and nine stolen bases over 57 games. Wise also hit the White Sox first postseason home run in the American League Division Series against the Rays.

 

 


 

New York, New York in Las Vegas, Vegas

 

                           

 

 

The MLB Winter Meetings 2008 are now up and running, both Yankees head honcho Hank Steinbrenner and Met’s guru Omar Minaya are hunting for big game and will be seen all over the Las Vegas strip in small cubbieholes and behind the green curtain at your favorite steakhouse looking for that prized piece to their team’s puzzle. It is interesting that the meetings are in Vegas, not for the show and the flash, but for the bet big or leave philosophy.

 

And these two teams are the optimus primes of the 2009 seasons. People come to the city in the desert for different reasons, to make it big on the Strip, combine their luck with some skill to gain some cold hard cash, or maybe even leave with a prize beyond beliefs. Whatever your reason to come to the neon city, sometime what you do in Vegas can haunt you an entire season. And during the next several days, both these men will try and hone, piece together and ride the winning team to their goals. Or will both of them crap out and go home losers? That is doubtful, but this city can turn dreams in dust as fast as a roll of the dices.

 

 

 

Vegas has never been known as poor mans’ town. Not even in the early days of the Flamingo Hotel and the Golden Nugget did the town have a soft spots for losers or the weakly-rich. It is a town built on the riches of others and is not a forgiving town in the least. Wealth has always been thrown around the strip either for power or control. This years MLB Winter Meetings will  not  be any different.

 

The  filthy rich are throwing contracts at the  player du jour like a man with a gambling problem. Two of the biggest bets this season are pitchers’  C C Sabathia and Francisco Rodriquez. Both are considered the “aces” for both of the New York teams’ folly into the neons lights of Vegas. Both can either make the town smile or leave everyone in the state of disbelief that baseball fails to secure the prizes for the city. This is not to discount the power-hitters like Mark Teixiera or Raul Ibanez, or even shove under the table any discussions about them. But these two pitchers are the “make ot or break it” commodities of the two New York franchises.

 

Alot of poker is left to play in the Hot Stove season. Pots are boiling all over the place and people are starting to ladle out their favorites and make moves to secure their new seasons. After these two high end players either get signed or walk away from the tables, the rest of the cards will fall into place around the league. The benchmark salaries or contracts might be sitting in a Las Vegas hotel right now gaining dust or being prodded like cattle to search for loopholes or advantages. The next few days are critical for baseball, becuase as soon as the big boys leave the tables, the rest of the teams will put in their antes and see what they can get for their money.

 

 

                           

 

 

To say that whoever brings joy to the New Yorks’ will need al least a Brinks truck or a few Pinkerton guy’s to help them out of town. But would be an insult to the fabric that made Vegas a dreamers’ town if neither team got there man here, but in the works a contract or deal within the cinfines of the Bellagio Resort area.  But who out of the two giants in the Big Apple  will come away with what prize , and what price? 

 

Who will bet it all hoping for magic, and who will go home with their tails between their legs?  That will be a huge 2009 story, and it is so early in the game. Who has the guts and confidence to twist the hands of fate to the extreme  and test their will against the odds. Or who is winning to throw the dice and hope their number comes up with all their money on the table? This might be the true story of the next 4 days in the desert.

 

 

                             

 

Both teams’ might come home with a fortune in talent and could bankroll a great advantage going into the new season. The American League East will again be a 4-man race until someone seperates themselves from the pack and takes over that division. The Yankees do not want to be the team looking up at three teams again this season, and might make significant moves to illustrate their desire to agin be the top dog not only in the league, but in the city. The Mets on the other hand are in the division with the current World Series Champions. All they have to do is talk to the Rays players about the  stigma attached to chasing and passing the 2008 kings and gaining control, in the National League East race.

