Has it really been a decade? Eleven years, even?
The fine folks who run our Kansas City Royals sister site, Royals Review, have been hosting a league-wide GM Simulation across the SB Nation network for ten, eleven years now, at least. I know that in its earliest iterations, the Red Reporter braintrust made a deal to bring in Shin-Soo Choo only to see the actual Reds do the same later that offseason, and given that it’s been a full decade since that excellent move in Real Reds history, well, that’s how long we’ve been pulling these strings.
This year’s took place over this past weekend, and I did my best to operate in a manner that bridged the gap between what I would do if given the real reins and what I thought the actual Reds would do if presented with the opportunity. For those who’ve not followed along as these have happened over the years, I’ll lay out some brief ground rules that govern the Sim below.
- It’s a 1-year simulation, which means there becomes an outsized emphasis on teams trying to actively ‘go for it.’
- Because it’s a 1-year Sim, prospects who do not project to make the big league roster during that year lose a lot of their luster. Cam Collier is a phenom, yes, but since he’s more than a year away, he’s treated more like fodder in this than in the real world.
- There are suggested budgets that mimic what the real-life clubs are up to, but there’s still subjective wiggle room on those. As a result, payrolls tend to spend pretty large in this, driving up all contracts.
With that defined, here were my main priorities for the Sim Reds, along with some of the parameters in which I was operating.
- Our ‘recommended budget’ was set at $119 million, a number in-line with where the Reds operated in previous years before burning things completely to the ground last winter.
- I was never going to trade Joey Votto in the first place, but given that he has a no-trade clause, he was ineligible to be dealt in this Sim, anyway. Such was the case for all players league-wide with such clauses, which made #3 on this list a bit more difficult.
- Trading away Mike Moustakas was paramount.
- I was neither trading away the top prospects on the Reds farm nor attempting to block any of them with additions.
- I was, however, going to try to spend my way towards the recommended budget to the best of my abilities, even if it didn’t put a 110 game on-paper winner together. Spend the cash you can spend and at least give ‘em a damn shot, after all, especially with the knowledge that Elly De La Cruz could ride in for a second-half surge if they overachieved early on.
- The pitching staff needed some additions, the outfield needed everything, and if there were creative ways to add offense, well, I was going to pursue them.
The Administrative Moves
I declined the team option on Mike Minor for the 2023 season, and bought him out for a million bucks. Then, I non-tendered each of Derek Law and Aristides Aquino.
That trio of moves removed over $13 million from our payroll to be used elsewhere.
Moving Farmer was not a given in this, since I like Kyle Farmer. I’d like Kyle Farmer to catch a bit, play some 1B, some 2B, some SS, some 3B, have some fun, pick up 450 PA, and be a good, fun dude. He’s good at that, and can do it to a 1.5 WAR clip. That’s got value! His $5.9 million projected salary in this was not cost prohibitive, but the reality is that a) he had suitors and b) with Spencer Steer and Elly and Noelvi Marte and Matt McLain looming, the infield of the Reds future is pretty obviously not in the hands of a 32 year old.
I was offered tantalizing young reliever Tahnaj Thomas by the GM of the Washington Nationals, who had already acquired Thomas from the Pirates in an earlier deal. They added lefty Trey McGough to sweeten the deal, and I accepted, with Thomas the kind of electric arm that I could not pass up.
For what it’s worth, I think Farmer got traded to the Twins afterwards because the Nationals GM made approximately 274 trades in this Sim, in case you were wondering just how little it mirrored real life.
Due to players with no-trade clauses being off-limits in this, finding another bad contract out there to swap for Moose became a very narrow search. Fortunately, though, the GM of the Miami Marlins and I quickly found some common ground on a deal that involved Avisail Garcia, who labored through a brutal 2022 campaign in year 1 of his 4-year, $53 million contract.
In the end, I landed Garcia and fellow outfielder Jesus Sanchez, a former Top 50 overall prospect who, at 25, has not yet been able to see similar success at the big league level. I sent $8 million in the deal, too, and I’ll try to explain my reasoning.
With Moose’s buyout - which I did not pay - I was paying $20 million during 2023 one way or another. Garcia’s contract is for $12 million annually, and the risk that I took on was that he’s still under contract for that amount in 2024 and 2025. In sending the $8 million to Miami, I’m still effectively paying $20 million in 2023, but instead of getting what I can get out of Moose, I’ll be getting what I can get out of both Garcia and Sanchez, and I gambled that the latter would vastly out-produce the former - especially in the case of Sanchez, who’ll benefit (as a lefty bat) from no further shifting and from a switch to GABP as his home stadium.
If Garcia bounced back to anything akin to his 2021 form, he’d be a dumpable salary next winter, anyway. If not...well, I did mention this was a 1-year Sim, didn’t I?
Old Friends Reunion!
I also mentioned that I tried to somewhat mimic what the Real Reds might do. The Real Reds love few things more than former Reds, and our collective nostalgia led me down that path.
The Real Reds and Sim Reds both desperately needed help at catcher and in their rotation, and I turned to former Reds Curt Casali and Johnny Cueto to fill those roles. Both have potential team control for 2024 in the deals I structured, too, even though 2024 isn’t a thing that really exists in this Sim - I added those on because even I know that the 2024 version of the Sim Reds I built here will likely be much, much better than the 2023 version, and I wanted them around.
Casali signed for 2 years and $3 million, total. Cueto inked on a 1-year, $5 million deal with a team option for 2024 at $5 million, too.
The Cincinnati Kid
If there is one thing the Real Reds love more than Old Reds reunions, it’s signing players from the Cincinnati area. Given my desperate need for a) offense and b) outfielders, that eventually led me to Andrew Benintendi, who I signed to a 6-year, $72 million deal.
