Everyone has now shown up in Tucson, with the first full workout in the middle of last week, as the team works towards the first spring training game, against - inevitably! - the Colorado Rockies next Wednesday. Yeah. Wednesday. Three cheers for (somewhat) meaningful baseball!
Let's start with some comments from Derrick Hall and Ken Kendrick: not that we want the front-office to be the focus of things, of course. Season ticket renewals are at 83% thus far; that's down from 94% last year. Obviously the economy largely to blame [we are among the 11%], along with the team not having reached the NLCS. However, Hall thinks more people will be staying in Phoenix this summer, and the team could pick up attendees there, as could other air-conditioned venues like movie theaters. [Tangentially, I was reading an article which said box-office in 2009 is 22% up on last year thus far]. Probably worth repeating Ken Kendrick on the Webb contract situation at some length:
We reached a point where the timing wasn’t perfect for us. Of course, he deserves and will get a major contract. We want to be very certain of our long-term situation. We had several other players that we wanted to be comfortable with the kinds of deals that were available to us there or not available to us there. We’ll revisit it. … I think the answer is we don’t want him to leave. And we’ll work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Reading the lines between that, it seems the Webb deal should not be taken in isolation. The team only has a certain amount of cash it can commit to long-term deals at any time; following the one Dan Haren signed a couple of days after the $54m/three year offer to Webb was pulled, I wonder how much is left in the kitty? Chris Snyder also signed an extension in December '08. Now Jackson has come to terms without going to arbitration, and hearing how crap his employers think he is, seems likely he will be the next target, buying out his remaining arbitration years and one or two of free-agency. "Revisit" or not, I suspect the ship may have sailed.
Alex Romero's chances of making the Opening Day roster took a severe hit with the news he has a broken bone in his right hand. He won't even be able to start up for at least another two weeks, and then there'll be an X-ray to re-assess the situation. I remember how long a hand injury ended up sidelining Montero last spring, though of course it's a somewhat different situation for a catcher. However, would it be cruel to say that if we wanted anyone who appeared in half our games last year to break their hand, it should be Alex? Seems he injured it during his stint in Venezuelan winter ball but was unaware it was actually broken until a physical on Tuesday. Or, as the headline should have been, "Romero's Hand of the Dead."
Tom Gordon will not be ready for Opening Day. Indeed, the best estimates are that late April or possibly even early May seem more likely. So, that will open up an extra bullpen spot for the first few weeks. The candidates for that may include Jailen Peguero, who made it through waivers and is now added to the list of non-roster invitees, having been replaced on the 40-man list by Bobby Korecky, claimed off waivers from the Twins. He's another name that could be in the mix, though has minor-league options left. Performances during the next will likely be the main deciding factor. Not showing up for workouts two hours late - as Travis Blackley did on Friday - will probably help.
On the other hand, Esmerling Vazquez feels much better. As noted previously, he had a hugely disappointing campaign last season, but he feels he has raised his arm-angle back to where it was before an injury in the Arizona Fall League. That, he feels, was why he had so many control problems in 2008. “So far,” said Josh Byrnes, “that looks like the old Vasquez.” He'll probably be a reliever for Reno. And the best story of the week is that Max Scherzer found his locker nameplate replaced with one saying, “39 Mr. Electric,” following comments he made to a reporter. Said Chris Snyder, “I have no idea who’s responsible for that.” Sure...
Cutting down on strikeouts this year definitely seems to be an early focus in training camp. Steve Gilbert reports that one of the practice drills hitters are going through involves facing curveball after curveball in the batting cage: not trying to hit them, just trying to read and recognize them. Situational whiffing appears to be the key. Bob Melvin said, "It's not so much how often you strike out, but when. As a group, we have to be aware of when it's important to put the ball in play... Striking out with a man on third and two outs is not productive. Or not advancing a runner from second with none out. As a group, we're working on our two-strike approach."
Rick Schu also reckons Special K will be more Special and less K: "He's way too good of a hitter to do that again... He had deep counts, battling. There were just some certain pitches he's going to have to keep that focus and be able to lay off it." Gilbert says Chris Young, another of the major-league leaders in strikeouts last year, has "tweaked his mechanics at the plate. He's gotten rid of the toe tap, no-stride stance and is taking a short stride towards the pitcher. He's also allowing the ball to travel a little further which allows him to hit the ball the opposite way." Of course theory and practice are radically different, but at least the problem is being acknowledged and addressed.
I mentioned Nick Piecoro's blog last week, but what I forgot to say is that Gilbert's blog, The Tao of Steve, has returned from the dead and hence is now returned to 'active' status on the side-bar. It's another good source of additional info, since the writers can mention things and go into more depth about aspects that had to be cut from their main forum for lack of space. As regular readers here will be painfully aware, one of the benefits of the blog forum is that there are no such restrictions, and you are free to write exactly as much as the topic deserves. Or, more likely, as much as you think the topic deserves. Which may not be the same thing at all. Hence: a thousand words on the joy of narwhals.
While we're promoting the blogosphere, prospect Daniel Schelereth now also has a blog. His opening entry starts, 'This morning at around 8:00 am shortly after completing my urine sample in the clubhouse...', which has to be right up there with "Call me Ishmael," or "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel," as far as great first lines go. It's an amusing story involving javelinas and butter knives. Not many D-back blogs over on the MLBlogs, which is about par for the course. However, xcicix appears to be a fairly regular writer on her blog, so I'll add that to the sidebar - probably giving it the kiss of death. Yeah, I said "her". 'Skins just peeled off and departed this site, leaving skidmarks. :-)
We're off to the Renaissance Fair tomorrow, so will not be doing anything much with regard to the Fantasy Baseball situation until later in the day, if at all [since it's Oscar night too, and we will be cheering for St. Penelope to get hers]. By "anything," I mean gathering up the email addresses of those who expressed an interest, and passing them over to Commissioner-Elect D Bag, who will then be responsible for setting up the second league and mailing out invitations. So last chance to get in on the ground floor, by adding your name in the comments here. At the present time, we have 15 in the main league, and I've a couple of names on standby, but we'll see how full the second league gets; there may be some shuffling of teams between divisions to balance out numbers.