Tempe, Ariz. – The Angels were prepared to be without outfielder Josh Hamilton for more than a month into the regular season.
Now, it appears Hamilton could be gone longer than that.
Hamilton was in New York City on Wednesday to meet with Major League Baseball officials. According to multiple reports he will be disciplined by the league, though neither the Angels nor Hamilton's agent would immediately confirm this – or why he might be disciplined.
On Feb. 4, Hamilton had major surgery on his right shoulder in Arlington, Texas. The Angels gave him permission to rehabilitate in Houston until he was able to resume baseball activities. Hamilton was then expected to rejoin the team.
Hamilton's battles with crack cocaine and alcohol addiction are well-documented. Early in his career as a minor leaguer, he was issued two season-long suspensions for violating the Joint Drug Agreement between MLB and the Players' Association.
According to FoxSports.com, Hamilton will now be disciplined for something "worse" than a performance-enhancing drug violation. The New York Daily News said it was a cocaine and alcohol relapse. CBSSports.com identified it as a cocaine relapse. A report from Newsday quoted Hamilton's father-in-law saying the outfielder "hit a bump in the road, keep him in your prayers."
As recently as 2012, the head of the Players Association (then Michael Weiner) publicly confirmed that Hamilton was still involved in a treatment program under the terms of the JDA.
The agreement calls for a one-year suspension for players who fail to comply four times with their treatment program for a drug of abuse (other than marijuana, hashish and synthetic THC). After subsequent failures to comply, the commissioner can impose "further discipline."
The agreement states that this discipline must be determined "consistent with the concept of progressive discipline." However, the commissioner can supersede discipline limits suggested by the JDA "if the treatment board concludes that a player has demonstrated flagrant disregard for his treatment program."
Hamilton has had two documented relapses with alcohol since 2006, none since he signed a five-year, $125 million contract with the Angels in December 2012. According to a source, the Angels cannot void the contract on the sole basis that Hamilton relapses again.
Hamilton was reportedly giving MLB three urine samples per week during the season for testing at the league's request.
The Angels hired an "accountability partner," Shayne Kelley, who traveled with Hamilton full time as recently as 2013. Johnny Narron, who was Hamilton's accountability partner before Kelley, was hired to be the hitting coach of the Angels' Triple-A affiliate last November.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said Monday that Hamilton had asked the team if he could rehabilitate in Houston.
"It's similar with any other player/athlete we have in-season or not," Dipoto said. "If you recall Vernon Wells' thumb injury in San Diego, he went back home. He went to Dallas and did his rehab with a PT in Dallas. Kendrys Morales, when he had his issue, went to his PT in Miami. No different.
"Josh is working with a PT in Houston rather than Arlington by his choice. He's comfortable in Houston. He has a friend with a ranch down there. That's where he wants to be. When we get back to on-field baseball activities, being cleared for that, then we'll assess whether to bring him here or Anaheim."
So far Hamilton has failed to live up to his massive contract. In 2013, his first year with the Angels, Hamilton batted .250 and reached base at a .307 clip, both career-lows. His eight errors in right field led the Angels to switch him to left field in 2014. Injuries limited him to just 89 games and 10 home runs, also career-low numbers.