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SB Nation's MLB Off-season simulator: Faking a Brewers rebuild

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Once again, 30 fake GMs came together to simulate the MLB off-season. Once again, it was absolute chaos.

Elsa/Getty Images

Every year in November over at Royals Review, Max Reiper runs the SB Nation MLB Off-season Simulator, a fun exercise in which 30 fake GMs, mostly culled from each team's SB Nation blog writers, take over the decision making process for their teams over the course of several days. This year, Derek handed me the keys to the Mercedes 2002 Honda Accord, a questionable move at best and a show of gross negligence at worst. I did my best and also I'm sorry.

While the rest of the GMs were pushing triple digits around dangerous curves (11 years, $310 million for Jason Heyward?! THREE HUNDRED AND TEN MILLION!?!) over the past several days, I kept my hands at 10-and-2 and attempted to responsibly guide the Brewers as we rebuild a winner. Each team was given a recommended budget, which several of them blew past, regarding it with the same callous indifference that you or I might bestow upon a red light in a particularly heated session of Grand Theft Auto. I took the opposite approach, slashing the Brewers budget under $80 million, which I think is a reasonable expectation for 2016. I made decisions during the simulation based on the following 5 Year Plan:

2016: Butts In Seats
2017: Can Contend
2018: Will Contend
2019: Division Champions
2020: World Champions

We all know Mark Attanasio isn't going to stand for a Astros-style tear down and years of putrid baseball. My directive for 2016 is to keep people interested enough to show up. In 2017, we want a team that can, if things break in just the right way, contend for a playoff spot, and in 2018 we're right back in the thick of things. Are you ready? We're gonna jump right in with the big one, I hope you're sitting down. We'll call my imaginary team the Shadow Brewers, and I really hope you like them.

Brewers receive 3B Pablo Sandoval and SS Javier Guerra from Boston in exchange for RHP Scott Lieser

This is the headliner from the casual fan's standpoint. Sandoval is a name that most baseball fans recognize, and he fits our Butts In Seats strategy for 2016. Panda shirts! A 2017 Sandoval bobble-panda! HANK THE DOG IN A PANDA COSTUME!!! Sandoval probably isn't going to put the team over the top even when they're ready to compete in 2017-18, but he's far better than any of the in-house options at third, and even if Gilbert Lara and/or Jake Gatewood do eventually land at the hot corner, both are still years away from contributing to the major league club. What he will do is sell tickets and t-shirts, and give fans something to cheer for while the rebuild goes forward.

Of course, Sandoval is owed just a little bit of money. He's signed through 2019 for $72.4 million, with another $5 million guaranteed for the option year in his age-33 season -- the buy-in on that is $17 million. Why are we willing to pay for this, especially with no money coming our way? Well I certainly didn't go out looking for it. The Red Sox are compensating us for our troubles by sending over shortstop prospect Javier Guerra, a 20-year-old Boston signed as an international free agent in 2012. There's a scouting report from Minor League Ball on Guerra here. With some of the other moves I made, there's enough room in the budget to absorb Sandoval's contract. My hard and fast rule was that I wouldn't pay anything other than money for a stop-gap player to fill a hole on the major league roster, and that's basically the case here. To complete the deal, I sent over soon-to-be 26-year-old non-prospect Scott Lieser from Brevard County.

Brewers receive 1B Josh Bell from Pittsburgh in exchange for RHP Taylor Jungmann

And this is the headliner for the serious fans. Jungmann outperformed everyone's expectations in 2015, and while it's possible that he could repeat that performance or even take a step forward, I'm of the mind that Jungmann's value will never be higher than it is right now. I wasn't necessarily looking to move young, controllable pitching -- about half the league checked in on Will Smith, and all were sent packing -- but the Pirates came knocking with a Godfather offer for Jungmann. Bell is the top first base prospect in baseball, and ranked #31 overall by MLB.com. He spent half of 2015 at AAA-Indianapolis and absolutely mashed, slashing .347/.441/.504 with a wRC+ of 174. The plan for 2016 is to Kris Bryant him, bringing him up to the major league club to take over at first for Rogers once the time for Super 2 eligibility has passed. He still needs to find a power stroke to become a truly elite first baseman -- he hit just seven home runs in 2015 between Indianapolis and AA-Altoona -- but he's ready for the big leagues now.

