We're back! After a weekend of off-topic Sunday discussions, we are once again quizzing the SnakePit panel of writers about the hottest topics on a weekly basis. This week, we finally get to see the Diamondbacks in action, with the opening spring training games, so that's the main focus of things, but we also talk about the NL West's winter, and the team's moves during the off-season. We welcome your answers too, and we're looking for a guest each week to take part - if you want to be send the questions, put your name in the comments, and we'll add you to the list!
So, how was the winter, fans of the reigning National League West champions?soco: It was pretty good. Had a kid, he's slowly progressing from a small puke monster to a slightly larger puke monster. It was pretty slow for sports, though, between ASU football collapsing, the Bills continuing their postseason drought, and not having enough time to follow NHL or NBA. But the Australian Open men's final was pretty legit.
Jim: It seemed pretty short - is it really almost five months since the end of the NLDS? I'm not sure if time goes quicker or slower when you're on top. I think you're equally keen for the next season to arrive after winning 94 and losing 94! While waiting, watched a lot of movies, largely ignored the other sports, failed miserably to rebuild my web site. Pretty much as expected, really.
Dan: Not shabby, slogging my way through my final semesters before graduation, building up anticipation to seeing Archie Bradley & Co. at the Cove, and preparing for post-college life. Not particularly exciting, but life without baseball is, frankly, somewhat unexciting.
Kishi: We had a winter? Seriously? I don't remember that.
What, overall, did you think of the team's moves? Are we stronger, weaker or about the same?
soco: I would say stronger. We didn't have any significant departures, we shored up the rotation with Cahill, and the Kuberra left field mix should give us defense and power.
Jim: In terms of roster, I like it. Cahill gives us a rotation, 1-5, that is as good as anyone, and I think Kubel will do well. I still don't think we will necessarily reach 94 wins again: that came about with a flukily-good one-run record and career seasons from a number of players, which they likely won't all repeat. But I still think we have the best squad in the division, perhaps the only one that can beat you with pitching or hitting.
Dan: I think it's hard to deny that we're stronger in terms of talent. Whether that means we'll be stronger in terms of production is another question - depends on whether or not the talent was overproducing last year and if they'll be able to do so again. Still, I think the club was able to recognize some of their key weaknesses (left-handed power, back-end of the rotation, left-handed relief) and try to fill the holes. Now all we can do is hope that our best-laid plans don't go to crap.
ZM: It seems pretty clear that, on paper, this team is better than it was in October, and well above where it was this time last year. Of course, that doesn't come close to guaranteeing that this team will be as good as last year's version, this being baseball and all. Still, it's a good sign.
Kishi: Overall, stronger. Excited to see what we'll get out of the pitching side. On the rest of the team, some moves I'm not really sure about, buuuuut... We'll wait and see.
How about the rest of the teams in the NL West? Any power shift?
soco: Seems like the same muddled mess the West has been for a long time. The Giants didn't do anything to get better, so they just have to hope that last year's collapse was a fluke. The Dodgers are still in financial choppy waters, and the Rockies somehow thought overpaying for Cuddyer would solve their problems.
Jim: I was a little surprised the Giants and Dodgers didn't make more effort. San Francisco seem to be relying almost entirely on a full year of Posey being enough - but they were eight games back in both regular and Pythag standings. Really, with a $140 million payroll, we should be grateful for their GM'ing incompetencee. The Dodgers are perhaps the biggest threat, but they were pretty quiet as well. Thank heavens for the McCourts' messy divorce. Oh, hang on, does saying that make me worse than Gadaffi too?
Dan: I like what the Rockies did. I think Cuddyer was a pretty heavy overpay, but I liked the Scutaro move a lot, and just when you think his career is done Jamie Moyer'll give you 200 innings with a 105 ERA+. And with the sheer amount of half-cooked starting rotation spaghetti they accumulated, I imagine that they'll find five pieces that will stick to the wall. Padres downgraded by moving Latos, and Alonso-for-Rizzo is probably a wash at best. I think Torres is better than Pagan, and Melky is a worthwhile glove-first corner outfielder, but losing Beltran negates much of the benefit of a returning Buster Posey. Further, I would be worried about them holding on to Huff for too long.
