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Rounding Third: Hamilton's price tag keeps going up

Rumor has it the Texas Rangers have already begun discussions with pending free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton on a long-term deal.

They'd probably be best served to get that deal done real soon because Hamilton's price tag seemingly goes up by the day.

On Tuesday, Hamilton became the 16th player in major league history to hit four home runs in a game and also set an American League record with 18 total bases in Texas' 10-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

"Just seeing how excited my teammates were, then touching home plate and going into the dugout, the reaction from them was the best part," Hamilton said afterward. "Getting hugs ... those are the guys you go out and battle with every day. It doesn't always work out, but we give it everything we got."

How locked in is the former AL MVP?

Well, in his last six plate appearances Hamilton has taken 10 swings, hit five home runs, one double and driven in 10 runs. He is the first player with extra- base hits in six straight at-bats since Ken Griffey Jr., on July 1-2 1998, and the first player with five home runs in six at-bats since Shawn Green on May 23-24 2002.

"Obviously, other than the World Series, it's the highlight of my big league career," Hamilton said. "I never hit three before in a game. When I did that, it was like, what a blessing. To hit four is an awesome feeling."

For the year, he is now hitting .406 with 14 home runs and 36 RBIs.

"The best individual performance I have ever seen," Rangers infielder Michael Young said. "I've never seen anything like it. It was fun to be a part of. He's an incredible player."

But nights like Tuesday, as special as they are, and they are special when you consider there have been less four home run achievements than perfect games on the mound, are still a sad reminder as to what could have been for Hamilton had it not been for his own transgressions early on.

Everyone knows the story. Selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, Hamilton was injured early in his minor league career and fell into a pattern of drug abuse shortly thereafter that ultimately got him suspended from the game.

Upon reinstatement, Tampa eventually cut ties with the outfielder in 2006, leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, where he was selected by the Chicago Cubs before being moved to the Cincinnati Reds later in the day.

Hamilton shined for the Reds in 2007, but was dealt to the Rangers the following winter. Hamilton's comeback really took off in Arlington, as he became an All-Star in 2008, stealing the show with a breathtaking performance in the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium that year.

He's since been a league MVP, while being the unquestioned offensive leader on for the two-time defending AL champions.

A long-term deal should be a slam dunk. So what's the holdup?

Well, a deal was close to being done this past winter, but Hamilton's slip-up with alcohol put those talks on hold. So much so that some in the Rangers' organization were wondering whether or not their long-term money would be better served going to someone like Prince Fielder.

Someone is going to take a chance on Hamilton. He's that good.

And as every day passes, he gets that much closer to leaving. Free agency is a different monster. It's not often a player of his caliber tests the waters, then returns home. Especially a player who doesn't play in New York.

You also can understand Texas' hesitancy, though. Forget the injuries that have plagued him almost all of his career, would you commit the type of money that Hamilton is worth to a player who obviously has demons most people cannot begin to fathom?

When he is on the field and right, though, he is bar none the most dynamic bat in the game. And he proved as much on Tuesday in Baltimore.

But still you're left wondering what could have been.