Whether you're celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, Festivus or Diane Sawyer's birthday, allow me to be the latest to wish you a wonderful ... whatever.
With the aforementioned holidays upon us, this will be the final mailbag of 2008. And what a year it's been. Remember that one week, when that one guy asked a question about the Indians, and I answered it? I'll never forget it.
You guys and gals make this thing work, and I can't thank you enough for all your submissions the past year. While I am unable to get to them all, rest assured I at least read them all, which has to count for something, right? I hope you'll continue to offer up your thoughts and queries in '09. The first mailbag of the New Year will run Jan. 5.
Until then, let's dive in ...
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.
Have a question about the Indians?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Indians beat reporter Jordan Bastian for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
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, OhioYou 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.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.