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08/04/08 6:14 PM ET

Mailbag: What's the plan for the future?

Beat reporter Mychael Urban answers A's fans' questions

I understand that the A's are building for the future, but seeing a team go from nine games above .500 to what they are now is a little tough for a fan. What is Billy Beane's time frame for the A's getting back to competing for a playoff spot? Do you see them as contenders in 2009?
--Steve S., San Rafael, Calif.

Billy and his boys seem to think the A's will be playoff contenders as early as next year, but that seems a little too glass-half-full for me, and I'm typically pretty optimistic. I like a lot of the young talent we've seen this year, with Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney and Kurt Suzuki clearly topping the list, but I have questions about the starting rotation going forward, and everything begins and ends with pitching.

If Justin Duchscherer is back next season -- you can't just assume he will be, right? -- he'll be the No. 1 starter and deservedly so. But who's the No. 2? Sean Gallagher? Greg Smith? Dana Eveland? Dallas Braden? Gio Gonzalez? We just don't know enough about any of these guys yet to pencil them into the front of a quality big league rotation. They might very well end up being long-term studs. But there's also a chance they'll be duds.

I'm not saying the A's can't contend next year, but I don't see the Angels getting any worse, and I happen to think even the most talented young A's need another year or two of seasoning. And as always, health will play a huge role. My guess is they'll be serious contenders again no later than 2011, possibly 2010.

Why is Jack Cust in the Majors and hitting in a run-producing position in the batting order with an average that is around .200 with runners in scoring position and even worse in that situation with two outs? With Frank Thomas back, it would make more sense to put a more agile and experienced player in the outfield -- one who drives in runs in the clutch like Emil Brown.
--Mark P. Concord, Calif.

That question, or at least a version of it, has been asked of Bob Geren several times this year. The typical answer, or at least a version of it, goes like this: "We have a lot of faith in Jack," and it's typically followed with something about on-base percentage.

Wish I could give you something better than that, but that's all I have to work with.

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Anything new on the Fremont Stadium?
--Thom L., Park City, Utah

According to an Associated Press report that came over the wire last Thursday, Lew Wolff recently said he's frustrated by the lengthy approval process for the stadium, but he still believes the ballpark will be built. Said the report: "Wolff's remarks on Thursday came a day after he publicly stated he wasn't sure if he would succeed in building the proposed 32,000-seat Cisco Field."

As has been the case for some time, Thom, the two sticking points seems to be (1) satisfying the major property owners near the proposed site and (2) completing the all-important environmental impact report (EIR). Nothing gets done until the EIR is finished, and I don't know what the timeline is for that beast.

Do you think the A's should bring back Thomas next year?
--Benjamin R., Sonoma, Calif.

I do -- as long as he's reasonable about salary. Every team needs veteran leadership, and Thomas is a tremendous leader in the Oakland clubhouse, which is only going to get younger. He's also a formidable right-handed presence, and the A's always seem to be lacking that.

The money thing is the rub. If he'll play for, say, $5 million with another $3 million in incentives, I think it'd be a good deal. Much more than that would be difficult to justify for a team so clearly conscious of keeping costs down.

The question has to be on everybody's mind: If Ken Macha lost his job after an ALCS appearance and a great year with a great team, how much longer will Geren keep his job after what looks like another 15-games-back season?
--Kelvin S. Lemoore, Calif.

Geren isn't going anywhere, in part because the A's weren't expected to go anywhere this year. Beane made it very clear that this was a rebuilding year, and the fact that the A's were in the race for as long as they were could easily be painted as a credit to Geren.

As for last year, the fade from contention was more about injuries than it was about anything Geren did or didn't do. And the Macha thing wasn't about performance. It was about personality; Macha's clashed with that of Beane in a big way. Geren and Beane are friends, so Geren will have a lot more rope than Macha ever did.

I've noticed that Jane Lee has done quite a bit of writing in your stead this year. I've also recently discovered MLB.com's Weekender section; you seem to do a lot of work there, and I've seen your name on a lot of non-A's stuff at MLB.com. So I have two questions: 1.) Who is Jane Lee? I think she's very good. 2.) Is a role change for you in the works? I really like the way you take the readers into the clubhouse with you, and I feel like that's needed now more than ever with so many young strangers on this team.
--Lauren D., Monterey, Calif.

Jane Lee is my hero. She's been e-mailing me since she was 12 years old, asking for advice on how to get into the sports writing world, and now she's a part of it as a part of MLB.com's associate reporter program. Jane is now a senior at Pepperdine University, where she's the top dog at the school newspaper, and she's going to have a fabulous career. Her time with us is ending soon because school starts back up for her in late August, but I hope to keep her in the mix in some capacity for as long as possible.

As for my role, I'm still the A's beat writer for MLB.com, but I do help out on other baseball-in-general projects for "the mothership." Jane's presence freed me up to do a little more of that this summer, but you're stuck with me through the stretch drive.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.