 

Both the Yankees and Mets have high hopes for these meetings, and both bolster full confidence they will come away as winners when all is said and done. Most of this bravado might be a illustration of the city’s personality and it’sinternational state of confidence, they get what they want, and then go on and conquer. That might have been the mindset in the past, but in today’s culture and today’s baseball, the best do not always rise to the top. Just because you spend in the 100’s of millions doesn’t even guarantee you a playoff spot in today’s parity league. To be the king of the hill, you have to remain consistant, which neither have done for years in their respective leagues.

 

Both teams have sparkling new stadiums that need to be filled nightly for there to be any signs of financial rewards and playoff glory again in the city,  I would honestly expect the Yankees to be the ones to put it all on black and try and pull out a near miracle to gain some face-time and again become the franchise to fear in the near future.

 

The Yankees have not had fate on their side the last few seasons. The team is in the payroll penthouse area, but almost slipped to the American League East basement last year with injuries and assorted offensive mis-alignments.  If not for a late season splurge, they might have fallen below the lowly Baltimore Orioles for 5th in the AL East. And that is not the place for a team spending money the way the Yankees have for the last 5 years. As Janet Jackson says in her song “What have you done for me lately?”

 

 

                             

 

To say it can not happen in 2009 would be an understatement. George Steinbrenner finally passed the mantel to his older son, and we are going to see if the elder Steinbrenner got any of Dad’s genes when it comes to building a competitive network and administering a firm hand on the roster.  “Big H” has to have all the cards and gamble his finest china to get the prizes of this years free agent crop. The prize knows his intentions and has already voiced a few odd comments to maybe put up a bluff before finally going for all the cash and playing in the Big Apple. But sometimes people do things for reasons other than money, so Sabathia might just go the “better judgement” route and not only stunn the NY crowd, but the nation as a whole.

 

After losing two starting pitchers, one to arrogance and the other to retirement, and maybe losing a vital cog in right-field, “Big H” has to toss the bones like a gambling’ whale and show the money or leave the Vegas strip as a loser going into Spring Training. The Yankees might have already played their first hand giving their top prize,  C C Sabathia their first offer, but you can be sure that this deal, if it interests the big guy will take a bit to complete. they might get a hand shake out of it all, but at this junction of the season, that can make the difference between night and day for a team.  A funny comment out of the Sabathia camp says the big guy hated Spring Training in Florida while he was with the Cleveland Indians, that might be a small cog in the road, but sometimes a better organization can mend that fence without too many problems.

 

The Mets on the otherhand, might have  a few  face cards up their own sleeves. They have already shown pitchers’ like K-Rod and Brian Fuentes that they have both the money and the reserved parking  spot for them just waiting for their signatures. The check waiting for the new closer of the Mets will have a few zeros behind it, and might even be the biggest payday of their career if they played their own cards right. 

 

 And with an offense that drawfs the Yankees squads, the Mets might have the leg up in the Big City. And with their own new sparkling stadium going up, they also have to win big now and secure some of the best talent to showcase their new digs. These two might not be the only high cost hauls of the Mets at the meetings, but it would be a nice centerpeice to showcase their new digs to have a starter who can command the game, and a closer who can execute with the best of them on board.

 

With the starter in mind, there are many floating on rafts  on the poolsides in Vegas waiting for a call from Minaya wanting to speak to them about a New York opportunity. The starting pitcher situation is actually alot cloudier than the closer or even right-field positions, becuase until the first few are off the board, the pecking order is out of kilter and might need to be rearranged by a Met’s signing. Do not be surprised if a name like Oliver Perez, or maybe even Edwin Jackson becomes the 5th starter for the Mets and outperforms the some of the best in the game.

 

 

 

Both teams have also selected  secondary targets who would be great prizes to obtain during the meetings, but might not be considered the “house favorites” right now.  The Mets have also set up back-up plans into effect if K-Rod decides to take his toys and go home without a Mets contract in hand. The team has also begun preliminary talks with Fuentes and wily veteran Trevor Hoffman for the vacant closers’ role. Both might not be the top shelf potential the Mets seek, but both have experience and might come at a discount considering the asking price of K-Rod services. Bott also might be a economical move as sure bargains considering the financial climate of  America and baseball. Another name that will be circling the shark tank is ex-Cubbie, Kerry Wood. He might have a busy week in Las Vegas shaking hands and eating expensive lunches and dinners while being courted all around the strip by interested teams.

