With the window for arbitration hearings getting smaller by the day, the action is heating up between teams and players who don’t want to go through the process. The Texas Rangers inked AL MVP Josh Hamilton to a 2-year/$24 million deal on Thursday that buys out Hamilton’s remaining arbitration years. The slugging OF had asked for $12 million while the club countered with $8.7 million.

While the period for hearings runs from Feb 1 to Feb 18, only two rulings have taken place so far, Ross Ohlendorf winning his case against the Pirates and Jared Weaver losing his hearing against the Angels.

Hamilton was the biggest name in this year’s arbitration class and a key to the future of the 2010 AL champions. After having lost ace P Cliff Lee to the Phillies, the Rangers could hardly afford to lose their biggest offensive weapon. The $24 million is broken down into a $3 million signing bonus, $7.25 million for 2011 and $13.75 million for 2012. After that, Hamilton will be a first-time free agent, unless there is a long-term agreement before the new contract runs out.

As T.R. Sullivan points out in the MLB.com piece, the Rangers have locked up all seven of their arbitration-eligible players including P C.J. Wilson and OF Nelson Cruz.

The Hamilton signing is a win-win for several reasons. In getting their business done before going to a hearing, they have avoided any bad feelings that would have arisen in the process of haggling over what he’s worth. On the club side, the Rangers get their MVP back in the middle of their lineup as well as the outfield and avoid the PR nightmare of having their best pitcher and best position player leave after a breakthrough season that ended with an AL championship.

As for Hamilton, he gets basically what he was asking for, averaged out over two seasons instead of one, doesn’t have to do this again next year, and all the while he gives up none of his free agent years. If he continues to put up the big numbers over the duration of this new contract, he will hit free agency in prime position to cash in, with Texas or elsewhere.