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Checking in on our moves from SB Nation’s off-season MLB simulation

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We got to play GM for a few days. Here’s how that looks so far.

Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Way back in November of last year, just days after the frickin’ Chicago Cubs had finally won the World Series, representatives from each of SB Nation’s MLB sites put their e-heads together to act as team GMs for another iteration of their league-wide simulation. A chance for blogholios like us to make decisions as if the rosters were actually ours, a consortium of cohorts armed with trade powers, war chests, and burgeoning pocketbooks.

We got to play Dick Williams’ role for a few days as heads of the Fake Cincinnati Reds, and we had a heckuva time doing so. With the non-waiver trade deadline now come and gone - and with the Reds playing the Pirates, which will make sense later - it seemed like a decent time to go back and look at the deals we made in November to take stock in our decision-making process - or lack thereof.

For the record, here was our breakdown of moves at the immediate end of the simulation. Before digging into how each one looks now, I’ll highlight again the three major tenets of this simulation that might cast a different light on our moves relative to ones that might be made in actual baseball:

1) It’s a one-year simulation, so there’s always extra motivation to “go for it” than to rebuild. So, while we started out with intentions of mimicking the current rebuilding Reds, we quickly noticed that the market dictated quite differently, and ultimately ended up as buyers.

2) Piggybacking on rule 1, prospects - no matter how valuable - tend to lose a lot of their value if they aren’t on the cusp of the big leagues and capable of impacting the lone year of this simulation. For as great as Nick Senzel may be, for instance, knowing that he was only in A+ and AA in 2017 reduced his value for these specific purposes tremendously.

3) Each team’s recommended budget is basically $10 million more than it was in 2016, which in essence threw $300 million of inflation into the simulation and drove many salaries into incredibly uncharted territory. Kenley Jansen signed with San Francisco for 6 years and $140 million, for instance. Brisbee!!!!

To the moves...

Fake Reds trade OF Adam Duvall to the Milwaukee Brewers for SP Jimmy Nelson, RP Corey Knebel, SP Phil Bickford

We chose from the outset to market Duvall, as we were worried that the second half slump he went through in 2016 might well be a harbinger of worse things to come. And, we still noticed he was in pretty high demand in this simulation, and chose to both sell-high and open a path to playing time in the OF for young Jesse Winker.

Milwaukee came calling, and since they’re a division rival, we asked for help for the beleaguered pitching staff - and for the moon. Fortunately for us, they held rights to the moon, and agreed to send us each of Nelson, Knebel, and Bickford, a haul that looks damn tasty at the moment despite Duvall’s continued production. Heck, it was 5 years of team control on Duvall, after all.

Nelson has broken out in a big way for Milwaukee this season, anchoring their staff with a 3.37 ERA, 3.11 FIP, and an impressive 4.66 K/BB that’s anchored by a whopping 10.0 K/9 in his 133.2 IP. That’s been valued at 2.5 bWAR and 3.7 fWAR so far this season. And, he’s still making league minimum in his final year before arbitration, meaning he’s under team control through the 2020 season. Nice!

In Knebel, we landed the now-closer for the Brewers, a reliever who would look damn nice side by side with Raisel Iglesias at the back of our revamped bullpen. He made the All Star team for the NL, boasts an electric 15.7 K/9 and 1.64 ERA on the back of a fastball that averages 97.1 mph this year, and is also making league minimum this season. He’s under team control through 2021, too, which is a major plus. Nice!

And there’s Bickford, a Top 100 overall prospect mid-year in 2016 and twice a former 1st round draftee with a powerful right arm. He, of course, got slapped with a suspension for a “drug of abuse” shortly after we fake traded for him, and then unfortunately broke his hand in May. He’s back throwing bullpen sessions, however, and would likely find his way into the Pensacola rotation at some point later this year - and into the list of our Top 10 overall prospects in the system, too. Kinda nice!

Fake Reds trade SS Zack Cozart to the Seattle Mariners for IF DJ Peterson, SP Nick Neidert

Another caveat in this entire exercise is that players who have no-trade clauses almost never are allowed to be traded. For us, this not only meant hanging on to Joey Votto (despite intense interest), but also to Brandon Phillips. That meant finding a place for Jose Peraza to play almost certainly had to come at the expense of trading Zack Cozart, something the real Reds have been actively pursuing for over a year. So, we turned back to the Mariners, who had an actual need for a shortstop and interest in Cozart dating back to mid-2016, and struck a deal.

