I'm sorry: this isn't the Arizona I signed up for. I moved to the Arizona with the outdoor pools, the al fresco dining, and the year-round sunglasses. Not the one where you have to chip ice off the windshield, and going out to get the paper in the morning becomes a polar expedition. I mean, I possess two pairs of long trousers, and one of them is reserved for weddings and funerals. But I haven't been able to wear shorts this year. Global warming? It's vastly over-rated...
Still, at least we have the new season of 24 to keep us warm. Two hours last night, two hours tonight: all safely Tivo'd, and will no doubt be keeping us occupied on Saturday afternoon, which is about the next time we'll have a chance to settle down with a large stock of caffeinated beverages. Mind you, we're floating the idea of recording all the episodes, and doing a marathon blitz the weekend before the final episode. If Jack Bauer can go 24 hours without apparently using the bathroom, why can't we? Comforting to realise that, by the time this season ends, the baseball season will be in full swing. But I'll leave the topic with this final thought: "Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. Jack came down - but Jill didn't. She was a terrorist."
Jose Valverde avoided arbitration with a one-year, $2m deal. That's a big increase from the $359K which he earned in 2006 and, according to Valverde's agent, that's apparently the most ever for a player who was optioned during the previous season. Not something I would personally be mentioning, but that's just me. :-) Now, it's up to Valverde to prove he can earn it: his 5.84 ERA last year will definitely need to improve, but in his defense, that was largely down to one horrendous six-week spell. Outside that May 19-June 28 period, when he inexplicably imploded (24 ER in 14.1 IP), he allowed only eight earned runs in 35 innings, an ERA of 2.06.
I also note the horrendous home/road split in his ERA: 8.67/2.42; Papa Grande only gave up six runs away from Chase all year. That's par for his career; with almost 100 innings now pitched both in Arizona and elsewhere, his ERA is almost two full runs higher in Phoenix (4.44/2.52), which is a big difference. I do have qualms about Valverde as the closer; I forget who it was that described him as either having good mechanics or being unhittable, but not being able to manage both simultaneously. This is his fourth season now, and he's not yet shown the consistency required to give fans a warm, comfortable feeling when he takes the mound. But if he does so this year, $2m will be a bargain. Worth remembering that's about what we paid for Mike Koplove ($1.175m) and Randy Choate ($750K) in 2006, who gave us just nineteen major-league innings combined.
Might be a good time to vaguely layout plans for the next few weeks on this blog, since it's not really all that long until the glorious day when pitchers and catchers report. Before then, we need to squeeze in the community projections for the team. I think the best way to do that will be in a series of diaries, covering the different sections of the team: catchers, infield, outfield, bench, starters and bullpen. These will be open, for anyone to post their expectations, and will be used to produce an overall set of results. I think we'll do one of those per week, beginning Saturday: that will take us nicely through to the start of spring training.
Accompanying these will be a series of appropriate polls, continuing on through spring training - the final one, in the last week before Opening Day, will be the always-popular "Guess the number of wins for AZ". By then, we should hopefully have a good idea of expectations for the season: at the moment, I would look for AZ to be in the mid-80's, but a huge part of that depends on how the Big Unit goes. Johnson's performance alone could easily add or subtract five wins from the final total. I'm also looking forward to seeing the results for "Most Home Runs", "Highest Batting Average" and "Lowest Bullpen ERA", though I imagine "Most Wins" will likely be another cakewalk for B. Webb, Esq.
We'll be ramping up the AZ SnakePit Fantasy Baseball League for another season, which I know a number of you have already expressed an interest in. Expect entries for that to open early in Spring Training, with the draft scheduled for about a week before Opening Day. It'll be a Rotisserie Head-to-Head league format, as that seemed to work quite nicely, even if the eventual winner would probably admit they were not necessarily the "best" team overall. But, hey, I don't think the 2006 Cardinals could claim with a straight face to be the "best" team in baseball last year either!
Finally, I want to see if perhaps we can arrange something with the other NL West SB Nation bloggers. A couple of years ago, a few of us had a round-table discussion before Opening Day, covering our hopes and expectations for the upcoming season. It was a lot of fun, and I'd like to try and do that again: will have to send out tentacles to McCovey, TrueBlue, Purple and Gaslamp, to see if they're interested.