Uncertainty remains for Josh Hamilton …
Josh Hamilton didn’t have a locker at the Angels’ Spring Training facility, and he currently doesn’t have one at Angel Stadium, either.
His old locker, tucked away in a back corner of the home clubhouse, now belongs to the new second baseman, Johnny Giavotella. The Angels said they didn’t assign Hamilton a locker because there are only 38 of them, and that’s the exact amount of players who needed one for the opener of a three-game, exhibition Freeway Series against the Dodgers on Thursday night.
The Angels were hopeful of getting clarity on Hamilton’s situation by the end of this week, but it looks like they’ll have to wait a little longer.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recently told SiriusXM Radio that a decision on a potential suspension for the Angels’ outfielder will “probably” be made “shortly after” Opening Day, which means next week at the earliest.
“I think that we’ll have something on Hamilton in relatively short order — it probably has been a little slower just because he’s not available to play,” Manfred told SiriusXM Radio on Wednesday.
Thirteen days earlier, Manfred told the Associated Press he expected a resolution “before Opening Day,” but the timeline has been moved back, because a lot of factors still have to be weighed.
There are questions about how to account for Hamilton’s past transgressions, which occurred when he was a Minor League player and were not subject to the current Joint Drug Agreement. There may be leniency for a player who has done an admirable job of coping with an addiction since his reinstatement nearly nine years ago. And there’s involvement from the MLB Players Association, which seeks sympathy for Hamilton.
This much is clear: The issue is out of the Angels’ hands, and none of the players have any idea what will happen.
“We’re always obviously thinking about him,” Angels center fielder Mike Trout said. “He’s our teammate. But until we know more information, we really can’t do much. You can’t really think about him too much because you don’t know what’s going on. He’s our teammate. We’re always trying to figure out what’s going on with him. Everybody wants to know, and nobody has answers. It’s kind of been like that the last couple of weeks.”
Hamilton met with MLB officials in New York on Feb. 25 over what sources say was a drug-related relapse that occurred late in the offseason. Hamilton then remained in Houston, staying with a friend while recovering from right shoulder surgery. Angels officials have checked in with Hamilton sporadically to check on his injury rehab, most recently saying that he’s been taking swings off a tee.
Angels starter C.J. Wilson, a friend of Hamilton’s dating back to their days on the Rangers, has been in touch with the 33-year-old of late and said, “I feel like he’s doing everything he can to get ready to play baseball again.”
“I was very surprised that there was news about this at all, just because I didn’t really see it on the horizon,” Wilson said of Hamilton’s relapse. “He doesn’t seem to be a mopy, murky person. Every time I talk to him, he seems fine.”
Players who violate the JDA for a drug of abuse are initially placed in a treatment program, with the first violation of the program resulting in a suspension of 15-25 games, a second being 25-50, a third being 50-75 and a fourth being at least a full season. Players aren’t paid while suspended, but they are eligible for full salary retention in the first 30 days of a treatment program.
The length of his suspension will have a big impact on the Angels’ financial situation, considering he’s owed $23 million. A potential extension with closer Huston Street, entering his final season before free agency, won’t be finalized until there is more clarity with Hamilton. Once there is, the Angels will have to figure out how to fold him back into a team that may be well into its season by then.
First, they’ll play without him.
“I think we’re deep enough on the offensive side that we should be OK,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “But you can’t plan on using what you don’t have.”
Hamilton was once a can’t-miss blue-chip prospect who spent four years away from baseball, fighting addiction. He made substantial strides, becoming a perennial All-Star in his five years with the Rangers and an inspiring story that captivated the nation and brought hope to addicts.
But he hasn’t met expectations since coming to the Angels on a five-year, $125 million contract 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. He missed 10 weeks while recovering from left thumb surgery early in 2014, then spent almost all of September recovering from injuries along his right side — shoulder, trapezius, chest, ribcage — and went 0-or-13 in an AL Division Series sweep at the hands of the Royals.
Hamilton felt pain in his shoulder once he started swinging with full force again, requiring surgery on Feb. 4 to repair his right AC joint. The injury timeline was six to eight weeks, with the possibility of a return by May.
The fact he wouldn’t have been ready by now has made it easier to cope with the uncertainty.
“Josh isn’t ready to play baseball right now,” Scioscia said. “We’re just kind of business as usual and we’ll just take stuff one step at a time. You can’t answer questions until you’re really confirmed on exactly what they’re going to be. We’ll get the first step here shortly and just see what we’re dealing with.”