John Donovan
Thursday January 20th, 2005

Next week, pitchers and catchers. Shortly after that, the whole thing starts.

Before we get into Cacti and Grapefruit, though, we have a few leftovers from an offseason that was filled with questionable trades, head-scratching signings and a lot of baffling news. Questions? Yeah, we have some, starting with that whole Pudge Rodriguez thing and the Detroit Tigers.

So before Spring Training arrives, let's clean up the inbox ...

I am curious as to why the Tigers are not turning up on many lists for having one of the best offseasons. I know that guys like Jason Johnson, Rondell White and Fernando Vina were not highly sought after names, but they are quality players. Plus, who would have thought they had any shot at Pudge Rodriguez? I know that they will still be lucky to win 80 games, but the mere fact that they have put themselves back on the map has to be considered a major accomplishment after having one of the most horrendous seasons in baseball history. -- Chauncey Husted, East Lansing, Mich.

Hard to argue with you there, Chauncey. The Tigers were going to be better, regardless. I mean, how could they be any worse? But they've done a lot, and a lot of it has been good. They should be much better. The key to getting better is Rodriguez. He will help a team that has lost its way. Don't expect a lot of power, though. Remember, he hit only 16 homers in his first season away from The Ballpark in Arlington last season, and Comerica is not a home run park. Rodriguez's real value comes defensively and in the veteran presence he'll carry into a clubhouse that badly needs leadership. If the Tigers get to 70 wins this season -- even in the weak American League Central -- it'd be a huge improvement.

John, call me crazy, but I think the Tigers can hang in the weak AL Central this season. Minnesota lost some solid pitching, Cleveland is going young, the White Sox have a first-year manager and always seem to blow it, and K.C. doesn't really scare me. What do you think? -- Paul Brown, Plymouth, Mich.

You're right in that the Twins look to have come back a bit to the weak pack. Losing relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado hurt badly, and they traded lefty Eric Milton to Philly and also lost pitchers Rick Reed and Kenny Rogers. When catcher A.J. Pierzynski was traded to San Francisco, that was a killer, too. But they did re-sign Shannon Stewart, who finally got them going last season. And they have a lot of solid talent, guys like Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones, and a rookie catcher, Joe Mauer, who has star potential. Minnesota's still in it -- they won the thing last season, remember. And, I agree, I don't see Cleveland doing anything, and Chicago's offseason has not been a good one. To me, it's between Minnesota and ...

Why no mention of the Royals signing the likes of Benito Santiago and Juan Gonzalez? Juan may just be the greatest free agent signing in K.C. history. -- Daniel Wesley, Kansas City, Kansas

I love what the Royals have done. Gonzalez could have a huge year playing for Tony Pena, though Kauffman Stadium isn't going to be as friendly as it once was (they're moving the fences back 10 feet). Still, what a lineup they've got going, with rookie of the year Angel Berroa, Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Juan Gone ... man. Santiago, too, is a solid signing for the Royals. He's older, but he's a guy who looks like he could last another 10 years. The fences moving back will help the Royals' pitching staff, which had a 6.01 ERA at home last season. Not sure if the Royals are the favorites in the AL Central, but I like them.

I'm a big Cubs fan and I've been following the Greg Maddux negotiations with interest. With Scott Boras still trying to create a market that doesn't really exist for an aging pitcher, why is he still representing him? After the A-Rod fiasco, you would think more players would just fire their agents and represent themselves like Curt Schilling did. Avoid the middleman and go where you really want to go and play for a team you feel comfortable with. I mean look at Ivan Rodriguez. He went to arguably the worse team in the majors without any chance of winning this decade instead of staying with the Marlins or going to the Cubs for less money. Is this another case of more bad advice from Boras to follow the money? -- Tuan D., Moline, Ill.

Boras is coming under a lot of fire, which is funny because he got A-Rod $252 million! Can't forget that. Maybe the Rangers can't do anything with A-Rod making that money, but he has $252 million to cushion that fall. Boras did his job. Look, Boras is trying to squeeze a lot out of a flailing market, no question, and maybe that hurt Pudge and maybe it will hurt Maddux. But Boras still swings a big negotiating stick. My guess: He'll get Maddux more than he would have earned a few weeks ago. We'll see.

Do the A's have enough pitching with their starters and bullpen to win the AL West? -- Arto Boyadjian, Newark, Calif.

If you look at the player movement in Oakland this offseason, the A's have a lot more on the debit side than the credit side. They lost closer Keith Foulke, slugger Jose Guillen and All-Star Miguel Tejada, all big hits to take. And I don't think Mark Kotsay and Bobby Kielty will make up for Guillen and Tejada. But, yeah, the A's still have Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. And I like their pickup of Mark Redman. The A's still will be good. But watch out for the Angels and the Mariners, who have improved. It'll be a dogfight in the AL West again.

I haven't been able to find any information concerning the injured outfield of the Cincinnati Reds. All three of the starters had season-ending injuries last season. So, what's the deal? Is Griffey back? How about Dunn or Kearns? I really believe that they still have potential to be the best outfield in baseball (from an offensive perspective). So, for this lifelong Reds fans, can we forget about the Rose issue and inform us die-hard fans of the condition of the superstars of today? -- Brian Baldwin, Orem, Utah

This is how the Reds' luck goes. They sign John Vander Wal -- hardly a superstar -- and he hurts his knee shoveling snow. He could be gone for the season. So much for that backup outfielder and bench bat. Griffey, supposedly, will be ready for Spring Training. But we've heard that before. Kearns had shoulder surgery, and he's taking it slowly coming back, but he should be close to ready. Dunn had a bad thumb and should be ready to go. Don't know how much that will help a team that didn't do much of anything in the offseason.

My question to you is about the NY Mets. With the little bit of experience Ty Wiggington, Jose Reyes and Jason Phillips got to see last year and with the few trades/moves they did make, assuming Mike Piazza stays healthy, what REALISTIC chances would you give them to make a run for the NL wild card spot. -- Eric, Somers, N.Y.

REALISTIC? Not much of a chance. The wild card in the National League, if I had to guess right now, could come out of the East. But it won't be the Mets. I can see Florida, Philly and even a depleted Atlanta team finishing better than the Mets. And there's always the NL West to look out for, if you're looking for a wild card already.

I am a Brewers fan and even worked for the politician who voted for the tax for Miller Park (he lost the recall election because of that). What are the chances that someone will buy the team and make it competitive? The new owner should know that Wisconsin fans are die-hard and will root for a team that makes an effort. -- Eric Mutchie, LaCrosse, Wisc.

If you want to list the assets for the Brewers, they have that leaky park going for them. They have some good prospects in Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy. They have revenue sharing money. And they won't have the Seligs any longer. The fans ... well, I don't know. When Miller Park opened, they drew 2.8 million. Which was good. But last year, they drew only 1.7 million, 13th in the 16-team NL. Granted, they didn't have a team, either. And, with a $30 million payroll, they may not have one this year worth going to see. Still, someone will buy the Brewers. Eventually. What will the team go for? Well, Arte Moreno bought the Anaheim Angels, with a good park in a lot bigger market, for $183 million. I'd think $200 million is about the limit for the Milwaukee franchise.

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