The Eve of the War...

It's so close that we can now taste it. Tomorrow sees the opening of the Cactus League, as the Diamondback face the Colorado Rockies - hang on, didn't we play them last time? Micah Owings will get the start for Arizona, though is only scheduled to pitch two innings. Bill Murphy, Emiliano Fruto and Connor Robertson will follow him to the mound, throwing two more innings apiece and we'll then get one innings of Brandon Medders to finish things off. It seems like forever since we were last able to write that: "Micah Owings will get the start." Of course, if we can kick the Rockies ass tomorrow, so much the better. The revenge starts here, folks.

Fascinating interview with Josh Byrnes over on ESPN. One point of note was that Byrnes would never give any pitcher an eight-year contract - but might give one to somebody like Justin Upton. He also commented on the bullpen's role on our success: "A lot of that luxury of usage was because of the starting rotation throwing a lot of innings. That really allowed Bob to use the bullpen that way. There was a pretty clear definition of roles for when the team was ahead, tied or behind. We were able to maintain that over a long season pretty well." He's not too concerned about the hitters, feeling there were "encouraging signs" during the year, and that Drew was unlucky. Of particular note, perhaps, are his comments on the long-term contract signed by Byrnes:

Even if you think he's just average offensively, there are major pluses on defense and with his baserunning that overall make him a very good player. Not to discount some of the fan identification issues, but we really looked at it like this: At the time, we felt like Upton would be ready to play in 2008. With Quentin the debate was, would we be better off with him and $10 million of spending room, or with Byrnes plus the trade value of Quentin? In this market it was difficult to predict, but it was at least a fair debate. Also, in a lineup that at times was struggling, Byrnes gave us a bit more certainty of performance. What he and Hudson did in the first half while the young guys struggled helped us survive.

Byrnes is also covered on Diamondbacks.com, though there isn't too much there beyond what you would expect. In fact, Byrnes appears to make an attempt on the record for consecutive cliches in a paragraph, held by Micah Owings, who managed six before his debut last year. Take it away, Eric: "I'm not going to change. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I love this game. I love having the opportunity to play professional baseball and I realize how fortunate I am. There's not a day that I take for granted playing Major League Baseball." Oh, just short, Eric, with five - and we have to deduct points for admitting afterwards, "It sounds rehearsed and politically correct."

However, he did give us the first Best Quote nominee of 2008, on the drug testing he underwent in Tucson, which to prevent any possibility of doctoring, involves the presence of a witness during the production of the specimen. "I’d prefer not to have a grown man standing there looking … but if they have to do it for the greater sake of the game, I’m in." Can you imagine having that as a job? How do you introduce yourself at a party?
    "And what do you do?"
    "I watch baseball players urinate."
    "Ah. So you're a professional meat-gazer?"
Sure they'd have some, er, interesting tales to tell.

Leo Rosales has been impressing in practice, with three good pitches and a particularly-plus change-up, which also has lots of movement in both dimensions. He's the guy we got in exchange from the Padres for Scott Hairston - to some discontent at the time, since Rosales was unable to pitch after the trade, due to a broken hand. Suffered when he punched a bathroom wall. A titanium plate and six screws later, a suitably-mollified Rosales is back in action: "I was angry and did something stupid. It cost me five months. It was a live-and-learn type of deal. It was one of those things that will never happen again." Certainly hope so.

On a somber note, Bob McManaman reveals that Orlando Hudson almost lost his mother in November. If anyone can read the following paragraph, describing what Hudson went through, without feeling both a chill, they've a colder heart than I: "I looked around and there she was, passed out on the floor, and blood was just everywhere. I thought somebody had come in and shot her dead. I truly did. There was...there was just so much dang blood." Happily, she pulled through - though not before flat-lining twice. He ended up having to postpone his wedding, but he didn't care. "The scariest day of my life," Hudson said. "Nothing scared me so much as seeing my mom like that." I trust everyone now has an overwhelming urge to call their own Mom. Get well soon, Mrs. Hudson.

The Tribune also writes about Hudson, but looks forward, rather than back, asking, Is Hudson too good for D-Backs to keep?. Jack Magruder thinks, with a good season, Hudson could be looking at $10m-plus per year in his next contract. Chase Utley [seven years, $85m] is mentioned as a "market standard", though that seems significantly more than Hudson would get, since Utley is much more a threat at the plate than Hudson [Career OPS for the two thus far = 126/97 in favor of Utley]. It does raise the question, can the D-backs afford to sign Hudson? Can they afford not to? Should they bother trying? Or do we presume Hudson has peaked and let some other team pick him up on the downside of his career? And if we do, who is going to play second-base?

O-Dawg, too, makes a stab at the cliche record, going with: "I want to spend the rest of my career here. I love it here. Right now, I'm just thinking about getting my team better and about getting to the postseason again - winning the World Series. I'm not thinking about no contract - no way, shape or form. If I do what I'm supposed to do, everything will be taken care of, anyway." Bad luck, Orlando! You end up, tied with Eric on five, one short of the record. [I confess to feeling some sympathy for pro athletes who are expected to wax lyrical and find new, interesting ways of expressing the same sentiments. No matter how genuine the feelings, it's almost impossible for them to do so, without becoming targets for snarky bloggers. But turnabout's fair play: O-Dawg and Byrnes are welcome, any time, to come and mock my hacks in the batting cages at Crackerjacks. ;-)]

The Tribune, also has a cute story, with Special K and JUpton remininscing about time spent growing up. Upton used to accompany big brother BJ on his travel team trips...where he used to play alongside Mark Reynolds. Said Mark of his now-teammate, "He was always just that annoying little brother running around. Him and my brother just made me and B.J.'s life hell." Justin was aged six at the time; I imagine if you'd told him then, that he and Mark would end up as rookies on the same major-league team, he'd have laughed, and gone back to playing with his Pokemon cards or whatever.

The good news is, Tony Pena is scheduled to have arrived at Diamondbacks training camp by the end of today, having finally sorted out his visa problems. The bad news is, we have to refer to him for the rest of the season as Carmen Morales. If anyone from the State Department asks, yes, we do have a grandmother, residing in a Sun City retirement home, pitching out of our bullpen. She's got impressive life on her fastball for an 84-year old. Especially one in a wheelchair.

I removed the D-backs 2008 roster from the sidebar. Unlike previous years, there is really precious little to be decided as we go into Spring Training, with the rotation, position players, bullpen and almost the entire bench apparently set. So there's not really much point in listing a roster we all should be able to recite by heart. I also got my copy of the Hardball Times Season Preview 2008 through today, and look forward to using its data for an inside edge during our SnakePit Fantasy Baseball season [the league for which should be opening over the weekend - more info to follow shortly on that]. Go buy a copy.

I also wrote a fantasy baseball preview on the D-backs for RosterMag, the fantasy wing of MVN - a lot more good, free information for rotisserieheads can be found over at rostermag.com. I guess that's somewhat disloyal of me, since MVN are one of SB Nation's rivals, but I'm not going to change. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I love covering this game. I love having the opportunity to write about professional baseball and I realize how fortunate I am. There's not a day that I take for granted writing about Major League Baseball. Now, why does that sound familiar? :-)

And with that, may battle commence - for the first time in 2008, I get to say, "Let's go, Diamondbacks!" And, boy, does it feel good.

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