 

Here is another thing to consider before shelling out  all the dusty money from the safe. Just how secure are we that the money will come back into the team’s coffers during this financial crisis. Will the fans be as eager to shell out up to $ 100 a visit to either of the pearly gates to see their New York teams play in 2009. Now tickets might not cost a hundred, but when you consider all the extras like food, beverage and maybe parking or transportation and a few after game suds, a hundred might even be a bargain. Teams might be looking for value in the fast lane this year and might even produce a few incentive laden contracts to help in case of a financial meltdown at the turnstiles and concession stands around baseball. People will still come to game no matter what, but the amount of expendible currency and the consistancy of that money might be watered down a bit at first in 2009. As fast as the nation rebounds, sports will shows an increase in revenues and sales of merchandise. But until then, it might be a buyers’ market for a short time.

 

I truly think the Mets might have the upper hand here in getting a few of the prized free agents based solely on the team’s current assets. What pitcher would not want to have a David Wright or Jose Reyes behind him makiing him look good. Those two guys on their own could be the best “face cards” to show for a prospective starter or closer signee. But of course the Yankees have their own cornerstones who can command respect and admiration in Jeter and A-Rod, but you never know how long those two will be together before age and injury finally takes them to the turf.  So we have a case of old guard and new guard in both the middle of the New York infields. One has been style and elegance for years, while the other has been power and speed. Sorry Yankees, I have to give this bet to the young turks on the Met’s roster based on potential after the fact.

 

 

                  

 

The next week will truly show if the worldly belief that you can bring home a fortune in Las Vegas holds true. Either team can be winners in this sweepstakes, but might also be smart to consider the penalties for thinking too far beyond the box.  Minor phrases and comments by Sabathia and by K-Rod might be indicators of just how fast all of this will be done. Sabathia might drag this out a bit and the Yankees might  just move onto A J Burnett or Ben Sheets because of less stress and more straight talk. But Burnett’s familarity with the division might be worth the extra dough to steal him out of a Braves uniform.

 

If this was 2008, and the economy and the job situation were bright, all power to the players for getting everything they can for their services. Prudent behavior has never been a strong suit of the ownership of either the Yankees or the Mets.  I have also heard recently that they will again petition for more bonds to secure the finishing touches to their stadiums beyond the Billions already spent on stadiums for both teams. Being financially prudent might also be the “river” card that could make or break their next few seasons.

 

By playing smart and studying the enviroment around them, they might come away with a minor player who will become a major contributor. High dollar doesn’t always mean high value.  Both these franchsies know this very well. Do we have to remind each franchise of their last high dollar low output signings. The Yankeess still cringe when the name Carl Pavano is heard in public, and the Mets might feel the same about Pedro Martinez and his ever changing body aliments. So it might be smart for both teams to take a step back and even re-evaluate a few things before sticking their heads back into the fire.

 

 People forget that baseball has always been a way for Americans to forget about their problems. Each World War was a huge emotional time for the country, and baseball helped ease the pains and the stress of life. During the Great Depression, baseball also served as a every man’s fantasy world that for a single nickel, they could watch 9 innings of guys working their hearts out for the common man without the stress of their own everyday life.

 

 Personally, I think that baseball keeps my head above water. Baseball is my primary solitude in a hectic world. And to think that the two giants in New York are struggling with success is almost too much to take at times. I am not a fan of either of these two teams, but I have a huge amount of respect for the organizations. And for that reason, I think the fan base deserves a winner, or at least a team that plays hard and nasty until the end of the 162nd game.  I always expect a New York team to come out bold and brash and carry their voice loud and proud into the night. But in 2008, for the first time in a very long stretch, both voices went silent in October. That is a silence that neither team can afford in 2009.

 

 

 

 

The cards are dealt and the bets are in………………Do they both win, or do they both lose?  