Brewers send 1B Adam Lind to Seattle in exchange for 1B/3B Patrick Kivlehan and RHP Paul Fry

Finding a return for Lind and his team-friendly contract was one of my top priorities in this simulation. I found it here, bringing in the Mariners' No. 5 prospect (per MLB.com) in infielder Patrick Kivlehan. A football player in college that didn't play baseball at Rutgers until his senior year, he turned enough heads to find himself drafted by the Mariners in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. At 25, he's a bit older than you'd like, but that's largely due to his focus on football during most of his collegiate career. He slashed .256/.313/.453 at AAA-Tacoma last season, and his power broke out a bit as he mashed 22 home runs. He could push for a spot on the Opening Day roster. Fry is a promising 23-year-old Double-A reliever with a career 2.75 ERA.

Brewers receive CF Angel Pagan from San Francisco in exchange for RHP Matt Garza

This is a salary relief move with a little bit of a bonus. Milwaukee sheds it's obligations to Garza -- at least two years and $25 million -- without having to send any money along with him. In exchange, the Brewers take on Pagan's contract, which is shorter and cheaper: Pagan is in the last year of a 4-year deal that will pay him $11.25 million in 2016. Besides over $13 million in salary relief, Milwaukee acquires a real life center fielder. For now, the move sends Domingo Santana to the bench, but the 23-year-old was clearly out of position up the middle. Pagan is a great one-year stopgap for Milwaukee, as Brett Phillips will hopefully be ready for the show in 2017. A market for Khris Davis and/or Ryan Braun failed to materialize, so the Shadow Brewers will have to work out it's corner outfield logjam in the coming months.

Brewers send Francisco Rodriguez to Minnesota in exchange for RHP Zack Jones and 2B Levi Michael

Note: K-Rod was traded in real life this morning. Check out the actual news on that deal here.

I love every bit of this trade. The Shadow Brewers rid themselves Rodriguez along with his personal baggage and his $9.5 million contract, and in return acquire a pair of top 30 prospects from Minnesota without having to send any money to the Twins. Jones is a 24-year-old righty with great stuff, but he has control problems -- he carried a garish 6.0 BB/9 last season with AA-Chattanooga to go along with his 10.0 K/9. Michael is also 24 and also spent 2015 with Chattanooga, slashing .267/.369/.434. He was a first round pick for Minnesota in 2011.

Free Agency

Signed RHP Jhoulys Chacin - 1 year, $2 million

Kyle made the case for signing Chacin last week, and I followed through by inking the soon to be 28-year-old to a cheap one year deal. Chacin wil provide veteran innings for Milwaukee and, with young options waiting in the wings, he (along with the following two guys) could be shopped at the deadline for another prospect. We'll call this the Jake Arrieta stratagem (he, along with Pedro Strop, were acquired by Chicago in exchange for 30-year-old half-season rental property Scott Feldman), and the Shadow Brewers are all in on it for 2016.

Signed LHP Tommy Milone - 2 years, $11 million with a $10 million club option ($1 million buyout)

In a flurry of puzzling maneuvers, the Twins non-tendered Tommy Milone, a cheap, young and effective mid-rotation pitcher. The total guarantee for his deal is $12 million with the buyout for 2018, and he'll make $4 million in 2016. Milone, 28, was 9-5 with an ERA of 3.92 in 23 starts last season. He doesn't miss a ton of bats, owning a career 16.9 K%, but he's been a solid 1-2 win pitcher since 2011, and he'll provide a veteran presence and depth to a very young stable of starting pitchers over the next 2-3 years.

Signed LHP Mike Minor - 1 year, $1 million with up to $4.5 million in incentives

I initially tried to bring Minor in on a minor league deal, but eventually had to offer some guaranteed money to win his services. He'll earn a $1 million base salary with $1.5 million bonuses for each of 5, 10 and 20 starts, making his potential earnings up to $5.5 million. The bonuses are built in to protect the Brewers against continued injury issues for Minor. He missed all of 2015 after undergoing shoulder surgery in May and was plauged by injuries in 2014 as well after a breakout year threw over 200 innings and recorded a 3.21 ERA for Atlanta.

