PHOENIX – Considering what has gone on in their camps the past month, you would not have blamed Kenny Williams and Ned Colletti had they fallen into each others' arms Thursday afternoon, when the Dodgers had the White Sox up from Tucson for a spring ballgame.
Williams has been sitting on two third basemen all spring, veteran Joe Crede and prospect Josh Fields, the two separated in age by fewer than five years but in salary by more than $4.5 million. That's an easy decision these days in Chicago, particularly with Crede, 10 months out of back surgery, looking like it's going to take him a while to find his stroke.
Asked for an update on Crede's spring, Ozzie Guillen leaned against the dugout rail and was ever delicate in his analysis.
"Health good," he said. "Fielding good. Hitting horsesh--. Real bad."
That would be a .135 batting average and two extra-base hits in 37 at-bats, followed by three more fruitless at-bats Thursday, dragging the whole thing down to .125.
"The hitting," Guillen reaffirmed, "is just pathetic."
And that's too bad for Williams, too bad for Crede and, ultimately, too bad for the Dodgers. Because otherwise, Crede to the Dodgers would make a lot of sense.
Colletti had his two leading third basemen go down over about 30 minutes on a single afternoon two weeks ago, first Nomar Garciaparra and then Andy LaRoche, and neither looks like he'll be standing come opening day.
Since a short and uneventful conversation a few weeks ago, Williams and Colletti not only haven't given in to the temptation of my-surplus-for-your-famine but also they have refrained from the awkward hug.
Nobody is desperate in March, maybe not even the Dodgers, which would explain why Crede remains in black even as the league goes through a down cycle for prototypical third basemen. More than a third of baseball is fielding third basemen that are patched together from different parts of the roster or flat don't fit the big-bat, broad-shoulders mold. Then again, it might be wrong to assume Crede still is one of those; clearly, many GMs are wary.
Crede stood under a hot sun at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, moved around with reasonable dexterity, made all the plays at third, and didn't hit a ball hard, confirming Guillen's scouting report. And despite all the talk about sending Fields to Triple-A if Crede isn't traded, you wonder, in a critical season for Williams and Guillen, if they might opt for Fields based solely on playing the best player. Fields hasn't exactly torn up the Cactus League (two extra-base hits in 34 at-bats), but he's batting .265 and getting on base (.350).
This is where the decision gets dicey for Guillen (and Williams), who, in one breath, vowed to field the team he believed would win baseball games, and in another said, "I don't worry about Joe. Joe is Joe. He's a good hitter."
Just the idea of pulling that trigger pushed Guillen into a fun little rant, in which he promised to have his 25-man roster by the end of next week, before the White Sox travel to Oklahoma City and Memphis for exhibition games. He said he intended to board that jet carrying none of the pressures of working and reworking that list, which this spring has included situating his outfield, third base, second base and the bullpen, so that he could fully enjoy "a couple beers" and "get my liver ready for the season."
The Dodgers, meanwhile, really could use some production out of third base, considering they'll have young guys (or Juan Pierre) in the corner-outfield spots, Andruw Jones trying to emerge from a year-long slump in center and Jeff Kent nursing a bum hamstring. In recent seasons – in fact, since the first half of the 2006 season – waiting on Garciaparra to be Garciaparra has proved to be a deeply disappointing endeavor.
"Nomar, before he got hurt, he was swinging the bat really well," Joe Torre said. "He certainly was a different player than what I'm told he looked like last year."
If it seems hard to believe the Dodgers could put that much trust in a week and a half of spring games, or 16 at-bats, some of them in February, it is. What they're really trying to gauge is when LaRoche will return and if Garciaparra at least can get them into May. Garciaparra hasn't played anything close to a full season since 2003, however, and if the Dodgers aren't going to acquire a regular third baseman, they probably are going to have to feather in a handful of minor leaguers until LaRoche – who has fewer than 100 big-league at-bats himself – is healed from his thumb injury.
That means, for the moment, no Crede, no Brandon Inge, no Eric Chavez, no Ty Wigginton, no Hank Blalock, no Jose Bautista. Not that Colletti probably hasn't thought about all of them. They won't be pulling Shea Hillenbrand or Jeff Cirillo into camp, or talking Bill Mueller, currently an advisor to Colletti, out of retirement. Instead, the Dodgers are thinking Blake DeWitt could make the leap from Double-A, and/or mixing in Tony Abreu, Chin Lung-Hu and Ramon Martinez.
"We're going to see how long Nomar's going to be out," Colletti said. "That'll go a long way to figure out what we're going to do over there."
They probably can't go wrong assuming the worst, seeing as both Garciaparra and Torre wouldn't dismiss Garciaparra's starting the season on the disabled list. Garciaparra's recent history suggests he doesn't recover like a young man anymore.
And that brings us back to Crede, who could have been a one-season-and-out solution, and is hitting .125 instead.
"Am I saying that if an opportunity came up to make a deal you wouldn't listen to it? No," Torre said, speaking generally, but not so generally. "But I'm not sure you sell your future to get a player you're not sure is going to play."