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02/04/08 2:22 PM ET

Mailbag: Deal prospects for ace?

Reds beat reporter Mark Sheldon answers fans' questions

I was just wondering if you think the Reds standing pat this offseason and keeping Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto and others prospects was the right move? We may have been able to get a starter like Erik Bedard, Joe Blanton or Dan Haren. And although we couldn't afford it, I think we could have packaged those players for Johan Santana and given the Twins a better deal than the Mets.
-- Nick N, Springfield, Ohio.

Sometimes the best trades are the ones not made at all.

Dealing prospects like Bruce, Bailey or Cueto for Bedard could have been harmful both in the short and long term. Had the cadre of youngsters been dealt, they would have given Baltimore years of productivity. Meanwhile, the Reds would have gotten just two years from Bedard [and no guarantee of any championships] before he likely bolted as a free agent for a megabucks deal Cincinnati couldn't match.

These prospects have the potential to be long-term cornerstones for the Reds and be part of a franchise turnaround -- maybe as soon as 2008. As for Santana, it's daydreaming. Even if the Reds cleaned out their farm system to get him, their payroll would have been paralyzed from filling other holes for the next seven years.

Do you believe that Norris Hopper is getting a fair chance at the starting center field position? I believe he should be the frontrunner right now with his skills compared to Ryan Freel. I'm assuming Bruce will start the year in Triple-A, unless he has a Josh Hamilton-esque spring.
-- Craig O., Lima, Ohio

Camp hasn't opened yet and Dusty Baker has never seen the guy play in person before. So, it's too early to talk about fair chances for Hopper. He's one of the guys set to compete. But underestimating Hopper has proven unwise, especially to opposing infielders. His hitting methods [slap singles, push bunts] are unusual, but he seemed to always be on base last season.

I expect Hopper to make the battle interesting and give Reds decision makers a lot to think about. If nothing else, he makes for a solid No. 4 or No. 5 outfielder off the bench.

Who is going to watch the Reds at the new awesome state-of-the-art facility in Arizona, Reds fans? Reds fans will be in Florida on Spring Break watching other teams. I did not understand Cleveland or the Chicago teams playing in Arizona, but I guess it's not about the fans, is it?
-- Greg (no location given)

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What, you think the Reds would play in front of tumbleweeds if they went west to train in Goodyear, Ariz.? There are actual people out there -- Reds fans even. Growth in and around Phoenix has exploded to make it the fifth-largest metro area in the country. Based on the e-mails I've gotten from Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California, it sounds like some Reds fans have migrated to places you didn't expect.

You're right that it's not all about the fans. It's about the players getting ready for the regular season. And clearly, it's about economics. If the Reds signed a deal with Goodyear, there would be a much better financial benefit than paying Sarasota to stay there. They tried the latter route already and still couldn't get a deal with the local government.

What happened to pitcher Tom Shearn? He was brought up last year and did quite well. Why are we not hearing about him as a candidate for a rotation spot?
-- Jeff M., Dayton, Ohio

Shearn will be in Reds big league camp on a Minor League contract. His lack of mention isn't an intentional slight but stems from the fact he's neither on the 40-man roster nor a top prospect. The Reds will have six guys competing for three open rotation spots, and Shearn, a 30-year-old rookie, is probably pitcher No. 7 or No. 8 at this point.

Matt Belisle just signed for $1.25 million this season. Bailey is a prospect who has topped out in the Minors and needs to show he can pitch in the Majors. Edinson Volquez was acquired in the Hamilton trade with thoughts he'd be in the rotation at some point. Jeremy Affeldt was signed for $3 million and will get a shot to start, or go to the bullpen if it doesn't work out. Cueto and Matt Maloney have no big league experience, which makes them longer shots. Shearn had a nice showing in September, and with as nice of a spring he could position himself as a candidate for another promotion if there's ever a need.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.