That means we missed out on Zack’s 2017 breakout, of course, which hurts our overall “go for it” premise, but it also meant we held on to Phillips for a not-bad 2017 so far and landed Neidert, whose fantastic 2017 season has landed him on Baseball America’s midseason Top 100 overall prospect lists. Neidert, the #2 prospect in Seattle’s system by most every publication, ranks 84th on that list, just behind both Tyler Mahle (78th) and Luis Castillo (82nd), as he has already climbed to AA despite still being just 20 years old. That’s a damn nice(!) piece for Cozart, we think.

Peterson, however, hasn’t panned out, despite the fact that he’s a former 1st round draftee who we hoped would be a change of scenery candidate. He was recently DFA’d by the Mariners.

Fake Reds sign RP Neftali Feliz to 2 year, $12 million contract (with mutual option for year 3 or $1.5 million buyout)

Fake Reds sign RP Santiago Casilla to 2 year, $18 million contract

I mentioned that there was a ton of free money going around in this simulation, right? You also remember how amazingly godawful the bullpen was for most of 2016, right?

Well, these moves were made with those two factors as drivers, especially since we hoped to use the signing of available relievers to give us the ability to trade some of our existing pitching depth in a move I’ll get to later.

Feliz’s better health and regained velocity spike led us to sign him after a decent 2016, though his 2017 has been a very mixed bag. The original Brewers closer (before getting cut and having the job handed to Knebel), he’s landed with Kansas City and performed much better there. Not nice yet, but could still maybe end up nice!

Casilla, on the other hand, has been a plodding, middle of the road reliever in Oakland so far this year, still flashing a 94 mph fastball despite being 37 years of age. He’s making more money than we’d ideally like to be paying for a guy in, say, Blake Wood’s role, but he’s pitched well enough (and has a good enough track record) to be a guy we could still lean on in our current Fake bullpen. Kinda nice!

Fake Reds trade OF Billy Hamilton, SP Brandon Finnegan, RP Michael Lorenzen, RP Blake Wood, and C Tyler Stephenson to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Andrew McCutchen, RP Antonio Bastardo

I mentioned that the influx of pitching we’d landed in the previous series of deals would help us deal from depth to make a big splash. Well, we banked heavily on 2016 being merely a blip on the career radar of Andrew McCutchen, and that the 2017 season would see the former NL MVP bounce back. And bounce back he has, already posting 3.3 fWAR and 2.4 bWAR despite defensive metrics still hating him as a CF.

Well, that’s not a problem for us, since we’ve got him playing LF in our newfangled, Fake roster!

I mentioned that Casilla/Feliz were signed to help backfill in the bullpen, as was trading for Knebel. That offsets the loss of both Lorenzen and Wood here, and while it adds a few million bucks in additional salary, the net of those transactions provided exactly the same amount of team control over the players now on the roster as those traded away.

The central pieces here were, of course Hamilton and Finnegan, both of whom were tough to part with. However, the addition of Nelson made trading Finnegan more palatable at the time, especially since we were banking at that point on the rest of the young Cincinnati pitching we kept in the system. Then, as you know, Finnegan’s shoulder completely gave out, and he’s been on the shelf for most all of 2017, which is obviously something we did not forsee that we are benefiting from tremendously in our one-year sim - the same about which can be said for Tyler Stephenson, who’s stuck in the low minors still and is out for the second year in a row due to injury.

Then, it came down to trading Billy’s three years of arbitration for the two years McCutchen’s contract, and despite the net influx of salary obligations (which still aren’t terrible given how good Cutch is), we chose the latter instead of the former, especially since Joey Votto is only in-prime for so long.

As I mentioned at the time, we landed Andrew McCutchen and did so without trading any of Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, or Amir Garrett - or Bickford or Neidert, for that matter - and for that I give this move a hearty nice!

*******

Was it enough to have our Fake Reds in contention for a Fake Wild Card spot against the other Fake teams and all of the Fake moves they Fake made? That, unfortunately, is a question only Dan Szymborski and his super computer can answer.

However, an everyday lineup of Winker-Suarez-Votto-McCutchen-Schebler-Phillips-Mesoraco-Peraza looks pretty damn tidy. A starting rotation fronted all year by Dan Straily and Jimmy Nelson looks a helluva lot better than the one that carried the Reds to this point, and is one that would’ve been buttressed by Homer Bailey’s return and by Anthony DeSclafani at some point next week. And a back of the bullpen featuring Raisel Iglesias, Corey Knebel, Wandy Peralta, Santiago Casilla, and Neftali Feliz, among others, certainly had a chance to be a bonkers one.