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Baseball Executives Want to Use the War on Drugs to Avoid the Bad Contracts They Signed

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Baltimore Orioles

Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton has a long history of substance abuse that nearly derailed his career. But he finally got it together. Of course, substance abuse and addiction are very difficult issues. He had a relapse over the offseason. He could have tried to avoid responsibility. Instead, he told the Angels and MLB voluntarily.

Josh Hamilton signed a 5 years-$125 million contract with the Angels before the 2013 season. This was a great contract for him but a really stupid one for the Angels. Even at the end of his time with the Rangers, Hamilton’s production was falling. He always struggled with plate discipline and the years of substance abuse probably made his skills decline a touch faster than they would have naturally. His strikeouts skyrocketed in 2012. Hamilton, when he hasn’t been hurt, has been a slightly above league average player the first two years of this contract.

The Angels wanted to suspend Hamilton for violating his substance abuse program, even though he came to them voluntarily. Yesterday, an arbitrator ruled that they could not. The response of Angels GM Jerry DiPoto and president John Carpino did not hide the team’s disappointment:

This led to sportswriters ripping the Angels as it became clear this was about saving money and using baseball’s war on drugs to bail teams out of bad contracts, not helping Hamilton. Bill Plaschke:

The team that has already given away Hamilton’s locker is now publicly kicking him to the curb. The organization known for a cuddly primate has bared its teeth and revealed its vindictiveness. This is not only about wanting to make sure Hamilton is off drugs, this is about wanting him off their payroll and out of their lives.

The Angels want Hamilton suspended so they can save the remaining $83 million on his contract, save awkwardness when he returns to a clubhouse, and basically just save themselves the hassle. They don’t care that Hamilton or his teammates are listening, they don’t care that a Southern California fan base that often winces at such intolerance is listening. They just want him gone.

This column is not a defense of the arbitrator’s ruling. The Angels are right that it was wrong. While the ruling technically adheres to baseball drug law, it goes against the spirit of the discipline required to make that law effective. Reportedly one of the factors in allowing Hamilton to avoid discipline is he reported his relapse instead of failing a drug test. That sets a dangerous precedent. So if a player thinks he just tested positive, he can get off the hook by immediately throwing himself on the mercy of the commissioner before the test results become public? That’s a gaping loophole that needs to be closed.

But the Angels should have kept their mouths closed. Why further humiliate a sick player by warning him he’s no longer welcome? Why not let him finish his rehabilitation while finding some inner peace, then leave open the possibility he could play for you again?

And the usually measured Ken Rosenthal on why everything about this case was leaked throughout the process:

Even if the arbitrator had determined that Hamilton indeed violated his program, the entire matter should have remained private, at least until the moment commissioner Rob Manfred issued his suspension. But that’s not what happened, and make no mistake — Hamilton was wronged in the process.

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.

Lovely.

I understand why baseball pursued the matter; if Hamilton had indeed violated the program, then it would have been only proper for the sport to enforce its policy. But baseball, too, needs to take responsibility for the way Hamilton was cornered publicly.

He deserved better as a recovering addict. He deserved better as a major leaguer. He deserved better as a human being.

Of course some sportswriters, even wanting to fight the War on Drugs from their computers, are talking about how this is really about the Angels wanting to get Hamilton help, but that’s totally absurd.

I’m curious to see if this affects the Angels with free agents going forward. This isn’t some steroid case where many players really want those players out of the game. This is a sick man who has struggled with life-threatening addiction for a long time. He deserves support from his team, not contempt. But Angels owner Arte Moreno doesn’t want to pay the money he owes Hamilton and so wants to see him suspended. That can’t make the next aging slugger or pitcher Moreno offers a bunch of money feel real great about it. I suspect agents are definitely taking note of this. And whoever was leaking this information about Hamilton to the media probably should be fined or suspended by MLB. Not that it will happen.

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