Owner Arte Moreno's hard-line stance toward Josh Hamilton, whose substance-abuse relapse has triggered an ugly dispute between the organization and the outfielder, has put Angels players in an awkward position.
Hamilton is a friend to many players, a teammate to all and a fellow players' union member who, according to an arbitrator, did not violate baseball's drug policy and cannot be suspended.
Yet, Hamilton, who is rehabilitating from right-shoulder surgery in Houston, has been ostracized to the point in which he has not been issued a locker in the Angel Stadium clubhouse and merchandise bearing his name and number has been pulled from stadium team stores.
And it is clear to players Moreno — the boss who signs their hefty paychecks, the man they want to win a championship for — is the driving force behind the anti-Hamilton sentiment.
"It doesn't seem like any bridges are being built — it seems like a fairly contentious situation," Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson, the club's union representative, said before Saturday night's game against the Kansas City Royals.
"It's definitely at a level right now. No one is talking to us about it. We're supposed to stay out of the loop. But it's fairly obvious what their intentions are."
Wilson was alluding to a growing sense that Hamilton, who is owed $83 million over the next three years, will not play again for the Angels. Moreno added fuel to that speculation when asked Friday whether Hamilton would play another game for the club. "I will not say that," he said.
Moreno said the team included language in Hamilton's contract — probably in the form of a moral conduct code — that forbade Hamilton from drinking or using drugs and that he might challenge Hamilton's ability to collect his full salary.
The union responded by saying such language had not been approved and it would "not supersede the provisions of the joint drug agreement and/or the basic agreement."
Wilson said he agreed with columnists who have written the Angels would be treating Hamilton differently if he was playing like the five-time All-Star he was in Texas and not the disappointing and oft-injured player he's been in Anaheim, where Hamilton hit .255 with 31 homers in his first two seasons.
"Some of the commentators had a lot of insight — if the situation was this, it would be turned around and be different," Wilson said. "Josh went through the whole process with an arbitrator. It should just be about him rehabbing and getting healthy and playing baseball again. The fact is, it's not."
Wilson said teams add language to most contracts forbidding players from specific activities that might jeopardize their careers. His includes "a bevy of things," from auto racing to motorcycle riding to spelunking, or cave exploration.
"But it's my understanding that the collective bargaining agreement takes precedent as it governs all of baseball on any contract," Wilson said.
Teams will sometimes go to extreme lengths to enforce such language.
"When the Angels first signed me they hired a private detective to follow me around because they were mad that I was riding motorcycles," said Wilson, who signed a five-year, $77.5-million deal before 2012.
Told of the accusation, General Manager Jerry Dipoto said, "That is 100% not true."
When closer Huston Street was asked in late March whether the Hamilton situation would be a distraction for the team, he said, "A lot of that is going to depend on how Josh handles it."
But Hamilton and his agent have been silent to this point, while the rhetoric from Moreno and the front office has caused the biggest stir.
"I'm like everyone else in this clubhouse, in limbo, waiting to see what happens," reliever Joe Smith said. "But Josh is a part of this team. If and when he comes back, we will be here. He'll be here trying to help us win. That's the only way to look at it. You can't get caught up in everything that's being thrown around."