The winter always seems that much longer after a disastrous season, and the wounds from 2014 certainly continued to sting for much of the winter. But there's no doubt the team has undergone a radical transformation, with less than half of the roster from 12 months ago, making the cut in 2015. This isn't unprecedented. Indeed, it actually counts as relative stability, compared to the last time we had a regime change. The Opening Day roster in 2011, after Kevin Towers took over, had only nine survivors (Gutierrez, Heilman, Kennedy, Drew, Johnson, Parra, Upton, Young, Montero) from the previous year. New brooms clearly sweep clean.
While that worked out nicely - at least for the first season - there's a radical difference in approach, when you look at the names added in 2011. While there were some young players (most obviously, Daniel Hudson, the only survivor from that Opening Day 2011 roster, at least until David Hernandez comes back), the names that stand out are mostly veteran presence. In his first winter, Towers added the likes of Joe Saunders, J.J. Putz, Willie Bloomquist, Russell Branyan, Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, Ryan Roberts and Henry Blanco. Contrast the additions this winter, where only backup catcher Gerald Laird is older than 29. Youth is clearly the focus now.
I like this, even if it means we will be paying Trevor Cahill and Cody Ross a combined $15 million not to play for us in the coming season. And even if it also means the team's record will be adversely affected, because it would take a real optimist to think every single one of the young players will be able to contribute more at the major-league level this season, than more-experienced alternatives. [Rubby De La Rosa or Chase Anderson, for example, may end up not being as good as Cahill]. It's possible: just not probable. There will be wrong turns, dead ends and false dawns: you can bet the house on that.
It's inevitable, when four-fifths of our starting infield - everyone bar Paul Goldschmidt - has a total of 228 major-league games experience, and three-fifths of our rotation have combined for just 49 starts. That's a lot of unproven potential, and either side of that equation - the potential or its unproven nature - could end up weighing more heavily as we go forward. We've already seen example of these setbacks, with the decisions that Peter O'Brien and Yasmany Tomas are not yet ready for prime-time. More will likely follow. Perhaps Nick Ahmed's bat will be too weak for his glove to overcome, or De La Rosa's raw stuff might prove unharnessable.
Yet right now, on the eve of our 2015 campaign, optimism reigns supreme, with the glorious possibilities that 2015 might bring shining brightly. In some ways, the trauma of last season leaves us in an enviable position, because when you have posted the worst record in the majors, things are all but guaranteed to get better. No other set of fans has that bulwark to fall back on. The upside? Almost unlimited right now: after all, we're currently tied for first in the division! We saw in 2011 what can happen, even if that turned out to be catching lightning in a bottle - and a bottle made of tissue-paper too....
While my hopes are sky-high, I still remain restrained in my expectations for the season. This is clearly going to be a laboratory, so it bears repeating: things will blow up and cause stinky smells from time to time. I'm looking mostly for indications that the team is going in the right direction, and a season where we do a better job of avoiding major health problems. The pre-season was kind to us there, with Oscar Hernandez and Matt Sties the only casualty, and given the former's Rule 5 status, it could be a good thing. Long may this health continue, though again, expecting perfection in this area is setting yourself for disappointment. May all our injuries be "day-to-day", let's say.
Overall, more wins would be nice, but by the end of 2015, I mostly want a better idea which of these young prospects can be built on, going forward. While I do not expect those alone to result in a complete roster, there should be plenty of money available next winter to plug whatever holes remain, and we can then look to make a more sustained push in 2016. If we can get there quicker, with all the pieces falling into place over the next six months, I certainly wouldn't mind. But let's just enjoy the season for whatever it brings - because never forget, even the worst baseball is an awful lot better than no baseball at all.
So, tell me, SnakePitters: what are your hopes and expectations for the season which gets under way in an hour?