Ask Mark: Fans sound off to GM

Ask Mark: Tribe fans sound off to GM

Hello everyone. Thank you so much for the overwhelming outpouring of questions, we received over 750 emails. There were a lot of great questions concerning a wide array of topics, and I will try to address as many of those as I can today.

I would also like to thank everyone for the kind words expressed by many of you on the state of the Indians organization and our successful 2005 season.

Before I get started with the questions, I wanted to address the large volume of emails concerning players currently under contract with other teams -- many of which used to play here in Cleveland, so you can guess who those players may be. Under Major League Baseball rules I am forbidden to comment on those players at risk of receiving a LARGE fine for tampering, so I apologize in advance for not giving any direct answers to those questions.

So, here we go.

What's your greater priority, resigning Kevin Millwood, or signing a right-handed power hitter?
-- Reggie D., Elyria, Ohio

It's hard to answer what our greatest priority is, because in the market that we're in we always have to go where the best available players and values are. But, I do feel it would be difficult to go into the season without adding or returning one quality starter and a closer.

Who will play right field next year, and will they be a right-handed bat? Are you looking to upgrade at first base as well? Do you feel you need to add a solid right-handed bat to the lineup?
-- Donald H.

I would certainly like to add one more run-producing bat to the lineup. It could be right-handed or left-handed, as long as they're a good hitter. The spots where we could add that bat could be right field or first base, due to the versatility we've got on our team. Yet, we do not need to add a bat, as we will return our entire position-player team, and I feel they will only get better next year.

Will it grow in 2006 with a new TV deal approaching and hopefully drawing more than 2 million fans?
-- Mike S., Cleveland

The payroll will certainly grow in 2006, allowing us to maneuver a little more freely. However, it will remain relatively similar in relationship to the other teams, many of whose payrolls are growing as well.

How hard is the Tribe pursuing Kevin Millwood and what is the status of his possible return?
-- Todd L.

This question was asked over 70 times. We would certainly like to have Kevin Millwood return. He was an invaluable person, teammate and pitcher on our team last year. The demand is extremely high for him, and that makes the pace of the negotiations slow and the odds a little more difficult.

Are you looking to bring Bob Wickman back? Has he indicated whether he wants to play next year?
-- Will M.

We're examining every alternative on the closer market for next year. Bob Wickman is one prominent alternative, and we've had both discussions first-hand with Bob and his agent in order to get an idea of what his expectations are for next year and where he should fit into the alternatives.

How much can Travis Hafner be expected to play first base?
-- Mark, Cleveland

We do expect Travis to play some first base next year. We do not consider him to be an every-day alternative for us. We would like it if he could play between 25-35 games at first base next year. That would give us much greater flexibility in planning our team.

What are the plans for Ben Broussard this year?
-- Jason P.

Ben Broussard is under contract and will be headed into his first year of arbitration. We would like to see him put together a solid, consistent season from beginning to end. If he's able to do that, his potential as a run-producing first baseman is great.

Because it will be tough to lure mid- to top-tier free agents to Cleveland with a limited budget, and with the vast amount of pitching talent that you have in your Minor League system, will you use some of that talent (Tallet, Denney, Guthrie, Tadano, and Carmona) as trade bait for a pitcher, first baseman or right fielder this year?
-- Mike L., Connecticut

Trades are one of the hardest scenarios to make become a reality. What often appears to be an attractive trade when examining things from a distance is not a reality when you get inside the real-world job of being a general manager. It's safe to say, when we examine alternatives, we always look at both free agent alternatives and trade alternatives as ways to acquire and bring in talent. The difficulty with trades, though, is you've got to give up good, young players, and good, young players are what we need to live and survive by.

In the era of free agency and large contracts, when is the right time to give a player from Akron or Buffalo a shot to fill a hole on the Tribe roster?
-- Brennan C.

The right time for us to give an opportunity to a young player in our farm system is when need develops combined with when the player is ready. If we look at that moment and then are patient, we are often rewarded with a player who will be here for years. In the cases of Peralta, Sizemore and others, the players developed at a much faster rate than expected, and the payoff has been great.

