ROSEMONT, Ill. — Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, has been hesitant discussing the option. He's been trying to ignore the temptation of even listening to offers. But now, all of a sudden, he might not have a choice.
The Padres, with the defection Sunday afternoon of third baseman Eddie Williams to the Daiei Hawks of the Japanese League, are considering the possibility of trading away Bip Roberts. Yes, that's the same man who was voted their Most Valuable Player of the 1990 season with a career-high .309 batting average and 46 stolen bases.
"I'm not eager to trade Bip Roberts; he adds a lot of heart and soul to this team," McIlvaine said. "But right now, we have a problem, and we're looking around.
"There's no question we need to find a third baseman, but we don't know whether it'll be a starter or a backup."
The Padres, according to sources within the organization, have set up meetings this week to discuss the possibility of acquiring Gary Sheffield of Milwaukee, Craig Worthington of Baltimore or Ken Caminiti of Houston. Worthington and Caminiti are strictly third basemen; Sheffield also plays shortstop.
"I can't discuss particular players with you because of tampering charges," McIlvaine said, "but I can tell you we're definitely looking around."
The sudden urgency of the Padres' desire for a third baseman arose Sunday when Williams signed a two-year, $1.2-million contract that included an option year. Williams, who batted .316 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs with the Padres' triple-A Las Vegas team and .286 in 14 games with the Padres, was expected to compete with Roberts for the starting third-base job. At worst, he was scheduled to be the backup.
"There's no doubt this hurts us," McIlvaine said, "but I wasn't going to stop him from going to Japan for that kind of money."
Williams, 26, a San Diego native, said: "It was a difficult decision, but to me, it was a situation I just couldn't pass up. I talked to the Padres, but they couldn't guarantee whether I'd start at third base with Bip there. I'm just not content to be in the big leagues to sit on the bench.
"There's no secret I was disgusted about the situation last year. It didn't make any sense that they weren't playing me. That's the only disappointing thing about this, that at my age, I'm out of the big leagues."
The move leaves Roberts as the Padres' lone third baseman, a prospect with which McIlvaine apparently is uncomfortable. It's not as if Roberts is incapable of playing the position on an everyday basis, McIlvaine said, but there remains a nagging concern.
"We're worried about his durability," McIlvaine said. "What happens if he gets hurt the first day of the season? What happens then?"
Roberts, 5-feet-7, 160 pounds, has been susceptible to nagging injuries the past two seasons, but none that have required stints on the disabled list. The Padres, however, are worried that the rigors of playing every day at third would be too taxing. They instead would like him to continue as their primary utility player. In that role last season, he started 68 games in left field, 46 games at third base, 13 at shortstop and eight games at second base.
"I don't want to get traded and uproot my family again," Roberts said, "but I guess we're like baseball cards, you can trade any of us.
"I really hope to stay, and I'd love to be at third every day. It'd be nice to have a place to play, instead of bouncing around like the last three years."
The Padres still have the option of trying to retain third baseman Mike Pagliarulo, who filed for free agency. But Pagliaurlo revealed Sunday that he will not return to the Padres to be the backup again. It might be a moot point anyway, said Padre Manager Greg Riddoch, who doesn't want him back.
"It's hard for me to believe," Pagliarulo said, "because in my mind, they don't have a real third baseman. I think I can help them. But I'm going back into a situation where I'm told I'll be the starter and find myself on the bench."
Pagliarulo, who checked into the hotel headquarters of the winter meetings Sunday afternoon, said that he has meetings scheduled today with four teams--the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Kansas City Royals and another team that he refused to divulge.
"I'm going to tell some of these guys if I can't play any better than the guy you got," Pagliarulo said, "I'll give you your money back at the end of the season."
And while the Padres continue to hunt for a right-handed reliever and a shortstop, they also are preparing themselves for the possiblity of finding a first baseman. Clubs were informed that a decision on the new-look free agents will be made within a week, possibly as early as Wednesday, which could provide free agency to Padre first baseman Jack Clark.
The Padres have had discussions with free-agent first basemen Sid Bream of Pittsburgh and Ron Kittle of the Baltimore Orioles, but have not made any offers.
The Padres are exploring the possibility of moving their spring-training facilities to Glendale, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, according to a Padre front-office executive who asked to remain anonymous. The Padres still have a contract with Yuma, Ariz., that expires in 1991, and General Manager Joe McIlvaine said he will meet further with Yuma officials this week. "It's premature to say anything now," McIlvaine said. . . . The Padres are planning to select a pitcher in today's Rule 5 major league draft. Although McIlvaine said the draft pool is weak this year, he says there's an available pitcher who will benefit the Padres. The Padres must pay $50,000 for the draft selection, and are required to keep the player on the major-league roster the entire season or offer him back to his original team for $25,000. . . . McIlvaine said the Padres will not enter the bidding for free agent third baseman Terry Pendleton, who was offered a four-year, $10.5 million contract by the Atlanta Braves.