natsman21: Hi, Richard. I wanted to get your opinion on the Nats' extension with [Ryan] Zimmerman. I'm way too much of a Zimm fan to be unbiased about it.
Richard Justice: I agree with you. Other than Evan Longoria, he's probably the most complete player at third in the big leagues. However, that gets more complicated with Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera now playing that spot as well.
tripleg30: With [Brett] Myers closing, are Livan [Hernandez] and [Zach] Duke the only possible replacements?
Justice: The Astros have a long list of guys who could take that role. Jordan Lyles is the prospect who excites the front office the most, but Livan Hernandez is the most logical because he's capable of pitching the 200 innings that Myers typically pitches.
derekjberg: Obviously, Matt Moore is the Rays' best pitching prospect. Who do you choose for No. 2?
Justice: Chris Archer, who came in the [Matt] Garza trade [with the Cubs], has gotten great reviews, but the assembly line of young pitchers goes from there. Incidentally, the Garza trade has been a fabulous success for TB.
ChrisD521: A lot has been [said] of the Tigers' acquisition of Prince Fielder. In your opinion, is it a net gain, considering Miguel Cabrera's move to third?
Justice: I liked it then, and I like it now. Jim Leyland acknowledges that there will be some balls Miggy won't get to. However, having Prince and Miggy in the middle of that lineup is really special. If Mike Ilitch was willing to spend the money, the Tigers had to go for it. It elevates them a step above where they were last year, especially with the growth of [Rick] Porcello and acquisition of [Doug] Fister.
moorich: Davey Johnson says if his Nationals don't make the playoffs, he should lose his job. Is his confidence justified?
Justice: That's why we love Davey. He's simply letting his players know that their expectations ought to be high and that it's on him to put the pieces in the right place. This Opening Day begins a new chapter in the franchise's history. They're really good and going to get better.
dlatt: I am a Braves fan. I watched their whole collapse last year. After that happened, during the offseason, Jair Jurrjens was in the middle of many different trade rumors. I have watched him pitch, and to me he is really underrated.
Justice: His health is the only issue. GM Frank Wren shopped for offense, and he was a guy whose name [came] up because there's pitching depth in the system. The Braves could be the NL's best team if [Jason] Heyward is solid, if the pitchers stay healthy, if there aren't a bunch of killer injuries.
dlatt: For my next question. With Jason Heyward: What do you think the main problem with last year's drop in offense came from? I attributed it to injuries and him having a hard time adjusting, but what do you think?
Justice: His season was a classic sophomore slump. I mean a classic sophomore slump. The league adjusted to him. He was unable to adjust, and then he had some nagging injuries and either couldn't adjust or didn't know how to adjust. He has had a great winter with new hitting coach Greg Walker.
tjflyntz: During your years covering the Redskins, did you ever imagine a baseball team in D.C. infringing on their popularity?
Justice: Washington is a great baseball town, at least it was when I was there. The Orioles drew upwards of 30 percent of their fans from Washington, and I could tell by reader feedback there was interest. It's different because there's interest in a bunch of teams, not just one. It'll be interesting to watch the Nats' attendance. It's going to be a fun team in a great, accessible ballpark. I can't wait to see some games there.
tripleg30: I am extremely worried about the Phillies. One injury to an already aging and prone Chase Utley or, say, center fielder Shane Victorino, along with no flexibility in the payroll, could spell an even more disappointing season than last year.
Justice: Yes, they're older, and so injuries are always an issue with teams like that. If those pitchers stay healthy, they've got a chance to win the World Series. The thing I love about them is their day-to-day approach to winning. They take great pride in being an all-out-effort team every single day. I love the NL East, but I wouldn't make anyone above the Phils.
drago11: Hi, Richard! What's your prediction for Ivan Nova this season? Can he fully backup CC [Sabathia]? Thanx in advance!
Justice: [Yankees general manager] Brian Cashman would want me to point out that few teams have produced an 18-game winner, a 16-game winner and an All-Star reliever the last two years. That's [Phil] Hughes, Nova and [David] Robertson. I think Nova is going to be solid again. I think Hughes is going to be good. The Yankees are in something of a transition. Some of their core guys are older, but the pitching staff is young. There's more pitching behind these guys, too.
larry02: What are your thoughts on Manny Ramirez, and do you think he can still make an impact at the Major League level?