What is the status of Arthur Rhodes? Is he coming back to the team this spring?
-- Tiffin B.

Arthur Rhodes is working hard and excited about returning next year. He should be ready for Spring Training and be an integral part of our bullpen next season.

Anything being done to avoid another slow start in 2006?
-- Steve W.

Eric Wedge and I are discussing extensively how to avoid another slow start. The slow starts over the last three seasons, I think, were each due to very different reasons, but we're examining multiple creative methods for trying to ensure it doesn't happen again.

How do you see the bench shaping up next season?
-- Douglas H.

The bench is always the last thing you build in this market. We need to establish our every-day club first. After we do that, we will be clearer what type of players we need to address on the bench.

Are you looking for veteran pitching in free agency or looking to your farm system? Who are some of the internal candidates?
-- Renee S.

I would certainly like to add one quality starter through either free agency or a trade. Internally, I feel very good about one starter being given the opportunity to earn the fifth spot. The most prominent pitchers that will compete for that spot will be Jason Davis, Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers, although others could certainly work their way in.

With the availability of proven closers on the free agent market diminishing, how do you envision the bullpen to shaking out -- in particular the closer and top setup man? What are the options available? Are there internal candidates for bullpen spots -- like Andrew Brown and Jose Diaz?
-- Bob R., Addison, N.Y.

I would always like to add or keep an experienced closer on our team. Once that spot is settled, it is easier to build a bullpen from there back. Having Arthur Rhodes return as well as Rafael Betancourt and Matt Miller gives us some experience, but I would still like to add another experienced eighth-inning pitcher if possible within the payroll structure. We do have many young pitchers I would feel good about breaking in in middle relief should the need develop and, of course, we are extremely excited about giving Fernando Cabrera an entire-season opportunity.

Does the Indians organization have a particular philosophy that is instilled at all levels, from Class A to the Majors? How is this coordinated between management, coaches and players?
Bob H.

The Indians have a common mission statement that binds the organization, from Major League to Minor Leagues to scouting. That mission statement is: "To sustain a championship caliber team that competes -- passionately, relentlessly and professionally -- and in the process make a positive statement about its collective vision and core values." We believe in those same values and always strive to build and develop a team that reflects those attributes and qualities.

Will Ryan Garko be given the opportunity to win the first base job this spring over Ben Broussard, or has the decision already been made regarding where Garko starts the 2006 season?
-- Chad W.

We will not give Ryan Garko the opportunity to win an every-day job at first base this spring. The bench spot could be there for him to compete for, but it is also a priority to continue to develop him at first base defensively and ensure that, sometime, he is ready to be an every day player for our team.

What kind of Major League pitcher do you see Jeremy Sowers becoming? Is he a good pitcher because of stuff or because of location -- or both? Do you foresee him in an Indians uni in 2006?
-- Terry T., Cartersville, Ga.

Jeremy Sowers is a smart pitcher with outstanding control and multiple weapons. The combination of different pitches along with intelligence and command allows him to execute a game plan and attack different types of hitters. I think it's quite possible that sometime in 2006 he could make a Major League debut with us.

How do the obnoxious contracts of B.J. Ryan and Billy Wagner impact your strategy for player acquisition this offseason? (Especially since we lost the services of Bob Howry).
-- Miguel R.

The other contracts signed in free agency always have an impact on our ability to acquire players or even sign our own players. We can't do much about the values other teams place on guys except to continue to develop our own strategy to sign players. If anything, the escalation of contracts makes more important the productivity of our development system.

What is your No. 1 priority, during this offseason, that will enable our Tribe to improve enough to win the division?
-- Dick N.

As I've said prior, our No. 1 priority rests somewhere within two slots, which is at least one veteran starter and a closer. I'd like to do more than that, but we feel we would not have had a successful offseason if we have not addressed those two needs.

For what B.J. Ryan signed for in Toronto, wouldn't have Bobby Howry been a bargain?
Gene M.

