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SB Nation Offseason Simulation - Steering the Fake Reds into 2018

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Deals were made, the things and the such.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Cincinnati Reds
Oh now this is awkward.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Each and every year upon the end of the MLB season, our friends from Royals Review host an SBN-wide offseason simulation to allow folks like us to play GM of the Cincinnati Reds against our cohorts from the other 29 teams. It’s fun, it’s bound to be a logistical nightmare for Max (who deftly plays commissioner), and it’s a solid exercise in seeing if how we value the Reds we watch on a daily basis is anywhere near the same as folks across the globe - and vice versa.

The extensive rules can be found here, but I’ll give you the gist of what we were up against all quick-like:

  • We get a budget, and it’s one that mimics where the Reds currently sit. For this year, it was an estimated $100 million.
  • The clock rolls back to the last out of the regular season, so option decisions and Qualifying Offer decisions that were made by the actual teams before the simulation got started technically haven’t happened yet in our fake world.
  • It’s a ONE-YEAR simulation. Sure, you can still plan for the future, still embark on a rebuild, and still trade for great on-paper prospects that are 19 and in A-ball. However, the reality is that doesn’t move the needle in a one-year sim, since those guys won’t sniff the big leagues while this plays out. So, the value of talented, low-minors prospects isn’t nearly as viable in the sim as in, say, the real world. Think Taylor Trammell, or his ilk.
  • A lot of teams had a lot, lot more money than we Reds. I mentioned the $100 million recommended budget...we started the sim with roughly $94 million currently allocated, which is pretty much exactly the situation the real Reds find themselves in this winter.

We had some goals in this, believe it or not.

  • We wanted to add a some solid starting pitching, since we’re not at all sure which guys in the current system we can count on every five days next year. Ideally, that would come via trade, since I’ll mention again how little money we had to spend.
  • We wanted to sell high on players we thought might have peaked, at least if we felt we were getting good value for them, because duh.
  • We wanted to open paths to regular playing time for the likes of Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel, since the future is bright and shiny and whatnot.
  • We wanted to make moves that would allow us to more strategically use Billy Hamilton. In other words, by the end of this sim, we wanted someone else as our projected everyday leadoff hitter and wanted other players who could capably play CF, thereby allowing Billy to be a great pinch-runner, defensive replacement, and starter in stadiums with large outfields.

We made some moves.

- Cincinnati Reds traded OF Adam Duvall to the Colorado Rockies for LHP Kyle Freeland and LHP Harrison Musgrave

In last year’s sim, we moved Duvall to Milwaukee for Jimmy Nelson and Corey Knebel. We hope this time next year, the move for Freeland and Musgraves looks as good on paper as that deal did.

In Freeland, we get five years of team control and a player currently on a league minimum salary, one who just posted a 3.4 bWAR, 2.0 fWAR rookie season for the Rockies in 156 IP. Part of why his fWAR is lower here is because it values strikeouts as particularly important, but that’s not Freeland’s game. What is, though, is his 53.9% groundball rate, which ranked 9th best out of the 115 MLB pitchers who threw at least 120 IP last year. That, we hope, will play quite well in GABP with a solid defense behind him, which made making the move for the former 1st round draftee an easy call.

In Musgrave, we get a former Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, a West Virginia product who has already reached AAA. The 25 year old lefty nearly made the Rockies’ rotation out of Spring Training, but was sent back to Pacific Coast League hell (for pitchers) and struggled with both a broken finger and with keeping runs off the board. However, when healthy, he’s got a track record as a potential back-end starter, and at worst projects as a solid left-handed relief option.

We thought it a valuable haul for Duvall, one that also opens up everyday time in LF (and at leadoff) for Winker.

- Cincinnati Reds sign SS Zack Cozart to a 3 year, $34 million contract

- Cincinnati Reds trade IF Scooter Gennett to Minnesota Twins for LHP Taylor Rogers, OF Lamonte Wade, and OF Levi Michael

These moves weren’t made in a vacuum, to be sure. At the outset, we knew we had ample middle infield options available to us, but thought hard about which ones would be of most value to us in the next two years. In the end, we decided that if we could get Cozart back on a reasonable deal (after opting against issuing him the $17.4 million Qualifying Offer), having him at SS with one of the other options at 2B would provide more surplus value to us than having Scooter - at $6 million in 2018 - at 2B with someone else having to cover SS.

Not to mention, we wanted to free up 2B as an option for Nick Senzel, who we anticipate will crack the bigs as early as late April.

We submitted a 2 year, $20 million offer to Cozart’s agent (with a club option for year 3 at $10 million), and ended up having to tack on a guaranteed third year and a few extra millions to get the deal done, but overall, we’re happy with it. He’ll make just $8 million in 2018, which is great for the purpose of this one-year sim’s payroll, and then $13 million in each of the next two seasons. Shedding Scooter’s $6 million in 2018 (and potential $9 million in his final arbitration year in 2019) helps cushion the overall payroll hit. .

As for Scooter, the New York Mets offered a package centered around Hansel Robles and Chris Flexen, but ultimately we went with the Twins’ offer, largely due to Taylor Rogers projecting to be a rock solid bullpen addition, a lefty, and an established reliever who’s still not arb-eligible. In Wade, we help backfill our OF depth after losing Duvall, and add a player who’ll start the year in AAA Louisville after posting a .402 OBP (with 10 more walks than strikeouts) in a 2017 season spent mostly in AA. Michael, the final piece in the deal, isn’t much of a prospect at this point, but he’s versatile and a former 1st round pick that at least comes with pedigree.