Signed 1B Kyle Blanks - minor league deal

Blanks, also beset with injuries over the last few years, joins Milwaukee on a minor league deal with an invite to major league camp, where he'll compete for a bench spot. Blanks has been an extremely effective hitter when healthy, but he's played in only 44 games over the last two seasons due to multiple trips to the disabled list. If he can stay on the field, he could push for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Signed 2B/OF Rickie Weeks, minor league deal 
Signed LHP Chris Capuano, minor league deal

I did this for you, because I love you.

The 2016 Shadow Brewers

So after all that, what does the 25-man roster look like? Let's go to Derek's 25-man chart and fill it up with the Shadow Brewers:

C: Jonathan Lucroy- $4.35M BN: Martin Maldonado - $1.125M SP: Tommy Milone - $4M RP: Will Smith - $1.2M
1B: Jason Rogers - $507,500 BN: Patrick Kivlehan - $507,500 SP: Wily Peralta - $2.8M RP: Ariel Pena - $507,500
2B: Scooter Gennett - $507,500 BN: Yadiel Rivera - $507,500 SP: Jhoulys Chacin - $2M RP: Junior Guerra - $507,500
3B: Pablo Sandoval -  $17.6M BN: Elian Herrera - $507,500 SP: Mike Minor - $1M RP: Michael Blazek - $507,500
SS: Jean Segura - $3.2M BN: Domingo Santana - $507,500 SP: Jimmy Nelson - $507,500 RP: Tyler Thornburg - $507,500
OF: Ryan Braun - $20M
RP: Corey Knebel - $507,500
OF: Khris Davis - $507,500
RP: Jeremy Jeffress - $507,500
OF: Angel Pagan - $11.25M
Total: $57,922,500 Total: $3,155,000 Total: $10,307,500 Total: $4,145,000
Team Total: $78,463,333

Not to toot my own horn, but god damn, is that sexy. Or at least, sexier than the 2014 roster, though that's a lot like being the best wide receiver on the Green Bay Packers right now (sorry, sorry). We've made over the lineup into something resembling a major-league offense, adding established veterans who will be manning their actual positions at third base and center field. Here's how my Opening Day lineup looks:

2B Scooter Gennett
C Jonathan Lucroy
RF Ryan Braun
LF Khris Davis
3B Pablo Sandoval
1B Jason Rogers
CF Angel Pagan
SS Jean Segura
P Jimmy Nelson

Not too shabby. Sandoval and Pagan both had down years at the plate in 2015 -- Sandoval is only 29 and I'm confident he can rebound next year while Pagan is 34 and with him, I'm not so sure. But he's a real life center fielder, so he'll get the chance to play there, and if his bat is simply untenable, Santana has shown that he can at least not make a fool of himself. Kivlehan can cover the corners, Sardinas can cover three infield positions and Herrera can play anywhere. Again, regarding Bell, we'll be Kris Bryant-ing him, and bring him along once we're sure the Super 2 cutoff has passed in order to maintain a year of control -- sorry pal, them's the breaks. The end result for the offense? We were able to add big contracts in Sandoval and Pagan while keeping the 2016 payroll below $80 million by slashing the pitching budget.

And yet the starting rotation is not only improved, it's much, much deeper. Milone is better and younger than Matt Garza and comes at 1/3rd the cost of the departed Count. Chacin has maintained a 3.76 ERA over a seven year career even while making over half of his starts in Coors Field -- he's a solid back-end starter. Minor is coming off a lost season and has been plagued by injuries in recent years, but he's a former #7 overall pick on an inexpensive deal. And of course, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson both return with another year of experience under their belts. There isn't an ace here, in either sense of the term -- none of these pitchers has MLB.tv must-watch stuff, and any of these five guys could easily be Shadow Milwaukee's best pitcher in 2016 -- but it's an improvement over the 2015 staff that gave the ball to Garza and Kyle Lohse 47 times.

Should any of those starting pitchers find themselves on the DL (and let's be honest, Minor probably will), Milwaukee won't be scrambling for inexperienced spot starters anymore. Zack Davies, who pitched very well in his cameo in the rotation in 2015, is the next man up should anyone get hurt of falter. Junior Guerra can be stretched out to start as well should he be needed, as can Ariel Pena. Also waiting at Shadow Colorado Springs is the long lost Capuano, along with Jorge Lopez, Tyler Wagner, Tyler Cravy and Adrian Houser, all of whom made starts for the big league club in 2015.

