Pitchers and catchers report today.
Are there any five better words in the English language? Yes: the long, dark winter had ended and the first rays of light come, as Webb, Snyder, Haren, Montero and the rest show up at Tucson Electric Park and begin to unpack. The rest of their team-mates join them on Wednesday, and Bob Melvin echoes something Josh Byrnes said in his interview with us, "We'll probably go a little harder on the defense and base-running end." Strikeouts are also going to be addressed, though it's a little harder to see quite how they're going to do that, and make Reynolds improve his contact when he swings. His 62.3% rate was the very worst figure among the 447 hitters with 100+ PA's last season - Tony Clark and Justin Upton also made the bottom ten.
Still, at this time of year, we are all full of hope and aspiration, basking in the glow of Baseball Prospectus anointing us NL West champions at a canter. Save the back of the bullpen, the roster seems just about set. There, Qualls, Peña, Rauch and Schoeneweis look to be locks, leaving a bunch of players to fight over the remaining three spots - it's not certain whether Tom Gordon will be ready for Opening Day, but Nick Piecoro seems pessimistic. Steve Gilbert handicaps the battle, listing the contenders as Yusmeiro Petit, Doug Slaten, Billy Buckner, Juan Gutierrez, Leo Rosales, Jailen Peguero, Travis Blackley and Jon Coutlangus. Petit seems a near lock, both as a potential sixth starter and because he's out of option. The same applies to Juan Gutierrez and Travis Blackley, so I'm thinking it'll be one of those two, with the other being the first replacement if Gordon isn't ready.
The other battle is for the 25th spot on the roster, and comes down to Rule 5 draft pick James Skelton and utility outfielder Alex Romero. The former seems to have the edge at this point, since he has to be kept on the roster or offered back to Detroit for half of what we paid for him ($50K). If he makes it, he looks likely to see as much time on the middle-infield as behind the plate: otherwise we only have one bench player (Augie) capable of playing second and short. It seems Romero is out of options; initially that seems odd, since he only made his debut last year. But I believe if he was on the 40-man roster and in the minors, that burns an option year, even if not called up. Still, in 78 games last season, he hardly established himself as an offensive force, hitting .230/.250/.341.
I know inquiring minds want to know, but Brandon Webb will not be discussing his contract situation. "I will answer whatever else you guys ask, but I just don't want to talk about the contract any more." He confirmed the reason agreement was not reached last year was not to do with money, but doesn't want to hear anything else about it. "People are really hurting, really struggling. The last thing they want to hear about is someone's contract situation." What about being traded? "Talking about what might happen and all that, I'm not going to do that. What I am focused on right now is this year... We have a real chance to win and do some good things and that's what my focus is. The rest will take care of itself." +1 to Webb, though it's probably going to be easier said than done.
Fangraphs looked at the value of first basemen handling errant throws from their colleagues, an area not generally covered by defensive metrics, even such advanced ones as UZR. What the piece does is look at the errors made on throws to Player X, and compares them to the number made on throws to the average first baseman. If there are less than expected, the conclusion is that it's because the 1B converted a bad throw into an out, saving his team-mate from an E. There are some interesting, but perhaps not-surprising, conclusions in the piece: tall first-basemen are better than short ones, and I am pleased to report that us left-handers are better than righties. And two Diamondbacks make the 'ten best' list: #10 is Tony Clark, and #4 in the majors is... Conor Jackson. Pause for foulpole's head to explode.
Here's something to cheer him up though: a farewell to his favorite pitcher, Ed-it's-gone-zalez, who signed a contract with the Oakland A's. It'll be somewhat odd not having him around in the organization this year. Not that you'd know it, but Randy Johnson is the only pitcher ever to have appeared in more seasons for the Diamondbacks - he has eight, while EdGon was part of six. Today's trivia question. Including those two men, eleven players have served more than five years with the team: how many can you name? The answer is towards the end of this piece.
Oh, dear. Seems like someone peed in 'hacks Cheerios. The grumpy old man disparages last weekend's Fan Fest at Chase and the thousands who attended:
Speaking of jumping through hoops, just up the street, untold thousands paid $10 a head to watch hoop dancing on the lawn of Central Avenue's Heard Museum. Last week, almost half a million treked to a Scottsdale golf tournament - the world's best attended. It's hardly a chore enticing large numbers of Phoenicians outside this time of year.
Laugh? Like a drain. First, he offers a vague attendance figure, without attribution. Then, the "hoop dancing" in question was actually the 19th Annual World Championship - he's comparing their World Series with a pre-season event for a sport that won't start in proper for two months. He also fails to note almost 70,000 fewer fans attended the FBR Open this year than last. Truly, masterful weasel writing. But it gets better. For he then drops this little gem of journalism. "It was full of FSN and Diamondback employees and their kids, and maybe a few homeless people wandering the neighborhood." How can he tell? "I read up on Fan Fest on the local boards." Yes, 'hacks entire research was to Google it: multiple paragraphs of vitriol, describing and dismissing an event he didn't even attend. Pardon me if I treat his opinions on it, the way they deserve.
Am still trying to work out what's going on with Juan Cruz. No-one wants to sign him, apparently for the draft picks they'd lose. So it seems he might be coming back to the Diamondbacks, as we are the only team who wouldn't suffer in the draft. Then there's a report we would sign him, only to then trade him to another outfit, presumably for prospects. What a difference a few months make. If you'd told me at the end of last season that both Orlando Hudson and Cruz - not to mention Manny Ramirez - would still be unsigned when pitchers and catches reported in 2009, I'd have looked at you very strangely. But there aren't many teams with the cash and the interest remaining in a reliever.
Kyle Odegard in the Tribune has a list of ten questions to ask the D-backs, though our ace will not be pleased to hear that it includes, "Will Brandon Webb and the Diamondbacks work out a contract extension?" While there's nothing startling in them, they are a pretty good summary of the issues facing the team. Some may get sorted in the upcoming month - the question of a leadoff hitter for example - but the answers to others probably won't become clear until well into the regular season. Still that now feels like it's a big step closer than it was yesterday.
Tomorrow will be another such landmark, since we'll be opening up the SnakePit Fantasy baseball. There'll be a Fanpost for existing owners to claim their teams and prospective new owners to go onto the waiting list for any unclaimed slots. Here's the list of those Diamondbacks veterans, who played six years plus with the team. Those marked with a * served two separate stints in Arizona.
Luis Gonzalez 1999-2006
Randy Johnson 1999-2008*
Craig Counsell 2000-2006*
Steve Finley 1999 2004
Edgar Gonzalez 2003-2008
Mike Koplove 2001-2006
Byung-Hyun Kim 1999-2007*
Matt Mantei 1999-2004
Brandon Webb 2003-2008
Matt Williams 1998-2003
David Dellucci 1998-2003
Koplove is probably the one that surprised me most. Chris Snyder and Chad Tracy will join the six-season veterans with their first appearance in 2009, and Webb will obviously become the sole seven-season survivor on Opening Day. If, as previously mooted, Gonzo returns on a one-game contract before he retires, he'd be a nine-year man. [He hasn't signed with anyone yet; the Pirates were reported to be sniffing around last month, but nothing came of it]