Hopefully, that’s the right sell-high move on Scooter, who was on waivers just a year ago before a surprising monster season. However, his defense remains sub-par to the point where his 2017 was still worth just 2.4 bWAR, and while we’re buying into Cozart after a similar moster offensive season, his typical defensive season even with a regression should still be of more value than Scooter’s. We hope.

- Cincinnati Reds sign RHP Andrew Bailey to 1 year, $1 million contract (with incentives)

Andrew Bailey’s right arm might not actually be attached to his body at this point. We’re not sure, you’re not sure, and he might not even be sure. However, if it is still on there, it has enough life in it to make this flier of a deal potentially pay off in a big way.

The former AL Rookie of the Year and All Star has had a litany of arm issues over the years, and his velocity isn’t what it used to be. However, as MLB.com’s Matt Kelly noted earlier this week, Bailey’s absurd spin rate on his four-seam fastball still ranked as the best in all MLB last year according to Statcast, which is why he made Kelly’s list of pitchers who could “be the next Charlie Morton.” We read the article and bit. We’ll see.

- Cincinnati Reds sign OF Carlos Gomez to a 2 year, $15 million contract

Gomez will make a nice $6 million in 2018 and $9 million in 2019, and if things go as planned, he’ll play a lot of LF, CF, and RF. In a perfect world scenario, he’ll start against LHP all the time, in CF against most RHP, and move to LF late in games when Billy Hamilton takes over CF. Ideally ideal would be if he replicates his late 20’s output from his time with Milwaukee, but we’d be completely fine with the .255/.340/.462 line he put up in his 426 PA in Texas last year.

With Gomez in the fold, that should hopefully allow an OF rotation where each of he, Winker, and Schebler get 500+ PAs. Hamilton then can settle into a role we think is more ideal for him, one with 350ish PAs, a lot of steals of 2B and 3B in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, and optimum defensive coverage when the games are on the line late.

- Cincinnati Reds sign OF Michael Saunders, RHP Scott Feldman, and RHP Jason Grilli to minor league contracts

It’s true. We did that.

They all might be borked for good, but they’re cheap and might provide something if they can show up healthy.

We tried to make other moves, but failed.

Kyle Freeland is nice and good and awesome, but we wanted to add another frontline starter, if possible. One that’s still super cheap, has a lot of team control, but has already established himself as a star. And who is healthy. And who is on a team that might be trading that valuable piece away and rebuilding.

That a narrow enough search for ya?

Basically, that filtered us down to one name - Michael Fulmer, Detroit’s stud. Well, we went back and forth briefly with Detroit’s GM, eventually offering him some 3-4 of the likes of Hunter Greene, Tyler Mahle, Robert Stephenson, Taylor Trammell, TJ Friedl, and Vlad Gutierrez, but before we heard back from him, he’d thumped the gavel and traded Fulmer to Philadelphia in a deal headlined by Mickey Moniak.

We weren’t going to give up Nick Senzel, yet we still felt we had an offer that was every bit as strong as Philly’s. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out, which left us trying to decide to pursue someone like Carlos Rodon or just sit on our deep young pitching and farm system.

Ultimately, we sat tight, and that wrapped our business in this sim.

We like our fake assembled team.

Picture, if you will, a May 2nd lineup like this:

LF Jesse Winker

SS Zack Cozart

1B Joey Votto

3B Eugenio Suarez

RF Scott Schebler

2B Nick Senzel

CF Carlos Gomez

C Tucker Barnhart

SP Luis Castillo

That, of course, is once Senzel gets the call-up, and has him at 2B - a position he routinely played in his college days at Tennessee. Until that date, a combination of Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera will man 2B, and both will serve as versatile bench options after his call-up. Joining them on that edition of the bench will be Devin Mesoraco, Billy Hamilton, and Phil Ervin, a solid combination of speed and power.

As for the starting pitching options, there’s not exactly a shortage:

RHP Luis Castillo

RHP Anthony DeSclafani

RHP Homer Bailey

RHP Tyler Mahle

RHP Robert Stephenson

RHP Sal Romano

LHP Brandon Finnegan

LHP Kyle Freeland

LHP Amir Garrett

LHP Cody Reed

RHP Tim Adleman

RHP Jackson Stephens

RHP Rookie Davis

RHP Scott Feldman

That’s enough to fill a rotation, have a few inevitably on the DL, fill Louisville’s AAA rotation, and have a few guys get work in the bullpen.

Speaking of that bullpen, it will feature some combination of:

RHP Raisel Iglesias

RHP Michael Lorenzen

LHP Wandy Peralta

LHP Taylor Rogers

RHP Andrew Bailey

RHP Ariel Hernandez

RHP Austin Brice

RHP Jason Grilli

RHP Kevin Shackleford

RHP Keury Mella

RHP Jimmy Herget

RHP Zach Weiss

In all, we feel pretty satisfied.

No blockbusters, but no budget-busting, either. We kept all of our top prospects (and top free agent), and while we certainly added some backloaded contracts, shedding future obligations to Scooter and having Mesoraco’s salary off the books after this year means we actually reduced our 2018 guaranteed obligations by some $5 million. Arbitration raises to the arb-eligibles will eat that up, and more, but that’s precisely the nature of the beast when you’ve assembled an up and coming roster hoping to win their way out of a rebuild.

And that $100 million estimated budget of ours? Well, we came in at $101 million after all the moves, which we can pretty easily justify.