Pitching's still good, but Wilson's health is up in their air (not that Heath Hembree can't be a suitable replacement, even every bit as good as Wilson). Dodgers, sadly, were pretty hamstrung and didn't seem to have the capability to make much of a splash. Just had to do what they could with a slew of backloaded deals for whoever would take them. Capuano can be good, but he can also throw 40 innings over the course of the contract and nobody would be surprised.
ZM: I was really worried about the Giants at the beginning of the offseason, thinking they would re-sign Beltran, add a free agent or two in the middle infield, and have a much better offense with Posey coming back. Instead, they re-signed a 32-year-old middle reliever, signed the worst player in baseball in 2010 (Melky Cabrera), turned a mediocre CF into a different mediocre CF, and then pretty much called it a day. So that was nice of them.
As for the Rockies, they decided to corner the market on young, fly-ball pitchers, and we'll see how that works out for them at Coors. The Dodgers managed to make an old, uninspired supporting cast even older and less inspired for fairly cheap, and the Padres traded their young, cost-controlled ace. It's been a bizarre offseason for the NL West.
This time last year, we went into spring as two-time defending cellar dwellers in the NL West. Does this feel different, in terms of hopes, expectations, etc?
soco: I'm just excited for baseball to be almost back. I'm going to concentrate on it day-by-day, and not think too deeply about the standings until maybe the All-Star break.
Jim: There's definitely a lot more hope this season. Much as I try to rein in expectations, we were a hit away from playing for the National League Pennant. That's a bit different from "Maybe we'll not finish last." We saw with the Arizona Cardinals how the state's love for their sports teams is incredibly fickle, and
Dan: Undoubtedly. A year ago, nobody was targeting Arizona, trying to take them down. This year, everybody is targeting Arizona. We're not circling our calendars, other teams are circling us on their calendars. It's a pretty awesome feeling.
ZM: This is as much excitement around a Diamondbacks team as I have ever seen. This is a good thing, because it means that the Diamondbacks are getting more attention than they did last year. But I suppose it's also a bad thing, because, well, it means the Diamondbacks are getting more attention than they did last year. We'll just have to see how the players handle the increased spotlight.
Kishi: I think I've got the same hopes as last year- in fact, the exact same hopes, as this time a year ago, I was thinking 2012 could be a good year for the DBacks. Okay, so I don't have that same feeling of dread I had last year. But I'm trying to be calm about it.
What are you looking for out of D-backs spring training this year?
soco: No injuries.
Jim: Yeah, who knows how last year might have gone with a full season of Zach Du... Oh. Never mind. But, less facetiously, that is always a concern: I would like to see Stephen Drew, if not 100%, well on the way to recovery. Sound fundamental baseball would be nice, without sloppy play or mental errors - that seemed a characteristic of early 2011.
Dan: It'd be great if Drew could get himself ready for Opening Day. The team is top-to-bottom scary with a healthy Drew. Other than that, I want either Bauer or Skaggs to be scheduled to pitch one of the nights I'm in Arizona for Spring Break.
ZM: I'll echo soco's sentiment and say no injuries. I'll also be interested to see who gets the majority of playing time in left field.
In the light of last spring's disaster, do you care at all about results?
soco: It means nothing to me. Remember in 2008 when Conor Jackson had that crazy spring? I'll go to a few games but more for the atmosphere than any attempt to analyze or project.
Jim: Few numbers as less meaningful than spring training numbers. I'm not sure whether I want players to do well in spring, or save up those hits and homers for when it really matters.
Dan: Not even a little bit.
ZM: Nope. Spring Training is fun and all, but pretty much meaningless as an indicator.
Kishi: Not at all. It's a chance to see some games for cheap, watch players I won't remember in six months, and enjoy being outdoors to see professional baseball in temperatures that are merely in the double digits.
Pick one player whose progress you'll be following with particular interest.
soco: Particular interest? No one. Limited interest? I'm hoping that Goldschmidt doesn't take a step back.
Jim: I was going to say Trever Bauer, even before today, but all our pitching prospects are ones I'll be watching as closely as possible. With all due respect to the 25-man roster, I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing enough of them in the next six months...
Dan: The obvious choices are Bauer and Skaggs, but beyond the obvious choices, I'd say Trevor Cahill, Bryan Shaw, and Ryan Roberts. Want to see Cahill control his sink, Shaw develop his secondary pitches, and Roberts still look sharp in camp without the chip on his shoulder of trying to steal a job (though maybe I unintentionally gave him a new one!).
ZM: David Winfree. Because someone has to.