Bobby Howry signed a very comparable contract to B.J. Ryan as a setup guy. If the same money had secured him as a closer and he had been as effective as B.J. Ryan, it would certainly have been a value, but we were not ready to act on him as our closer at the time he signed with Chicago.

Will Fernando Cabrera fill Howry's role in 2005 and could he potentially be our closer?
-- Forrest B.

I don't think Fernando Cabrera will fill Bobby Howry's role at the outset of this season, but we're hopeful that sometime in the next year he will grow into an eighth-inning pitcher. Once he's done that for an extended period of time, he could maybe develop into being a closer. Determining whether or not a guy has the ability to close, though, is more than just "stuff" and pitches. It requires tremendous mental toughness. Time will tell whether or not Fernando has the opportunity to be a closer.

Since it doesn't appear that we will have our same bullpen makeup as last season, are you going to shift your offseason focus to offense and try to bring in some more power to the outfield or first base positions via free agency or trade?
-- Ken B., Euclid, Ohio

That is an astute question. One alternative for us at the outset of this free agency was certainly to improve our offense. However, as you look at the free agent market there are not only limited pitching alternatives but very limited offensive alternatives as well.

What else do you believe it will take to get the fans of Cleveland to support this genuinely exciting team the way they did for all of those years in the mid 90s to the first part of this decade? This is obviously a quality organization with excellent talent that any fan of baseball should have no trouble getting behind.
-- Mike M., Houston, Texas

I'm not sure what it will take for the fans to consistently get excited the way they did in the mid 1990s. This market is tougher now than it was then and the conditions are not aligned the same way. I do think getting off to a better start would certainly have a positive impact.

As general manager, what goes in to preparing for the Winter Meetings? It must be difficult to anticipate what other teams are willing to pay free agents. How do you determine a fair price to pay for a free agent, and with Ryan getting such a huge contract off the bat, does it make it difficult for you to get a quality free agent at a fair price?
-- Tony S., Euclid, Ohio

In preparation for the Winter Meetings, we determine which agents and which teams we need to meet with. At this point, most of the groundwork has been laid but there is much follow-up to do. Any time you get all 30 teams and a bunch of agents in one hotel, new and creative ideas can come up. It is an exciting, dynamic time with a lot of work and very little sleep.

Don't you think its time to give young players such as Grady Sizemore and CoCo Crisp long-term contracts to solidify the top of the order along with the middle four?
-- Dave, Westerville, Ohio

Long-term deals are something we will consider for every single player that we consider to be a core player. Just as we signed Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez and extended C.C. Sabathia last year, we'll explore it with a range of our young players this year. In each case, there has to be a good fit where the player wants to be a part of what we're doing and willing to lock in a value and we're willing to assume the risk of injury or a slip in performance.

Jim Thome was recently acquired by the White Sox. Why couldn't we have signed him back? It seems like he could have been the missing piece to a great team. I know he would have been expensive, but full stadiums and championships pay a lot of bills.
-- Jerry, 51-year-old life-long fan, Bellevue, Ohio

We definitely explored bringing Jim Thome back, and as a person, he would have been a perfect fit on our team. As a player, it was a tough fit because Travis Hafner was mostly full-time DH in 2005, and at this point in Jim's career, the best fit for him is to at least DH part time and that would have created an overlap in players. It was still something we needed to pursue at length, but in the end, it was not a good fit for us.

When identifying a potential "core player" to pursue, what character elements are on your list of requirements?
-- Deb W., Wooster, Ohio

In determining a core player, talent is obviously one key attribute. But, ultimately, we're also looking for dependable, reliable people. When I say that, I mean that a guy who shows up at the ballpark every day in terms of his preparation, his work ethic, the way he treats his teammates and his level of professionalism. In addition, we're looking for tough players and players who demonstrate baseball intelligence or smarts. That's the optimal player for the Cleveland Indians.

Who is the hottest Minor League prospect that we could see at the Major League level this year?
-- Craig G., Salem, Ohio

We have a lot of good, young prospects. Ones that we expect to make a contribution this year are Carmona, Sowers, Garko and possibly Gutierrez.