Each and every November, our friends over at Royals Review host what has become one of my favorite nerd-out events of the year. They put on an MLB off-season simulation, where reps for each of baseball’s 30 teams spend a handful of days emailing, Slack chatting, and trying to work deals with one another in an attempt to mimic what the real, actual baseball offseason will look like.
It’s ridiculous, really, despite its best-kept intentions. Since none of the moves will ever actually play out, it’s impossible to see how things truly would’ve turned out. In reality, it’s also just a one-year simulation, since this time next November we won’t pick up where we left off in this simulation; rather, we’ll pick up where the real Reds roster stands in November 2019, meaning the moves we make this year don’t hurt us in future simulations.
With that in mind, here are a few rules and parameters.
Far-off prospects don’t move the needle much in a 1-year sim.
Hunter Greene is a phenomenal prospect. That said, since he’s not going to make an impact on any MLB team during the 2019 season, he doesn’t carry as much trade value here as he obviously does in the real world, where moves are made for multi-year windows. MLB-ready talent, conversely, gets a bump in value here.
There’s an extra $$ bubble built in to our recommended payroll.
Every team gets a recommended budget that’s realistically in-line with expectations, but it usually has a ~$10 million bump built in. Multiply that by some 30 teams, and there ends up being some $300 million extra built-in across the league, which means a lot of free agent deals in this sim look outlandish.
We all do this because we like making deals. Duh.
There are always a furious amount of deals made in this, since everyone doing so signed up because they like making deals. Standing pat, while perhaps prudent in many cases, just isn’t very fun. So, there are always, always a ton of massive player moves.
Nobody likes to be rebuilding.
For many of the same reasons I mentioned in the first note, hoarding 10 A-ball prospects that might rank among the game’s Top 50 overall is fun, but since none of them will ever play an MLB game before the next simulation goes down in a year, it’s a bit of an odd obsession for teams to take. Therefore, even teams that don’t look at all like contenders - like the Reds, in most offseasons - still try to make moves to get better at the big league level even when tanking - or rebuilding - might be what’s really going on with their roster.
With that said, here’s what we were working with.
Our recommended budget was $120 million, but given that we chose to operate in this simulation not purely of our own volition and to go about things in a way we thought the real Reds might echo, we used that as a soft number. Owner Bob Castellini has repeatedly hyped that this will be a ‘record payroll,’ and considering all that means is ‘more than $115 million,’ we decided to be flexible with the $120 million number if we found the right moves to bust it.
Speaking of which, Castellini has also said repeatedly the Reds are going to ‘get the pitching’ this offseason, which was absolutely our priority here. Priority number two, though, was finding room for Nick Senzel.
Aside from that, we had obvious economic motives. Sell high where we thought we had good deals, and do anything possible to get rid of Homer Bailey. Our only other real goal was to add as much roster and positional flexibility to the team as possible, since playing matchups - both offensively and with the bullpen - appears to be the newest trend across the game.
To the moves...
Fake Reds trade OF Taylor Trammell, P Jose Lopez to Fake Blue Jays for P Marcus Stroman
The first move we made burned the worst, but we were in a desperate search for young, controllable pitching with great upside, and Stroman was our first get.
Obviously, his 2018 season was ugly in many ways, as the 27 year old struggled to a 5.54 ERA in just 102.1 IP, as finger and blister issues dogged him throughout the year. Still, he posted a solid 3.91 FIP and excellent 62.1% groundball rate, which were exactly in-line with the 3.90 FIP and 62.1% groundball rate from a 6 bWAR 2017 season that saw him post a 3.09 ERA in 201 IP and finish 8th in the AL Cy Young Award voting.
With two years of team control and a 2018 arbitration estimate of just over $7 million, he comes with the need to bounce-back, but is also a great value in our payroll range. Losing Trammell hurt, of course, but since he’s not really in the big league plans for 2019, we used him as trade bait.
Fake Reds trade 2B Scooter Gennett, P Sal Romano, IF Jonathan India to Fake Rockies for P Jon Gray
We said we were going to ‘get the pitching,’ and we sure as hell did.
