Several players came away from meetings with Josh Hamilton convinced that the outfielder has recovered from both a substance-abuse relapse and right-shoulder surgery and is ready, willing and eager to return to the Angels, whether the team wants him or not.
"From what I hear and what I see, he's kind of ready to go," said third baseman David Freese, who joined outfielders Kole Calhoun and Collin Cowgill for lunch with Hamilton on Thursday in the Houston area, where Hamilton has been since early February.
"He's running, he's hitting, he's ready to go physically. He's doing the things he needs to do to play baseball and taking the necessary steps off the field."
So what's the holdup?
"I have no idea," Freese said. "That's the stuff we don't know. That's between the Angels and him. I didn't ask. Maybe I don't want to know the answer to that."
Hamilton, who has a long and well-chronicled addiction to cocaine and alcohol, reported a relapse to Major League Baseball in early February, but an arbitrator ruled on April 3 that Hamilton, 33, did not violate baseball's drug treatment program and could not be suspended.
Angels owner Arte Moreno has taken a hard-line stance toward Hamilton, claiming the team included language in Hamilton's contract that forbade him from drinking or using drugs and that it might challenge Hamilton's ability to collect some of the $83 million left on his contract.
Hamilton, was not issued a locker in the Angel Stadium clubhouse, and merchandise bearing his name and number has been pulled from stadium team stores. Asked on April 10 whether Hamilton would play another game for the club, Moreno said, "I will not say that."
Two people familiar with Hamilton's contract say it contains at least three provisions Moreno could use to pursue his case, including one that would allow the club to walk away if it determined Hamilton were not in "first-class condition" because of substance abuse.
But both Freese and pitcher C.J. Wilson, who met Hamilton for several hours at a friend's house in the Houston area on Thursday, said Hamilton appears to be in excellent physical condition. "He's huge," Freese said.
"I'd say he's 100% functional in terms of that stuff," Wilson said. "I feel like he's in a good place and is doing the right things. He's going through counseling, and I think that's good for him. … It's my 100% opinion that Josh is not a risk to himself or anybody else. That's what I feel having known him for eight years."
Wilson said Hamilton discussed his relapse, which reportedly involved cocaine and alcohol.
"The story he gave me about the incident seemed like a very tame scenario compared to reading his book and some of the scenarios that got him [banned] from baseball 12 years ago," Wilson said.
Freese said Hamilton is "in good spirits" and described their lunch as "a good time with a buddy" more than an inquisition into what is happening with the Angels, MLB and the players' union. "I think it was a nice change of routine for him to see some teammates," Freese said.
Manager Mike Scioscia and bench coach Dino Ebel had dinner with Hamilton on Wednesday night, and Scioscia told MLB Network Radio on Friday morning that he came away from the meeting with a feeling of "frustration" that the outfielder is not getting enough help and support.
"We feel that there's really no clarity that he's getting the help he needs," Scioscia told the network. "That's a major concern. Hopefully the frustration will start to evaporate as Josh gets through his first physical rehab of getting his shoulder where he needs to be."
But when Scioscia met with reporters in Minute Maid Park before Friday night's 6-3 win against the Houston Astros, he backed off of those comments.
"I don't want to talk about things we talked about," Scioscia said. "We've talked for a while about wanting to make sure Josh gets the support and help he needs and that's still something we want to keep at the forefront. We're still searching for clarity, and only time will give that to us."
General Manager Jerry Dipoto said, "We continue to monitor his rehab. As expected, he's making progress. Nothing further to note."
When Hamilton's surgery was initially announced, the Angels said he should be able to return to baseball activities within six to eight weeks. That was more than 10 weeks ago.
"He's on his way with his physical recovery," Scioscia said. "He's getting into more baseball activities, and we'll just see when he's ready to get out and really get after it and play. We're not sure yet."
Some have questioned whether Hamilton even wants to play again, but when asked whether Hamilton is in a state of mind to play baseball, Wilson said:
"One hundred percent. He's a baseballer. He really wants to play. He's feeling that momentum and energy internally."