Justice: I think his bat really slowed down last year, and if those young A's outfielders get off to a good start, there may not be a place for him. On the other hand, Manny certainly isn't playing for the money and seems grateful for another chance. I'm just skeptical he has anything left in the tank.
acepoz86: What are your expectations for Tyler Pastornicky? Can he succeed at the Major League level, or will the Braves be shopping for a new shortstop at the trading deadline?
Justice: The Braves really believe in this kid, and if the rotation is solid and there's enough offense around him, he'll have the luxury of growing, succeeding, failing, etc., while the Braves go to the playoffs. It's a great situation for him.
tripleg30: Excluding [Bryce] Harper and [Matt] Moore, what rookie(s) will make the biggest impact in 2012?
Justice: I'm fascinated by all the young guys Oakland has in camp -- [Collin] Cowgill, [Josh] Reddick, [Brad] Peacock, [Tom] Milone, [Jarrod] Parker. No team has more young talent capable of having breakthrough seasons. They're all going to have a chance to make the club, too.
larry02: When is Yoenis Cespedes going to report for Spring Training? And what is the holdup?
Justice: The A's knew going in that it was a complex and sometimes frustrating path through the bureaucracy to get his paperwork in order. Just getting to the point [where] he could sign the deal went faster than expected, but the A's warned that the rest of it might not [go as] smoothly. It could all be finished today, or [it] could be a week or two.
GutiFan21: Do you think [Seattle's] Dustin Ackley will have a breakout season? Or will he go though a sophomore slump?
Justice: I wish I could answer that. Pitchers and the AL will adjust to him, so it will be his job to adjust to the adjustments. There are three or four phases at the beginning of a young guy's career. We're only in phase two with him.
larry02: Who do you think is the best team in the NL West?
Justice: The Diamondbacks. Trevor Cahill and Jason Kubel strengthen them, and if [Stephen] Drew is healthy, they'll be really good. So are the Giants. I'm not sure how much Melky Cabrera is going to help, but with Melky in the lineup, with Buster Posey back, with Aubrey Huff in shape, the Giants could win the World Series and surprise no one. Some of Arizona's offseason work was spurred by the fact that GM Kevin Towers knew the Giants would be really good. Colorado has undergone a clubhouse transformation with more youth, more maturity. I'm not sold on the pitching, but we'll see.
kevev: Who will win the AL East?
Justice: I go back and forth between the Rays and Yankees. If A-Rod plays north of 150 games, the Yankees are as good as anyone. It's more complicated for the Rays as they patch in Luke Scott here and Matt Joyce there. [Manager] Joe Maddon will again do his magic at short, second and right. If you tell me [Josh] Beckett, [Jon] Lester and [Clay] Buchholz are going to pitch 600 innings and win 50 games, I'd pick the Red Sox.
kevev: Will Bryce Harper be on the Opening Day roster?
Justice: No. From a baseball standpoint, he's probably ready to go. But if the Nats leave him down for 21 days, they delay his free agency by a year. But he'll be up quickly.
larry02: Of the young guys you mentioned with the A's, who do you think has the chance to make the biggest impact this season? And do the A's have any chance at contending/competing this year?
Justice: Cowgill is a guy Billy Beane tried to get several times, and those three pitchers get rave reviews. We could really have a different view of the A's after this season. They could be poised to contend much faster than anyone thinks.
kevev: Will Carl Crawford have a better season than last year?
Justice: Of course. He's as conscientious and caring as any guy I've known. He got off to a bad start, got swarmed by the criticism and couldn't turn it around. He's got a nine-year history of playing well, and will play well this year. He might lead the AL in steals and triples.
mdwickett: What kind of impact do you see Sergio Santos having as the go-to closer for the Jays?
Justice: He's got a dazzling arm. It's one of those arms that you hear people talking about in other camps. In other words, he has a chance.
JDubs_in_Miami: As I understood, you previously covered the Houston Astros. Coming off the 2011 season, how much do you think the Astros gained with their upcoming transition to the American League? I think the Astros-Rangers rivalry will become baseball's next great rivalry.