The Rockies reached out early with intent of landing Scooter any way they could, and at that point I told them that good pitching was the crux of our simulation goal. The Rockies, of course, have a bevy of talented, controllable young starters, and Gray - the #3 overall pick of the 2013 MLB Draft - was who we targeted in a bigger deal.
Like Stroman, Gray’s 2018 season was worse than his 2017, but also like Stroman many of his peripherals suggested he was unlucky in 2018, with a very real chance he improves going forward. Still, even in his down 2017 he posted 2.7 fWAR, doing so despite battling health issues and dropping 20 lbs. We’re banking on improved health, and that the fireballing Gray gets back the form that made him Colorado’s Opening Day starter in 2018.
At just over $3 million in his first year of arbitration, we get Gray for three years, too, which was why we were willing to add India to the deal. Losing Scooter obviously was rough, but it opened up 2B full time for Senzel while also saving us some $7 million in the process, which we would put to work elsewhere.
Fake Reds trade CF Billy Hamilton to Fake Mariners for P Max Povse, P Matthew Festa
Honestly, this was as much about getting Hamilton’s $7 million off our books and clearing a player from the roster in his last year of team control while we could still get something, anything of value for him. The Fake M’s came calling early, and we jumped at their offer.
Povse is a 6’8” lanky righty that friend of RR John Sickels listed as the #7 prospect in the Mariners system prior to 2018, while Festa checked in at #10 on that list with the note that his stuff meant he ‘could close someday.’ Both have cracked the bigs and would be considered for either AAA depth or as fringe relievers, depending on which other moves we made in this sim (hint hint).
Losing Hamilton, of course, meant we needed to address our CF issues. So, we did.
Fake Reds trade P Raisel Iglesias to Fake Dodgers for IF/OF Chris Taylor
Trading Iglesias and his team-friendly deal was a tough pill to swallow, but several things made us think we might be selling at a high point on him. For one, his 38.5% groundball rate in 2018 was a career worst, as was the 18.8% HR/FB rate, one that saw him serve up a whopping 12 dingers last season in just 72 IP. That was as many as he’d given up in the previous two seasons combined in over 154 IP. On top of that, his hard-hit rate spiked to 34.8%, well up from the 24.2% level from 2017, and that all rolled into a 4.23 FIP for 2017.
We still think he’s going to be good, but thought we might be able to leverage him for a major big league piece and then fix the bullpen with the glut of good free agent options on the market, so we did.
Adding Taylor brings a highly underrated piece, a guy who has accumulated 8.9 bWAR over the last two seasons combined while playing all over the field and putting up a rock solid 116 OPS+. (For reference, Eugenio Suarez - great as he’s been - has posted just 7.9 bWAR over those two years.) In that time, he’s spent 159 games as an OF - much of which came in CF, where the small sample of defensive metrics likes him plenty well. Given that he’s under team control for 3 years and is making just over $3 million in his first trip through arbitration, he also came at a great value - less, even, than Iglesias’ salary.
Next up was our most enjoyable move, though.
Fake Reds trade P Robert Stephenson, P Amir Garrett, P Keury Mella, and P Homer Bailey to Fake Giants for P Jeff Samardzija
We dumped Homer Bailey and the $28 million due to him, and we didn’t have to eat a penny to make it happen.
Of course, we had to add players the Giants valued to make that happen, but in doing so we shed both Stephenson and Garrett - CA guys who are out of options - and Mella, who both came from the Giants originally and finished the 2018 season on the 60-day DL with shoulder issues.
In return, we got another expensive arm in Samardzija, as well as another pitcher whose 2018 season wasn’t great. Hey - we like buying low on guys, and prior to his stinky 2018 season he’d posted five straight 200+ IP seasons. In 2016-2017 combined, he fired 411 innings of 3.73 FIP ball, which was good enough for 5.2 bWAR and 6.4 fWAR. Shoulder issues canned his 2018 season, but we’re banking on him getting back to normal - or close enough to it to forget Homer for awhile.
Shark’s due some $39 million over the next two years, but at $19.5 million for this one-year simulation, this move actually freed up some $9 million by shedding Homer’s salary and option buyout. Now, it was time to put that saved money to work.
