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I don't know why I even bother linking to Hoynes when Castrovince gives much better answers to the same questions. In this issue: Is Valbuena ready for the big club? Just how much $$ is left to toss at some of these remaining free agents? How will Tribe fans respond to CC when he returns to the Jake wearing pinstripes (standing effing-O until his first pitch, if you have any decency in your soul)? And finally a bit of LaPorta, WBC and Byrd. Awesome as always:


The 12-player swap seems like a great move by Mark Shapiro. Are the Indians thinking of handing the second base job to Luis Valbuena right at the start? And Joe Smith seems like a young, great situational pitcher to shore up the 'pen. To only give up one player for two promising ones seems like the Indians got one of the better ends of the deal. Thoughts?

-- Alex D., Duluth, Minn.


The Indians got a pretty nice package in return for Gutierrez, who, as I've written before, simply doesn't strike me as an everyday player, given his offensive inconsistencies. Gutierrez is out of Minor League options and a year away from arbitration eligibility, which further complicated a Tribe outfield picture that already has Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo as locks for starting spots, David Dellucci eating up a roster spot with his contract, Ben Francisco worthy of big league consideration and prospects Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe knocking on the door in Triple-A.


Valbuena adds depth to the middle-infield picture. He's left-handed, which makes him a valuable complementary piece (he could potentially share second with Jamey Carroll), he possesses patience at the plate (a respectable 59 walks in 523 plate appearances in the Minors last season), and he's on the cusp of big league readiness. Plus, Valbuena has three Minor League option years remaining and is three full seasons away from arbitration.


Then you toss in Smith, who, in addition to bringing in a name straight out of the Witness Protection Program, adds another option to the always unpredictable bullpen. Smith is a ground-ball pitcher, which is always a plus in the 'pen, and he should match up well against right-handers. He also has an option year remaining.


Are these high-impact acquisitions? Not really. But when you look at what the Indians gave up and what they got back, it was a sound swap that dealt from a position of depth, added to two areas of need and did so with sound economic rationale.


There's nothing I'd like to see more than the Indians getting a new Ty for Christmas -- Ty Wigginton, that is. Realistically, though, should we expect the Tribe to be a big player for his services after the Kerry Wood signing?

-- Mike A., Mount Vernon, Ohio


The Indians have already expressed interest in Wigginton, who became a free agent Friday. But he might be out of their price range, considering he could have made upwards of $7 million or $8 million in arbitration. The Indians don't have the dough for any more high-profile, free-agent expenditures. So if they fill their infield void, it will likely be with a much cheaper alternative.


"With what we've done thus far," Shapiro said, "we've given ourselves the chance to be a little more patient with our offseason and look for the highest-upside guy."


I'm curious as to how CC Sabathia will be viewed by Tribe fans when he returns with the Yankees. When he was traded, I personally had no ill feelings and figured, when CC returned, he would be greeted much better than, say, Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez. But signing on with the Evil Empire is worse than if he'd not been traded and left via free agency. Still, I'm hard-pressed to want to have ill will toward a guy who, without a doubt, in his time in Cleveland left his heart and soul on the field every time he stepped on it.

-- Ian H., Findlay, Ohio


I'm just as curious as you, Ian. I am hopeful fans will do the right thing and give Sabathia a hearty cheer the first time he's announced as a Yankee at Progressive Field, then go back to business as usual, treating him as they would any other opposing starting pitcher.


But that scenario is completely unrealistic. The bitter ones will boo, the classy will cheer and the rest will have their hands and mouths full of hot dogs and nachos. Sounds like an electric atmosphere to me.


Given LaPorta's less-than-stellar Dominican Winter League showing (.164 average, two homers, 12 RBIs in 17 games), do you think he has a realistic shot at winning a 25-man spot out of camp?

-- Jeff K., Sacramento, Calif.


LaPorta never really had a realistic chance of making the club out of Spring Training to begin with. His immediate future is at Triple-A Columbus.


The Indians do not appear overly concerned with the uninspiring numbers LaPorta's put up since joining the organization in early July in the Sabathia trade, because they recognize this has been an abnormal year for him on several fronts. He'll be in Cleveland in January for the annual Minor League conditioning program, and he'll be in big league camp, as well.


