No penalties for Hamilton, arbitrator rules

Angels outfielder judged not to have violated treatment program

No penalties for Hamilton, arbitrator rules

ANAHEIM -- Josh Hamilton will not be suspended or otherwise disciplined after an arbitrator ruled that the high-priced outfielder did not violate the terms of his drug treatment program, a decision that left Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred powerless, and clearly frustrated Hamilton's employer.

The Angels had been bracing for a potential suspension ever since Hamilton met with MLB officials at the Commissioner's Office in New York on Feb. 25, over what sources said was a drug-related relapse that occurred late in the offseason. The Angels were told Hamilton would not be punished late Thursday night -- largely because he self-reported the issue before a failed drug test -- and they weren't necessarily in a celebratory mood Friday morning.

In a statement, Angels president John Carpino said, "It defies logic that Josh's reported behavior is not a violation of his current program."

Earlier, general manager Jerry Dipoto issued his own statement, saying the Angels "have serious concerns about Josh's conduct, health and behavior, and we are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment, which he made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans."

Dipoto finished the statement by saying the team will do "everything possible" to ensure Hamilton receives "proper help for himself and for the well-being of his family."

Carpino said in a subsequent phone call that the Angels' focus is "to get Josh the help he needs, for himself and for his family."

Speaking before Friday's exhibition game against the Dodgers, the Angels continued to express support for Hamilton -- but they also made their disappointment clear.

"Every marriage that I know of is 50-50," Dipoto said during a 15-minute press conference from Angel Stadium.

"When we enter into these types of agreements with any player -- whether it's five years and $125 million or deals we've done with other high-profile players or the lowest-service-time rookie on our staff -- you're entering into a marriage with that player. And there's an agreement that he will be responsible and accountable for his actions, to his manager, to his staff, to his front office, to his organization, to his public. Whatever happens off the field -- with your family, with your god, whatever you do -- we all have those responsibilities."

A four-panel treatment board -- consisting of two representatives each from MLB and the MLB Players Association -- deadlocked on whether Hamilton violated the terms of his treatment program, requiring an outside arbitrator. MLB took the position that Hamilton violated his treatment program and would be subject to discipline by Manfred, but the arbitrator ruled that "Hamilton's conduct did not violate his treatment program," according to MLB, leaving Manfred without the right to impose any penalties.

"The Office of the Commissioner disagrees with the decision and will seek to address deficiencies in the manner in which drugs of abuse are addressed under the program in the collective bargaining process," MLB said in its statement Friday.

The arbitrator considered Hamilton's latest transgression a "slip" and not a violation, leaving the Angels without any salary relief for a contract that will pay Hamilton $23 million in 2015. Hamilton's agent, Michael Moye, could not be reached for comment and the MLBPA did not issue a statement.

"I think it's great for Josh," said Angels starter C.J. Wilson, Hamilton's teammate dating back to their time with the Rangers. "It gives him a straightforward, linear path to coming back. All he's got to do now is focus on getting healthy. There won't be any other obstacles, which I think is a good thing."

Hamilton was expected to start the season on the disabled list, and not return until sometime around May, after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder in early February. He's been in Houston ever since, staying with a friend while slowly working toward baseball activities. Dipoto said Hamilton has been taking "hundreds of swings a day," but "where he is in terms of baseball preparedness is still in question."

The Angels don't have an updated timeline for Hamilton and can't say when he'll rejoin the team.

"The most important thing is Josh and getting himself where he needs to be," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Addiction is a terrible thing and he's trying to deal with that. Any timeframe for when he's going to be back in baseball activities, we don't have."

Hamilton went from a can't-miss, blue-chip prospect, to being out of baseball for four years due to drug addiction, to a perennial All-Star, an inspiring story that captivated the nation and brought hope to addicts everywhere. But the demons of addiction remain a daily struggle for Hamilton, who had an accountability partner with him at all times during the season until he downsized the role in 2014.

The Angels "followed the same blueprint that was laid out for him" with the Rangers, Dipoto said.

"We have done what we can, in the moment, to support Josh," the fourth-year GM added. "We have built infrastructures that are there to support him, and we feel no regret for anything we've done in that regard."

Two years after being drafted first overall out of high school by the Rays in 1999, Hamilton began experimenting with drugs and ultimately fell into a harrowing addiction that led to suspension from 2004-06.

He recovered to go on an impressive five-year run with the Rangers, starting five straight All-Star Games, playing in back-to-back World Series, hitting a record 28 homers in the opening round of the '08 Home Run Derby and winning the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Award. But he's been unable to live up to expectations since signing a five-year, $125 million contract with the Angels in December 2012.

Hamilton batted .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 2013 and finished an injury-plagued '14 season with a .263 batting average and 10 home runs in 89 games. The 33-year-old outfielder missed 10 weeks recovering from thumb surgery last year, then spent almost all of September recovering from injuries along his right side -- shoulder, traps, chest, ribcage -- and went 0-for-13 in an AL Division Series sweep to the Royals.

Doctors were hopeful that extra offseason rest would counteract the need for invasive procedures, but Hamilton's arthritic right shoulder bothered him again once he started swinging full force, prompting surgery to repair his right AC joint on Feb. 4. The Angels didn't issue him a locker at their Spring Training facility and have yet to do so at Angel Stadium, either.

The left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce is now slated to be the everyday left fielder and the right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron will get the majority of at-bats at designated hitter. The Angels, on the heels of a Major League-leading 98-win season, are confident in the group they have.

But they still don't know how Hamilton will factor in.

"Obviously Josh is a big part of this organization, this ballclub," Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said. "But whatever decision that Major League Baseball makes is their decision. It's not our decision. Our decision is to try to stay focused and get ourselves ready for the season and make sure we don't bring any outside distractions."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.