"But we recruited him hard. Who wouldn't want a 50-homer guy? Nobody would say they wouldn't. We tried, the front office tried. I knew it was getting pretty close. I was getting real confident we'd get him. He's a great guy."
Tony Gwynn, one of Fielder's best friends, tried, too.
"He asked me how the ball travels in Dodger Stadium. I lied to him," said Gwynn. "I said, 'Not bad till June rolls around.'"
Hearing that, Kemp let out a sigh.
If Mattingly was similarly disappointed that Fielder's impact bat had gotten away, he wasn't saying. He was upbeat, confident his starting rotation is deep, the bullpen stronger and the offense sufficient.
"I can't look at us as the favorite with what Arizona did last year, and they had a good winter," said Mattingly, who became a grandfather for the first time earlier this month. "But if we go out and play the way we're capable and a lot of guys have their seasons, we're going to be right there at the end of the day.
"We had the best pitcher and the best player in the game and finished third. We need help from a lot of guys. It can't be one or two guys carrying us."
Mattingly revealed that reliever Blake Hawksworth, who had January cleanup surgery on his elbow, had a second procedure for an infection and won't be ready by Opening Day. Ted Lilly will be a few days late for the birth of his third child, but everyone else is expected on time and healthy.
Mattingly said the standout performances last year of Javy Guerra (21 saves) and Kenley Jansen (an MLB record with 16.10 strikeouts per nine innings), give him late-inning confidence.
"Going into camp I think Javy is the guy," he said, referring to the closer role with Jonathan Broxton now in Kansas City. "He's not Mariano [Rivera], where you don't have to think about anything else. He still has to perform. Javy didn't do anything to say he shouldn't be that guy, but Kenley is saying, 'I can be that guy, too.'"
Mattingly said A.J. Ellis is his primary catcher, with journeyman Matt Treanor the backup. Ellis is out of options, as are Scott Elbert, Trent Oeltjen, Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario (who also must serve a 25-game suspension once the season starts).
"A.J. has always been an on-base guy and, to be honest, he's had a lot of big hits," said Mattingly. "He's a guy that has to keep fighting. It's like you're always looking for something different, because he's not going hit 30 [homers] and knock your socks off. He does it quietly, a lot like Jamey Carroll. You don't appreciate him until you see him all the time."
The biggest question mark of the offense is Juan Uribe, whom Mattingly said will remain at third base and not serve as Dee Gordon's backup at shortstop. Indications on Uribe's offseason conditioning have been mixed.
"We'll find out when he gets here," Mattingly said.
Mattingly said Gordon will lead off with his game-changing speed and new second baseman Mark Ellis likely bats second, followed by Kemp and Ethier. Left fielder Juan Rivera probably follows, with Uribe, Loney and Ellis finishing out the lineup.
Mattingly said Jerry Sands will make the club if he's likely to get enough at-bats, which could come down to whether Ethier and/or Loney don't improve their averages against left-handed pitching.
"I hate the thought of a straight platoon and I'm not doing any bashing, but do the numbers and they weren't very good against left-handed pitching," Mattingly said. "We have an opportunity to mix and match."