12/12/07 3:00 PM ET
Fields appears poised for third
White Sox expected to tender Crede a contract by deadline
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
This down time also seemingly presented Fields an opportunity to jump on the Internet and check out the rumors related to his White Sox team or to him specifically. But seeking out morsels of information doesn't fall remotely close to how Fields has operated during the offseason, and a few icy roads weren't about to alter such a plan.
Fields hasn't spent any time worrying about his inclusion in the young package of talent offered by the White Sox to Florida for Miguel Cabrera, as an example, and hasn't tried to figure out the White Sox 'Who's on third' saga raging on between himself and veteran Joe Crede. Instead, Fields works on his game, heartily preparing for the somewhat unknown in relation to the 2008 season.
"What's funny is I don't hear much of what's going on in baseball," Fields told MLB.com with a laugh, during a recent phone interview. "A friend of mine actually called me and told me we got [Orlando] Cabrera.
"With the more you sit and speculate as to how things will play out, you can drive yourself crazy and ruin your offseason. Until something happens and is done and written down, I can't sit here and expect anything or look forward to anything. I have to be ready for everything because crazy things can happen in baseball."
Playing third base stands as the one certainty for Fields as he views the upcoming season. But Fields remains unsure as to whether he will be anchoring the hot corner in Chicago, for another Major League team or for Triple-A Charlotte.
After knocking out 23 home runs and driving home 67 runs in 373 at-bats over 100 games as a 2007 replacement for the injured Crede, a Minor League return seems highly unlikely for this potential All-Star with the bat. Fields ranked first among American League rookies in home runs and slugging percentage (.480), finishing fourth in extra-base hits (41) and fifth in multi-hit games (31).
His 125 strikeouts also gave Fields the 14th-highest total in the entire American League, but general manager Ken Williams pointed out at last week's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., how Fields' sum of whiffs should decrease with experience.
"He profiled in the Minors as a guy who will be on-base, with power and run production," said Williams of the team's 2004 top pick in the First-Year Player Draft, who struck out a combined 278 times between Double-A Birmingham in 2005 and Triple-A Charlotte in 2006, but also posted on-base percentages of .341 and .379, respectively.
Williams also spoke at the Meetings about how the organization had reached a decision regarding its wealth of talent at third base, but he was not yet ready to reveal the chosen one. Even without Williams' direct confirmation, Fields appears to be the selection.
Crede, who turns 29 on April 26, is said to be progressing nicely following in-season back surgery and will be ready to compete come Spring Training. In 2006, his last full season, Crede won the Silver Slugger Award at third base via his .283 average, 30 home runs and 94 RBIs.
But Crede remains available via trade because the 2008 season marks the last year the White Sox hold contractual control over arguably its most valuable player during the 2005 postseason run. Team inquiries during 2007 for a possible extension were rebuffed by Scott Boras, Crede's agent, according to Williams, with Williams adding that the Crede camp wanted to play out 2008 and then see where they stood.
Although the White Sox are fully expected to tender Crede a contract by tonight's midnight ET deadline, they are not hopeful in keeping him through free agency next year. So, Fields logically slides into the starting slot.
There was a time where it looked like both Fields and Crede would be in the same starting lineup, with Fields in left field. But 21 starts in the outfield last year were enough to convince the White Sox that Fields belonged at third, where he finished up the season.
Even before Williams announced this decision during an offseason conference call, Fields knew his position. He was informed by manager Ozzie Guillen and bench coach Joey Cora as he was leaving to return home after the 2007 season's last game against Detroit.
"First of all, they told me I wasn't in trouble, which was good," said Fields with a laugh of his meeting with Guillen and Cora. "They said it wasn't anything I did or didn't do.
"They felt that for the direction the organization was going, they wanted me to concentrate on third base. I didn't necessarily screw up in the outfield -- I actually didn't do too badly after getting tossed out there -- but they were looking out for the organization and for me, which felt good."
Left field wasn't always kind to Fields, although two scouts who watched the soon-to-be 25-year-old told MLB.com that he showed the instincts to handle the position with time. Fields actually enjoyed his outfield experience, getting a chance to relax a little more and talk with the fans, as compared to the intensity playing third.
His return to third base from the outfield in the season's final week, a harbinger of long-term possibilities to come, also improved Fields' mental approach on defense. When he first came to the Majors on a full-time basis on June 6, Fields had the quintessential rookie fear of playing defense to simply avoid making mistakes.
When he hadn't played the position for three or four weeks, Fields found himself surprisingly more relaxed.
"I learned something with the mental side of playing third base I didn't know before," Fields said. "I came back to third base with the attitude of, 'I haven't played here in over a month, so if I make a mistake, just move on to the next chance.' I actually felt more comfortable having not played there than when I first came up.
"If you are thinking of what bad can happen, something bad usually is going to happen. Going back to third the last week or so helped me feel a lot better mentally."
Offseason defensive work continues for Fields under the long-distance tutelage of Cora, an outstanding middle infield glove man during his playing days. Fields continues to work on his hands with the "infant-sized glove," as he explains it, which Cora had him use last season. Fields currently is doing agility drills from his knees, but he has a progressive timetable set in order to be up to speed upon arrival in Tucson, Ariz.
"Having an instructor like [Cora] take me through drills really will help me out," Fields said.
So, Fields continues to prepare as a featured member of the White Sox, although his exact role might not be defined until Spring Training. With that level of underlying uncertainty, Fields would rather work hard and enjoy his offseason than read and worry about what might be.
"Basically, I'm waiting to get told where I'm going to be," Fields said. "Knowing Joe and myself, whatever happens, I'm sure will turn out good and positive."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.