The Arizona Republic came up with their list of 10 questions for '06. While some have been addressed here, it's a useful summary, though their opinions do differ markedly from ours in some places...
Is the starting pitching good enough?
The Banana says...: "On the surface, you have to scratch your head on this one."
AZ Snakepit says...: What part of "Hell, no!" is unclear? There may be a universe in which Miguel Batista - who didn't start a single game last year - and Orlando Hernandez are adequate replacements for Shawn Estes and Javy Vazquez, but's it's probably also the one where I'm playing shortstop. And Jenna Jameson is at second-base. :-)
Is sitting Tony Clark the right move?
The Banana says...: "Jackson has been tabbed the starter, but if he doesn't measure up, Clark is there and remains a dominant switch-hitting weapon off the bench."
AZ Snakepit says...: It's doubtful Jackson will put up the numbers provided by Clark in 2005. However, it's doubtful Clark will do so either. I like to think Melvin will stick with Jackson, and not be quick on the hook if the youngster has a bad patch, especially early on. Conor, rather than Tony, is the future of the franchise, and we need to be patient with him in 2006, as the experience will be invaluable further down the road.
Is there enough power in the lineup?
The Banana says...: "Arizona improved its overall speed by adding Hudson and outfielders Eric Byrnes and Jeff DaVanon and will try to manufacture more runs in '06. As for the power supply, there's potential here with veterans Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green, not to mention Clark, perhaps Jackson, and third baseman Chad Tracy"
AZ Snakepit says...: Chicks may dig the long ball, but I'm unconvinced it's necessarily crucial to success. The six teams with the most homers last year in the NL included only one playoff team, Atlanta: top, by 28 HR on 222, were the Reds, who went 73-89. I think we'll have a more balanced lineup this year, with no 37 homer guys, but the pitcher's spot should be the only genuine black hole - unlike 2005, where the bottom half of our order was like the chasm at Mount Doom, where run-scoring rallies went to die.
What about Gonzo?
The Banana says...: "It's hard to bet against him, given his ultra-competitiveness and desire for the game...If Luis stays healthy, he should be just fine."
AZ Snakepit says...: Luis is earning $11.5m this year. Of course he'll be "just fine". :-) I can't argue with his desire, but he's already 38, and there is a point beyond which desire alone can't take you. The Grim Reaper is hovering behind Gonzo. And he appears to be drooling.
Is the bullpen any better?
The Banana says...: "Hold your breath, folks. It could be a bumpy ride."
AZ Snakepit says...: The bullpen, much like Russ Ortiz, will be better, simply because they couldn't be much worse: regression to the mean should take care of that. Health will play a big part in their performance; if Melvin can resist the temptation to run Jose Valverde up to 20 saves by end of April, we might be able to get through this year without too many disasters. But having a single reliable closer, and a solid set-up man (Medders?) would go a long way to curing our issues in this department.
How is Tracy's defense?
The Banana says...: "Tracy should be able to overcome those ills of the past after spending 2005 at first base and right field and returning to the position he's known most of his career."
AZ Snakepit says...: I'm not quite sure how his experience of the past season, in two radically different positions - neither of which really require highly-accurate throwing (Tracy's problem) as a main skill - will improve his work at third base. I think there'll be plenty of wince-inducing gaffes, but we'll cope. After Glaus, Tracy might even be an improvement, though I wouldn't expect any Gold Gloves.
Who's the fifth starter?
The Banana says...: "The top two candidates are right-hander Claudio Vargas and lefty Brad Halsey, and this one could come down to the wire."
AZ Snakepit says...: Hard to argue with that. I think Halsey will probably get the nod, helped by being a lefty. But he'll need to show the sharp decline which plagued him at the end of last season was more a product of tiredness, than any inherent flaws in his mechanics.
Better up the middle?
The Banana says...: "Maybe they are, maybe they aren't...the Diamondbacks might end up missing shortstop Royce Clayton more than they know."
AZ Snakepit says...: Or, more likely, we might not. Estrada will be an improvement over Snyder; Counsell's shift to the other side of the bag should not make much difference; Hudson is an upgrade on Clayton, both with the glove and the bat, which Byr-Vanon (whatever their flaws) should, at the very least, not be any worse than Jose Cruz Jr. No, I really think that up the middle is among the least of our problems this year.
How's the bench?
The Banana says...: "A fairly decent unit. But somebody's going to get squeezed here, and it's either Cintron, Terrero or do-anything Andy Green."
AZ Snakepit says...: I have little doubt Cintron and Terrero are being frantically shopped to any team willing to take a look at them for a grade-B prospect. If we don't get any takers, we'll probably end up having to dump one of them on the waiver wire, simply to get the roster down to 25. We might be able to hang on for the first couple of weeks with 11 pitchers, but I expect one of them will be gone by May. Green will be down in Tucson.
What about Bob?
The Banana says...: "If the manager's got this group hovering anywhere near the top of the division come the All-Star break, he should immediately be given a guaranteed deal for 2007. The word, however, is that management won't address that issue until after this season."
AZ Snakepit says...: Given the NL West looks to be the NL Worst once more, "anywhere near the top of the division" is hardly a badge of honour. There's no reason to rush this: if Melvin burns out pitching arms in 2006, like he seemed to excel at in 2005, letting him walk would be the kindest thing to do.