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Inbox: Are the Astros close to showing improvement? columnist Tracy Ringolsby answers that and other questions from fans

While the Houston Astros are looking at the future, the Dodgers reaffirmed their focus is now with their record contract agreement with Clayton Kershaw. The situations have created curiosity among baseball fans. They have questions. Now come some answers.

Do the Astros have the prospects coming through the system to be a viable .500 team any time in the next three or four years? Who should we look for from them -- either this year or in the system arriving soon?
-- David D., Arlington

The Astros have restocked their farm system in recent years and now have one of the deepest in the game. Some of those prospects, such as pitcher Jarred Cosart, got their feet wet in the Majors last year, and many more are on the way. Mark Appel, the first pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, could wind up in the rotation at some point this season, and '12 first overall pick Carlos Correa excelled in the Midwest League last year at 18 years old. Some of Houston's other top prospects -- such as first baseman Jonathan Singleton, pitcher Mike Foltynewicz and outfielders George Springer and Domingo Santana -- could become household names with the Astros soon.

What do you think the Kershaw deal will mean for the Dodgers in the long term? Is it a good deal for them? How will it affect the Rockies?
-- Chris V., Ouray, Colo.

The Dodgers didn't have any choice. With the splash of the new ownership group in making major additions to the payroll, how do they explain to fans that they are willing to let the best pitcher in baseball walk away? They don't. They sign him. The market was established by last year's signings of Justin Verlander in Detroit and Felix Hernandez in Seattle. Not only is Kershaw a tad better than those two, but he signed a year shy of free agency as opposed to two years away from testing the open market. Kershaw was able to get the opt-out clause after five years without much debate. The Dodgers, after all, gave the same option when they signed Zack Greinke a year ago.

Should the Rockies build around pitching or hitting?
--Tye D., Centennial, Colo.

Given the Rockies' history in trying to bring in established pitchers, they would seem better-suited to invest in a big-time bat, like they did when they signed Larry Walker. I would think the long ill-fated history of bringing in established pitchers would make them gun shy. Pitchers who have succeeded for them have been homegrown pitchers or pitchers looking to hang on, like a Brian Bohanon, Shawn Estes or Jorge De La Rosa as opposed to a Bill Swift, Bret Saberhagen, Darryl Kile, Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle or Jeremy Guthrie.

What are the chances of Chad Bettis getting a spot on the Rockies' roster?
-- Jacob Smith, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Bettis will have to have an impact spring. He has a big league arm. The big question regarding Bettis is whether to use him as a starter or reliever. He would seem likely to get put in with the starters, at least early in the spring. It is easier to back a pitcher off if he has put up arm strength rather than to try and build up his stamina at a late date if the decision is to put him in the rotation.

Is there any room for Vernon Wells as a Jason Giambi-like bat on the Rockies' roster, considering his low price?
-- James H., Denver

The Rockies could have an interest in Wells, but that's on hold right now. The Yankees designated Wells for assignment on Friday, which means they have until Jan. 20 to move his contract. If he is not dealt by then, he most likely would be released and become a free agent. At that point, Wells would be available to sign for minimum salary because the Blue Jays, Angels and Yankees would be responsible for the remainder of his $24,642,857 salary. Toronto, which originally signed Wells, is obligated for $18.6 million, the Halos for $3,642,857 and the Yanks $2.4. Wells, 35, would give the Rockies a right-handed power threat off the bench who is capable of playing the outfield. He also is a quality teammate.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
Read More: Mark Appel, Chad Bettis, Vernon Wells, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Correa