The Rangers spent much of last weekend trying to lock up Alex Rodriguez as their long-term shortstop, but on Sunday they took time to sign Ken Caminiti, a player who is living life one day at a time. The erstwhile Padres and Astros third baseman, who was also pursued by the Brewers and the Indians, signed a contract with Texas for one year, plus two option years, that could be worth as much as $20.9 million. The incentive-heavy pact (the second year kicks in only if Caminiti is on the Rangers' 40-man roster as of Aug. 15) reflects the team's concerns about the 37-year-old slugger's health on and off the field.
Limited to 59 games in 2000, Caminiti batted .303 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs for Houston. He spent more than half the season on the disabled list with a ruptured right wrist tendon sheath. Then in September he was hospitalized for a month as part of an alcohol abuse rehabilitation program. That all followed a '99 season in which, hampered by a strained right calf, Caminiti appeared in only 78 games for the Astros. (After that season he suffered three chipped vertebrae when he fell out of a tree stand while hunting quail.) In fact, the 1996 season, when he was the National League MVP for San Diego, was the last in which Caminiti played at least 140 games.
On Sunday, Caminiti, who also went through a substance abuse program in '93 for alcohol and painkillers, revealed that after three years of sobriety, he resumed drinking again in the winter following his MVP year. After his recent stint in rehab, he says, he feels physically and emotionally healthier than he has in a long time. "I don't have a nagging back, the nagging injuries; I don't wake up stiff," he says. "Of course, my nightlife might have had something to do with those things." Caminiti still undergoes counseling in an aftercare program.
"We had a series of heart-to-hearts last week," says Rangers manager Johnny Oates. "He seems like he's in great shape and a good state of mind."
Caminiti is the fourth player age 35 or older that Texas has acquired this off-season, joining first baseman Andres Galarraga, 39; righthanded reliever Mark Petkovsek, 35; and infielder Randy Velarde, 38. Mike Lamb, who hit .278 as a rookie in 2000, is the incumbent third baseman, but the starting job will be Caminiti's to lose. On Sunday he spoke of a desire to play that had been missing for the last few years. Caminiti also declared that he has a plan for dealing with the potential pitfalls and temptations of the major league lifestyle.
"When you're on the road, it gets pretty boring," he said. "You have to have something to do after the game—watch movies, play cards, something. I'm already trying to hook up with some people on the Rangers with good lifestyles."