 

Does the play of the dealer and the teams bring out a push, or do they split the cards and find their glory in the end. The odds are in the favor of the house always, and the “house” in this matter is the players. Based on the climate of today, do they go to the penthouse, or do they give the team a chance and maybe back-load a contract a bit. The decision is about to come to light. No one knows but the guy holding the cards if it will be  a blow for a defeat or triumph.  A bit of gambling advice I was once given by a well known gambler, you never bet blindly on a sure thing, that only leads to a huge disppointment that neither you nor your dreams can ever rebound from….ever.

 

 

Josh Hamilton Is My Hero

 

 

 

                                      

 

 

When the American League 2008 All Stars were officially announced, every one in baseball took notice that Josh Hamilton had finally  come full circle and achieved the dream of his lifetime. The fact that  the event would be a total  180 degree swapping of the horrors and the misguided attempts of Hamilton to finally right the ship and cruise to the ultimate harbor.  There have been numerous human interest stories before in connection with the All Star game, but none would even hit the zenith that Hamilton took us during the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium.

 

 

From just how far Hamilton had to come was not the issue at hand, but how far he had come, and to where he would take us next.  From the day he was selected in 1999 with the First Round overall pick, he has been fighting the demons and the wrath of promise and expectations. When the then Tampa Bay Devilrays took Hamilton, he was considered one of this generations blue-chip, 5-tool players straight out of high school. The sky was the limit then as Hamilton could do just about anything in the outfield and at the plate. 

 

 

He was a highly decorated high school player, twice being named North Carolina Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Following his senior season, he was named High School Player of the Year by Baseball America and Amateur Player of the Year by USA Baseball. Hamilton played outfield and also pitched during his high school career. As a left-handed high school pitcher, Hamilton sometimes hit 96 MPH. He was touted as a rare talent, who was almost equally skilled as a pitcher and a position player (outfield).

 

Dan Jennings,  then a Tampa Bay scout said “He has every tool we look for in a position player.” His high school coach at Athens Drive, John Thomas said “He’s better at this game than anyone else I’ve seen in high school or college.”

 

 

                    

 

 

I remember first seeing Josh at the Namoli Complex in St. Petersburg, Florida. Your first focus was on his strong forearms and his professional demeanor. I know from my work involvement with the Spring Training staff that Hamilton was eager and willing to do anything to show his worth to the team at that stage of his career. On the training field facing SE of the center coaching towers,Josh used to routinely put balls into the players’ parking lot during Batting Practice. It became a running joke that the clubhouse staff used to sit out there and shag balls to keep them from hitting the players’ cars

 


After this successful debut in professional baseball, he spent the 2000 season with the Charleston RiverDogs in the South Atlantic League. Prior to the 2001 season, Hamilton was involved in an accident in his truck coming back from a Spring Training game in Sarasota,Florida. His mother was also injured in the accident, and she went home to North Carolina to be  with her husband to recuperate from her injuries. For the first time in his professional career, Hamilton was on his own, without a parental voice to reel him in when he overindulged or misbehaved off the field.

                                      


The 2001 season was the first time Hamilton began going to the Ybor City section of Tampa with teammates and became involved in the local bar scene and began experimenting with drugs, after a few months he made his first attempt at rehab. Several former Rays players routinely went to the Tampa entertainment zone to let off steam from the days work and enjoy the nightlife. It was at this time that Josh also began his obsession with tattoo’s and the local parlors in Ybor City. Long nights and missed curfews were only the tip of the iceberg for Hamilton, the demons were getting to his soul and he was about to plunge deep into the abyss.

 


Hamilton only played 27 games in the 2001 season, split between Charleston (  Class-A ) and the Orlando Rays ( Class -AA ). Hamilton began the 2002 season with the Bakersfield Blaze ( Class -AA ), batting .303 with 9 home runs and 44 RBI in 56 games before his season came to an end due to lingering back and shoulder injuries. At this time he also began experimenting with pain medication and the effects took a huge part out of his game. He had loss the will to play at the highest level by then, just trying to survive another day on pain medications and other drugs of choice.

