MLB Network's Dan Plesac participated in a live online chat with fans on Tuesday. During the chat, Plesac answered questions about the 2011 season, Spring Training and more. The complete chat transcript follows.
Dan Plesac: Good morning everyone -- the chat will be starting shortly -- please continue to submit your questions.
Bravesfan88: Mr. Plesac, how long do you think it will be before the Braves are seriously talked about as a threat to dethrone the Phillies in the National League East? Do they have a shot at the postseason this year? Can they get to the Division Series?
Plesac: This year there are some questions with the bullpen, and the lineup was shaky, a very dominant left-handed-hitting lineup. The Braves, in my opinion, have the only legitimate shot in the NL East of beating the Phillies. Definitely in the mix for the Wild Card. Would hope they get beyond the NLDS
KenoSoxFan: The White Sox are heading to Spring Training with Matt Thornton, a lefty, as a closer. What are the differences between having a right-handed closer and a left-handed closer? I ask because you were a southpaw stopper, and it seems there are few.
Plesac: Most lineups are right-handed dominant, which explains why there are more righty closers.
KenoSoxFan: Dan, was the strike-three pitch to Daryl Strawberry in the 1989 All-Star Game in Cincinnati the hardest pitch you ever threw?
Plesac: It might have been. It was definitely the most memorable.
KenoSoxFan: Growing up in Crown Point, Ind., tell me, PLEASE, that you were a White Sox fan.
Plesac: Yes. Bill Melton was my favorite player, he led the American League in home runs in 1971.
jrdreds82: Dan, who are your AL and NL sleeper picks? Will the Orioles get above .500 this year, and are the Pirates headed in the right direction?
Plesac: My sleeper pick in the AL is the Oakland A's and I don't know if they're technically a sleeper, but the Brewers for the NL.
texj1509: Can you explain the difference between the way a veteran and rookie take Spring Training?
Plesac: Rookies go into Spring Training more guns-a-blazing. First impressions are always important. Veteran pitchers use Spring Training as a tool to get ready for the first week of April. When you're a young player, you're auditioning right from the get-go.
FearsomeFour: Dan, in your opinion, who is the best closer in baseball? (Besides Mariano Rivera, who is on a different level.)
Plesac: Heath Bell -- most saves in the Majors the past two seasons.
Tigerslovetwins: What are the chances of the Tigers taking the AL Central? Who has the division's best bullpen, and who is its best player? Oh, and tell Mitch Williams he should grow his mullet back!
Plesac: Very good chance, thanks to the key additions of Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit. Best bullpen in the Central is the Tigers, and I would put Miguel Cabrera as best player. As for the mullet, let's hope not!
greg891: Does Elvis Andrus remind you of anyone you played with?
Plesac: Jimmy Rollins.
kenkraly10: Dan, do you think that my Indians will have a good year in 2011, or do you see it as a rebuilding year?
Plesac: Definitely a rebuilding year. I think the key to their season will be the health of Grady Sizemore.
Kalel1323: How do you feel about how the Phillies' pitching staff handled the media on Monday?
Plesac: Handled it very well. Veteran group, they realize expectations are high, and that Spring Training is awfully early to start talking about the best staff ever. The season has yet to be played.
grkflower: Who do you think will win the NL Cy Young?
Plesac: Cole Hamels.
mrranger10: What do you think about the Rangers' pitching staff? They're getting covered up with the Michael Young ordeal.
Plesac: Losing Cliff Lee is a big loss. There's a lot of responsibility on C.J. Wilson this year. He converted nicely from the bullpen to the rotation in 2010, and Texas definitely needs Colby Lewis to pitch the way he did down the stretch and into the postseason.
KenoSoxFan: How good was Teddy Higuera?
Plesac: Higuera was, without question, one of the top pitchers in the AL from '86 to '89.
texj1509: What are the catchers going through in Spring Training?
Plesac: Catchers have the roughest Spring Training, the longest days. They spend many hours catching pitchers and are the last ones to get their batting practice in at the end of the day. Catchers work eight hours, non-stop. Before everyone's even on the field, they have to work on blocking balls in the dirt. Once the workout starts, they're involved in bunt plays and are catching pitchers for almost two hours straight. You go through the fundamental part of the workout (bunt plays, relays) and at the end of the day, when everyone else is pretty much gone, they get their time in the cage.
grkflower: I am a Phillies fan. I am excited about the season. Why Hamels for NL Cy Young?
Plesac: He's slotted perfectly in the rotation at No. 4. You would have to think that through the first month of the season, he will be pitted up against most teams' Nos. 4 or 5 starter, and he is legitimately a No. 1 or 2 starter on most teams.
Tigerslovetwins: Who was your favorite "guest analyst" on MLB Network? I love Rod Allen, and it seemed like he fit in well with you guys.
Plesac: Rod Allen was terrific. I thought Dallas Braden was really good when we had him on.
garrycolli: Who do you think will hit behind Ryan Howard for protection in the Phillies' lineup, now that Jayson Werth is gone?
Plesac: That is going to be the biggest question that the Phillies are going to have to answer in Spring Training. Very dominant left-handed-hitting lineup. I would say today, probably Raul Ibanez.
xhm1sw: To what degree does the addition of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon affect the Rays this year?
Plesac: It gives Evan Longoria some protection in the lineup, but Damon and Ramirez are not the same players they were four or five years ago. So if you're a fan of the Rays, I wouldn't expect that you're going to see production from both of those guys.
Thanatos: What is your favorite baseball moment?
