-- Jim M., Dallas Let me clarify this for those just tuning in. Choo turns 28 in July. South Korean men must serve two years in the military by the age of 30. Should Choo either not participate in November's Asian Games or not attain the gold medal that might earn him a military exemption from South Korea, his choices could come down to serving his country (and giving up two years of his baseball prime) or staying in the States (either by establishing permanent residency or gaining citizenship) and not returning to Korea in order to continue to live out his lifelong dream of playing Major League ball. Though not revealing his specific plans, Choo has given every indication that he would remain in the States, because he worked very hard to get to this point in his career. Sticky situation, though, isn't it? Obviously, if Choo chooses not to return to his native land, that wouldn't go over very well in Korea. And while we can appreciate Choo's plight as baseball fans, would we be as sympathetic if he were in a more mundane profession? But here's the thing we should keep in mind about Choo's situation: Would South Korea really prevent one of its most popular citizens from playing in the Major Leagues? Somehow, I doubt it. Choo might be able to work out some sort of a compromise with the Korean government, perhaps even serving in the military in some capacity after his playing career is over. A compromise would probably be the best for all involved parties, because, it would seem Choo can have a more positive impact on his native land in his current capacity than he could in camouflage. For now, Choo is hoping the Asian Games scenario pans out, because that would be the most natural solution to this predicament. Russell Branyan starting at first base? If this truly is a rebuilding year, which is what you have been saying, and the Indians have no intentions of being real competitors, why take at-bats away from a young player?
-- Brant A., Columbus, Ohio It doesn't exactly mesh with the theme of the season ahead, Brant. That's for sure. That being said, the Indians weren't comfortable being an injury away from starting Andy Marte or Shelley Duncan at first. Nor are they comfortable with the thought of Michael Brantley starting the season at the Major League level in left, thus starting his arbitration clock. So Matt LaPorta heads back to left, and he'll probably continue to develop at first by playing there once a week or so. I'd still expect to see Brantley emerge by the second half. At that time, if Branyan is performing to the level the Indians think he's capable of, he could potentially be flipped at midseason to a contending club. And LaPorta, at that point, could take over at first. That's one way it could shake out.
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-- Tim J., Cleveland As Tommy Wiseau would say, "That's the idea!" The standings will be in black and white, but the measure of the season will be those shades of gray you just mentioned, Tim. I know the Indians employ you and have the ability to dismiss you whenever they want, but do you really have to defend the spending of ownership? How hard is it to see former owner Dick Jacobs made tons of money by spending money and keeping the fans happy and in the seats? Is Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert interested in another championship project?
-- Matthew V., Elyria, Ohio
I hate to let facts get in the way of a good rant, but my employer is MLB.com, not the club. The list of people who can kick me to the curb is a lengthy one, but none of them have Chief Wahoo printed on their paychecks.
As far as "sugarcoating" is concerned, I've mentioned more than a few times that the Indians' front-office decision-makers don't have much payroll to play with these days, because, well, they haven't been given much payroll to play with by ownership. And ownership isn't committing as much payroll to the club because a) it lost money last year (roughly $10 million, from what I'm told), b) attendance is way down, and c) it is not at all clear that simply spending more money will turn the club around. I don't embellish these facts. That's just the Tribe's current economic reality.
In case I haven't previously made this abundantly clear, Jacobs ran the team in a tremendously different economic climate. For starters, the economy in the 1990s was booming, not in a recession, the Indians had just opened a new stadium (which they sold out 455 consecutive times), the Cavs were terrible, and the Browns didn't exist. Gilbert owns a team in a sport with a fundamentally different economic structure than MLB. Again, these are facts, not sugarcoated opinions.
My opinion, for whatever it's worth, is that the Indians are in a tough spot and a vicious cycle. And the number of people hung up on the payroll issue who refuse to gain a deeper understanding of what it will take to dig out never ceases to amaze me.I know there are a lot of questions in the upcoming season, but why do you always point out guys that are "trade bait if we are out of contention at the Trade Deadline." I know that's what the Tribe tends to do, but let's not count the season as a lost one before it even starts. With some decent starting pitching, this could be a good team.
-- Dave Just being realistic, Dave. It's hard to imagine Jake Westbrook, Kerry Wood and Branyan remaining with this club beyond the 2010 season, and Jhonny Peralta's future here is also in question. If the Indians are out of it and can get something back for those guys, why wouldn't they look into it? And while they're obviously not out of it yet, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best isn't the worst way to get through life, in my opinion. My wife and I are cheapskates, so we always look forward to the Pepsi can promotion offering cheap tickets in the bleachers in April and May. Will that promotion return this year? In general, will the Indians offer their fans good ticket promotions in what's expected to be a rebuilding year?
-- Tom J., Berea, Ohio You're in luck, Tom. The Pepsi half-price promotion is on for April and May home games, and there are many other promotions in store for 2010. Find out about all of them here. I don't know if you can get this info, but I was wondering when will they announce the winners of the "12-Pack Essay Contest" and how will they let us know? -- Justin C., Toledo, Ohio I'm told the winners will be announced March 12. You can check Indians.com at that time ... and every day in-between, of course. And finally... Who will win the 2010 All-Tribe Fantasy League? Perhaps the "Whiskey Sowers"? Or maybe the "Perez Dispensers"? Possibly "Huff the Magic Dragon"? Might it be the "Single Gradys"? Or how about the "'Sdrub-Tops"?
-- Matt M., somewhere in Connecticut Don't count out "Raisin Branyan."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.