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01/02/08 5:20 PM ET

Mailbag: Will Pierre be a starter in 2008?

Beat reporter Ken Gurnick answers Dodgers fans' questions

Why do you predict Juan Pierre in the starting lineup over Andre Ethier when Ethier is the stronger fielder and by far the stronger hitter? What will Pierre bring to the table that Ethier won't?
-- Dave C., Santa Barbara, Calif.

I'll let Tito from Gardena, Calif., begin the answer: "I'm tired of all the baseball experts criticizing the season Juan Pierre had. All he did was lead the team in at-bats, runs scored, hits, triples, and -- more importantly -- played in all 162 games! There have been countless Dodgers players hurt for so many games that it's great to see a player come to the ballpark for every game and actually play! What a concept. All Pierre did was what we signed him for: play every day, get close to 200 hits, steal 60-plus bases, and score runs."

Pierre also is a logical leadoff candidate if Rafael Furcal gets hurt and, looking ahead, if Furcal leaves as a free agent after 2008.

Pierre, of course, has his obvious drawbacks, particularly throwing, although that is less of a handicap playing left field than it is in center. He still might get traded. He might sit and watch Ethier play. But general manager Ned Colletti gave Pierre a five-year deal because he liked his game and Pierre's stats, as Tito pointed out, were pretty much on par with his career average.

So, if there isn't a trade, I'm guessing at this point -- before they even show up at Spring Training -- that the veteran with the long-term commitment and the World Series ring is the incumbent until beaten out of the job. And, it's just a guess.

Which Dodgers will become free agents at the end of 2008?
-- Joe P., Queens, N.Y.

Furcal, Derek Lowe, Esteban Loaiza, Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra and Joe Beimel. Brad Penny has an option for 2009.

I'm confused about why the Dodgers haven't been trying to pursue free-agent third baseman Pedro Feliz.
-- Niall M., Los Angeles

Acquiring Feliz or any veteran that requires a multi-year commitment means they've given up on Andy LaRoche, and that hasn't happened yet.

Would you play Garciaparra at third base if LaRoche struggles early in the season?
-- Kevin M., Los Angeles

I'd play anybody who deserves to play coming out of Spring Training, and I wouldn't play anybody who doesn't. I wouldn't care how many All-Star appearances he had or how big his salary is or how many fans he puts in the seats or how big his signing bonus was or how many Team USA games he won. Unfortunately, neither played well enough last year to be considered a front-runner.

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Why in the last year of the legendary Vero Beach Spring Training site do the Dodgers decide to take a tour of China?
-- Randy H., San Diego

They are trying to grow a business in which they have made a huge investment. That requires looking ahead, not behind. Unfortunately, Vero Beach is the past for this organization, not the future. That's just reality. China is an untapped market of staggering potential. And the Dodgers didn't look for this opportunity, it was presented and management felt it was too important to pass up, even though the timing is tricky.

Where are the Dodgers getting all this money from, with the signings of Andruw Joes, Hiroki Kuroda and Gary Bennett?
-- Brian H., Torrance, Calif.

From the salaries of the 13 free agents that left the club, plus the removal off the books of the salaries for Bill Mueller and Brett Tomko.

Will the signing of Bennett be considered by fans a stain on the reputation of the Dodgers organization in light of Bennett admitting to steroid use?
-- Vince O., Highland Park, Calif.

Surely by some. But, is there another choice that the Dodgers know conclusively has never used steroids? No.

Bennett got caught. Maybe every other catcher available didn't get caught. That wouldn't necessarily make them better choices. At least Bennett confirmed it and explained it, which is more than almost all of the others did. Bennett was signed because the baseball operations people believe he's the best fit to back up Russell Martin.

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