TEMPE, Ariz. – Gary Matthews Jr. arrived at work Tuesday morning carrying his breakfast in a paper bag, one more thing to-go.
Half the contents of his locker was stuffed into a nearby blue duffel bag. The other half was destined for a cardboard box beside the bag. Pretty soon, everyone will be gone. No one, it seems, will beat Matthews out the door.
He'd barely settled in the clubhouse when his boss asked him for a few minutes and pointed to a conference room down the hall. Tony Reagins was waiting when Matthews got there.
The Los Angeles Angels are going through starting pitchers at a rate of, like, one per day. Their new closer has an ERA around 10. Like everybody else, they're thinking through the last few roster spots, and getting the moving van packed for home, and wondering if they'll have enough big league arms on that truck to get through April.
And now they've got an unhappy Matthews.
Really, very unhappy.
His heart and head tell him he's the starting center fielder, but he'll settle for a corner spot. His employers tell him he's the fourth outfielder at best, maybe the fifth.
But Matthews didn't get knee surgery and turn a nine-month rehab into four and get after it all spring to start the season on the bench. Not at 34 years old. Not after the last year-and-a-half playing atop a wobbly, throbbing knee. Not when he so clearly believes he deserves better.
This is all quite troubling to the Angels, of course. They agreed to pay him $50 million and he hadn't taken a single at-bat before he turned up in the HGH scandal, leading them to wonder if they'd ever get the guy who hit .313 the season before. He hasn't played very well for them, and maybe that's because his knee has bothered him since 2007 and maybe it's not, but they feel as though he could have had the surgery at least a year before he did, which was in November.
"We agree to disagree on that," Matthews said.
Along the way, the Angels signed Torii Hunter for center field, and Juan Rivera for left field, and Bobby Abreu to fit in around the corners, basically because at every point they needed to decide whether Matthews would – or could – help them. They reached the same conclusion every time.
"Now," Matthews said, "here we are. We have a problem."
Mike Scioscia notified Matthews on Sunday, and Matthews spent that afternoon on the phone with his dad, Gary Sr., and his brother, Del, who works in baseball operations for the Chicago White Sox. By Tuesday morning, Matthews' head was in the same place; he's a starting outfielder.
"It's going to be here," he said, "or it's going to be somewhere else."
The Angels say a baseball season has ways of working these things out.
"I'm not willing to wait around until they find out," Matthews said. "It's going to have to get resolved."
The Angels say they're playing Matthews better than reasonable money – $33 million over the next three seasons – to be one of their outfielders, whether it's the first or fifth. They say they're not inclined to swallow the contract, especially now that Matthews might be healthy for the first time. They could trade him and take a huge loss on the contract, but they need him on their bench. He wants to go, but he doesn't yet see the path.
"I don't know yet," he said. "I don't have an answer for that yet."
He's, well, adamant. So are the Angels.
"Gary's made it very clear what he feels," Scioscia said. "Look, the way he loves the game and prepares himself, none of that's going to change. We're going to move forward. Gary's got a role he's not happy with now. I know he's going to keep working hard and at some point the passion for the game takes over. And I know it'll happen with Gary."
So, as Matthews himself said, here we are. He gets how this might look. It's a bad time to be displeased with one's job, particularly when it pays like his does.
But, now that he feels like he's actually able to play the game again, they're not going to let him. Now that he won't have to get up every morning thinking about getting his knee through a game, the game is gone. Now that the two-a-day rehabs are done, he might as well still be on a crutch.
He worked too hard not to be disappointed now. To be angry now.
"I'm proud of the way I approached the spring, the way I handled it," he said. "I've come so far, I don't think anybody understands. If fans get that, then they'll understand where I'm coming from.
"I just want to play to the best of my ability. I want to play up to what my talent says it should be. I should be figuring out how to be my absolute best against the other guys every day. I should be playing the game."
The Angels did the right thing, protecting themselves against another of Matthews' lost seasons. They couldn't count on Mark Teixeira returning. They didn't know what Vladimir Guerrero would look like when he got to camp.
So, they got other guys.
"It is what it is," Matthews said. "But, my performance says otherwise. It says I should be playing."
Or, he'd like to go.