Justice: I love the idea of the Astros and Rangers playing 18 times a year, too. The Astros are also using the Rangers as their model in overhauling the franchise. This is just year one, but they've got some interesting young players. I think there's enough competition for spots this year that they won't lose 100 games again, and I think they could really be respectable in 2013. That's a faster timetable than the Astros probably think. It's a three-year process to get young guys to the big leagues, and then another three years to get them comfortable. Lots of stuff can happen along the way. The roadside is littered with guys who didn't make it.
kcpost: Will Jayson Werth bounce back, and where will he hit in the Nationals' order?
Justice: I would bet on him. I don't care how much a guy has gone through or how long he has played, when he gets big money and is a franchise's cornerstone guy, it changes things. Jayson has played too long and overcome too much not to bounce back.
soli787: Should the Mets pay David Wright and hope to build around him hoping that he'll be their first star to start and end as a Met? That being said, does David Wright want to go to a lineup with better protection?
Justice: I do not believe [owner] Fred Wilpon and [GM] Sandy Alderson need me to tell then how to spend their money. If he wants Ryan Zimmerman money, there's a good chance it won't happen with the Mets. But I know Sandy well enough to know he'll be aggressive in trying to get a deal that makes sense for the Mets.
larry02: I think that the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez is underrated, do you agree? And if so, do you think he could actually be the one, not Stephen Strasburg, who leads the Nationals' pitching staff?
Justice: I'm not sure what to think. He's got a big-time arm, big-time potential. [GM Mike Rizzo] shopped for a lot of pitching and is hoping that Gio can translate all those physical gifts into the complete package. He hasn't done it yet, but his upside is huge.
derekjberg: The Rays have a wealth of pitching. Who do you see in the starting rotation? And who's going back to Triple-A?
Justice: [James] Shields, [David] Price, [Matt] Moore and [Jeremy] Hellickson appear to be the front four. That leaves [Jeff] Niemann and [Wade] Davis competing for spots. But no one is going back to the Minors. The sixth or seventh guy will be sent to the bullpen. To a question you didn't ask: Sam Fuld might be the most interesting player in hardball. I asked him to please stop writing sports articles. He shames the rest of us.
sdb033: What happens with the logjam in the Angels' lineup? Who gets traded?
Justice: You're OK with Kendrys Morales? That's the key. If he's healthy, there is an extra guy, but we may not know for a while. [Bobby] Abreu is the odd man out, but I'm not sure what the market is for him.
jimbrave24: With the Braves not making a major move this offseason, are they still the second-best team in the NL East?
Justice: The Braves couldn't fix everything that went wrong, but GM Frank Wren did try to trade for a bat. If Heyward, [Tommy] Hanson and Jurrjens are healthy and productive, the Braves make the playoffs.
jimbrave24: Which team will bounce back from its free fall last season: Red Sox or Braves?
Justice: I think they both could be really good. Atlanta has a deeper rotation, but there are health issues. If Beckett, Buchholz and Lester are solid, the Red Sox will bounce back, too. These are two really good teams with really smart front offices. I see there being no hangover. I also sense both teams are really anxious to prove people wrong.
kevev: Will the Red Sox trade for more starting pitchers?
Justice: Trade who? I think [general manager] Ben Cherrington is going to let the competition for that fifth spot play out before doing anything. This isn't the trading time of the year.
larry02: In your opinion, who is the most underrated player in MLB?
Justice: I don't know if people have taken notice of how good Jose Bautista and Jacoby Ellsbury are. We all know them, but take a look at their numbers. They're very, very good.
sdb033: [Albert] Pujols obviously provides an immediate boost to the Angels' offense, but is it that or their pitching which will be the key to overhauling the Rangers in the West?
Justice: To quote Joe Torre while he managed the Yankees: "It's all about the pitching." It's always all about the pitching.
dg1717: What manager do you feel has the most pressure on him to get good results early on this season?
Justice: Mike Matheny has a tough, tough job replacing one of the all-time greats [in St. Louis]. It'll be interesting to watch how he handles it all. He's such a smart man and so impressive it's impossible to pick him to fail. Great organizations endure.
DKCzech: Who is the best second baseman?