 

 

 

 

At the start of the 2003 season, Hamilton started showing up late during the Rays’ Spring Training and was reassigned to the team’s minor league camp as a warning to shape up. Hamilton was not happy about the demotion and left the team and disappeared for several weeks, resurfacing several times, but eventually took the rest of the season off for personal reasons. Hamilton was hoping to return to Spring Training with the Devil Rays in 2004, but he was suspended 30 days and fined for violating the drug policy put in place by MLB.

 

 

Because of the length of his suspension, and the terms of the drug policy, Hamilton must have failed two or more drug tests after being put into the program. A ‘failed’ test is a positive result for a drug more severe than marijuana. Hamilton was known to frequent  local tattoo parlors and clubs where cocaine and other drugs could be found easily and without problems. Alcohol also became a secondary  drug of choice while doing the club scene in Ybor City.

 

 

The  suspension was increased several times after repeated violations of the terms of the program. From 2002 until 2006, Hamilton did not play any baseball at all.  He was starting to hit the downward spiral that would take him into situation he could never imagine in his life. He made several attempts at rehab, and started off the 2005 season with hopes of being reinstated by MLB.  During his time away from baseball, Hamilton had escalated to using heroin and shed almost 35 pounds off his frame from the drug use. One time during a brief stay in a drug house in North Carolina, Hamilton let a known drug dealer use his truck to go get more narcotics for the people in the house, but the drug dealer never returned with his truck or the drugs.


 


Hamilton’s struggles with drugs and alcohol are well documented. He finally got clean after being confronted by his grandmother, Mary Holt. Hamilton says he hasn’t used drugs or alcohol since October 6, 2005. When giving a brief summary of his recovery Hamilton says simply “It’s a God thing.” He does not shy away from telling his story, speaking to community groups and fans at many different functions. He frequently and publicly tells stories of how Christianity has brought him back from the brink and that faith is what keeps him going.

 

 

                                                

 

 

Hamilton finally put down the struggle and the redemption in a book entitled, ” Beyond Belief: Finding The Strength To Come Back”.  The book  details the events that led up to the derailment. Josh explains how a young man destined for fame and wealth could allow his life to be taken over by drugs and alcohol. But it is also the memoir of a spiritual journey that breaks through pain and heartbreak and leads to the rebirth of his major-league career.

Josh Hamilton makes no excuses and places no blame on anyone other than himself. He takes responsibility for his poor decisions and believes his story can help millions who battle the same demons. “I have been given a platform to tell my story” he says. “I pray every night I am a good messenger.”


 

His wife Katie sometimes accompanies him on road games and during personal appearances, offering her perspective on his struggles as well.  To go along with the provisions of MLB’s drug policy, Hamilton provides urine samples for drug testing at least three times per week. Rangers’ coach Jerry Narron says of the frequent testing: “I think he looks forward to the tests. He knows he’s an addict. He knows he has to be accountable. He looks at those tests as a way to reassure people around him who had faith.” Hamilton approaches the plate at Texas Rangers home games to the song “Saved The Day” by Christian group Phillips, Craig & Dean

 

One of the biggest opponents of helping Hamilton get back to the major leagues was Clearwater Baseball Academy owner Ron Silver. After hearing about Hamilton’s desire to return to baseball, Silver offered the use of his facility if Hamilton agreed to work helping area kids and also fine-tuning his swing and follow through after lessons and events.


After several months there, Hamilton attempted to play with an independent minor league team,the Broxton Roxs, but MLB stepped in and disallowed it.  After reviewing his case, and hearing from doctors that being around baseball might speed his recovery, Hamilton was allowed to work out with the Devil Rays minor league players starting on June 2, 2006. Throughout this endeavor, the Rays management let Hamilton know that they would do anything possible to ensure his protection and his health while fighting to get back into shape for baseball and beyond.