I was wondering how many players from the Indians are going to be participating in the World Baseball Classic? I know Shin-Soo Choo wants to play for Korea, but do the Indians have other players representing their countries?

-- Hanbom Y., Scarsdale, N.Y.


Not much has been confirmed when it comes to potential rosters, though I did see an Italy provisional roster that includes mailbag favorite Sal Fasano.


U.S. manager Davey Johnson will probably make a push to get Sizemore involved, though Sizemore has not indicated whether or not he is interested. Victor Martinez could play for the Venezuelan team, but, because he missed so much time on the disabled list last season, it's my understanding that the Indians have the right to prevent him from going. The same goes for Fausto Carmona and the Dominican Republic.


Provisional, 45-player rosters will be released in mid-January, with the final rosters set in late February. I'm sure we'll see some information leak out in the coming weeks. Johnson, for one, said he'd like to have his roster confirmed by Christmas.


And finally...


Any chance of Paul Byrd returning to the Indians?

-- Rick G., Dublin, Ohio


Not really. Byrd will be out of the Indians' price range -- largely because that price range might not even exist. The club has made it clear it might not be able to afford fill its need for a middle-of-the-rotation starter externally.


Byrd, for the record, is trying to land with a team close to his Georgia home.


Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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Do you think the Indians spent a little too much on Kerry Wood? Paying $10 million a year for a closer that has been injured a lot throughout his career is pretty steep for a club with an average payroll.

-- Brad L., Hamler, Ohio


These are the top-ranked closers from 2008 who are past their arbitration years, with their '09 salaries in parentheses: Mariano Rivera ($15 million), Brad Lidge ($11.5 million), Joe Nathan ($11.25 million), Francisco Rodriguez ($8.5 million, though, with a signing bonus and guaranteed buyout, his contract will average out at $12.3 million annually), Francisco Cordero ($12 million), B.J. Ryan ($10 million).


You can say free-agent closers are overpaid, and you'll get no argument from me. You can say the Indians took a major risk in firing their lone free-agent bullet at a guy with a history of arm trouble, and you'll get no argument from me. But the Indians made Wood their top target because of his stuff, his poise, his leadership and his positive acclimation to the bullpen. And when they offered him $20.5 million over two years, they were offering the going rate for a closer of his pedigree.


So, in my view, it's not really a question of whether the Indians overpaid for Wood. The question really boils down to whether he is the right man for the job. This signing has certainly energized the fan base and could provide a spark to the rest of the pitching staff, so the Indians are off to a good start. And I don't think anyone disputes that Wood, when healthy, has the stuff to be a dominant presence in the 'pen.


One last note on health risks: Although it's easy to report that a player passed or failed a physical, those really aren't the best terms. The only player who would "fail" a physical is one who is physically unable to play. When it comes to the Indians' procedure, it's more accurate to state that players are given a risk assessment -- essentially on a scale of one to 10 -- and it is then up to the members of the front office to determine whether that risk is tolerable, given the contractual terms. It can lead to some uncomfortable conversations and tough decisions. Obviously, in the case of Wood, the Indians felt the 31-year-old had a tolerable level of risk.


Just what is a vesting option?

-- Bruce S., Millersburg, Ohio


I'm answering this question on the off chance that this is Bruce Springsteen writing in during a holiday retreat to Millersburg.


A vesting option is an option triggered not by the decision of a player or front office. Rather, it is directly tied into performance. In the case of Wood, his $11 million option for 2011 is exercised if he finishes 55 games in either '09 or '10. That number wasn't just plucked out of thin air. Wood finished 56 games for the Cubs last year, and Joe Borowski finished 58 games for the Tribe in '07. One would assume that a closer finishing 55 games in a single season is a healthy and effective closer, so the Indians would probably be happy to see that option exercised, if that's the case.


What realistic timetable is Jake Westbrook on? Any inside information on how his recovery is going?

-- Mike L., Parma, Ohio


The Indians' internal hope is to have Westbrook back for the second half of '09. And for now, he appears to be on schedule.


