Now that the offseason is here -- for the A's, anyway -- the mailbag will appear weekly throughout the winter, with a few exceptions, instead of every other week. So keep the questions coming. Thanks.

I was just reading your assessment of the A's and your projections for 2009 positions. There's no mention of first baseman Chris Carter, despite some stunning numbers. Is it really too soon to think of him competing for a job at Spring Training? He looks like a man-child.
-- Rick P., (no hometown given)

He is a man-child, Rick. The guy's an absolute beast at 6-foot-4 and about 225 pounds, and as evidenced by his Minor League-leading 39 homers for Class A Stockton, he's got the kind of pop you'd like so see out of one of your corner infielders.

That said, he's only 21 years old -- his 22nd birthday comes Dec. 18 -- and it's incredibly rare to see someone make the jump from Class A ball up to the Majors. Assistant general manager David Forst on Sunday told me the team hasn't made any decisions as to which prospects will be invited to big league camp this spring, and even if Carter is among those invited, his experience level makes him a long shot to make the team.

Daric Barton, despite his ugly rookie season, probably is a lock to start the season at first base as long as he's healthy. Carter likely will start the 2009 season at Double-A Midland or Triple-A Sacramento, and if he continues to crush and Barton continues to struggle, you might see Carter by midseason.

Is outfielder Javier Herrera still considered a high-ceiling prospect, or has he fallen out of favor for a less-than-stellar work ethic?
-- Mark P., Concord, Calif.

Obviously, you've heard some of the same whispers I've heard about Herrera, but I can't imagine anyone in the organization doesn't still see him as a high-ceiling prospect. He's only 23, and when he's healthy he's the kind of player you can't take your eyes off. He's a legitimate four-tool player, the missing tool being hitting for a high batting average (so far).

But staying healthy has been a problem for Herrera, who missed 2006 after elbow surgery, saw his 2007 season end in July with a strained hamstring, and was limited to 61 games at Midland this year. Plate discipline also has been an issue for Herrera, who struck out 61 times in 255 at-bats for the Rock Hounds while drawing just 22 walks.

I have been thinking about the offseason and preparing myself for my favorite players to be traded. So my prediction is that Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, Huston Street, Frank Thomas, Emil Brown and Eric Chavez will not be with the club for Spring Training. I also think Billy will package a few of the young outfielders to get a pitching prospect. What do you think about this scenario?
-- Don H., Rochester, N.Y.

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I'm with you on Thomas and Brown, and as I've written in previous mailbags, I do think there's a good chance Street will be dealt. I used to think Ellis was a goner, too, but now I'm leaning toward the notion of him signing a one-year deal.

Chavez's health and contract have him squarely in the no-trade zone, and I'd be fairly surprised if Crosby, who is scheduled to make $5.25 million in the final year of his contract next season, isn't back with the team. That doesn't mean I don't think the A's will consider dealing him, but looking around the game I don't see many teams in need of a one-year, $5.25 million fix at shortstop right now.

Do you think Forst will be a GM somewhere else within the next couple of years?
-- Wayne F., Stockton, Calif.

Forst says he's perfectly happy where he is, and he's very obviously being groomed to replace Beane, so I'd be a little surprised to see Forst leave. His name is sure to come up whenever a job opens -- it already has several times, in fact -- but he seems like a perfect fit here, and his wife has a great gig in the Bay Area, too.

Of all the former A's still in the playoffs, which do you think has the best chance at becoming an October hero?
-- Janice L., Los Angeles

Mark Kotsay. The Red Sox have played him at first base and in the outfield since he was acquired in a trade with the Braves, so he's probably going to see at least spot duty, and there's something about his game and temperament that I think translates really well to the postseason.

Does Andre Ethier count, by the way? I could see him beating up on Phillies pitching in the National League Championship Series.

Is there any fresh news on the ballpark in Fremont? Have they started building it?
-- Jordan T., Castro Valley, Calif.

They have not started building, Jordan, and there's nothing new to report. As I'm sure you've read, owner Lew Wolff recently aired some frustration about the lack of progress, but he also said, "I still think it's going to happen."

If it does, the absolute earliest the park would open is 2012.