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As the Rangers and Josh Hamilton head toward arbitration to settle the $3.3 million difference in what they believe Hamilton should be paid next season, I find it hard to imagine Texas bringing up Josh Hamilton’s substance abuse problems and recent relapse, but as Craig Calcaterra notes in his analysis and as that kid in Angels In The Outfield would say, “It could happen.”

It’s an interesting dilemma that goes beyond the Rangers saving a few million dollars.

An arbitration doesn’t just set the current player’s salary. It’s used as a baseline for later players with similar production and similar service time who head into the process themselves. If one team eases up on Josh Hamilton, other teams heading into arbitration with their Hamiltonian super stars will have a tougher hill to climb in order to prevail.  In a way, then, the integrity of the process requires that the parties fight their hardest case possible.

Excuse the nerdery for a second, but it sort of reminds me of that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where they have a hearing to decide if Data the android has rights or not, and while Captain Picard is allowed to represent Data, Commander Riker is tasked with proving that he lacks humanity.  He’s unwilling at first, but Riker is told by the arbitrator that if she thinks he’s pulling punches, she’ll rule against Data immediately.  The bearded one does his duties, going so far as to turn the android off, and pull him apart.  Afterwards, Data expresses an understanding as to why Riker did what he did.

However, I wonder if Hamilton would be as forgiving as Data.  For one, Josh Hamilton is comprised of flesh and blood.  And secondly, he’s also not a fictional character.  At least that’s what Michael Vlessides, a veteran arbitration consultant, suggests to MLBTR with regard to Hamilton’s hearing.

It’s the fine line between how much do you pick on the guy who’s the MVP. If you do it too much, you can lose a lot of credibility.

I’m not exactly sure what credibility is being lost, but try thinking of the issue in more neutral terms.  Hamilton does have a substance abuse problem.  He did have a recent relapse.  Should he receive a contract that pretends that this didn’t happen?

We deal a lot with numbers on this blog, and I try hard to stay away from talk about intangibles because it too often relies on pop psychology justifications to explain points.  We’re ultimately reduced to that when talking about the arbitration process and how far teams should be willing to go to disprove their players’ salary demands, and it’s not exactly comfortable territory.

Personally, I don’t think I’d react well to a salary negotiation in which the organization that I work for, even if they’re being represented by an outside party, went to lengths to denigrate my contribution.  But then again, baseball players are a completely different animal, and players bounce back from losing arbitration cases all the time.

As the reigning AL MVP, Hamilton’s case is interesting enough already, but add in his past trouble with drugs and alcohol and the potential for the Rangers to use his history against him, and this could be one of the most interesting hearings that Major League Baseball has seen.

And The Rest

Jeff Passan’s feature on Voros McCracken is as must-read as it gets.

Speaking of awesome features, the New York Times profiles a bar in Washington Heights that has far more interest in Winter League baseball than anything the NFL could offer.

Something I forgot about in the Vernon Wells trade is that the Jays former center fielder will be joining Scott Downs in addition to a team that misspent horribly in acquiring him.

Murray Chass on backne.  Doctor says he needs a backiotimy.

Bryce Harper is getting his jersey retired.  I hope he writes all about it in his upcoming autobiography.

Dave Gershman from Beyond The Boxscore gives us 22 more reasons to love Manny.

So, what exactly is the difference between Brendan Ryan and Nick Punto?

After adding Armando Galarraga, the Arizona Diamondbacks should have one of the more interesting rotations in 2011.

Ferguson Jenkins believes that Larry Walker deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.  I’m assuming Ferguson Jenkins hasn’t looked up Larry Walker’s home and away splits.

Justin Morneau misses TwinsFest to keep getting better.

A hopeful Andruw Jones is going to turn things around type story?  Awesome.

You should ask the 2009 Toronto Blue Jays just how great of a clubhouse guy Kevin Millar is.

Finally, this photo just about describes everything for me.