Westbrook is six months removed from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and more than three months removed from his right hip arthroscopy. He began playing catch earlier this month and is currently throwing out to 90 feet. He will begin throwing off a mound early in Spring Training, and the Tribe hopes he will be ready to progress to a simulated game in early April. If all goes well, he will be eased into game action in extended spring and the Minors, steadily increasing his volume of pitches.


What would be more likely -- Jhonny Peralta starting the season at third or shortstop, given his time spent playing third base over the winter?

-- Ryan L., Green, Ohio


Mark Shapiro said the other day at the Wood news conference that it's hardly worth speculating on what the infield will look like, because he's considering so many different options and his own view changes daily. When it comes to Peralta moving, though, the Indians have publicly been more and more open to that possibility.


"Jhonny is playing third base very well every day in the Dominican," Shapiro said. "He's made it clear he wants to play shortstop, and we've made it clear we value him as a shortstop. But we have to put the best team on the field, and he understands that, too."


I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the infield makeup remains as is, or if the Indians bring in a part-time second baseman (such as Mark Grudzielanek or Aaron Miles) to share time with Jamey Carroll until Josh Barfield or Luis Valbuena are ready to contribute. I guess what I'm saying is that the Peralta-to-third possibility has never seemed stronger, given what's available and the Tribe's limited budget.


When does the World Baseball Classic start play, and why would any Major League team want their players in it with the time away from the team and possible injuries?

-- John, Columbus, Ohio


The full Classic schedule runs from March 5-23. MLB attempted to address club concerns about the tournament by extending the Spring Training schedule. Exhibition games are beginning about a week earlier than usual, and the start of the regular season was pushed back a week into April (November World Series, anyone?).


But the Classic is a sensitive issue, on the whole. Because while teams are quick to give it the "good for the game" approval in public, they privately worry about the ill effects it can have on a player's preparation and the inherent injury risks. In the Indians' case, sending guys like Victor Martinez or Fausto Carmona to the Classic would be a huge concern, given the amount of time they missed last season.


Grady Sizemore has agreed to participate in the Classic for the U.S. team.


Why would Indians fans treat CC Sabathia any different than Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez? Those two left the Tribe for bigger bucks elsewhere; the only difference was we were still in the thick of things with both, so we didn't want to trade them. If we were in it, and kept CC, does anyone really think that he wouldn't still be in a Yankees uniform this spring, with $161 million in his back pocket? He's no different than Thome or Ramirez, outside of the fact that he eventually sold fans from two towns up the river because of greed.

-- Dan J., Warren, Ohio


You can be bitter and have class about the CC situation. When the Indians offered him that four-year extension worth $18 million a year, and he turned it down, he said it wasn't about the money. Do you still believe that?

-- Ryan K., Perrysburg, Ohio


Everybody's entitled to their opinion on the CC situation, and this is one place you can have your voice on the matter.


But let's not put words in Sabathia's mouth. He never said it wasn't about the money. When he turned down the Indians' offer, he said the two sides couldn't find common ground, and he didn't want the contract talks to become a distraction during the season. It's always about the money, and the next ballplayer to turn down the largest offer ever given to a player at his position will be the first. My only beef with Sabathia was when he told Tribe fans to "have faith." Bad move.


Still, Sabathia left here on good terms, and I personally would like to see it stay that way. But if you put your hard-earned money down for a ticket, you have the right to hiss and holler as much as you like.


And finally ...


On to important matters, do you like Bruce's new songs? Maybe "Working on a Dream" could be the Indians' theme song.

-- Randy F., Boston


Generally speaking, I'm not the type to peek at my Christmas presents or to listen to new Springsteen songs before the album's release. But I'll admit that I broke down with this one and downloaded "Working on a Dream," only to be tremendously disappointed. The lyrics sound like they came out of a seventh-grader's poetry assignment. It's not his best work, by any stretch of the imagination, though I do appreciate the Roy Orbison-like vocal stylings on the chorus.


I had to give Bruce a chance to redeem himself, and that's just what he did with "My Lucky Day." Bring on the album's Jan. 27 release.





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