Q & A with Justin Spiro

Last Friday a report came out of Detroit from an anonymous source that all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez would sign with the Mariners in the coming weeks. Much has been made of the report since, as it has stirred up a media frenzy in Seattle. InsidethePark.com's Jason A. Churchill caught up with DetroitSports.net's Justin Spiro, the writer who broke the story, to get the low-down on the Pudge-to-Seattle rumors as well as other happenings around baseball.

InsideThePark.com: In light of your report on the Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez situation with the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners, what can you tell us about the type of source in which the inside information came from?

Justin Spiro: I can't really say much on the source without disrespecting his privacy. I will say that he is an individual that has spent much time working in baseball and has a close affiliation with many players, many of which are Hispanic.

ITP: Did you find yourself in a situation where the source was so credible and had such a track record, that you felt you had the responsibility to report such information?

Spiro: If I did not feel the source was credible, I would never have reported the story. This individual tipped us off to the Fernando Vina and Jason Johnson signings with Detroit, as well as the Miguel Tejada signing with Baltimore (though as a Detroit website, it wasn't our business to report such information). The source has never steered us wrong before, and he seemed more certain of this than any other tip we've been given.

ITP: In your objective opinion, being from outside the city of Seattle, what would the addition of Pudge Rodriguez mean to the Mariners in 2004?

Spiro: The Mariners need Pudge to be legitimate contenders in the American League. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox need no introduction. Taking a look at the highly improved Baltimore Orioles and Anaheim Angels, one must wonder if Seattle as a chance to win the World Series. Pudge Rodriguez gives them that chance. It appears as if the best teams are in the American League this season.

ITP: What would Pudge Rodriguez mean to the Detroit Tigers should he ultimately opt to accept the Tigers offer?

Spiro: Ivan would deliver a sense of respectability to baseball in this town. He just came off a superb performance in the playoffs and World Series. A 10-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer is certainly an upgrade over light hitting Brandon Inge. Pudge would ignite a fire in this town initially, but toward the end of a four-year contract? I would have my doubts.

ITP: What is your opinion of infielder Ramon Santiago, acquired in the trade for Carlos Guillen, and the type of contributions he might be able to provide in Seattle?

Spiro: He is a good kid, but that doesn't translate into production. He was forced into a bad situation last year with the lowly state of the Tigers. Santiago showed flashes of spectacular defense in 2003, but his bat was just too weak even for Detroit. Given a year or two to mature with a winning team like Seattle should work to his advantage.

ITP: What is the word on SS/3B Juan Gonzalez, the prospect in the Guillen-Santiago trade?

Spiro: Even the top scouts don't have much to report on this guy. From what I have heard, he is an extremely raw talent with decent upside. His defense appears adequate. In 453 at-bats at Single-A last season, he only managed a .249 average. His power numbers are weak too - 4 homers and 39 RBI. Gonzalez did swipe 24 bases in 2003 at West Michigan, perhaps the only positive sign for his future.

ITP: If you were to analyze the AL West, how do you see things working out in 2004?

Spiro: The AL West is certainly an intriguing division this season. Miguel Tejada has left Oakland to rely on highly touted rookie Bobby Crosby to play shortstop. Their pitching staff is the best in baseball 1 to 5 as they enter 2004 with Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Rich Harden, and Mark Redman. No team is better throughout.

The Anaheim Angels have had one of the more under-publicized off-seasons this year, but theirs has been one of the most productive. They have landed an undisputed ace in Bartolo Colon and one of the best players in baseball in Vladimir Guerrero. They already have the game's most underrated player in outfielder Garret Anderson. The Angels have a real shot at winning their second title in three years. The addition of Kelvim Escobar should help as well.

The Texas Rangers are a mess. Who can pitch on that team? They have Alex Rodriguez, but what has that given them other than a last place finish since he has been there? They've lost Rafael Palmeiro, a big part of their identity. In their defense, they still have a potent batting lineup. Hank Blalock and Mark Texeira have as much potential as any pair of hitters in the Majors. It appears another great offensive season will be wasted as Texas won't be able to get anyone out.

The AL West is the Mariners' division to win, should they sign Pudge. The Angels have assembled a nice team that should give Seattle a run for their money. Still, I view the Mariners as the favorite.

ITP: What can fans of the American League expect from Washington State native Jeremy Bonderman in 2004?

Spiro: Bonderman is still very young. Playing the season at 21 years of age, not a whole lot can be expected from the hard throwing right-hander. He should make progress in 2004 with a year under his belt and more run support, but it is still too early to expect him to reach his full potential this season.

ITP: Do you think the Tigers are heading the right direction as an organization overall?

Spiro: Whenever you make significant upgrades across the board, it is considered a move in the right direction. The Tigers have improved greatly with the additions of Fernando Vina, Carlos Guillen, Rondell White, Jason Johnson, and Al Levine. All players will contribute a great deal more than their predecessors. They are still a long ways away from contending, but progress has been made.

ITP: Did you like the signing of former Mariner Fernando Vina at 2B, and how do you feel the new double-play combo of Vina and Carlos Guillen will help improve the club? (what is it that they provide that the club didn't have in 2003?)

Spiro: I believe that the Tigers overpaid for Vina, giving him $6 million over 2 seasons, especially when Robbie Alomar signed a $1 million dollar deal for one season with Arizona. That being said, the Tigers had little choice but to overpay to attract free agents. Vina gives Detroit a gutsy player up the middle that should boost clubhouse morale during the inevitable slumps.

Carlos Guillen is a significant upgrade over Ramon Santiago. Although Guillen's defense is certainly not highly touted, his range is still above average. The Tigers needed a shortstop that was not an automatic out; something Carlos is capable of providing.

The new middle-infield provides the Tigers experience at two important positions. Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago comprised an inexperienced combo up the middle, and both were known for occasional mind lapses. This should not be a problem with the veterans.

ITP: In your opinion, who is the best all-around player in baseball?

Spiro: Have to go with Alex Rodriguez. He is an amazing all-around player. A-Rod can hit for power and average, and he is one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball. You also have to admire his consistency; year in and year out, he is one of the top offensive producers in the game.

ITP: What current starting pitcher would you hand the ball to in a Game 7 must win situation?

Spiro: Randy Johnson. He remains the most intimidating pitcher in the game and he has shown an ability to dominate throughout postseason play. (I apologize for answering each of the last two questions with former Mariners.)

ITP: Who do you see ultimately battling it out in the 2004 World Series?

Spiro: Anaheim Angels versus Atlanta Braves

ITP: Handicap the AL Central for 2004. Who is the favorite? Does the Central have any shot at winning a WildCard?

Spiro: The AL Central is by far the weakest division in baseball. I think you have to go with the Chicago White Sox as the favorite because they are the most talented on paper. The Kansas City Royals also have a chance, if Juan Gonzalez can stay on the field.

No way does the AL wildcard come out of the Central.

Justin Spiro is the Editor-In-Chief of DetroitSports.net. Those of us at InsidethePark.com appreciate the time he took out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.

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