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Gary Matthews Jr.: Angels' not-too-thrilled fifth outfielder

Matthews gets the news and takes the day off. Nobody's saying whether the player requested or demanded a trade during a closed-door meeting.

March 30, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — While his teammates dressed and boarded a bus for their exhibition game Sunday morning, Gary Matthews Jr. changed out of his uniform, pulled on his street clothes and left Angels camp.

Told in a meeting with Manager Mike Scioscia and General Manager Tony Reagins that he would begin this season as the Angels' fifth outfielder, Matthews did not take the news very well.

Instead of traveling with the team to play the Texas Rangers in Surprise, Ariz., Matthews asked for and received permission to take the day off, a 24-hour cooling-off period apparently necessary.

"Just give me a day, guys, OK?" Matthews said when approached by reporters. "Thanks."

Asked whether he was getting traded, Matthews said, "No."

Scioscia, Reagins and Scott Leventhal, Matthews' agent, would not say whether Matthews, in the third year of a five-year, $50-million contract, had requested a trade in the meeting, which was initiated by the manager and the general manager.

But Matthews, who hit .242 with eight home runs and 46 runs batted in during an injury-plagued 2008 season, in which he lost his starting job to Juan Rivera in late June, is willing to waive his no-trade clause for a deal to a team that wants him as a starter.

The problem: Matthews is coming off knee surgery and needs to play regularly for an extended period for any team to seriously consider trading for him. And with Matthews due $33 million over the next three years, his contract is virtually impossible to move.

The Angels would have to eat a huge chunk of the contract to trade Matthews, and they're not about to pay $20 million to $25 million for the switch-hitter to tear it up for some other club.

One possible solution would be to trade Matthews' contract for another bad contract, one belonging to a player, such as a starting pitcher, who might be a better fit for the Angels.

Matthews seems to have two options at this point. He could be a team player, keep quiet and accept whatever role the Angels give him.

Or, he could become such a distraction, perhaps by popping off regularly about his dissatisfaction, that he could leave the Angels little choice but to trade or release him, much as Manny Ramirez did with the Boston Red Sox last July.

"No," Reagins said, when asked whether he was concerned Matthews could become a distraction. "When you're honest with a player, the outcome can be positive. When you're not honest and forthright with a player, that's when it can go the other way."

It was thought that Matthews' strong and early return from knee surgery -- he's batting .258 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 12 spring games and has looked very good running the bases -- might lead to at least a platoon role with Rivera.

But Scioscia and Reagins, who have met with Matthews several times this spring, told him Sunday that Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter and Rivera are ahead of him on the team's outfield-designated hitter depth chart.

"Gary has made it clear to us that he wants to play every day, but right now, that's not where we're at," Scioscia said. "That's not to say it won't happen at some point of the season. . . . He's playing well and showing he's healthy, but we have Rivera, who we're going to give a look to."

Leventhal, who has been in contact with Reagins, thought Matthews had done enough this spring to get his old job back.

"The way he attacked his rehabilitation, the way he recovered, the speed he showed on the field, we felt he'd be in a position to be an everyday guy," Leventhal said. "Obviously, the Angels think differently. What are you going to do?"

About the only certainty surrounding Matthews is that his future with the Angels looks very uncertain.

"As of today, he's going to be an extra outfielder," Reagins said. "We gave him an update on his status. We were very forthright, but the details of the meeting will remain behind closed doors."

Asked whether Matthews, as of Sunday, was in the Angels' opening-day plans, Reagins said, "Yes."

Asked whether Matthews would be an Angel a week from now, Reagins said, "This game changes on a daily basis."

Etc.

Josh Hamilton hit two home runs, a two-run shot in the first inning and a three-run shot in the second, against right-hander Sean O'Sullivan to lead the Rangers to a 13-7 victory over the Angels. . . . Guerrero, recovering from surgery on his right knee, played seven innings in right field and hit two doubles for the Angels. . . . Torii Hunter hit his fourth homer in his last four games, a two-run shot in the sixth inning. . . . Reliever Jose Arredondo retired the side in order in the sixth.

--

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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