This week in AZ baseball: Webb returns, the 2010 roster takes shape, and an AFL Gameday Thread

Didn't bother doing one of these last weekend, as there really wasn't enough to justify it. Not the case at all today, with a lot of contract news following the end of the World Series, and as a result we can see the first signs of the roster for next season taking place. Or, at least, cross some names off the potential candidates' list, anyway. Today is also the Arizona Fall League All-Star game out in Surprise, with first pitch at 6:15 pm. It's going to be televised, both on the MLB Network and free at mlb.com, so this post will also be the Gameday Thread for that event.

Details of that, analysis of the roster moves, an update on the latest numbers by Diamondbacks in winter ball and more, after the jump.

While no surprise, the big news is, of course, that Brandon Webb will be pitching for the Diamondbacks in 2010, after the team exercised their option. Everyone concerned seemed upbeat at the news, our ace saying, "I was hoping that they would. I was just waiting for the phone call. It was up in the air for a while and rightfully so, it was a big question mark for a while, but I've bounced back really well and am feeling good and I'm happy I'll be back next year." His agent - and one-time SnakePit poster! - Jonathan Maurer added, "We've said from Day 1 that Brandon is very happy with the Diamondbacks and our preference was to remain in Arizona. We would love to work out something long term, but we will just take this year and see how it plays out." Webb concurs: "Hopefully it goes well for both of us and we can maybe start some talks, if everything goes well, toward the end of next year."

Three months after the surgery in early August, Webb will be doing a little gentle soft-toss next week to end his season, before then closing things down and eventually beginning his usual build-up towards spring training and, all going well, Opening Day. He sounded fairly confident he'll be the same pitcher he was: "Even when I was throwing and I was still having some pain, the life on the ball was still there. I can't be too sure, but I'm pretty sure I'll always probably have that sinking action, because that's just how my arm action is, it allows the ball to do that." I certainly hope so: Webb without his sinker...why, that'd be like Lincecum without a pipe in his mouth.

Brandon may be coming back, but there are a lot of Diamondbacks who apparently won't be - though again, none of the news on that front was massively unexpected. On the pitching front, Doug Davis and Scott Schoeneweis filed for free-agency, while Daniel Cabrera declined his assignment to Reno and became a free agent too. Yusmeiro Petit was taken from Arizona on waivers by the Mariners - likely a better location for the fly-ball prone Petit Unit., and our colleague on Lookout Landing are quite excited. The trio accounted for almost one-third of our starts last season (34 for Davis, 17 for Petit, one for Cabrera), and means the competition for the fifth spot next year is currently down to Billy Buckner, Bryan Augenstein and Kevin Mulvey, with the first-named the favorite at this point. Doug Slaten was also picked up off waivers, by Washington.

On the position player front, we say a poignant farewell to Chad Tracy, whose 2010 option was bought out by the Diamondbacks. Only two players - Luis Gonzales and Steve Finley - have played more games in an Arizona jersey than Chad, who appeared 704 times for Arizona over six seasons. His career line with the team was decent, at .280/.339/.453, for a .792 OPS, but since returning from knee surgery, his output has slumped. Chad's numbers against left-handed pitching were particularly poor, helping to make the decision to decline his $7m option relatively easy. Also possibly on the way out are Alex Romero and Trent Oeltjen, moves intended to relieve the impending crush in the 2010 outfield.

Good article in the Republic today on how the economic downturn is hitting all valley sports teams, not just the Diamondbacks. "Every professional sports team in metro Phoenix, along with Arizona State University's football team and the annual Fiesta Bowl, has had trouble selling tickets this year... Teams have been forced to try promotions once considered unthinkable as the drop in attendance cuts deeper into revenue and costs jobs.." Said Jerry Colangelo: "I have been here over 40 years, and this is the worst it has ever been." Other points of interest with regard to the local franchises:

  • The Suns streak of home sellouts ended this month and the team just laid off about 10% of employees.
  • The Coyotes have the lowest average crowd in the NHL, attracting just 5,855 for Monday's game. [There's also an article on whether Phoenix might be better served by minor-league hockey]
  • The NFC champion Cardinals have needed an extension for all but one of their home games, to avoid them being blacked out on TV. 

Time for an update on our winter league ball-players, starting with Conor Jackson in the Dominican. If he's still not showing much power - one home-run in fourteen games - he's still getting on base with impressive frequency: he has an OBP of .523, thanks in part to a K:BB ratio of 14:9. Conor's batting .364 and has stolen six bases in six attempts. Alex Romero and Trent Oeltjen are also hitting above .350 in Venezuela and Mexico, but since they are potenially going to be ex-Diamondbacks in the near future, I'm not going to look too hard there. The potential 2010 right-side of our infield continues to struggle: Tony Abreu has a .640 OPS in the Dominican, while Brandon Allen is hitting only .162 in the traditionally-hitter friendly AFL. Allen's 19 walks do lead the league, however.

On the pitching front, Tom Layne is the only one of the four in the AFL making a good impression. He has allowed two earned runs in 9.1 innings of work, on seven hits and four walks, with ten strikeouts. Bryan Augenstein has pitched the same number of innings, but allowed fifteen hits, leading to seven earned rusn. That's still better than Cesar Valdez, who has wobbled his way to an 11.25 ERA in eight innings. Intriguing line from the Dominican, where Jordan Norberto has nine strikeouts in five innings: while he's allowed five runs, only one has been earned. Scott Patterson has been working well in Venezuela: in 5.1 innings, he has given up three hits and a walk, with six K's.

Speaking of the AFL, today is the Rising Stars game at Surprise, where 50 of the best and brightest major-league baseball has to offer will go head to head. The only Diamondback taking part will be Allen, but it'll be almost your last chance to see live baseball from inside the United States until next March, so I fully intend to take advantage. As mentioned, the game is on both the MLB Network, and streaming for free at mlb.com, so there's no excuse not to be watching this one - and commenting in this thread. [I'll be here, just a little late, as we've got to have dinner first]

The scheduled starting pitchers are both 2009 frst-round draft picks - Desert Dogs right-hander Stephen Strasburg was #1 and Atlanta left-hander Mike Minor was #7. Be my first chance to see the much-vaunted Strasburg in action. Per Red Reign in the comments, looks like Strasburg has been scratched from the game with a strained neck. Probably injured it lugging his bonus to the bank.

Finally, Clay Zavada had his number, #35, retired by Illinois Valley Community College on Thursday. He pitched there in 2003 and 2004, and is the first alumni of the institution to reach the majors in its 85-year history. Around 200 replica handlebar mustaches were handed out for the ceremony, at half-time in a basketball game at the college in Oglesby. "It couldn’t happen to a better kid," said IVCC athletic director Tommy Canale. "He’s really had some tough tribulations in his life and he fought through that." Hear, hear.

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