 


I remember I had to deliver some Aquafina water and Pepsi products to the Rays Minor League complex the morning Hamilton officially could go back onto the field for the Rays.  Hamilton has no idea of the media circus waiting for him outside when I pulled up to the doors. Sitting outside the doors to the practice fields were almost 10 TV cameras’ and crews waiting for Hamilton to emerge to start his MLB career over again. He was inside talking to Tim M, who runs the complex for the Rays when I first saw him. Hamilton looked bigger and stronger than when he was with the Rays before, and had a aura about him now. As he turned and smiled at me, I saw that he also had a renewed vigor and swagger about him. A positive light that truly would guide him through this endeavor. 

 


Josh had found religion was the key to his core. That by believing in the Lord, he had a co-pilot on his journey this time. That he could trust himself and his faith that things would be right this time. He turned, shook my hand after I told him it was glad to see him back again with a smile on his face again and  he slowly step towards the door. I warned him of the media storm outside the door, and he just smiled and said, ” I have been waiting for this all my life, I am past the hurricane, this is just a sun-soaked rain shower now.”

 By the end of the month, he was allowed to participate in minor league games. He played 15 games with the  short-season Hudson Valley Renegades near the end of the 2006 season. In addition to returning to baseball, Hamilton also served as a cautionary tale for his young teammates with the Renegades. Rick Zolzer, the Renegades’ director of special events said of Hamilton: “”He pointed (the other players) in the right direction. He said, Don’t make the mistakes I made.’ He was so good with all of the young kids.”

 

 

Hamilton was  then selected third overall in the MLB portion of the 2006 Rule 5 Draft by the Chicago Cubs in the off season. The Rays had not placed him on their 40-man roster and left him unprotected to be selected by any of the MLB clubs.  The Rays were hoping that with his sorted past and a career in jeopardy, teams would not select him and he would remain with the Rays while reconstructing his career. The Cubs took a gamble on Hamilton, and he was later traded to the Cincinnati Reds for $100,000 ($50,000 for his rights, and $50,000 to cover the cost of the Rule 5 selection). In their coverage of the draft, Chris Kline and John Manuel of Baseball America called Hamilton “the biggest name in the Rule 5 Draft.”  

              

                                  

                  

 

 

In order to retain the rights to Hamilton, the Reds had to keep him on their Major League 25-man roster for the entire 2007 season. He was one of the Reds’ best hitters in spring training, leaving camp with a .403 batting average. As a result, he won a spot on the Reds’ Opening Day roster; the Reds planned to use him as a fourth outfielder. Hamilton started most of the time in center field after an injury to former-Ray Ryan Freel. He also received starts due to injuries to Chris Denorfia and Norris Hopper.

 

 

Hamilton made his long-awaited Major League debut on April 2 against the Chicago Cubs in a pinch-hit appearance,and received a 22-second standing ovation from the Reds’ faithful. He lined out to left fielder Matt Murton, who made a sliding catch. Hamilton stayed in the game to play left field. As he was waiting to bat, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said “‘You deserve it, Josh. Take it all in, brother. I’m happy for you.”

 


He made his first start on April 10 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, batting lead off. In that game, he recorded his first Major League hit, a home run off Édgar González. The next night, he hit another. Hamilton was named the National League Rookie of the Month for April. On May 22, the Reds placed Hamilton on the 15-day DL with gastroenteritis; they activated him on June 5 after he batted .333 (8-for-24) with four home runs and six RBI in a six-game Minor League rehabilitation assignment. Hamilton went back on the DL on July 12 with a sprained wrist.

 


Among all NL rookies, Hamilton placed second behind the  Brewers’ Ryan Braun in slugging percentage (.554), and fourth in home runs (19); behind Braun, Arizona’s Chris Young, and the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki. He was shut out in the voting for the Rookie of the Year, which was won by Braun.

 


On December 21, 2007, the Reds traded Hamilton to the Texas Rangers for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera.