Justice: Hard to pick against Robbie Cano. But Dustin Pedroia is a year removed from being AL MVP, and Ian Kinsler is very good.
peepsie: Do you think Edinson Volquez will pitch well enough for the Padres to justify the Mat Latos trade?
Justice: I think it'll be interesting to see if the Padres can get his career going again. There aren't many managers more highly regarded than Buddy Black, and he knows a few things about pitching. I have trouble believing Volquez really is as bad as he pitched last season.
yerfdog4: Who is the favorite for the Tigers' fifth starter?
Justice: Jacob Turner will have a crack at it, but he's awfully young. [Drew] Smyly will also get a chance. They're so good around that fifth spot that it's a great growing opportunity.
larry02: Who is your surprise team for the 2012 season?
Justice: I've got 14 teams capable of winning the World Series. I'd say KC is going to be the surprise team, but I'm not sure they'd surprise anyone. If the Twins contend, it might be a surprise considering their losses, but they've done it so many times before.
ashnatsfan: How tough is the NL East going to be? And besides Harper/Strasburg, what were your impressions of the Nats?
Justice: Adding Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez to that lineup is huge. It'll be a club that evolves as Harper joins the mix and Strasburg settles in.
jimbrave24: With the Ryan Braun drug test behind him and Prince Fielder in Detroit, do you see [Braun] having a good season?
Justice: No player has more motivation, because if he hits 14 home runs, he knows what people are going to say. I'd say he'll have a really good year and that his team will contend. Trading Prince for Aramis Ramirez isn't an even swap, but it's not falling off a cliff either.
jmcconniel: With [Daniel] Bard and [Neftali] Feliz coming out of the bullpen, who do you think has a better season?
Justice: I would put my money on Bard because I think he has a little more command of his secondary pitches. Feliz has lights-out stuff, but I don't know how much command he has.
dlatt: Carlos Gonzalez had a good year last year. But he has been talked down on. Do you think he will have a year that is more similar to his 2010 year?
Justice: Guys who have a Coors Field split always get discounted. He's one of baseball's best players and really good defensively.
sdb033: As Spring Training begins and rosters begin to take shape, which is the most powerful division in MLB, and which will be the closest?
Justice: I'd take the AL East over the NL East by a hair. The Red Sox, Yankees and Rays are good enough to win the World Series. The Blue Jays should be competitive. The NL East has four teams that could win it, but they might not be as good as the AL East's top three.
garfield38: Do you believe the Reds overpaid for Latos?
Justice: No, I don't, and I'm glad you asked. Walt Jocketty needed another big guy, and he traded prospects. All those guys he traded have a chance, but Latos gives the Reds a chance to win the World Series.
dgkruse: What do you think of Ubaldo Jimenez, and will he be Cleveland's ace this year?
Justice: I don't know what to expect from him. There have been times when we've all thought he was as good as anyone in the game. And there have been other times ...
BSeattle: Who will play third base for the Mariners?
Justice: Isn't Chone Figgins still there?
CARDS1414: Who will sign [Roy] Oswalt?
Justice: Right now there's zero market for him. I think he'll take the first offer that's out there. I'm not sure the Red Sox are even interested at this point. To answer your question, it'll be the contender that sustains an injury.
Yankeesrule101: Who has a better chance of winning it all, the Yankees, the Phillies or the Tigers?
Justice: 1. Yankees. 2. Tigers. 3. Phillies.
Yankeesrule101: Do you think the Yankees will win the World Series this year now that they have a good pitching staff?
Justice: Not just a good staff, a young staff. As A-Rod said the other day, every year the Yankees begin with a chance to win it all. This season is no different.
tripleg30: Thoughts on the Jays' rotation, most notably [Henderson] Alvarez and [Brandon] Morrow?
Justice: It's potentially a very good rotation.
sdb033: Do you think Vernon Wells rebounds this year as he has done in the past when coming off a "down" year?
Justice: I can see him getting back in the .270 range.
JDubs_in_Miami: Do you think the departure of Prince Fielder and the Ryan Braun accusation adversely effected the Brewers' team chemistry?
Justice: Group dynamics change every year. It'll be different without Prince, but it was going to be different anyway. Winning fixes everything.
OK, that's it for today. Thanks for all the questions. See you again soon.