Every November for the last handful (or more) years, our good friends over at Royals Review host one of our favorite nerdy events of the non-baseball season: the annual SB Nation GM simulation, where someone somewhere takes control of all transactions for each of the 30 MLB franchises and, in full fake fashion, spends money like packs of banshees.
There are some rules and guidelines - we’ll list those below - but the crux here is that this is a one year simulation. Next November, we’ll pick it up again where the real 2020 Cincinnati Reds left off, not where the club we assembled in this sim ended up in some alternate history. But for three days, we got to do our best to simulate what the front offices of all MLB clubs go through over the course of their entire 4-ish month offseason, making trades, spending bucks, and making the kind of personnel decisions to help best meet the goals given from ownership.
With that said, here are a few key aspects of this sim that are essential to keep in mind when you see what moves we actually made...
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 2020 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.
This year, there was a specific mandate given to each team instead of a suggested budget, with both wiggle room built-in and an overriding goal for the sim. Considering very few teams get told to go full-on fire-sale - and considering pretty much all of us consider $150 million payrolls to be basically the same as $140 million payrolls - there ends up with a whole lot of funny money spent in these that you won’t see in the real MLB world.
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 prior to this one - 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 this year, with the following the exact quote from our fake ownership about our 2020 plan:
“We want to make the post-season in 2020. It’s time to win. Let’s try not to go too far north of $140M, but for the right player, we can be flexible.”
Unsurprisingly enough, that’s pretty much where the real Reds are this offseason, which meant we were operating along similar lines at the start - and we like to think we made moves in this sim that will eventually mimic what the real Reds pull off, too.
Unlike last year, though, trying to make the next Reds club a contender will be more about adding offense than getting the pitching, and this year we were intent on chasing bats. There were swings and misses, but we also landed some big fish, and eventually walked away feeling pretty satisfied that we both made enough moves to make the 2020 Sim Reds contenders, while also adhering to our Sim ownership’s goals.
This year, instead of just listing what happened from a bottom line perspective, I’m going to walk you through the gamut of our decisions, as what did and did not materialize early impacted the decisions made by the end. So, follow along at your own risk/leisure, with the administrative moves first.
Reds picked up 2020 option on Freddy Galvis ($5.5M), non-tendered Kevin Gausman, Derek Dietrich
With Jose Iglesias a free agent, picking up the relatively modest option on Galvis ensured a decent-enough floor for at least one of our middle-infield spots heading into the rest of the sim. As for Gausman/Dietrich, we simply weren’t willing to sink what amounted to roughly 10% of our overall budget for a pair of guys who profiled, at best, as the last two guys on our active roster. So, we ‘saved’ nearly $14 million by non-tendering them and went out to seek upgrades elsewhere.
Reds prioritized signing C Yasmani Grandal in free agency - and failed
Grandal was our primary goal in this simulation, and we did not get him. Drat.
That said, we tried well past our comfort zone to pull of the deal, knowing that for the first time in forever we actually had the kind of fake sim money to make it happen, if we wanted. Once our counter-offer in the bidding war reached an astronomic 6 years and $132 million - almost double our original 4 year, $72 million offer - we were pretty well mad at ourselves for still being in the bidding, which made the fact that offer wasn’t even accepted that much more absurd in our eyes.
In the end, Grandal landed with the spendy Chicago White Sox for 6 years and a whopping $150 million, and while we did and do still love the idea of Grandal on the 2020 Reds, we were plenty OK with our decision to let him go elsewhere.
That said, we had some serious course-changing to do, especially after spending that much time and effort on a failed deal.
Reds acquired 2B/OF Whit Merrifield, P Danny Duffy, and $10.75 million from Royals for P Nick Lodolo, IF Jonathan India
If we weren’t going to upgrade offensively at catcher, that upgrade had to come elsewhere, and in Merrifield we found a guy who has hit .303/.358/.451 in 1442 PA across the last two seasons, good for a 116 OPS+ and a total of 9.6 bWAR. That’s a stud regardless of position, and that’s part of the beauty the 2019 All Star brings to the table: he can play basically anywhere.
Considering we still don’t know exactly where Galvis, Josh VanMeter, and the rehabbing Nick Senzel fit in for 2020, having a guy who could play 2B, could play RF, could play CF, or could play all of them seemed paramount, especially since his contract - just $14.5 million total guaranteed over the next 3 years, with an option for a 4th year - would allow us the financial flexibility to add other bats, too.
The rebuilding Royals were largely insistent on dumping Duffy to shed salary, too, and since we had the kind of payroll space to do that, we agreed on the condition that they pay roughly 1/3rd of his salary for the next pair of years. They did, meaning we landed effectively our 5th starter on about a 2 year, $20M deal.
Did we need Duffy? Not necessarily, but he’ll only be 31 next year and is the owner of a career 108 ERA+ in over 1,000 IP, and the lefty adds a wealth of playoff experience, too - something we hope will prove a plus come playoff time. If he’s a team’s 5th starter, that’s a damn fine rotation, and it also allowed us to field offers on our other starters on the off-chance we were blown away at what we’d receive.
Losing Lodolo and India was tough, to be sure. They’re two of our absolute top prospects, guys who fit in at the back half of most Top 100 prospect lists. But given how strong our rotation was (and just got) for not just 2020, but for multiple years, that helps assuage losing Lodolo, and Merrifield provides us exactly what the best case upside for India really is right now. And, of course, we made a major upgrade without moving top prospect Hunter Greene or our catcher of the future, Tyler Stephenson, which became peritent when we missed out on a half-decade of Grandal.