The major change in the bullpen is the departure of K-Rod, which is, if we're being honest, a downgrade at the imaginary position of closer. The Fresh Prince steps into that role now, and the rest of the bullpen shuffles to compensate. There's probably a slight reduction in the effectiveness of the bullpen, but we've slashed $7.5 million off the payroll, and there's a better-than-not chance that the Brewers can cobble together a fine relief corps from their growing stable of arms.

Reconciling the 40-Man Roster

After a flurry of moves, and with a bucket of prospects who need to be added to the roster in order to protect them from the Rule Draft, here's the final tally on the 40-man roster:

Added:
OF: Angel Pagan, Victor Roache
IF: Pablo Sandoval, Josh Bell, Patrick Kivlehan, Orlando Arcia
P: Jhoulys Chacin, Mike Minor, Tommy Milone, Damien Magnifico, Jacob Barnes

Removed:
OF: Logan Schafer, Shane Peterson
IF: Adam Lind, Matt Clark, Hernan Perez
C; Juan Centeno
P: Taylor Jungmann, Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Garza, Mike Strong, Cesar Jimenez, Johnny Hellweg

Notables at risk for Rule 5 Draft:
IF: Nick Ramirez, Chris McFarland
C: Dustin Houle
P: Brent Suter, Jorge Ortega, Austin Ross, Brooks Hall, Angel Ventura, Wei-Chung Wang

We're taking calculated risks regarding the Rule 5 draft. You'll remember Dustin Houle as being the best catching prospect in the system from the Micro Brewers series, but that is of course a relative term, and we'll roll the dice that no teams will be willing to stick a 22-year-old with no experience above High-A on their major league roster at such an important defensive position. Among the pitchers, Suter and Ross are probably the most appealing to MLB teams, but we're crossing out fingers, and then there's Wang, who was the 41st man for me in this exercise. He's available if anyone wants to take that wild ride again.

As far as the rebuilding effort is concerned, we've revamped the corner infield prospect situation in a big way, netting Kivlehan and Bell, both of whom should make contributions in 2015. The rest of the moves we made were for less-heralded prospects that are a couple of years away from making an impact, but we've acquired some guys who you'll be seeing in the Shadow Brewers' Top 30 Prospects lists. We're still searching for top-flight pitching prospects and our catcher of the future, but we've got still some cards to play to clear some logjams.

The Moves I Didn't Make

You might be wondering about some the things that didn't take place in the simulation for the Shadow Brewers, so I'll run them down real quick:

#BringBackZack - I actually did check in on Grienke late Monday night after a resoundingly successful trivia night at Local Drinking Establishment. I opened with 5 years, $140 million. Look, it's all fake, you guys, and I like him. I recieved an immediate response that I might need to keep drinking to go as high as the offers he had on the table, and Grienke ended up getting the Scherzer deal from the Yankees: 7 years, $210. So New York will be paying Grienke $30 million in his age 39 season, but luckily for them signing a former Brewers rental to a huge contract has never backfired previously.

Trade Lucroy - The market just never materialized on Lucroy to the level that I needed it to. Several teams checked in, with the Cubs offering the best deal -- a package centered around their top prospect, SS Gleybar Torres. Of course, the Brewers are already stacked at shortstop, and I just felt Lucroy was worth more than what was being offered -- he'll make $4 million this year, and Wilson Ramos is projected to get $5.8 milion in arbitration after a year in which he hit .229/.258/.358. Lucroy is incredibly valuable to Milwaukee, not just as a player but as a marketable Face of the Franchise, so it will take a monster deal to pry him loose.

Trade Davis or Braun - Again, the markets for either player never really developed. A couple of teams checked in on Davis and I shopped Braun, but nothing really clicked. Moving Braun to first is no longer an option with the addition of Bell, so Davis and Braun (or Santana) will be shopped aggressively by the Shadow Brewers in 2015. You can basically copy and paste this paragraph and substitute "Rivera" for Davis and "Segura" for Braun if you'd like an explanation for that, as well.

So that's it! Another successful sff-season simulation in the books. I now return control of the team to the expert hands of actual GM David Stearns, hoping that he doesn't notice that I'm leaving with the keys to the '82 Brewers Suite.