"Why not? Every year regardless of what our payroll is or ball club is...I wouldn't be in this business if I didn't think you had a chance to win."
-- Kevin Towers, on whether the Diamondbacks can take the NL West
Man, it never gets old. No matter how many times it happens, or how many winters have been hibernated through, there's something about writing that headline which makes my heart leap. I'm smiling, simply looking at it. There isn't any particular reason why that should be the case: there's no great leap forward or momentous news to announce. Life is still the same, in every significant detail, as it was yesterday - except, that there are now officially pitchers and catchers at SRF@TS. And that kicks ass, in a whole variety of ways.
But what does "report" mean, anyway? That, optimism and random stuff after the jump.
I imagine some kind of attendance check taken by Cap'n Kirk.
And so on. But what do they do then? There's no work-out scheduled for today, so do they just mill around, picking their lockers and so on?
Actually, this year, I think there will be a greater process of familiarization to be gone through, so I trust that is already under way. That's both because of the spanking-new facilities, and because of the large number of new names to be found in camp. Given the importance of the bond between pitchers and catchers, it makes sense for them to show up a few days before the rest of the team. That's especially true, given the starting from scratch, or close to, which will be needed for a lot of the Diamondbacks' batteries in 2011.
It's startling to discover that, as far as I can see, no pitcher on the roster has even 100 innings experience working with any of our catchers. The only starter returning from Opening Day 2010 for Arizona is Ian Kennedy, and he worked more with Chris Snyder last season, throwing just 90.1 innings to Miguel Montero. He is followed by Juan Gutierrez's 78 innings to Miggy. Zach Duke, Armando Galarraga, new closer J.J.Putz - none of them have ever worked with Montero or Henry Blanco. With the first meaningful game barely six weeks away, bonds of trust, and familiarity with repertoires, need to be forged.
In Duke's case, it might take a little longer, as Nick Piecoro tweeted that our starter might be delayed arriving at camp, because his wife is having a baby. A tip of the cap to Duke for apparently planning this happy event better than some Diamondbacks have managed in recent years. I mean, you get five months of the year off, and you're still slipping away in the middle of the games for a birth? C'mon, guys - focus! :-) Mrs. SnakePit has a theory that becoming a father causes baseball players to slump, as they lose focus. I'll have to look into that sometime. If she's right, keep an eye on Montero, as he and his wife had a child at the end of last season.
"It will tough, it will be difficult...I think we've got some good players here. Ultimately, it's going to come down to our pitching. If we pitch well, there's no reason why we can't win a division. We need our players to believe that we can achieve that. I don't want our players saying, 'We just have to get to .500 or have a winning record or win more games than 65.' No, we want to go out and win the NL West. Can we do it? I think we can."
-- Kevin Towers
Still, this is not the time of year for any kind of concern. It's one for unbridled optimism, entirely untroubled by pesky "facts". No team has a losing record - not even the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have a long, proud tradition of absolute suckage. [Know how bad last year was for Arizona? Pittsburgh have averaged fewer wins than that, over the past six seasons] At this point, anything is possible, and that's what makes it such a great time of year. No-one is injured, slumping or not playing up to their contract.
Not that the last will be particularly hard for the Diamondbacks. It's About the Money listed the highest-paid player on each team, and unless Kelly Johnson wins his arbitration case, as far as Arizona goes, it will be Joe Saunders at $5.5 million. The only major-league team with a top banana certain to be lower than that are the Royals, for whom Joakim Soria will earn $4m. Even if KJ gets his $6.5m, that would still leave us ranked 26th. We move ahead of the A's, Pirates - who pay Chris Snyder $5.75 million this year - and maybe the Rays, who could end up paying Johnny Damon $6 million, depending on how many people go to games in Tampa (and I'm not making that up!).
Speaking of Johnson, Seth from SB Nation Arizona was over at SRF@TS today, and reports that Kelly's arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, but that talks are continuing between the two sides. Seth also reckons it seems that "Gibson will adjust his style of play to the skill sets of his final 25-man roster, instead of picking guys will skills that fit a certain mold." I think this ties in with the flexibility Towers has added with the off-season arrivals. Said Gibson, "We want to have more ways to compete ourselves into good situations and more ways to compete ourselves out of bad situations...We're going to work very hard at expanding our game."
That's one of the things which will be interesting to watch as spring training expands. While we've got a fairly-good idea of who the 25-man who break camp will be, there's a lot of uncertainty over roles. First-base, third-base, left-field, most of the jobs in the bullpen 0 none of those seem set in stone. Gibson seems to be looking for Swiss Army knives: "I want guys that can bunt, that can slash, that I can hit and run with. Ultimately, that's our goal. I'm using pitching right now for the topic, but that goes for every position on the field. We want to try and get as good as we can get and have a broader sense of our responsibility at any given position."
Head over to SB Nation Arizona for more from today's opening sessions, from both Towers and Gibson.