MLB’s decision on Josh Hamilton could come as early as next week

An arbitrator will be needed to decide Josh Hamilton's punishment.

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A decision by Major League Baseball on discipline for Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton is expected before Opening Day and could come as early as next week, industry sources told FOX Sports.

An arbitrator has been appointed to determine whether Hamilton should enter a rehabilitation program following a drug relapse, according to the Los Angeles Times. The arbitrator is necessary because the four-member treatment board — with two representatives each from MLB and the MLB Players Association — could not reach a majority opinion on the proper course.

MLB officials believe Hamilton should be suspended, with the still-undetermined length falling somewhere between 25 games and one year. The union, however, is arguing for a minimal penalty, perhaps 15 games, with greater emphasis placed on a treatment program — during the first 30 days of which Hamilton would still receive his full salary.

At issue is whether Hamilton’s recent relapse, reported by CBS Sports to involve cocaine, constitutes a material violation of the drug treatment program under which Hamilton was reinstated to the sport in 2006. If it is determined that a violation has occurred, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred will have broad authority to determine the length of Hamilton’s suspension.

The four-member treatment board includes one doctor and one lawyer appointed by each of MLB and the MLBPA. When the board is unable to reach a majority decision, as in the Hamilton case, baseball’s jointly bargained drug agreement stipulates that a fifth member shall be appointed to break the tie.

The drug agreement says fifth members “shall be labor arbitrators who are affiliated with either the American Arbitration Association or the National Academy of Arbitrators.” The power to choose the fifth member alternates between MLB and the MLBPA; it is not clear which party has the authority to assign the fifth member in this case.

The arbitration process should not be especially lengthy. According to baseball’s drug agreement, the fifth member should be appointed within 24 hours of written notice being served that an arbitrator is needed; the fifth member is then required to hold a telephone conference with the rest of the treatment board “as soon as practicable.”