Angels owner Arte Moreno could make things difficult for Josh Hamilton

The Angels could take Josh Hamilton back but keep him on the bench

On Good Friday, an arbitrator restored Josh Hamilton to baseball's good graces. On the following Friday, Arte Moreno declared that Hamilton had not been restored to the Angels' good graces.

He never will be, at least not as long as Moreno remains the Angels' owner. The divorce appears inevitable.

Moreno could rid himself of Hamilton any day he wants, but he would have to write a check for $83 million. On Friday, when Moreno suggested he might have contractual recourse to recover at least part of that money, the players' union responded with a sharply worded statement that essentially said this: No, you don't.

That could trigger a nasty fight, and arbitration. But so could this: What if the Angels took Hamilton back but kept him on the bench?

Hamilton would get his full salary, but Moreno would make his displeasure clear with every lineup card in which the outfield was manned by three other guys.

The union already is prepared for this possibility. Tony Clark, the executive director, would not speak directly to that scenario on Friday.

But the Angels have become increasingly vague about Hamilton's rehabilitation from shoulder surgery. If the rancor from management does not abate, it is not difficult to imagine them letting Hamilton linger in rebuilding his shoulder, then keeping him in the minor leagues for the maximum 20 days of a rehabilitation assignment.

Clark was willing to speak to that scenario.

"When Josh is healthy and ready to play, we expect he will be added to the roster," Clark said.

The New York Yankees did just that with Alex Rodriguez. For all the New York bombast about how the supposedly shamed and fragile Rodriguez might just retire — all of it coming from the Yankees, the party that stood to save $61 million if he did — the Yankees put him back in their lineup as soon as he was eligible this year.

He batted third Friday. He could be one of the Yankees' best hitters, if not their best.

No one would dare say Hamilton could be the Angels' best hitter, and not just because Mike Trout works in Anaheim. The Angels could well say they are better off with Hamilton on their bench, and the union could well say his benching would be strictly punitive.

That would be a mess. The union already is livid that the commissioner's office has not launched an investigation into how confidential information about Hamilton's relapse and the subsequent arbitration became public.

Could Moreno pay Hamilton something less than $83 million to let him go? The union generally allows players to give back money only in exchange for some other benefit, and accelerated free agency is one. It would be just a little money, maybe very little, but it might be the best deal Moreno could get.

His comments Friday, heartfelt though they might have been, all but extinguished the already minuscule chance the Angels had to trade Hamilton. For now, other teams can wait to see whether the Angels simply release him. The union is waiting to see how the Angels treat him.

The Giants' rivalry

The Dodgers might have the most celebrated rivalry with the San Francisco Giants, but the San Diego Padres might have the most intense one, at least based on a weird incident during the Padres' home opener Thursday.

The Giants' Angel Pagan spied a piece of gum in the batter's box. He picked it up and tried to fling it away, but he said the gum stuck to his batting glove, so the gum landed at the feet of Padres catcher Derek Norris.

That prompted a rebuke from Norris, and the next pitch came in high and tight from Craig Kimbrel, at 97 mph.

After the game, Norris threw a verbal brushback pitch at Pagan.

"I don't come into center field and throw gum at him when he's playing defense," Norris said.

Pagan said Norris blew the incident far out of proportion. Norris said Pagan was being "kind of a ... ."

That's a swinging friar right there.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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