Being in the Captain’s chair with the opportunity to make moves, deals, changes to the future of a Major League Baseball franchise is an exhilarating dream for most all baseball fans. Buying low, selling high, locking in long-term contracts for future franchise icons, and trying to walk the narrow line between swindling your peers out of their best players and making a fool of yourself for your poor evaluation skills.
Each and every year, our friends at Royals Review offer that opportunity in their annual GM Simulation, with a trio of days in November dedicated to wheeling and dealing for 30 of us to change the shape and substance of the franchises we represent. A full breakdown of the parameters can be found here, but the gist was the same this year as it always is:
- It’s a 1-year simulation, and 1-year only, so none of these moves will serve as ‘keepers’ for when we reconvene next November
- While some teams rightfully mimic where their actual franchises are in their budgets and life-cycles, there’s no mandatory requirement that they do so, nor a hard cap on their budgets
- There are way, way more trades in this than in real life
- Prospects that don’t figure to make it to the bigs in 2022 tend to have their value depressed a bit, even if they are tremendous prospects - if they don’t end up on the active roster at the end of the Sim, it’s just not as shiny
- There is not officially a Designated Hitter for the National League baked into this Sim, but we operated as the real teams are in November of 2021 - that there likely will be one, albeit with that not yet guaranteed
- I have no idea how Max, who’s in charge, juggles all of this, as he serves as both commissioner and de facto agent for all Free Agents, of which there are hundreds
My full breakdown of how we got where we did is below, and for a summary (and link to the overall spreadsheet of all moves by all teams), check out Max’s post at Royals Review.
Fake Reds Gameplan
I chose to do my best to mimic where the Real Reds are at the moment, at least in the most optimistic sense - shed money, remain cheap as can be, but still try to put the best team together within the minimalist budget under which they operate.
We knew we had a trio of starting pitchers who’ve been excellent for the Reds, but who all had just two years of team control remaining. Given the stud pitching prospects on the cusp of the big leagues in our system, we chose to shop them all with plans on only trading one, weighing each offer for each of the three accordingly.
We also were dedicated to shedding as much of the sunk costs on the payroll as possible to free up money to spend elsewhere. We knew we had redundancy at 3B, we knew we needed bullpen help, and we knew we needed outfield upgrades galore.
We entered the Sim with nearly $125 million in payroll, and that’s with Nick Castellanos departing into free agency and before our option decisions (decisions which would initially take it over $142 million). We finished with a payroll at $117 million - the 19th highest of the 30 teams - and still like our team, to an extent.
Fake Reds Procedural Moves
Unlike the cheapos in the Real Reds war room, we chose to pick up the options on both Tucker Barnhart and Wade Miley, even though we intended to move them both. We chose to participate in the overhaul of our roster, not abdicate that chance over a couple bucks the way the Real Reds did.
We gave Castellanos a Qualifying Offer after he opted out, which he declined to become a free agent.
We non-tendered Jeff Hoffman, mostly because most of us don’t really even remember Jeff Hoffman is actually on the Reds anyway, and that was a million bucks we needed to use elsewhere. We also declined the option on Justin Wilson, and because his complicated contract kind of fell through the cracks in this, he never exercised his player option, and therefore became a free agent.
Fake Reds Franchise-Altering Moves
The San Francisco Giants immediately came calling about Wade Miley, and we traded him right off the bat for RHP Sean Hjelle, a former 2nd round pick out of Kentucky who’s MLB ready and almost 7 feet tall. The Giants took all of Miley’s salary, taking a net ~$9.5M off the books.
Atlanta expressed immediate interest in Tyler Naquin as they tried to refill their outfield after a wave of free agent departures, looking for a versatile RHP masher on the cheap. We did a straight swap for RHP Richard Rodriguez, saving almost a half-million in the process and getting an established relief arm, saving a couple hundred thousand bucks, and also getting an arm with two years of control.
Next, we reached out to free agent Michael Lorenzen, mentioning him to him our plan with the pitchers on the roster and noting that he may get opportunities to compete for a starting role again if he returned. There was no guarantee there, of course, and he knew he’d still be getting relief innings, but wanted a one year deal to reestablish his value. We landed him for a $5M contract for a year, either giving us another proven bullpen arm and/or rotation depth so we could more aggressively shop Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle.
We needed to dump money, though, a pervasive theme throughout this all. In this particular Sim, the Chicago Cubs were willing to serve as a sponge for bad contracts if it meant they could collect prospects for the future, and they came calling early and often. We almost struck a huge deal that would’ve seen both Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama head to Wrigley for half of our farm system (and freeing up $46 million for us), but later settled on a smaller deal to get Shogo off the books. It cost us Elly De La Cruz, which stung, but $8M is $8M. (We technically got Austin Krzeminski as the return as filler.)
Next, we moved Tucker Barnhart to the Detroit Tigers for 3B Nick Quintana, the exact deal that happened in real life. That it happened in real life made it hard to get around, honestly, and Detroit rightly leveraged that to keep me from pressing for any further return. They did assume the entirety of his contract, too.
As the Sim moved on and the big money began flying, some of the lower-tier free agents became a bit antsy and wanted to get signed and get it over with. We used that opportunity to find Tyler Stephenson’s backup catcher in veteran Robinson Chirinos (one year, $1.5M) and more bullpen depth in Hunter Strickland (one year, $1M). That continued on the veteran ‘minor league deal with an invite to spring training’ market, too, as we landed each of 1B/DH Mitch Moreland, OF Cameron Maybin, RHP Brandon Workman, and old friend Heath Hembree on those deals.
