-P- Ryan Dempster will start for the Cubs against the Pirates on Opening Day. He's right-handed. The Cubs don't have any lefty starters, so it was already pretty clear, but the Opening Day lineup will likely be Chris Snyder at catcher, Lyle Overbay at first, Neil Walker at second, Ronny Cedeno at shortstop, Pedro Alvarez at third, and Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones in the outfield. It looks like the Pirates will also face Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza in the opening series, which isn't an easy draw at all.
-P- Pedro Alvarez missed practice today with neck spasms, which sounds like no big deal.
-P- Bob Nutting tells the Pirates how important it is that there be major improvements in 2011. 2011 is pretty obviously going to be a lost season, and Nutting knows that, but we always see a lot of posturing from ownership and the front office at this time of year, as it benefits neither the players nor the fans to admit up front that the Pirates aren't going to be very good and that expectations should be low.
-P- Pirates Prospects has a follow-up interview with Frank Coonelly, who says, among other things, that the Pirates are unlikely to raise payroll into the $70-$80 million range until attendance increases. Given that the financial documents released last year showed that the Pirates were only modestly profitable at their current attendance level, this (unfortunately) makes sense. I hope Coonelly is right that attendance will increase if the Pirates can assemble a team that the fanbase sees as competitive, but if that has to happen first, then the time in which the Pirates will be able to add more expensive talent via free agency or trades could be even shorter than it ordinarily might have been.
In any case, due to the facts that young players are only required to stay for six years and that it's difficult to get a core of young players to peak at the same time, the Pirates are probably looking at windows of about two years in which they can be competitive before they have to blow the thing up and start over. Two years is better than none, obviously, but it's still a pretty bleak outlook.