No one—not even MLB, which argued for a lengthy suspension—is unhappier about Josh Hamilton unexpectedly getting off without discipline for his cocaine-and-alcohol relapse than the Angels themselves.
Consider first the Angels’ statement on the ruling, credited to GM Jerry DiPoto, but in which ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick sees the hand of owner Arte Moreno:
And then this, from the team president:
Damn. That doesn’t sound much like a serious pennant contender happy to get back a middle-of-the-order slugger, does it? Of course, that’s the point—Hamilton isn’t either of those things these days. He’s declining rapidly, and last year, even when he was healthy, he was pretty bad.
More than that, he’s still got three very expensive years left on his contract. That’s a terrible deal for the Angels, who are banging on the door of the luxury tax, but one that has to be honored in full—unless Hamilton were suspended or left baseball for good. It’s coldly cynical, but to Moreno, there would be no better outcome than Hamilton retiring from or being forced out of the game.
Which brings us to this especially combustible Ken Rosenthal column. Without coming down on either side of the question of whether Hamilton should have been punished, Rosenthal argues that Hamilton was screwed over by having every step of the “confidential” disciplinary process leaked to the media. I’m going to blockquote a section at length, because I don’t want to excise context.
So, who was responsible for the leaks?
As a reporter, I know that information comes from everywhere, and not always obvious sources. The Angels, however, are the one entity that stood to benefit if Hamilton was suspended and forfeited a portion of his $23 million salary in 2015. He also is guaranteed $30 million in both 2016 and ’17, and considering his declining performance in recent seasons, the Angels surely would love to escape that obligation as well.
The initial report on Hamilton from the Los Angeles Times said he was meeting with baseball about a disciplinary issue and that the team was bracing for possible penalties. Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed that Hamilton was in New York but said nothing else. A scramble then ensued to report why the meeting took place, and both CBSSports.com and New York Daily News reported that his relapse involved cocaine.
I’m not sure the Angels acted properly in confirming Hamilton’s initial meeting in New York. And the club went public again Friday, saying in a statement, “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 has made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans.”
This, for a player who was deemed not to have violated his treatment program.
Rosenthal is in high dudgeon here, which is absolutely not his default mode. And as a reporter who deals and will continue to deal with unnamed sources, he also knows more than he’s allowed to let on.
Given that, I read Rosenthal’s column—and I could absolutely be wrong, though I don’t think I am—as heavily implicating the Angels as the source of the leaks on Hamilton’s relapse and the adjudication thereof, which they clearly believed was bound to end in a suspension as long as a full season, with the attendant eight-figure rebate.
This was inevitable, and inevitably awkward, for a team suffering buyer’s remorse with $83 million still left to spend. It’s the totally logical outcome of a nominal health policy that can be twisted to serve the financial interests of the clubs, which is why we saw more or less the same thing when the Yankees did everything in their power to support MLB throwing the book at Alex Rodriguez—collectively bargained due process be damned when there’s potential amnesty at stake. It’s just business, of course. But it feels more skeevy than usual when it’s not just a player’s money on the line but, in the truest sense, his health.