Reds signed Brandon Kintzler to 2 year, $15 million deal
The bullpen needed work mid-year last year, and then it lost each of Jared Hughes and David Hernandez. We still trust the upside of the back-end of Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, & Co. to continue to get better, but we needed an established arm to bolster that - preferably one with the kind of groundball tendencies we saw with peak-Hughes.
Kintzler was about as close to that as we thought we could afford, and we landed him at roughly the mid-market reliever rate. The 35 year old has been nails for most of his career, including a stellar 130 ERA+ in over 243 IP the last 4 seasons. That includes a 52% grounball rate over the last two seasons, which should play well in the small parks of the NL Central.
Reds signed SS Didi Gregorius to 5 year, $75 million contract (with an opt-out after year 2)
The money we did not spend on Grandal was still around, and we immediately diverted it to a player who would be an upgrade at a position of need and who we were already long familiar with having around.
Didi, of course, struggled in limited time in 2019 with the Yankees after coming back quickly from Tommy John surgery, but we anticipate he’s got several more years of the kind of production he put up prior to that stumble. Across the 2017-2018 seasons, Didi’s 8.9 cumulative fWAR ranked 22nd among all position players in the game, ahead of the likes of Grandal (8.8), Manny Machado (8.6), and even Merrifield (8.0), and we think he’s got a few more 4 WAR seasons left at age 29.
The next great Cincinnati Reds SS was now on-board, and that made keeping Galvis around less of an ideal fit on the roster. We were up against the top of our ‘suggested’ budget range, so we looked next to move him for a player who might be a better fit for the roster.
Reds traded IF Freddy Galvis, IF Rece Hinds, and OF Jameson Hannah to Atlanta for CF Ender Inciarte
Well, we’re all about buying-low on guys, especially when they’re relative bargains, and in Inciarte we hope we landed a player who can impact the roster on the defensive side of the ball in a way that no other OF on the roster really can. It’s that defense, mind you, that helped him average some 3.1 bWAR per season for each of the five years prior to his stumble in 2019, and having just turned 29 years old there’s reason to believe he’s still got that in him. And at 2 years and just ~$17.4M guaranteed (with $1M of that being on a $9M option for 2022, should the Reds desire), that’s the kind of rock solid overall player the team defense needed, even if he’s only his career 95 OPS+ or so offensively.
Billy Hamilton with league-average offense, if you will.
Also, Inciarte builds in time to make sure Nick Senzel is both a) back healthy at the start of 2020, and b) can still move to 2B if need be. Even if he doesn’t, we’re completely on-board with a four-man OF rotation of Senzel, Inciarte, Jesse Winker, and Aristides Aquino, with Merrifield playing 2B most everyday.
Reds signed 2B Scooter Gennett to a minor league deal
Scooter’s fall has been well documented, as the groin injury and subsequent stumble last year left him teamless for the last month of the season after the San Francisco Giants let him go.
As the buzzer for the end of this Sim neared, he remained unsigned, and we felt that picking him up on a MiLB deal was far too good of a bargain to pass up. So, we got him, and suddenly have the kind of depth around that few Reds clubs have had in recent memory.
All told, those moves left us with a final payroll of some $145 million, or in-line with what our suggestion was at the start after landing a big fish like Didi at his market price. Even then, that ranked as just the 15th highest overall payroll in this Sim, so it’s not like we suddenly started spending more than our peers. So, even after missing out on our primary target, we’re pretty happy with the upgrades we made, especially given how much depth and versatility our roster now possesses.
Sometimes, it could look like this: RF Merrifield, 1B Votto, 3B Suarez, LF Winker, 2B Senzel, SS Gregorius, CF Inciarte, C Casali, SP.
Either way, the lineup that started the game would rarely ever finish that way, which is both a) endemic of how the many in-game changes of the modern game require the ability to counter them, and b) exactly the way manager David Bell likes to proactively manage, and we gave him umpteen ways to mix and match to his liking.
We built in insurance for Senzel’s labrum surgery, should he not be ready for Opening Day. We built in insurance on the off-chance that Jesse Winker falls prey to injury, again, or if Aristides Aquino turns out to be more of what we saw this last September than what we saw from him in August.
Also, we built the kind of offensive and defensive depth that we’ve rarely seen around Cincinnati. On most days, one of Winker/Aquino/Inciarte will start on the pine, as will Phil Ervin, Josh VanMeter, and one of Casali/Barnhart. We kept Jose Peraza around, in case he bounces back, and he’s as versatile as you can get. The same can be said for Kyle Farmer, who’s still in-house, while Alex Blandino still serves as depth (with an option), too - and that doesn’t even get to what would happen if Scooter shows up to Goodyear healthy.
That’s some 2,400+ words already, and I haven’t even gotten to the team’s actual strength, as these Sim Reds have a rotation that I’d put up against any in the game. Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, and Danny Duffy are there to lead the charge, with Tyler Mahle and Lucas Sims around as long-men or reserve starters. All that, and we kept two of our three prized pitching prospects, too, in Greene and Tony Santillan. For the sake of brevity - which, I know, long went out the window on this piece - that’s a known quantity that doesn’t need further blabbing, but is absolutely strong enough to carry these Reds to a playoff push with any sort of offense.
** UPDATE **
I should have included a link to the entirety of the transactions, not just those pulled off by the Reds. You can find a summary of those in this Royals Review post, which also has the master spreadsheet of transactions and rosters.