When you look at 2015, how do you feel right now?
I like what we've done, it's a whole different approach, we have a lot of players in that haven't been here before, a lot of new names and faces. A lot of pitchers - that was our direction, clearly, and I believe in that direction. So with 13-15 guys that are now going to be competing for one of those spots in the rotation, it's difficult to say how we're going to look at the end of spring training.
13? Surely it's not that many? Crap. If you include the Tommy John trio of Arroyo, Corbin and Hudson, in their varying stages of the recovery process, it actually is. For there's also Anderson, Cahill, Chafin, Collmenter, de la Rosa, Delgado, Hellickson, Nuno, Ray and Webster. Of course, none of them are exactly prototypical aces [though as mentioned before, Josh Collmenter has a better career ERA+ than James Shields!], but the sheer number would seem to give us a good chance of one or two having breakout seasons. It's spotting which ones, and ensuring they break out with the major-league club rather than in Reno, that will be the problem.
As I looked up and down your farm system, I kept repeating. "I think the Diamondbacks are going to win a World Series in 2013". What happened?
I think a lot of teams go down this path. You have your cupboards full of talented players in the minor-league system, and you start to assess how close you are to a championship, and say "If we could just get one more starting pitcher..." But the cost is three of those guys that are coming up in the next couple of years. The philosophy needed to change.
As others have already pointed out, what was the Jeremy Hellickson trade? It seems almost like the archetype of the "If we could just get one more starting pitcher..." trade Hall mentions, and that's a horrible kind of move for a team that had the worst record in the majors last season. Particularly one with no shortage of young pitching prospects, as discussed above. I'd rather have had an extended look at what (say) Andrew Chafin could have done this year, rather than handing the spot to Hellickson. He has only two years of control, so may not even be around by the time we are next legitimate contenders. Hall goes on:
You realize you're missing some pieces, and the best way for a team like us to get them, is not necessarily to go out and sign a Max Scherzer. It's to go out and trade a Wade Miley for de la Rosa and Webster - bring in a couple of power arms who have tremendous upside. That's really the difference. I agree with you: we had the pieces in place, we were going to have an Atlanta Braves-type rotation. But you blink, and they're gone.
Hindsight is rose-colored, but if we had kept everyone, I don't see us winning the 2013 World Series, or even having had that "Braves-type" rotation. If you look at the two hundred best players last year by bWAR (top 100 position players + top 100 pitchers), only three were former Arizona prospects now playing for other teams: Scherzer, Adam Eaton and Justin Upton. Though there's still time for some to perform at a level that makes us regret the trades, e.g. Trevor Bauer, others have floundered in a way that doesn't cause much sense of loss, such as. Matt Davidson, who hit below the Uecker Line in Triple-A, with a K-rate above 30%.
You need a middle ground: while prospects are a vital resource, there's no point having the best Triple-A ballclub in the nation. Odds are you won't have them equally spread, so deal from your surplus areas to address weaknesses. But, again: Hellickson? Was it some kind of ill-considered PR move? I didn't mind the Miley trade or the departure of Miguel Montero, and can get behind the philosophy which these two represent. But one of the three biggest moves made by the Diamondbacks this winter just doesn't fit in with the philosophy being espoused here.
What did you learn from 2014?
You can't use it as an excuse, but injuries can really hurt you. if you look at the DL days, and the number of players that went on the disabled list, us and the Rangers were impacted more than anyone, and as a result we both finished in the cellar. So you have to stay healthy, you have to get lucky.
Hall is right: you can't use injuries as an excuse. While losing the likes of Patrick Corbin, Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock cost the team, they also opened the door for unexpectedly good performances by Ender Inciarte, David Peralta and Chase Anderson, who likely would not have been part of a fully-healthy 2014 Diamondbacks team. Perfect health might have saved us from the worst record in the majors; however, I still suspect we'd have been well below .500. Indeed, long-term, the injuries may have been for the best: we certainly wouldn't have the #1 draft pick in June, and who knows, we might still have Kevin Towers at the helm, plowing the team further into an abyss of grit.
What do you want fans to know about the 2015 Arizona Diamondbacks?
I love the fact that the expectations are not there. Any time we've performed in the past, the expectations haven't been there, so I think that's good. I want them to know they're going to have a manager that is going to have his team prepared...who's going to be energetic, enthusiastic, passionate, and ask his players to play 110% each day - and they will... We haven't had a chance to look at a lot of these guys for a full season. How great would it be to have a full season to assess where we really are.
Can't argue with the lack of expectations: after you've had the worst record in the majors, there's virtually only one direction to go, and that's up. I'm certainly keeping mine manageable. Remember when another .500 season had us rolling our eyes? Now, it feels like that would be a major win. It'll certainly be nice to see Chip Hale, and has to be more enthusiastic than Gibby, for whom mound visits started to look more like the Bataan Death March. But the last sentence is perhaps the most relevant: "a full season to assess where we really are." By the end of 2015, we should have a much better idea of the way ahead, and on whom the franchise can build going forward.