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Weekend Update

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As noted by 'skins, Arizona signed Travis Blackley, though I think it's a bit of a stretch - to put it mildly - to claim that he is the replacement for Randy Johnson mentioned by Jeff Moorad in his chat. No-one would have thought Blackley a replacement for Johnson two days before Moorad's comments, so I tend to think any such opinion is almost entirely the result of unfortunate timing. Nick Piecoro reports it's a minimum-salary deal, even if he reaches the majors, which reinforces my belief this is just taking a flier on someone with potential. Blackley is out of options too, which suggests he'll probably be a candidate for one of the three remaining bullpen spots on Opening Day.

if you didn't see kishi's fanshot [and judging by the lack of reaction, most of you didn't], the Diamondbacks announced their tentative spring-training schedule, starting with a February 25th game against the Rockies at Hi Corbett, and ending with two games against the White Sox at Chase on April 3rd and 4th - so we'll get to see Carlos Quentin patrolling the outfield once again. They also play the Mexican national side twice, on March 4th and 6th, as a warm-up for the WBC. Other dates to note include a trip to Mesa to face the Cubs on March 2nd; a game against the Giants on March 3rd; and their first game in Glendale against the Dodgers, on March 10th.

Those of us in the Valley who work regular hours are short on chances to see the team cheaply, as the majority of the weekend games are down in Tucson [albeit not for much longer...] The exceptions are Sunday games on March 8th/22nd at Peoria, against Seattle and Oakland; and Saturday March 14th, but that's out in Surprise against Kansas City. It'd almost be quicker for us to drive down to Tucson Electric Park. Tickets to all the TEP games go on sale January 24th, but other teams have their own release dates: the Mariners open January 10th, and the A's are already selling theirs. Curiously, however, they say they are playing the White Sox, not the D-backs, on the 22nd, but the White Sox don't think so, according to their schedule.

Not quite sure how I missed this story, which slid into the media a couple of weeks ago: D-backs overtaking Suns as local favorite.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are with­in striking distance of overtaking the Phoenix Suns to become the fans’ top team in this market. The Suns ranked No. 37 among all professional sports teams in the country, with the D-backs closing in at No. 39, according to a study to be released next week by New Jersey-based Turnkey Sports and Entertainment. Turnkey assesses the strength of pro sports brands among hometown fans. In last year’s inaugural Turnkey Team Brand Index, the Suns ranked No. 26 and the D-backs were No. 52.

It'd be fascinating to see full details of the study, but Turnkey Brands want a cool $1,500 for the Phoenix chapter alone, so I won't be seeing that. The site did tell me, "The 2008 results derive from a scientific survey of 12,000 sports fans in 47 U.S. and Canadian markets. TTBI measures and maps a team’s brand in its own home town." Very interesting to note a neutral survey showing the public perception of and brand loyalty to the Diamondbacks as improving over the past year, despite the lack of a title. This would seem to run counter to the views of certain critics, shall we say. In case you're curious, the Packers were top among the 122 pro sports franchises, followed by the Red Sox, Steelers and Patriots.

The Diamondbacks have announced the results of their 2009 season-ticket scholarship program, and have more than doubled the number of recipients, going from seven last year to 18 families this season. That's a total of 41 lower-level season tickets valued at nearly $100,000; they had over 100 nominations, and those who did not receive season tickets will get tickets to games throughout the 2009 season. I think it's more evidence that the economy is significantly hurting a lot of families around the Valley [we are certainly not immune there]. Discretionary dollars for entertainment look like they're going to be tight in 2009, which could affect everything from sports teams to cinemas.

Brandon Webb won't be playing for the US in the World Baseball Classic. He must truly hate freedom. :-) "I want to fully prepare for the 2009 Major League season and hopefully bring the playoffs back to Arizona," his statement said: the story also says that Dan Haren is "leaning toward not participating." Particularly for our starting pitchers, I am fully behind this decision: though they'd be pitching anyway, in spring training, the increased effort resulting from playing for your country, would seem to increase the potential risk of injury. That's something this team absolutely wants to avoid - given our severe lack of depth, I don't think it's any exaggeration to say losing Webb would be the end of our playoff aspirations.

Looks like the team has, for the moment, given up on trading Miguel Montero or Chris Snyder, Josh Byrnes now saying, "I think the odds have shifted. We've spent a lot of the off-season assessing and nothing has motivated us to this point. At some point, you have to say, 'OK, we kicked the tires and nothing in trade exceeds the value of keeping both, so we'll keep them both.'" No rush on this front, though it'll be interesting to see if the mooted long-term deal for Snyder gets completed; if so, then we will probably be looking to turn Montero into something else. Of course, it may also depend on how new third catcher 'Jack' Skelton shapes up.

Misguided and Sloppy Analysis of the Week award goes to Patrick Sullivan of the Baseball Analysts, who wrote:

A lineup that was supposed to all rise up as one and become Major League standouts in 2008 decided to put it off a year. Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Conor Jackson and Justin Upton - potential superstars all - did not hit the way the D-Backs needed them to in 2008 in order for them to repeat as division champs.

I guess he missed the parts where Stephen Drew (OPS+ 110) was the second-best hitting shortstop in all of baseball, Conor Jackson (OPS+ 110) batted .300, Upton (OPS+ 107) had the best OPS of any 20-year old since A-Rod [and before him, Ken Griffey Jr], and the team as a whole scored more runs than they did in their division-winning year of 2007. No: whatever the team's problems were, blaming those four is almost entirely incorrect, and seems like extremely lazy writing to me. More useful, though perhaps just confirming what we knew to some extent, is a Beyond the Box-Score Fanpost on Effects of Blowouts and 1-run Games on Pythag record, inspired largely by Arizona's over-performance in 2007. Turns out we were good in one-run games, not so good in blowouts, but even allowing for those, still outperformed Pythagoras by about five games.

Couple of pieces of information outside Chase, but still related to the Diamondbacks. Matt Blake of wrote a piece reviewing the eating and drinking options around Chase Field. Which might just get me to knock the dust off an article I've had almost completed for months, looking at the reports of health inspectors on the various establishments in the area of the ballpark... And if you're used to parking for free at the downtown meters on your way to games, watch out - because you won't be able to do that in 2009. Phoenix are extending the hours of meter operation from 5pm to 8pm, every day bar Sunday. They're also hiking the cost from 60 cents to $1.50 per hour, presumably also an effort to cut into the city's $250m budget shortfall. At that rate, there's previous little saving on the event parking prices at the private garages.

Finally, if you're a programmer looking for a job opportunity and know Ruby on Rails, the SB Nation are looking for a developer. It would be nice if it were someone from the 'Pit, so I have a direct line to you any time I need something done. :-)