Well folks, it’s that time of year again where I participate in Royals Review’s SB Nation Off-Season Simulation as fake David Stearns in an attempt to build a roster with the idea that money is equal in value to points on the show Who’s Line is it Anyway?
We take 30 fans, put them in charge of 30 teams under real world-ish conditions, working out trades with each other and negotiating with free agents (with me serving as their agent!). You can take a look at last year’s project here.
Here are the ground rules for the sim:
- We rewind to the end of the regular season. The assumption is your GM has resigned and been replaced. The new GM is free to set their own organizational philosophy. (This means I did not sign Trevor Gott, for example)
- Players with no-trade clauses cannot be traded (this includes players with 10-5 rights). Players with limited no-trade clauses can be traded.
- Minor leaguers can be traded, but must be specified. No Players to be Named Later. Cash may be dealt, but the amount must be specified.
- You are free to frontload or backload contracts, although player preferences are for contracts not to be back-loaded. Anything ridiculous will not be accepted. You can offer player, club, mutual, and vesting options.
- Top offer will typically be taken, although there may be exceptions if a player has a preference on where he wants to play (big market over small market; older vet may want to play for a "winner.")
- No negotiating long-term deals for players that are not free agents – ie, extensions.
- For arbitration salaries, we use MLB Trade Rumors estimates if they are tendered.
So, given those parameters in this SIM as the Brewers GM I would be unable to trade Christian Yelich since he has full no-trade. Or negotiate a 5-year deal with Brandon Woodruff.
Entering this fake-winter, I was operating under three primary tenants:
- Operate under a mode of "Win Now"
- Not exceed the Brewers all-time payroll high of $142MM (in 2019) to maintain a sense of realism
- IMPROVE THE OFFENSE
Because of the salary constraints, I knew I was going to have to get most of my goals done via trade. I was hoping to shed salary to give me some flexibility down the road, but the current contracts on the books going into this thing was $105MM.
First up were option decisions:
Jackie Bradley Jr exercised his player option for 2022. Avisail Garcia declined his mutual option for 2022. I elected not to offer Garcia the Qualifying Offer, favoring the payroll flexibility over bringing him back next year.
At this point, I was already fielding multiple offers for trade. I had indicated Corbin Burnes was 99% off-the-table, but would listen on anyone else if the deal improved my team enough. Multiple teams called on moving Woodruff and Hader together. Peralta drew a ton of interest. I had two teams call on Adames, fearing the going price of SS’s in the free agent market.
So as the belle of the ball with half the league interested in dealing with me, I dove headfirst into the trade market with…..
MIL trades RHP Luke Barker to MIA for OF Lewis Brinson
Gotta start it off with a bang, right? In all seriousness, Miami approached me looking at Barker and I felt like I could afford to move him. Having participated in this SIM for several years now, I felt comfortable being able to add bullpen depth later on the cheap and Barker, although popular on BCB, remains buried in our pecking order. Heck, I’m not even sure if we control his rights anymore but in this thing – I did. So, in the event I had to trade multiple OFs, I felt like getting Brinson back in the fold was worth it. Even without MiLB options, I felt like he could be a replacement for JBJ in the event I moved him.
This move ended up being moot, since I non-tendered Brinson after I made a few other trades. I had hoped to sign him to a minor league deal but he ended up in SD on a 1yr, $2MM. Hopefully Barker finally gets his fake-chance in Miami…. It's hard to know which way the SIM is going to go (except that at some point it will get crazy) so this was protecting me against a situation where I ended up with a big hole in my roster - something I was able to use to my advantage later on....
By this point, I knew free agency was going to be tough. Seiya Suzuki had an offer of 5 years, $60MM. The top shortstops were well out of my reach at $30MM AAV over 10 years. Nobody big had signed yet, but things were not looking good. I had feelers out on Jorge Soler, Garcia, Joc Pederson and a few others but I knew I was going to lose a lot of those races if I stayed true to my payroll parameters. So I decided to get creative and make two deals with AL Central rebuilders to add to the club:
MIL trades LHP Ethan Small and OF/3B Korry Howell to MIN for Josh Donaldson and $21.5MM ($11.5MM in 2022, $10MM in 2023)
MIL trades 2B/1B Keston Hiura and RHP Max Lazar to KC for UTIL Whit Merrifield, 1B/DH Carlos Santana and $8MM (all in 2022)
Josh Donaldson was worth 2.2 fWAR and posted a wRC+ of 124 last year in 135 games. Avi Garcia was worth 2.9 fWAR and posted a wRC+ of 115. Is Donaldson washed as an everyday 3B? Possibly. But with the DH likely to come to the NL (at least how I chose to operate), I felt like his bat was still functional enough to play for a team starved for offense. He also addresses the Brewers’ weakness against left-handed pitching having slashed .257/.371/.571 against southpaws last season. The money coming back isn’t as much as I had hoped, but by getting $8MM (and a subsequent move of Santana) in the KC deal I feel like I addressed a need and didn’t pay through the nose.
