Funny thing is, the guy who could get that spot -- though certainly not the front-runner -- was here Monday to receive an award.
Does that mean Dallas McPherson, in town to receive the Joe Bauman Award for leading the Minor Leagues in home runs, has a real shot at claiming the job? While there might be an opening and the various trade rumors swirl, McPherson is trying to avoid getting caught up in it all.
"You try not to pay attention to them too much," said McPherson, who hit 42 homers for Triple-A Albuquerque in 2008. "Of course when you hear something [on TV] or see something on the Web site, everyone's kind of curious about it. For the most part, you just kind of have to keep it in perspective and focus on Spring Training. ... It'll be a lot of competition [with] a lot of jobs to be won."
Last spring, McPherson got a invite to Marlins' big league camp with a possible opportunity to win the third-base job. Cantu had a better spring and took off from there. McPherson went down to Albuquerque and wasted no time hitting balls out. He had 10 homers in April and 32 in the first half of the season, reaching the All-Star break with a .674 slugging percentage. He slowed down in the second half, with only 10 long balls, but it was enough to lead all of the Minor Leagues and earn a big league callup in September.
"It's funny. I watched 'Bull Durham' the other day, talking about dubious honors for leading the Minors in home runs," the 28-year-old joked. "For me, I really appreciated the award. It meant a lot."
It was a triumph for McPherson to simply stay on the field pain-free all year. Once a top prospect for the Angels who hit 40 homers and drove in 126 runs in 2004, McPherson endured serious back problems that required surgery and allowed him to play just 22 games in '05 and 56 in '06. He missed all of the '07 season after back fusion surgery, so just getting the opportunity to compete was plenty for McPherson in '08.
"This year was a great year," McPherson said. "Of course, everyone wants to make it up to the big leagues. I did, although not as early as I wanted to. The main thing was I had fun playing again."
Could there be more in his future? He got just 11 big league at-bats at the end of last season, so it's not like he got a long audition. McPherson may face the same situation he did last spring, with the smallest hint of an opportunity at the big league level -- something only a huge camp could allow him to grab. The Marlins did trade Mike Jacobs away, meaning there's a left-handed-hitting power void to fill in Miami, even if it's just in a bench role. McPherson punished right-handed pitching in 2008, slugging .644 and hitting 33 of his 42 homers against righties.
Worst-case scenario, McPherson will head back to Triple-A and the Pacific Coast League. He won't, however, have the friendly confines of Albuquerque's Isotopes Park to help his numbers, since the Marlins now are affiliated with the New Orleans Zephyrs. McPherson hit .300 with 26 homers at home, just .244 with 16 long balls on the road. Still, it's not something he's overly concerned with.
"I think I'm up for it. It's definitely a hitter-friendly ballpark," McPherson admitted. "Fortunately, I've [homered] in that league before and I've done it in different ballparks, so it can't be tarnished too much."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.