Fake Reds sign P Andrew Miller to 3 year, $45 million deal (opt-out after ‘19)
Fake Reds sign P David Robertson to 3 year, $36 million deal
After having shed some $18 million in those deals and after having entered with some $20 million of room under our budget, it was high time to put that money back to work. And yes, we were still on a quest to ‘get the pitching.’
In Miller and Robertson, we added some serious potency to a bullpen that already needed a few extra boosts, and in doing so effectively replaced Iglesias and Garrett with more seasoned arms. Were they pricey? Hell yes they were pricey! That said, after finding a way to add to our starting rotation rather cheaply as compared to what it would’ve cost to add FA starters, that allowed us to splash cash on arms in other ways - namely, in the bullpen, where Miller and Robertson will bring as much big game experience to the Reds as any two arms we could have found.
Next up was another fun, and important addition.
Fake Reds sign IF/OF Marwin Gonzalez for 3 years, $45 million
If we get the 2017 Marwin that hit .303/.377/.530, bonked 23 dingers, played six different positions well, and was worth 4.3 bWAR, we might’ve signed a superstar. Even if we get the lesser version of him that was around for most of 2018 - a 103 OPS+, good defense at seven (!!) positions - we found a perfect way to improve the team’s defense and flexibility.
We had also noticed that our projected bench of some combination of Curt Casali, Dilson Herrera, Alex Blandino, and Phil Ervin was awfully right-handed, and adding the switch-hitting Gonzalez to that mix certainly helps alleviate that problem.
Before we break down the final details, here are a few pertinent points about the sim.
For one, Bryce Harper signed with the Fake Yankees for 13 years and $515 million, and yes, you’re reading that right. Patrick Corbin took home the top pitching contract by landing a 6 year, $153 million deal from those Fake Yanks despite having accumulated just over 7 career bWAR prior to the 2018 season. Manny Machado, meanwhile, signed for 11 years and $433 million with the Fake Phillies, while Nathan Eovaldi - who is literally held together by duct tape - landed a 6 (!!) year, $90 million deal from the Fake Rockies.
Man, was there ever some funny money thrown around here. So yes, while guaranteeing $126 million to Miller, Robertson, and Gonzalez seems pricey as all hell, at least keep the context of that spending in mind.
Also, we signed former #1 overall draftee Tim Beckham to a 1-year, $1 million deal as the simulation ended since we realized a) Alex Blandino’s knee might not be ready for backup SS to start the year and b) the real Reds might keep Nick Senzel in AAA for a few weeks to start the season for service time issues, which is dumb from a fan perspective but beneficial long-term.
That said, here is the roster/lineup/staff we put together that, in the end, landed us at a 2018 payroll of some $129 million:
LF Jesse Winker
SS Jose Peraza
1B Joey Votto
2B Nick Senzel
CF Chris Taylor
A few final notes are worth mentioning, too, if you’re still reading.
We tried immediately to engage the Fake Mets about the availability of both Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, only to be told either would require moving Nick Senzel, which we simply were not going to do. We also tried to land Zack Greinke from the Fake Diamondbacks, but they ultimately accepted a deal to send him to the Fake Twins that we thought was not as solid as ours.
In a similar vein, before acquiring Chris Taylor, we attempted to sign 3B Josh Donaldson on a 3 year, $56 million deal with an opt-out after year one, thinking he might love the idea of a pillow contract that let him crush dingers in GABP for a year before re-entering the market. For some reason, he did take a deal with an opt-out after year one, but it came as a 4 year, $60 million deal from the Fake Rays. I still don’t get why we didn’t win that one, and if we had, we’d have shuffled Suarez and Peraza across the infield and used the CF opening to get Senzel regular time.
All told, it burned to lose Taylor Trammell and Jonathan India, but we made all of those acquisitions while still holding on to Senzel, Hunter Greene, and Tony Santillan, for which we applauded ourselves. And while we shed a pile of the pitchers who have had chance after chance to establish themselves as regulars for the Reds over the last few years, we think we both upgraded the rotation in a significant way and did so without crippling contracts or getting too much older.
Could these Fake Reds compete in the Fake 2019 season? We’ll never know, but I’m still pretty happy with how we shook things up and got some pitching.