Sunday, January 25, 2009

18 Days To Go...

Hey, it's almost time for the pitchers and catchers to report. So what's the team look like?

* Free Agents - fuhgetaboutit. They said at the end of last season that they were going to stick with the 2008 core, and boy, did they. Ramon Vasquez was inked as a utility infielder, Donnie Veal as a Rule 5 pick-up, and a zillion guys signed deals that earned them an invite to camp.

The Buc bench wandered off to other pastures, except for Dirt Dog Doug, who is in free agent limbo. So there will be competition there, and eight or nine pitchers will duke it out for rotation spots.

Andy Phillips, Jeff Salazar, Craig Monroe, and Garrett Jones are newcomers with a sub shot, and Jason Jamarillo and Robinzon Diaz will vie for Ronny Paulino's spot. The rest of the roster competition will be internal.

Pitching will be almost entirely selected from the current collection of Buc and Indy arms, with only Veal and Brian Slocum having a chance at the 25-man.

Are they done? "The free-agent market is not over," president Frank Coonelly said at the Fan Fest yesterday. "We're still being very active. I would be very surprised if we don't...sign players that you would fall in love with this year, between now and the beginning of Spring Training." So there!

* Injuries - Phil Dumatrait looks more and more iffy, Jeff Karstens was shut down during mini-camp, and Freddy Sanchez still has vision problems and hasn't cut loose with any throws at 100% during the off-season, although he says his achy-breaky shoulder feels fine.

On the plus side, Brandon Moss, Jack Wilson, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny are ready and rarin' to go, physically at least. Andy LaRoche, to his credit, didn't cry about the thumb injury that he played through last season, and is said to be good to go now.

* Contracts - Ryan Doumit, Ian Snell, and Ramon Vasquez are locked up, Freddy Sanchez and Jack Splat have club options for 2010, Adam LaRoche and John Grabow are in their walk years, and Zach Duke, Matt Capps, and Tyler Yates are signed for the season and have arbitration ahead of them. Nate McLouth and Paul Maholm have exchanged figures with the team as they head towards arbitration.

They're both are open to long term deals. Maholm is said to be making progress on his pact; not so for McLouth. Everyone else is safely under team control for the time being.

* "The Plan" - The suits are amassing young talent, and though they claim to be competitive now, it looks a lot like they're building towards a 2011-12 breakthrough season. They've diverted funds into the draft and Dominican, and that will pay off in spades if they stick to the course instead of overpaying for graybeards.

And though they didn't bring in any new blood, they did keep two players, Wilson and Sanchez, instead of giving them away for a bag of balls and a six-pack. That's worth a few props for keeping the team from becoming a Triple-A club in 2009.

Other changes aren't so obvious. They brought Joe Kerrigan and Perry Hill on staff, guys they targeted but couldn't sweet talk into the fold last year. They continue to bring in player evaluation types, from both the old school and sabermetric eras.

* The Outlook - They could win 70 or so games if the pitching returns more to the norm. Anything much better, and Bob Nutting should give the entire organization a free week at Seven Springs for a job unexpectedly well done.

But hey, it's January. Everyone's tied for first and undefeated.


WilliamJPellas said...

Yoiks! I didn't know Karstens had been told to stop throwing in minicamp. What happened? People can say all they want about how he doesn't throw hard, but he's a fearless strike thrower who can really help you at the back end of your rotation and as the long man in your 'pen. I hope he's okay!

Ron Ieraci said...

He started throwing again this week, Will. Hopefully, it's nothing serious, and the latest is that he'll be a week or two behind in camp next month as a precaution.
Still, those twinges sometimes turn into trouble, so I mentioned him just as someone to keep an eye on when the fun and games start. I do know both he and Ohlendorf were basically bullpen guys when Pittsburgh got them, and sometimes the transition back into the rotation is a little bumpy on the arm.