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Inbox: Who's the future at third?

Inbox: Who's the future at third?

The Indians' annual winter Press Tour takes place this week. Members of the Tribe will make visits to various locations in northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, including Columbus' Easton Town Center, Toledo's Erie Street Market and Mansfield's Historic Ohio State Reformatory (or, as I like to refer to it, "my old stomping grounds").

Press Tour week is always an excellent opportunity to breathe in some bus fumes and talk some Tribe, so perhaps I'll see some of you out on the road. But in the meantime, we'll do things the old-fashioned way, as I pore through the latest batch of e-mails to land in the Indians Inbox.

What's the future beyond this season at third base? Could we give Andy Marte one last opportunity to show his value? I don't want Andy to become the next Brandon Phillips.
-- Jose T., Utuado, Puerto Rico

That's a great question, Jose, and it's one I don't think the Indians have an answer to right now.

Jhonny Peralta, obviously, will be the Opening Day third baseman, but I wouldn't be shocked if he's dealt elsewhere by season's end. This is the final guaranteed year of the contract extension Peralta signed in 2006. He'll make $4.6 million this season, and the Indians hold a $7 million club option on him for 2011. At the moment, it's hard to see them exercising that option, given Peralta's inconsistency and the team's economic state. However, a season in which Peralta lives up to his potential at the plate could change that outlook.

Frankly, it's difficult to guess who the Indians would turn to at third if Peralta were to be traded or injured. If Marte makes the Opening Day roster (and I think Matt LaPorta's timetable in his recovery from surgery will play a big factor in that), then he's certainly a candidate. The Indians have nothing but positive things to say about Marte, from a defensive standpoint, and they're intrigued by the season he put together at the Triple-A level last year. It's worth noting that hitting coach Jon Nunnally was instrumental in getting Marte straightened out in Columbus, and now Nunnally is on the big league staff.

Down on the farm, the next third baseman in the pipeline would be Lonnie Chisenhall. Yes, I'm skipping over Wes Hodges, because it appears Hodges' immediate future is at first base, not third. Hodges missed meaningful Triple-A development time at third last year because of injury, and he was far from polished at the position, to begin with.

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Chisenhall is one of the better prospects in the system and has a strong all-around game. But he's only 21 and will be at Double-A Akron this season. It's too early to count him as a Major League option.

So, yeah, great question, Jose. I don't have an exact answer, and neither do the Indians.

I don't get trading a decent prospect for Brian Bixler. What's the difference between him and Jason Donald? And why do you always write that someone is "in the mix" in the middle infield. Are you related to Betty Crocker?
-- Joe M., Lakeview, Mich.

Actually, my use (or overuse) of the term "in the mix" is an homage to my formative years as an apprentice under DJ Jazzy Jeff.

As for the Bixler trade, I think it's too early to tell what kind of prospect the Indians gave up for this guy. Last year, Jesus Brito got his first taste of professional ball in the States, and he put up strong numbers (.353 average, .998 OPS) in 60 combined games for the Arizona Rookie League team and short-season Mahoning Valley. But when you remember that he was 22 years old and in the lowest levels of the Minors, the numbers suddenly don't look as impressive.

That being said, Bixler isn't anything to get overly excited about, either. The Indians like his athleticism, and they feel you can never have too much depth up the middle. That's all well and good, but Bixler's strikeout totals -- in six professional seasons, he's logged more strikeouts (728) than hits (711) -- are certainly alarming.

All in all, it's a low-risk trade for the Indians, who can option Bixler back to the Minors if they don't like what they see in camp.

I've been able to attend Spring Training the last 10 years, but this season will be the first where I will be around before the first game is scheduled (March 5). It looks like the tentative first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb 26. I'm sure each manager is different, but I'm curious about what things might be like if I show up in Goodyear between Feb. 26 and March 5. Will there be batting practice and/or intrasquad games that are accessible to the general public? Will the Team Shop be open?
-- Charlie S., Westerville, Ohio

There will, indeed, be batting practice to behold, Charlie. In the week before the Cactus League games begin, the Indians often utilize Field 1 at the Player Development Complex for morning batting practice and other drills. This field contains an improved fan access area along the third-base line. It runs right up behind the third-base dugout, where players often stop for autographs on their way back to the clubhouse.

Also, while there will certainly be changes in how camp is run under a new manager, I'd say it's a safe bet that the Tribe continues its practice of having at least one intrasquad game before the March 5 exhibition opener. And those games are also open to the public.

The Team Shop is currently open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time. Sunday hours will start once the games begin in March.

Hey AC, good luck with the marriage. Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.
-- Adam T., Westlake, Ohio

That doesn't make sense. But thanks all the same, Adam.

Obviously, this is football season, but I don't want to let a big thing like this go unnoticed. We traded CC Sabathia to the Brewers, and Zach Jackson was a big part of that trade. Why did we already ship him off to Toronto? --
Rick E., Sagamore Hills, Ohio

Suffice to say I think you and the Indians have drastically different definitions of the word "big," Rick.

Does Jordan Brown have an invite to Spring Training? If so, what are his chances of making the big league club? I feel that he has a chance to be very successful with the Tribe.
-- Mike L., Fairview, Ohio

Brown was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, so, yes, he'll be in Major League camp. I'd say, at this moment, his chances of making the Opening Day roster are slim. Though he bounced between left field and first base last year, it appears he'll be a full-time outfielder in 2010. Michael Brantley, Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan all have the potential to crowd his path.

Minor controversy erupted last September, when Brown didn't receive a September callup, despite winning the International League batting title. Though Brown is a hard worker eager to address his limitations, the fact of the matter is the Indians are still skeptical about his defense and power.

Is it a sure thing to say that Aaron Laffey is still a starter?
-- Kenny K., Elyria, Ohio

Yes. Or at least, for now it is.

Before an oblique injury got in the way, Laffey had success in a brief conversion to relief work last season, but that was merely out of necessity, as the Indians still considered themselves in contention in the AL Central and were desperate for help in a bumbling bullpen.

Ultimately, however, Laffey's value is much greater in the starting rotation, and he hopes he secured himself a spot with a decent second half. He was 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA in August before a rough September in which he received little to no run support.

Laffey would probably be a lock for the rotation, if not for Mitch Talbot and Jeremy Sowers both being out of Minor League options. That complicates matters.

And finally...

Your answer to Ben A. from Columbus last week about there being no way to subscribe to the Inbox wasn't 100% complete, Anthony. Readers can't subscribe to the Inbox directly, but they can subscribe to the Tribe's RSS feed, which will put all the latest Indians news in their e-mail.
-- Phil C., Cudahy, Wis.

You're a good man, Phil. I always knew I liked you. Thanks for pointing that out.

And I'll take this opportunity for another shameless reminder that fans can follow me on Twitter for breaking news and links to stories and blog postings.

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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