Plesac: The Kirk Gibson home run off of Dennis Eckersley in the '88 World Series. Being a relief pitcher and watching a game, you put yourself in that moment and know what it is like to be one pitch away from having it all come crashing down. It's the roller-coaster ride of being a relief pitcher. I was with Milwaukee at the time, and was at home watching it on TV, in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.
greg891: Are the Rangers losing value if they keep Neftali Feliz in the bullpen, if they can move him to the rotation? Is he better as a starter?
Plesac: Great question. One of the toughest decisions an organization has to make comes when you have a gifted pitcher, like Feliz. He's been successful as a short-relief pitcher. Do you risk converting him to a starting pitcher? Now you've weakened your bullpen and haven't established him as a starting pitcher. Prime example of a good idea gone bad: Joba Chamberlain.
codhak: What's your favorite part about working for MLB Network?
Plesac: Sitting in the chat room -- what else? Really -- meeting a lot of interesting players, coaches and baseball personalities.
texj1509: What team is everybody overlooking already?
Plesac: The Twins. I think most of the attention has gone to the White Sox and Tigers.
brojbrewer: How do you like the Brewers' NL Central chances with their newly-improved pitching staff?
Plesac: Love 'em. Most improved team in baseball. Legitimate one through four starting pitching. Only question to me: Bullpen. The key to their bullpen's season will be the health of LaTroy Hawkins.
Scan: Is Jose Bautista a one-hit wonder or will he have a big home run year again in 2011?
Plesac: No -- he's legit. He finally figured his swing out. Expect a big year.
Scan: Don't you think that pitching staffs will start to pitch around Bautista?
Plesac: He's hard to pitch around. Free swinger, will see more breaking pitches this year.
kernkobb: Top Rays prospect?
Plesac: Desmond Jennings -- a five-tool player.
tgp44: Dan, I was wondering what the pre-Draft period was like for you. I'm being told that my son will go in the top 10 rounds. Did you have an idea where you would fall?
Plesac: Nerve-racking. I was drafted in the second round out of high school by the Cardinals. I was the 41st player taken in the 1980 June Draft. Elected not to sign, went to North Carolina State, and was drafted in the first round, No. 26 overall, by Milwaukee in 1983. You never really are 100 percent sure on where you're going to go, or what team you're going to go with. You usually have a pretty good sense of if you'll be a first- or second-round pick, but there are always Draft day surprises and disappointments, and signability and economic considerations at play.
Tigerslovetwins: Do you see the Yankees still a 90-plus-wins team? Obviously, with questionable pitching after CC Sabathia, it puts a lot of weight on his shoulders.
Plesac: Yes. There's Sabathia then Phil Hughes, and the Yankees need a big bounce-back year out of A.J. Burnett. They will make a move post-All-Star break to fill a need in the rotation. Their No. 3 pitcher might not be on their roster right now -- he might be on someone else's. But they will make a move to get themselves the best available pitcher out there in July.
soxfanforever1: Do you see the Red Sox as the favorites in the AL East this season?
Plesac: Without question, on paper, going into Spring Training, the Sox are the best team in baseball. To me, the key to the Red Sox is Josh Beckett needs to be the real Josh Beckett. They also need to stay healthy.
rsmith26: Is Billy Wagner really retiring?
Plesac: Yes. He seemed to be at peace with his decision the last month of the season last year.
codhak: Will Zack Greinke improve this year with a better offense behind him?
Plesac: Without question. He'll be a legitimate Cy Young candidate.
wake101: Do you think if R.A. Dickey has another successful season, more clubs would be open to sign knuckleball pitchers?
Plesac: Yes -- very difficult pitch to master. One plus to having a good knuckleballer on your staff is they usually can eat up a lot of innings -- there's not a lot of stress on the arm throwing the knuckleball.
Plesac: Only time for a few more questions.
dave1985: A lot was made of the Yankees' attempts to find a left-handed pitcher to battle the Red Sox's lefty-loaded lineup. How much do you think this will affect the Yanks and Red Sox, and the AL East as a whole?
Plesac: It's a concern if you're a fan of the Yankees, but I think a lot more is made of playing the match-up game. I think it's more important to have good pitching than one or two left-handers in your rotation.
kikker11: Dan, do you think CC will opt out of his contract?
Plesac: No, I don't. He seems to enjoy pitching for the Yankees, and doesn't strike me as a guy that is concerned about seeing how much money he can make.
jomo14: With the Reds standing pat this offseason, can they have as much success as last year? More? Less?
Plesac: It's a much-improved division -- the questions are their young pitchers, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto, need to get better, and the club needs to find the right spot for Aroldis Chapman, whether it be in the rotation or the back end of the bullpen.
texj1509: What are the Cubs' chances of winning the NL Central?
Plesac: In my opinion, they're the sleeper in the NL Central. Matt Garza was a huge pickup, and with Garza, Carlos Zambrano, and Ryan Dempster, the Cubs' top three starting pitchers match up well with just about everyone else in the division.
Plesac: Thanks everybody -- chat is over, but I'll take two questions from Facebook:
Chris Rooks (via Facebook): Where do you think the Mets will end up, and what do you think they need to get back to the playoffs?
Plesac: It's going to be a long season for the Mets. But things will get better. Jonathon Niese has a chance to be a solid pitcher. And Mike Pelfrey took steps in the right direction in 2010. Expect a better year in 2011 from Pelfrey.
Jeff Shaw (via Facebook): If Beckett and John Lackey return to form, will there be any team out there this year that can compete with the Sox?
Plesac: I think, only the Yankees.
Plesac: Thanks so much -- catch me on "Front Burner," tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.