Before we get started with your mailbag this week, I wanted to use this space to say thank you.
I've been working on the Twins beat at MLB.com and twinsbaseball.com for the past five seasons while trying my best to provide you with nothing short of quality coverage.
Hopefully, you've enjoyed reading the stories as much as I've enjoyed writing them.
Next week, I'll be switching to covering the Reds for MLB.com. It's a move that will return my family and me to Cincinnati, where I spent several years living before coming up to the Twin Cities.
It's been a great time here and I've appreciated your e-mails with the many questions, compliments, suggestions and even the criticisms.
Kelly Thesier will be replacing me and starts this week. I wish her and you all the best.
Now, let's get to your questions.
Why won't the Twins go out and try to get a Japanese star? It's worked out for Seattle, so why won't we do it? -- Nathan H., St. Paul, Minn.
The Twins have not been willing to spend big bucks on a domestic free agent, so I don't envision them forking over what would take massive amounts of dollars to import one from Japan. Landing a star player from the Japanese baseball leagues can take spending to another stratosphere.
To get Ichiro Suzuki before the 2001 season, the Mariners spent more than $13 million to outbid other teams just for the rights to his services. Then, they signed Ichiro to a three-year contract worth an additional $14 million, plus bonuses. Some of his countrymen have been well compensated as well. Hideki Matsui joined the Yankees before the 2003 season for three years and $21 million. Kaz Matsui went to the Mets before 2004 at three years, $20.1 million.
Seattle's latest acquisition from the Pacific Rim, Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima, was recently signed for three years at $16.5 million. The club has Japanese ownership and a large Japanese-American community that supports it, which makes Seattle even more appealing to players from Japan.
What is Grant Balfour's status health-wise? What do you see his role as in the upcoming season? Thanks. -- Ryan S., New Brighton, Minn.
Balfour missed all of 2005 after having major right elbow surgery and suffered a setback this fall, when he injured his shoulder while rehabilitating. He had another surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and torn labrum. The club believes he can participate in Spring Training drills at less than 100 percent and doctors have told general manager Terry Ryan that the right-hander should be at full strength in May.
If Balfour is healthy and shows some of the command he sometimes displayed in 2004, he could return to his middle-to-late-inning role in the bullpen. But with the rise of Jesse Crain's status and Travis Bowyer's expected development, Balfour will have nothing handed to him. He will have to earn his spot back.
Is Denard Span eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft since he wasn't added to the 40-man roster? If he were eligible, why would the Twins leave one of their only hitting prospects available? -- Andy V., White Bear Lake, Minn.
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Rest assured that Span is not eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, which is why he did not need protection on the 40-man roster. Minor League players out of high school for four years and not on 40-man rosters are eligible to be taken (three years out of college). Span was selected as a high school senior in the 2002 draft. He won't need to be put on the big-league roster until next year. If he has a good spring, he could wind up at Triple-A Rochester in 2006.
What do you think about the Twins going after Pokey Reese? They could use middle infielders, and he would be a great fit. -- Jake T., Cushing, Wis.
Reese, who missed all of 2005 for the Mariners with an injured shoulder, is very gifted defensively, but is a light hitter with a .248 lifetime average. He would not be an upgrade from the Twins' current middle infielders, including Juan Castro and Nick Punto, and I would pass. The latest I've heard is the Reds are interested in bringing Reese back for another go-around on their club.
How will Mike Redmond figure into the Twins' plans for 2006? He seemed to provide some great leadership last season, not only from behind the plate, but also with some clutch hitting. Does his presence make it more likely that we'd get Nomar Garciaparra rather than Mike Piazza? -- Daniel O., Badger, Minn.
Redmond is under contract through 2006, and will be back as the backup for Joe Mauer behind the plate. And you are quite correct about his leadership presence and ability to make the most of his opportunities. If the Twins were interested in Piazza, it would likely be more as a DH. Even if Piazza were to catch some games by signing with Minnesota, the club usually prefers having the protection of carrying three catchers.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.