ARLINGTON, Texas – Josh Hamilton is swinging a bat again and regaining his energy after spending six days in the hospital with pneumonia.
Now the AL MVP is preparing for spring training and the likelihood of a salary arbitration hearing since the $12 million he has asked for is $3.3 million more the AL champion Rangers have offered.
"I'm counting on (a hearing) right now," Hamilton said Friday.
A hearing is scheduled Feb. 14 if the two sides don't come to an agreement on a contract for 2011, or maybe even a longer-term deal. Hamilton isn't concerned about the possibility of a hearing.
"It's not bad. I could be digging a ditch somewhere," he said. "It really hasn't been in the forefront of my mind. Either way, whatever happens, I'll be OK."
If the case goes to an arbitrator, Hamilton gets the $8.7 million that Texas offered or the amount he asked for when they exchanged figures this week. Either will be a significant increase over the $3.25 million he made last season, when hit a majors-leading .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs despite missing most of the final month of the regular season with broken ribs.
It has been 11 years since the Rangers went to an arbitration hearing with a player.
"Our preference would be to avoid (a hearing)," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "The reality is sometimes reasonable well-intentioned people disagree, and that's why the process is set up the way that it is. ... You'd like to think we don't have to, but if we have to use it, we will."
A three-time All-Star, Hamilton was limited to 89 games in 2009 primarily because of injuries sustained crashing into outfield walls. His breakout season was with Texas in 2008, when he hit .304 with 32 homers and an AL-high 130 RBIs.
Now Hamilton is trying to get back to full health after the hospital stay during which his temperature reached as high as 105 degrees. He took some swings Friday for the second day in a row.
"The biggest thing is just getting my energy back. I'd say I'm 90 percent. I'm pretty close," he said. "I just came from the field, swinging. I felt better today than I did yesterday."
Hamilton lost about 10 pounds, down to about 223, during his illness. He hopes to gain 15 before spring training opens in Arizona next month and said that shouldn't be a problem since he is getting his appetite back.
While there isn't yet a huge urgency on doing a longer-term deal, since Hamilton's first chance at becoming a free agent won't come until after the 2012 season, the Rangers certainly would like to keep the slugger who has indicated his desire to stay.
"What I'd heard is the Rangers want to get the arbitration, the one year, done, and then maybe discuss something further," Hamilton said. "I'd love to stay in Texas for the rest of my career. We'll see what happens. ... I'll go play and the other stuff is going to take care of itself."
That has been a common move for the Rangers, though Daniels wouldn't get into specifics about discussions with Hamilton.
"There's no doubt that when Josh is healthy, no one's questioning his talent or anything like that. We're obviously a better team when he's out there," Daniels said. "If we find a common ground to do something beyond a one-year deal, that's great. If not, that doesn't preclude us from doing it in the future."
Hamilton is just glad to be out of the hospital, where he doesn't even remember some of the things that happened.
"I mean, it was just miserable. I heard I was acting a little crazy," he said. "My wife told me I got up a couple of times out of bed and pulled my IV out. So I was leaving. I don't remember any of that stuff. It was just kind of in and out of, not consciousness, just reality, I guess."
When his wife, Katie, was driving him to the hospital, Hamilton kept asking her if they were going to Rangers Ballpark.
Hamilton said he had an upper respiratory infection during Christmas, which is pretty normal for him that time of year. He got more seriously ill after several appearances with groups as large as 2,000 people.
"So I shook a lot of hands, took a lot of pictures. Then we flew up to Chicago to speak four times. At some point in that time, I got something," he said. "I like to think I saved some little old lady's life by taking the bug from her."