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11/30/09 2:29 PM EST

Inbox: Should A's bring back Mulder?

A's beat reporter Mychael Urban fields fans' questions

I say the A's need at least one veteran starting pitcher, and I have a feeling Justin Duchscherer will be out of their price range. What's Mark Mulder's status these days? Is he healthy yet?
--Gary J., Concord, Calif.

I spoke with Mark the Monday before Thanksgiving, and he said he's been throwing pain-free for some time. What he isn't able to do just yet is repeat his mechanics, i.e. find and hold the same arm slot. That's been a struggle for him for a long time; it basically traces all the way back to when he tried to pitch through the shoulder pain that led to his performance free-fall in the second half of the 2004 season with Oakland.

Mark wants to pitch in the big leagues again. He's even spent some time working with Rick Peterson, with whom he routinely butted heads when they were both with the A's. Now that Peterson is Ken Macha's pitching coach in Milwaukee, Mulder can't work with him, but he definitely wants to try a comeback.

He won't, however, try a comeback unless he feels like he can be the Mark Mulder of old -- the All-Star-quality, Cy Young-candidate Mark Mulder. He doesn't want to be a "project" who needs extra time and attention with the coaches. If he can't get to that point by the time he throws for interested teams in late January or mid-February, he'll probably just shut it all down and spend the rest of his days on a golf course.

Would the A's be interested in Mulder if he does come back? Of course. Who wouldn't?

I'm a big Jack Cust fan. Any chance the A's tell him to leave him glove at home this spring and just focus on mashing?
--Jason B., Brooklyn, N.Y.

No. That wouldn't make any sense from a depth standpoint. Given the A's recent injury history, you have to assume an outfielder or two will get hurt, so Jack is going to have to play a little in the field.

But I do get your point, and I do think Jack and the A's will be better off if all he's asked to do is hit. He had a rough year, but he still put up some decent numbers, and I don't see anyone as proven as Jack in the Minors who can be counted on to match those numbers.

Do you believe GM Billy Beane when he says he's not going to sign any free agents?
--Bob R., Bend, Ore.

He didn't say those exact words, Bob -- every team signs free agents. His point was that he's not going to rely on free agency for any sort of shortcut to sustained success, and I completely believe that he's as committed to that philosophy as he's ever been.

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The A's HAVE to go young at this point. They don't have the cash to compete with "win-now" teams, and if they don't go young in a big way right now, what was the point of trading all of the stars over the past two or three years?

It's not just a smart plan -- it's the only plan.

How much will Andrew Bailey's Rookie of the Year Award cost the A's? Isn't he going to get a big raise now?
--Hank R., Philadelphia

Not unless the A's just give him one out of the kindness in their hearts. They have another couple of years of complete control over Bailey's salary, so they can pay him the big league minimum (for players with his service time) next season.

Where the award might end up costing the A's is down the road, in contract extension talks or arbitration. For now, it's just a trophy, and it doesn't cost the A's a dime.

Is Rajai Davis going to be the starter in center field next Opening Day?
--Jesse P., Walnut Creek, Calif.

If he's healthy, he sure ought to be. He's earned it, and the A's don't have anybody waiting in the wings at present. I assume Davis and Ryan Sweeney have starting jobs nailed down in center and right, respectively. As for left field, that's anyone's guess. Scott Hairston is probably the frontrunner, though.

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