I mentioned earlier that our gameplan was to shop our starting pitching depth to replenish our roster. We did, though some of the early offers were predictably boring. We were not bowled over quickly, however. An immediate offer for Castillo from the New York Yankees with Oswald Peraza on the table came in, though they were unwilling to discuss Anthony Volpe. The Oakland Athletics expressed interest in both Gray and Mahle to varying degrees, and were willing to discuss Ramon Laureano in a Mahle deal, though the asking price got steeper than we were willing to climb in that move. Houston came calling on Castillo late, as did the Chicago White Sox, but at that point we’d found an offer elsewhere that we chose to pursue - one that eventually turned into a damn large blockbuster...
The Seattle Mariners had been given the greenlight at the start of this Sim that their team had cash on-hand to go for it, and were aggressive on all fronts throughout. They wanted Tyler Mahle, they were willing to take on Mike Moustakas, and because they were going for it going for it, they inquired about Jonathan India, too. Yes, that Jonathan India, the kind of young, cheap, controllable star that teams (like us) who were trying to compete on the cheap need to hoard.
Of course, Seattle has a pile of young, elite-level prospects and players, too. Had, I should say, since we tried and succeeded in landing two of them in a deal that took almost a full day of this three-day Sim to hammer out. In the end, the Reds acquired OF Jarred Kelenic to be our CF of the present and future alongside former 6th overall pick Emerson Hancock, a consensus Top 50 overall prospect and RHP out of Georgia who figures to reach the bigs at some point during the 2022 season.
The Mariners also agreed to take on roughly half of the $38M remaining on Moose’s contract, including $14M of the $18M owed to him for the 2022 season. While we were trying to hammer out the details of this blockbuster, we were also working the free agency channels to spend that right back, with - you guessed it - Nick Castellanos as our primary target.
For the longest time, our four year, $64M offer (all guaranteed this time) was his highest bid, though his agent dutifully waited out the market instead of saying yes. As it turns out, once the shortstop and starting pitcher frenzies settled, the rest of the Sim came looking for outfielders, and a run there began, too. I worked as many angles as possible, and eventually bid up to a five year, $88M contract for Castellanos, but it became very evident my bids were being quickly topped after each and every raise. I bowed out, and he signed with the Giants for five years and $90M, forcing me to pivot for outfield help.
Fortunately, there was another proven right-handed masher out there who was much cheaper (for plenty of reasons), but who also fit the mold of what we needed most - someone, anyone who can hit left-handed pitching, and who can get on base at an above-average clip. That’s Andrew McCutchen, who just mauled southpaws at a .293/.405/.622 clip in 195 PA in 2021, and while the three year, $33 million guarantee was more than we wanted to spend, keep in mind that money in this Sim exists in a hyperinflation world.
At that point, we thought we were mostly done. Our rotation was set to be young, but talented - Castillo, Gray, Vlad Gutierrez, Michael Lorenzen, Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Sean Hjelle, Reiver Sanmartin, Tony Santillan, and Emerson Hancock gave us great talent and depth there, and we had lowered our payroll down to roughly $114M. Baltimore, though, came calling late with an offer we simply could not turn down.
They were trying to move John Means, and were willing to do so with Hancock as the centerpiece. Means, fresh off a ~4 bWAR season that featured a no-hitter, was only set to make $3.1M in 2022 and comes with a trio of seasons of team control, and while Austin Hendrick was eventually the costly second piece to make that deal come to fruition, we landed the perfect arm to round-out our revamped, and cheaper rotation.
Fake Reds Conclusions
Losing India was the single toughest aspect of this Sim, both because of how good and valuable he is and because it wasn’t originally part of our plan. That said, I’ll * briefly * try to explain our rationale to let him go.
Nick Senzel is still around, and while we didn’t plug him in as the starter anywhere just yet, his ability to play 2B will help fill that void, if he’s ever healthy. That said, we also wanted to make sure we found a path to playing time for Jose Barrero, and moving India did that - in our minds, Barrero is now the everyday shortstop, with Kyle Farmer, Senzel, and Schrock all capable of manning 2B. And while we obviously love India, we did begin to focus (perhaps too hard) on how his elevated BABIP and unsustainable number of HBP might bring him back down to earth as early as 2022.
In all, that move (with Mahle’s salary included) moved nearly $21M off our 2022 payroll. In Kelenic, we landed a player who was a consensus Top 10 overall prospect all of a year ago who admittedly struggled in 2021...at the age of just 21 years old, of course. He also mashed upon returning from being optioned mid-year and mashed his way through September, and given that stint back in AAA still has six full years of team control (to India’s five, if we’re crunching those numbers). He’s also a capable CF, something we didn’t have at all, and Hancock became Means, who has a year more team control than Mahle.
A perfect move? Hardly, and it will obviously play out as Kelenic develops (or doesn’t). Still, it was one bent on roster maneuvering as much as it was on shedding money, money that directly got used to add McCutchen for RF and lefty-mashing instead of to Mike Moustakas to be the backup 3B.
All told, we shed salary and put together a younger, more controllable team than we started with, one that I truly believe has better balance to it than the sign every 3B who ever played roster the Real Reds have been operating under for two years running.
Potential Fake Reds 2022 Roster Options
Catchers: Tyler Stephenson, Robinson Chirinos
IF: Joey Votto, Kyle Farmer, Jose Barrero, Eugenio Suarez, Mitch Moreland
OF: Jesse Winker, Jarred Kelenic, Andrew McCutchen, TJ Friedl, Cameron Maybin, Aristides Aquino
IF/OF: Nick Senzel, Max Schrock
SP: Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, John Means, Vlad Gutierrez
SP/RP: Michael Lorenzen, Tony Santillan, Reiver Sanmartin, Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Sean Hjelle
RP: Lucas Sims, Luis Cessa, Richard Rodriguez, Hunter Strickland, Amir Garrett, Art Warren, Dauri Moreta, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Ryan Hendrix