Many were down on Merrifield last year, but he still led the American League in stolen bases and all of MLB in doubles. He also posted the second best fWAR mark of his career at 3.3. Yes, the wRC+ was light (91) and you worry about the physical toll of playing every game since the start of 2019, but he’s still a very valuable piece to a club looking for depth. Merrifield carries a low K-rate (14.3% in ’21) and does a lot of things right for a baseball team. I view him as a RH-hitting version of Kolten Wong, but one who can play all over the diamond.
The pieces I gave up in these deals weren’t ideal, but make sense if we’re ‘going for it’. I think Ethan Small is going to be a decent MLB starting pitcher but would be no better than the 6th or 7th option for this club in 2022. Lazar has a ton of potential but hasn’t pitched professionally since getting hurt in 2019. Korry Howell is an interesting prospect with some offensive upside, but he has failed to find a defensive home and tailed off in the second half of 2021 once he got to AA Biloxi. He’s got speed to burn and can pop a HR or two. But he reminds me a lot of Keon Broxton, minus the ability to give plus defense in CF.
Hiura is the guy I hate giving up here. But if I’m being honest, a ‘win now’ team doesn’t have the luxury of being patient with a guy who has Keston’s swing and miss issues. Hiura doesn’t have anything left to prove in AAA, what he needs is everyday MLB at bats in order to work through in his pre-swing loading mechanism and pitch recognition. I could very easily seeing him realizing his potential in KC and becoming a 35-40 homer type player. But reliability matters when going all out for a ring and Merrifield trumps Hiura in that regard several hundred times over.
It was at this point some of the bigger FA names started to sign. Verlander to STL (barf!) for 2yrs, $52MM. The baby-eaters picked up Pujols as well for 1yr, $8MM. Mark Canha went to the Mets for 3/$30MM and the Nationals signed Yasiel Puig (!) for 1yr, $9MM. These deals mostly cemented my feelings that free agency was going to be a total clown show, although the Canha deal wasn’t too mad and probably would have fit my budget had I prioritized him. It was at this point I bowed out of the Castellanos, Conforto and Suzuki races and pivoted to finding a true starting RF via trade. I still wanted to free myself of the Jackie Bradley anchor (and potentially Cain, if possible) but it was becoming increasingly clear I was going to have to trade Woodruff or Peralta in order to realize both goals. I had two Bay area clubs interested on Peralta and Ashby/Mitchell, but I managed to split them up and pull off both:
MIL trades RHP Freddy Peralta, OF Jackie Bradley Jr., RHP Josh Lindblom to SF for OF Mike Yastrzemski, RHP Tyler Rogers, IF Tommy La Stella and OF Heliot Ramos
MIL trades LHP Aaron Ashby, OF Garrett Mitchell, C Jeferson Quero, IF Zavier Warren and IF Tommy La Stella (flipped!) to OAK for Matt Olson and RHP Jake Weisenburger
I know I will catch quite a bit of heat for trading one of the most team-freindly contracts in all of MLB along with some serious prospect capital in Ashby, Mitchell and Quero but I felt like these two trades really changed the makeup of the ball club and gave us two legit anchors in the lineup. Olson was an All Star in 2021 who hit 39 bombs and plays Gold Glove defense. Yaz is capable of playing every OF spot and averages 30 HRs over a full 162 game schedule. Both players have more than one year of team control remaining (Olson = 2 and Yastrzemski = 4) and Tyler Rogers is a quality, back-end relief option. I even managed to add a Top-100 OF prospect to the farm in the form of Ramos who was ranked #32 by Baseball Prospectus pre-2021 and reached AAA as a 21 year old this year. Weisenburger is also a high floor, MLB relief type on a fast track to big league innings. He posted a 12.6 K/9 across A+ and AA this year and has all three minor league options remaining for next season.
In terms of the players going out the door, obviously the loss of Peralta hurts. In 144.1 innings last season, Peralta was worth 4.0 fWAR and was a key member of the Brewers "Big 3". His leaving creates a hole in the starting rotation, one that Ashby would have been an ideal candidate for. I still like the trade for the pieces I landed, but there’s no doubt in my mind the pitching took a step back with these deals. I can live with Mitchell leaving town since he’s really struggled to stay healthy since getting drafted and the two fliers (Quero and Warren) are both long shots to becoming impact MLB players.