Was that more than I wanted to spend? Absolutely.
Was the AAV in-line with what I was willing to spend? Yes, yes it was.
Adding-on the needless years is what it took to win the bidding, but for this 1-year Sim purpose, I got Benintendi for $12 million, and did so after watching other free agents be signed for sums that made all of us chuckle.
Aaron Judge got a half-billion dollar deal. $500 million. Five-hundo.
Xander Bogaerts, who is 30, signed for $416 million, while Trea Turner, who is also 30, similarly got a deal worth over $400 million guaranteed. Carlos Correa somehow only got the scraps, landing for $380 million, while Brandon Nimmo received a $200 million guarantee.
All of that is me saying that paying $12 million a year to a 28 year old OF who projects to be worth ~2.5-3.0 WAR seemed like a fine bargain, and I’m excited to land him.
— Interlude —
At this point of the Sim, I was comfortable that I’d made the 2023 team better, set things in motion for the 2024 club to be better, and hadn’t hampered the rebuild one bit. I even floated Alexis Diaz and Jonathan India on the trade market to see if anyone would throw their entire farm systems my way, and while that never materialized in a juicy-enough way, I did fall down one rabbit hole going the other way.
Kansas City shopped C/1B/OF MJ Melendez, and I was after him from the start. His 40-homer potential (especially in GABP) paired with his ability to rotate with Tyler Stephenson, Joey Votto, and DH on many days as a pre-arb player was tantalizing to me, and I’m similarly high on him to improve in 2023 once shifting - he hits left-handed - is taken away from defenses. We discussed a move around Brandon Williamson and, potentially, Andrew Abbott, though the deal unfortunately fell through.
As the gargantuan spending around the Sim continued, I became one of the very few teams that still had ample payroll remaining - over $30+ million, actually - and it then became a game of either spending it wildly on moves the Real Reds would never make or simply pocketing the Sim Cash and resting on my Sim wallet.
You can surely guess which route I pursued.
We Signed That Red-Headed Goofball
That’s a picture of Justin Turner after winning the 2004 College World Series with Cal-State Fullerton. He’d be a draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds two years later, only to eventually be shipped out to Baltimore for Ramon Hernandez. He’d land in New York with the Mets before growing a Samson beard as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers and developing into one of the best offensive players of his generation.
Well, the NL has a DH these days, the Reds need offense in the worst of ways, and I had cold, hard cash sitting around. So, I signed a former Reds draftee, doing so on a 2-year, $30 million pact that includes a team-option for a 3rd year. In theory, he’ll sock 25 bombs as the team’s DH, occasional 3B, and backup 1B for a year before assuming Joey Votto Emeritus status somewhere on the 2024 roster, the hope being that he just keeps socking away like he has for years.
Kenley Jansen Ices the Cake
We still had tens of millions left to spend. We finished the Sim some $8.3 million under budget, and that includes the signing of Kenley Jansen to help anchor the bullpen.
For as godawful as the team’s relief corps was in 2022, it looks to be a position of strength in 2023, assuming only half of the injuries pop back up. The returns of Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, and Tony Santillan will be a massive boost alongside Diaz, while getting Luis Cessa back to his more suitable relief role will augment that group, too. Jansen sat as the single biggest relief name out there late in the Sim, and adding him to the back-end of the mix seemed a perfect way to take further pressure off the team’s young rotation by adding a hammer to help them finish what they started.
It took a 2-year, $26 million deal to get Jansen, and we were happy to send that funny money his way.
Look, we know the future of the Real Reds and these Sim Reds lies with Elly, Noelvi, and the trio of young starting pitchers alongside a healthy Tyler Stephenson. We did nothing to disrupt that with these moves.
We put together a club that would probably project to win more games than they lost, albeit not enough to run roughshod through the division. Still, when you put together a team with a puncher’s chance, there’s the chance they punch above their weight through the first half of a season, at which point the reinforcements of Elly and Noelvi (and the $9 million we didn’t spend in the budget) could help put them over the top in a playoff push.
That’s why we baseball, after all! Ya gotta at least give them a chance! Ya hear me, Bob?
The lone ‘problem area’ we left slightly unaddressed was the SS position in Farmer’s wake, as we’ve penciled-in Jose Barrero as the full-time guy to begin the year. (For the record, I did offer Bogaerts a 7-year, $175 million deal early on as a flyer, though that eventually got lapped like a scooter in a NASCAR race.)
Believe me, we’ve watched Barrero struggle at the big league level tremendously just like everyone else has, but we opted to give him a dedicated chance to play everyday in his natural position at the highest level to either cement our view or, hopefully, prove us wrong. He’s got gobs of talent, talent that made him a top prospect in the first place and saw him bash and mash minor league pitching, and after a full-year removed from his wrist surgery (and an offseason of normal prep), maybe, just maybe, he’ll show he’s got some real big league chops. If not, maybe Spencer Steer can shift over from 3B and ply his trade there, as he has often in his minor league career - and if that didn’t work, Elly or McLain or Noelvi will be there to swoop in after a couple of months and stake their claim.
All that for a $110 million payroll.
Projected 2023 Sim Reds Roster
C - Tyler Stephenson, Curt Casali
IF - Joey Votto, Jonathan India, Jose Barrero, Spencer Steer, Justin Turner
OF - Andrew Benintendi, Jake Fraley, Avisail Garcia, Jesus Sanchez
IF/OF - Nick Senzel, Matt Reynolds
SP - Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, Johnny Cueto, Graham Ashcraft, Connor Overton
RP - Alexis Diaz, Kenley Jansen, Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, Tony Santillan, Reiver Sanmartin, Luis Cessa, Buck Farmer