Angels owner Arte Moreno told the truth last Friday when he informed reporters that Josh Hamilton’s contract included language to protect the team if Hamilton had a drug relapse.
But if Moreno tries to enforce that language, he will face resistance from the players union and engage in what would appear to be an uphill fight.
Such a confrontation likely would not take place anytime soon; Moreno already is obligated to pay Hamilton’s $23 million salary for 2015. All player contracts became guaranteed on Opening Day, and that stipulation applied to Hamilton even though he is on the disabled list recovering from surgery on his right shoulder.
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Hamilton, who turns 34 on May 21, also is owed $30 million in both 2016 and ’17. Moreno could attempt to recoup those sums at a later date, but the union already has issued a statement saying that the sport’s Joint Drug Agreement and Collective Bargaining Agreement supersede all other player contract provisions.
Hamilton, a recovering addict, admitted to Major League Baseball in February that he had suffered a relapse, and CBSSports.com and the New York Daily News reported that it involved cocaine and alcohol.
The former MVP’s contract includes three separate provisions that would allow the Angels to terminate or convert the deal to non-guaranteed if he was not in “first-class physical condition” or mentally or physically incapacitated due to drug and/or alcohol abuse, major-league sources told FOX Sports.
Similar language covering a variety of activities exists in almost all player contracts, though it varies from club to club, sources said.
The Yankees, for example, converted Aaron Boone’s one-year, $5.75 million contract to non-guaranteed in 2004 after he tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee playing basketball — a prohibited activity under his contract. Boone received termination pay, and the Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez to play third base.
The difference with Hamilton is that discipline for “drugs of abuse” already is covered under the JDA and CBA. The union almost certainly would file a grievance if Moreno attempted to avoid paying Hamilton, and an arbitrator would decide in favor of one side or the other.
Hamilton already has prevailed in one such dispute; an arbitrator ruled on April 3 that the player’s self-reported relapse did not violate his treatment program, preventing Commissioner Rob Manfred from suspending him.
Moreno could argue that because Manfred was precluded from acting on Hamilton, the club is free to enforce the language in the player’s contract, sources said.
The union, however, could push back not only by citing the power of the JDA and CBA, but also by contending that a one-day relapse in the offseason did not result in Hamilton being in less than “first-class condition.”
So, to what extent is Moreno willing to fight?
Tony Clark, the union’s executive director, told the Los Angeles Times that the union expects the Angels to activate Hamilton when he is healthy and ready to play.
But Moreno, when asked by reporters if he could say that Hamilton would again play for the Angels, responded, “I will not say that.”
The Angels conceivably could keep Hamilton and not play him; it would be difficult for the union to argue that the team was damaging Hamilton while he was collecting the remaining $83 million on his contract.
Another option for Moreno is to release Hamilton and pay off the balance of the deal. But Moreno almost certainly finds that alternative distasteful; he evidently wants to avoid paying as much of Hamilton’s contract as possible.
The end game, then, might be a trade in which the Angels absorbed one or more inflated contracts in exchange for Hamilton’s. The Phillies’ Ryan Howard, Indians’ Nick Swisher and Dodgers’ Andre Ethier are among the players with such deals. But it is quite possible that none of their teams would want Hamilton, even if the Angels included enough cash to even out the money in the trade.
Whatever the terms of the divorce, the differences between the Angels and Hamilton appear irreconcilable. Looking back, the marriage was on faulty ground from the moment Hamilton left the Rangers to join one of their biggest division rivals in December 2012.
Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio reported Wednesday that Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye, told teams involved in the free-agent bidding that the player would allow protective language if he received the right deal.
Moreno said at the time of the signing that Hamilton’s deal included no such language. But it turns out that the owner indeed tried to guard against a relapse by Hamilton, fully aware of the player’s well-documented past.