 

 

 

 

 In 2008, Hamilton locked up the Rangers starting center fielder job with a stellar spring training in which he batted .556 and drove in 13 RBIs in 14 games. His spring training performance proceeded to follow into the regular season. Hamilton, usually slotted third in the Texas batting order, appears to be finally fulfilling his great potential. Hamilton led all Major League players in RBI for the month of April. He was named American League Player of the Month after hitting .330 with 32 RBI during the month. Hamilton then went on to win player of the month for the second straight month in May, becoming the first American League player in baseball history to be awarded Player of the Month for the first two months of the season.

 

 

Hamilton was featured on the cover of the June 2, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated, in a story chronicling his comeback. On July 9, 2008 Josh Hamilton hit the first walk-off home run of his career against Angels’ closer, Francisco Rodriguez. Fans selected Hamilton as one of the starting outfielders for the American League at the 2008 MLB All Star Game at Yankee Stadium. He finished first in voting among the outfielders to clinch his spot. He will be one of seven first-time starters in the game.

 


Along with Kosuke Fukudome, Geovany Soto,Ryan Braun,and the Rays’ Evan Longoria, he will be one of four who made their MLB debut 2007 or 2008. He was selected to participate in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby the evening before the game. Hamilton selected 71-year old Clay Counsil to throw to him during the Derby. Counsil was a  local volunteer who threw batting practice for him as an American Legion player  in Cary, NC. Counsil threw picture perfect pitches for Hamilton to hit that night in Yankee Stadium. At one point it was rumored he had thrown over 90 pitches before Josh had finished his First Round.

 

 

                     

 

 

In the first round of the event Hamilton hit 28 home runs, to break the single round record of 24 set by Bobby Abreu in 2005. Several of those homers were to the only place in Yankee Stadium where a ball could be hit out of the complex, deep right center field next to the upper decks. Hamilton, who had 28 homers after the first round, came out and took only a small amount of pitches to extend his total to 32, before retiring for the final round. Hamilton ended up hitting the most total home runs in the contest with 35, but lost in the final round to Justin Morneau, as the scores were reset. His record setting first round included 13 straight home runs at one point, and three that went further than 500 feet. His longest home run was 518 feet.

 


In 2006, when Hamilton was trying to get back into baseball, he had a dream where he participated in a Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, but he could not remember how many home runs he had hit. After the Derby Hamilton said: “This, was like living the dream out, because like I’ve said, I didn’t know the ending to that dream.” The next night, Josh started in center field for the American League, and went 1-3 on the night and was greeted by a huge cheer from the mostly Yankee crowd on his first at-bat.

 


Hamilton has been an inspiration to both young and old to rise to this level of achievement in such a short frame of time. The season is still young, and Hamilton is currently leading Major League Baseball in RBI’s with 95. He is currently hitting .310 for the year and is ranked 18th in the MLB, and 9th in the AL. Hamilton also has 21 homers at the break to rank 12th in the MLB and 3rd in the AL, two behind the leader.

 

 

                                  

 


Hamilton has a chance to made a bid for the Triple Crown this season. He was also touted as a early favorite for the AL MVP award. But in the end, the only category that Hamilton lead in the American League was the RBI crown with 130 RBI’s on the year. He ended up with a .304 batting average, good enough for 11th in the Al. He also ended up hitting 32 home runs to tie for 8th in the AL in that category. Some say the pressure of carrying the Rangers and the long season put Hamilton behind the 8-ball early in the second half of the season.

 



In the AL MVP race, he ended up coming in 7th place, and was the last participant to top 100 points in the race, he ended up with 113 points in the MVP voting.

 


We have a lot of great baseball to play, and Josh still has some unfinished business to attend to in the upcoming seasons. He has so much promise in 1999 when he signed with the Rays, and so much time was lost and will never be retained again. But with determination and a will to succeed, we all will see Hamilton rise from the ashes and become the man and player we always knew he would be in baseball.

 


We should all be grateful this fantastic athlete found the courage and commitment to  raise himself above life’s struggles and tragedies. He is a perfect example of mind over matter, and that the power of your own will can defeat any and all demons if you just believe.   And with that, I think I will hit the TIVO again and watch the State Farm Home Run Derby all over again tonight.

 

   

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