Angels owner Arte Moreno signaled Friday he might challenge outfielder Josh Hamilton's ability to collect his full salary, an effort that would trigger a heated battle with the players' union and could wind up in an arbitration hearing.
Moreno pointedly declined to say that Hamilton would play another game for the Angels.
"I will not say that," Moreno said before the Angels' home opener, a 4-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
A grievance hearing could be the precursor to a settlement that would end Hamilton's tenure in Anaheim.
When the Angels signed Hamilton in 2012 — six years after baseball had reinstated him following a two-year suspension for drug and alcohol abuse — Moreno said the Angels had not inserted additional language to protect the team against a relapse. An arbitrator ruled last week that Hamilton, who reported a relapse last winter, had not violated baseball's drug policy and thus could not be suspended.
However, on Friday, Moreno said the team indeed had included such language and had it approved by Hamilton, the league and the union. Moreno also said the contracts of other Angels players had similar provisions.
"We have a contract with Hamilton and that contract has specific language, that he signed and that was approved, that said he could not drink or use drugs," Moreno said.
Moreno said he is exploring whether to enforce that language.
"There is the possibility of pursuing it," he said.
The Major League Baseball Players Assn. said such language had not been approved and in any case could not override baseball's bargaining agreements.
"The MLBPA emphatically denies … Arte Moreno's assertions … that the Angels had requested and received the approval of the union to insert language into Josh Hamilton's contract that would supersede the provisions of the Joint Drug Agreement and/or the Basic Agreement," the MLBPA said in a statement.
"To the contrary, the collectively bargained provisions of the JDA and the Basic Agreement supersede all other player contract provisions and explicitly prevent Clubs from exactly the type of action Mr. Moreno alluded to."
The Angels owe Hamilton $83 million through 2017. Moreno dismissed the chorus of national critics who attributed the team's disappointment in last week's arbitration ruling as frustration over the team's apparent inability to void at least part of the contract, which would result in millions of dollars in savings.
"It was not about money," Moreno said. "Nothing about money."
The Angels did not invite Hamilton for the home opener. The other three players on the disabled list joined the team and participated in uniform — including pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who is out for the season.
The Angels also have not provided Hamilton a locker in their clubhouse, as they have for the other injured players.
Moreno said he has not spoken to Hamilton since the outfielder reported his relapse to the league. Hamilton met with league officials in New York on Feb. 25.
Moreno said he was "disappointed" in Hamilton.
"More than anything, we look at accountability," Moreno said. "With all of our players and all of our employees, we look for accountability.
"We understand he's had troubles and he's still having troubles. But the reality is, there is accountability when you make an agreement."
Hamilton, 33, the American League most valuable player in 2010, signed a five-year, $125-million contract with the Angels after the 2012 season. In his first two years in Anaheim, each marred by injury, he hit .255 with 31 home runs.
Hamilton is rehabilitating an injured shoulder in Houston, according to the Angels. He is not expected to be ready to play until at least May.