TEMPE, Ariz. – It's late afternoon on March 31, the Los Angeles Angels are in Minnesota, Francisco Liriano's pitching for the Twins, and Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Garret Anderson and Gary Matthews Jr. are reasonably healthy and ready to play.
Mike Scioscia, hang your lineup.
"There are a lot of things to consider," Scioscia said.
Hunter in center. That's what we know, though Scioscia might remind him not to report to center field until the bottom of the first.
Guerrero in right. Again, assuming his legs are good and his elbow is sound and he gets to balls (and catches them) in spring training, all reasonable expectations.
"There's the turf in Minnesota," Scioscia mentioned, adding he wasn't sure he wanted a fragile body to start the season rattling around on that for four days.
So, in left, that eliminates the 35-year-old Anderson, who has suffered from lower-body issues in recent seasons. Or, perhaps, Matthews, who is recovering from tendonitis in his knee after choosing rehab over surgery this winter.
The guy remaining is the designated hitter, which doesn't sound like bad duty. But, Guerrero has been adamant – in English, even – about playing right field every day. And Anderson expects to play left. And Matthews, among the more elegant defensive outfielders in the game, is, at this stage in their careers, a more capable defender than Anderson. Except Matthews averaged two games in left over the past four seasons, while Anderson primarily has been a left fielder in his career and played nowhere but there since 2005.
Only a year ago, Matthews was signed to steady the Angels' outfield defense, particularly in center field, and particularly next to Guerrero, who still had the big arm but even then was beginning to have slide-toward-DH episodes. Now, with the addition of Hunter and his seven Gold Gloves, Matthews has been advised to learn the corners and get used to the idea of being a part-time DH, while Scioscia has talked about rotating all three through the DH spot.
So, about Minnesota …
"These guys know the situation," Scioscia said. "We'll wait until we get there to see what direction we have to go."
They sit, left to right, Matthews-Hunter-Guerrero-Anderson, along the same wall in the clubhouse here. Not exactly side by side, but close enough. They'll go something like that – flip Hunter and Guerrero, probably – in the lineup.
They are veterans, All-Stars, in or around their primes and, combined, will take in about 40 percent of Arte Moreno's $120 million payroll. The Angels' season, expected to run into October and perhaps well into it, will turn on their job satisfaction and therefore their run production, and on Scioscia's capacity for managing it.
"In a perfect world in which there are no injuries, he's going to have his hands full," Anderson said. "Very full."
Anderson smiled. He is the only Angels player left from Scioscia's first season as manager in 2000.
"Knowing him," he said, "he might like it."
Scioscia certainly isn't ducking the issue. He figures running three of them through DH – getting them off their feet while still feeding them at-bats – is a reasonable method of maintaining their bodies. He probably figures the usual scrapes of the season will dictate who gets held out of the outfield at least some of the time. And he insists the worst scenario is to have one of them play himself into a full-time DH.
Anderson is still not buying.
"I look at it as that's my job," he said. "All these years, I've been a left fielder, so that's my job. And that's what I want to do."
He made clear he was not declaring himself a better left fielder than Matthews.
"It's all subjective to say you're better than somebody else," he said.
A few lockers down, Matthews dabbed at the subject with his left foot, pawing carefully at the carpet. However it goes, whoever gets the majority of time in left, he seemed reasonably OK with it.
"My view is we're compensated really well for what we do," he said. "We step in here to win ballgames. I'm just like the next guy; you want to know your role and what you're doing. The only thing that's given is everybody's going to play every day. Everyone's going to have to make an adjustment. And you have to go out and do your job without talking about it."
Of them all, Matthews is the only one who has been shoved entirely out of his position. He was at home in Southern California when management called to say it had come to an agreement with Hunter. And, no, his first thought was not, "Man, Torii'll make a great left fielder."
Hunter has been a great friend of his for many years. Matthews was glad to have him. And, so long, center field.
"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a little pride of ownership being a center fielder," he said. "I don't think they expected me to be doing back flips about not playing center field.
"But, when I look at all these things, I've got everything I ever wanted in this game, except a championship. I get to play at home, in front of my family. I'm on a winning team. We have a really balanced lineup that can win games. So, I really try and find the positives and think about them. As a player, you can cry about it or you can go out and handle business."
Or, of course, they can cry about it and Scioscia can go out and handle business. Their call.
"I don't think there's any player in that group that wants to DH," Scioscia said. But, he added, "There won't be a daily discussion. As we approach the start of the season, we're going to understand where every player is."
Right. One in right, one in center, one in left and one, take a breath, at DH.
Or, to put it as Guerrero did recently, "No. No."