Springtime Storylines: I am obliged to ask if Brandon Webb can help the Diamondbacks

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Diamondbacks.

big question: Brandon Webb, of course.

This is my 29th preview in the space of just over a week, so I feel I’ve got some leeway to go a little meta here. Bear with me.

I couched all of these previews in some “burning question” for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I’m a product of a law school that still leaned heavily on the Socratic Method, so I’m just sort of wired to analyze things in terms of questions. For another, questions tend to encourage people to click and comment because they often think they have better answers than I do. Which they usually do. Both clicks and interactivity matter here, so yeah, questions are good.

But I gotta admit, some of these questions are forced. It’s one thing to ask questions about a team that is challenging for the division, because the answer to any single question — or many questions — could mean the difference between making the playoffs or not. Are the Twins going to be able to overcome the loss of Joe Nathan? Is the Dodgers’ rotation good enough? Those sorts of questions suggest themselves.

But for many teams — like the Diamondbacks, for example — the questions are a little on the boring and repetitive side, usually dealing with team health or whether there’s, generically speaking, enough pitching or enough hitting. These things matter, of course, but they don’t exactly plum the depths of insight. Flawed and non-competitive teams have lots of questions. More questions than answers, really.

Which makes Brandon Webb’s shoulder an utter godsend. To prepare for these things I try to read as many other previews and offseason analysis as possible. A lot of them use the “burning questions” model too, and I couldn’t find a single one of them that didn’t lead with “will Brandon Webb be healthy enough to contribute?”  I banged my head against the desk for a long time this afternoon trying to avoid asking that myself while also avoiding the “is there enough pitching” kind of thing as well.  I’m sure Diamondbacks fans could tease out some subtle nuance of this team that lends itself to some other point of analysis, but as a generalist I couldn’t do it. Upton good. LaRoche new. Scherzer trade perplexing. Reynolds strikeouts. They all bored me, frankly, because at the end of the day this team seems laser-locked into fourth place no matter what happens.

So let’s get this over with: yes, Brandon Webb will contribute this year. Probably not until May at the earliest though, and his entire 2010 season will be an audition for a make-good contract once he hits the market next fall. He’s from Kentucky and has said he wants to be near home, so maybe the Reds will spend some of their freed-up Harang and Arroyo money on him.  A pretty nice fit, actually.  

else is
going on?

  • Webb aside, I think the rotation will be pretty interesting to watch. Dan Haren is one of my favorites, Edwin Jackson certainly has his moments and Ian Kennedy has the potential (please note the word “potential”) to be an above average starter one day. But interesting does not mean good, and I think that Dbacks fans will really miss Max Scherzer, Doug Davis and even Jon Garland this year.  As a whole, the group is decidedly worse than it was last season, and I think that’s the case with or without Brandon Webb. 
  • Conor Jackson and Chris Young are a couple of guys the Diamondbacks really need to return to form if the team is to be respectable this season. Newcomer Kelly Johnson can be added to that list too.  If all three play to their potential they could make some noise. If they don’t, the Padres are lurking.
  • The heart of the lineup is pretty darn respectable for a team that should lose more games than it wins.  Justin Upton is a stud, of course. Mark Reynolds is probably the least-appreciated 40+ home run guy in baseball because strikeouts are all socialist and evil and everything. Adam LaRoche is no slouch, and I think he’ll avoid that whole first-half slump thing he’s famous for due to Arizona’s refusal to participate in daylight savings time.  It’s science.
  • I’m pulling for A.J. Hinch. He caught a lot of hell when he was named manager last year with a lot of the players and one departing coach famously taking shots at him for his lack of experience. I know experience matters in most walks of life, baseball managing included, but as anyone who has ever looked for a job or tried to do something new in life can tell you, being told right out of the gate that you’re hopeless or unwanted because you lack experience sucks. Hinch isn’t some nepotism case or anything. He’s just coming to the job with a different background than you usually see and I’d like to think that people would give him a chance to fail before they call him a failure.

are they gonna do?

I just don’t see them having the starting pitching to make a credible run at even third place in the West. If things get ugly San Diego could sneak up on them, but I kinda doubt it because there is a lot of talent here, even if there isn’t enough to contend. I’m still scratching my head at their involvement in the Curtis Granderson trade.

Prediction: Fourth place in the NL West.

Blue Jays sign Danny Espinosa to minors deal

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Free agent middle infielder Danny Espinosa signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays, the team announced Saturday. The deal includes an invite to spring training, where Espinosa is scheduled for his first split-squad game against the Orioles this afternoon.

Espinosa, 30, was inked to another minor-league deal with the Yankees in January. The veteran infielder was competing for an infield job until the team picked up second baseman Neil Walker on a one-year, $4 million deal last Monday. Prior to his release, he slashed .160/.276/.320 with one home run through his first 12 games with the Yankees this spring. He didn’t fare much better in the majors last year, either, batting a cumulative .173/.245/.278 with six home runs and a .523 OPS in 295 PA for the Mariners and Rays.

Blue Jays starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is still dealing with a bone spur in his heel and has officially been ruled out for Opening Day, which could clear a path for Espinosa to claim a starting role in Toronto. Of course, he won’t be the only candidate under consideration — Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz are still in the mix as well, though no final decision appears to be made just yet.