Buy early for Christmas...

MLB.com are having a New Year sale on D'backs merchandise. Want a Memory Company Randy Johnson Player Ornament for your Christmas tree - next year? Was $14.99 - now $1.97. Ah, how the mighty are fallen... Though actually, there are some decent looking items in the clothing line available, so might be a good time to stock up for the upcoming season.

With appropriate fanfare, Upton's signing became official yesterday, with his presentation at a press conference in Phoenix. He was given jersey #1, but I suspect that was because of his position in the draft; if not, then if I were Andy Green, I'd be packing my suitcases, as he's the current owner of that number, the only D'back ever to wear it. Hanley Frias, Jerry Gil and Juan Sosa (who he?) all wore #2 - the next lowest number on the roster last year was Craig Counsell's #4.

Doesn't really add anything of substance to what we knew. Upton makes all the right noises about being excited to be here, praising the support ("From watching the games over the summer, from what I could see, there's great fans here in Phoenix" - and managing to keep a straight face while saying so) and professing no concern about being pitted against Stephen Drew for the SS position. Josh Byrnes agreed: "If we get to that problem, we'll figure out a way to solve it. But until we do, we'll let them develop at shortstop and cross that bridge when we get to it." Fair enough. It'd be a delightful problem to have, debating which All-Star player starts at shortstop...

Interesting article on azcentral.com, albeit from the anonymous "Fanboy". Are the D-Backs better? Definitely is the headline, though Ben might be advised to stay clear, given the deep love shown for Byrnes in the piece: "Jeff Moorad, Ken Kendricks and the rest of the money guys were smart enough to put someone in place that actually has a clue what he is doing and who has a plan on how to make the D-Backs a winner."

The honeymoon rolls on, it seems. I'm not quite as enamored of Byrnes: I posted a comment to the blog, that he'd have been better off making the big deals first, then plugging any holes that resulted, rather than signing aging veterans like Easley and Grimsley [and Byrnes, without whom, we could have stuck Green in CF and had Quentin debuting in right]. It's a direct result of these early moves which have lead to the loss of Kroeger, and possibly had an impact on the departure of Santos too.

Now, while neither are in our top 5 prospects, both were likely top 20 - and probably higher in any organization without Upton, Drew, Quentin, Jackson and Young. And can you ever have too many prospects? Certainly, given the choice between Santos + Kroeger and Easley + Grimsley, who'd you rather have on the roster, especially in an organization that's supposedly building for the future?

There's also the failure to make any significant improvements on the pitching side at all: it's difficult to see Vazquez and Estes being adequately replaced by Batista and Hernandez. However, the Banana reports, "Arizona is exploring the trade of infielder Alex Cintron and could package him in a deal with newly acquired pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez for a different, perhaps younger, starter in the rotation." Hmmm... Anyone know more about this? Or is just speculation?

That's actually a decent piece from Bob McManaman, giving a good overall picture of the moves the D'backs have done during the winter. He gives his projected roster: it agrees with the one here a couple of days back as far as position players go, but he opts for Vargas as #5 in the rotation, and gives Aquino, Lyon and Viscaino slots in the bullpen, at the current time. Either way, at the moment, it looks like our bullpen will be average at best - though I'd take "average" in a heartbeat after 2005!

It's certainly striking after Jeff Moorad's comments on October 2nd last year: "We do have the right nucleus on the field. I think the goal at this point is to make some adjustments -- certainly to tweak the roster a bit. But I'm not sure that wholesale changes are required." Yet here's a revised version of the chart we first published in mid-November, showing the Opening Day lineups over the past two years and the projected one for 2006 - players who returned to the same position are shown in bold:

2004 2005 2006
1B Sexson Tracy Jackson
SS Cintron Clayton Counsell
2B Alomar Counsell Hudson
3B Hillenbrand Glaus Tracy
C Mayne Hill Estrada
LF Gonzalez Gonzalez Gonzalez
CF Finley Cruz Byrnes
RF Bautista Green Green
P Johnson Vazquez Bautista
P Webb Webb Webb
P Dessens Ortiz Ortiz
P Sparks Estes Hernandez
P Fossum Halsey Halsey
CL Mantei Lyon Valverde

Half the starting position players (Estrada, Jackson, Hudson, Byrnes) and 40% of the rotation (Hernandez, Batista) weren't on the roster for Opening Day 2005. Two more (Tracy and Counsell) will be playing different positions. Of the rest, the majority (Gonzalez, Ortiz, maybe Green) are probably there, largely because we couldn't find anyone willing to take them off our hands. Webb, and Halsey if he gets the #5 spot, are the only 100% returnees of true choice. I guess that certainly counts as "tweaking the roster a bit"!

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