By this time, our non-tender decisions were due and I had roster trimming to do. I non-tendered Dan Vogelbach, Luke Maile, Lewis Brinson and Jace Peterson saving me a little over $6MM in payroll, but I immediately extended minor league offers to all of them. In this SIM, guys will take MiLB deals which are basically camp invites if they receive no MLB offers. I eventually make quite a few MiLB signings, including Peterson and Maile.
So, I’ve managed to trim the roster with some non-tenders and added significant offensive pieces via trade. But I felt like my pitching really has taken a hit with those last two trades. Thankfully, my payroll situation was in a very good spot and I felt like I could entertain some free agent pitchers at this stage of the game. Most of the big-name players were out of my price range, but I did find two players who were being slightly overlooked (in terms of what others were signing for) at this point:
MIL signs RHP Ian Kennedy to a 1 year, $2MM deal
MIL signs LHP Alex Wood to a 3 year, $22MM deal
Now, Alex Wood isn’t Freddy Peralta. But he has pitched to an fWAR of at least 2.5 in every season in his career where he’s been able to top 80 innings. He tossed 138.2 for the Giants in 2021 and finished with a 3.83 ERA, 3.48 FIP and a very serviceable 0.91 HR/9. For $7.3MM per season over a three year pact, I’ll take my chances I can get at least two healthy seasons out of him. Seeing as his former teammate Anthony Desclafani got $10MM AAV from Toronto and Steven Matz got 4years, $50MM from Minnesota, I fell really good about the value of this signing.
Ian Kennedy is a veteran bullpen arm who was getting overlooked (remember I mentioned this would happen?) Since moving to a full-time BP role in 2019, Kennedy has tossed 133.2 innings with a 3.91 ERA, 118 ERA+, 10.1 K/9 and a 2.6 BB/9. He’s a decent veteran who can replace some of the innings we got from Boxberger and Strickland who departed to Detroit and Cincinnati on a $4MM and $1MM deal respectively.
And now, Silly Season officially started as the top free agents began to sign. Here are a rundown of some of the bigger contracts/Brewers-relevant deals. Nobody got as crazy as giving Bryce Harper $556MM over 14 years like happened a few years ago, but things still got nuts...
Phillies sign Chris Taylor to a 4 year, $96MM deal with a $20MM club option and $4MM buyout
Mariners sign Alex Cobb to a 1 year, $9MM deal with an $11MM club option and $1MM buyout
Padres sign Avisail Garcia to a 3 year, $36MM deal with a $7.5MM player option
Twins sign Eduardo Escobar to a 3 year, $25MM deal
White Sox sign Starling Marte to a 3 year, $75MM deal
Tigers sign Carlos Rodon to a 5 year, $80MM deal
Red Sox sign Joe Kelly to a 2 year, $20MM deal
Tigers sign Carlos Correa to a 10-year, $375MM deal
Dodgers sign Zack Greinke to a 2 year, $24MM deal
Mariners sign Seiya Suzuki to a 6 year, $120MM deal
Angels sign Corey Seager to a 10-year, $355MM deal
Reds sign Andrew McCutchen to a 3 year, $33MM deal
Angels sign Kris Bryant to a 6 year, $210MM deal
Pirates sign Michael Conforto to a 5 year, $75MM deal
Twins sign Marcus Stroman to a 5 year, $120MM deal with two club options and a $5MM buyout on each
Mets sign Javy Baez to a 7 year, $126MM deal
Rays sign Anthony Rizzo to a 3 year, $33MM deal
Giants sign Nick Castellanos to a 5 year, $90MM deal
Now, not all these deals were bad (I mean, some were.... Honestly, that Rizzo deal would have been very enticing if I had not added Olson and the Avi deal wasn’t as crazy as I previously anticipated (but when McCutcheon had a 3/$33MM and Suzuki signed for $120MM, I bowed our of the RF sweepstakes).
At the end of the day, I felt justified in seeking upgrades through trades rather than picking through the scraps left over from this list. Sure, there was value there. But in a truncated timetable (2 days) its impossible to be in on all of these guys at once and slide into the best possible value. I personally think Wood represented one of the better signings of the SIM, so I did land a very team-friendly deal on my one big bite at the FA apple.
Getting close to wrapping this thing up, I made a few more minor deals to flesh out the roster and trim payroll.
MIL signs RHP Joakim Soria to a 1yr, $1MM deal, RHP Wander Suero to a 1yr, $700k deal and OF Victor Reyes to a 1yr, 900K deal.
MIL trades 1B/DH Carlos Santana and RHP Victor Castaneda to WAS for OF Yadiel Hernandez
Washington left themselves without a starting 1B and I was able to deal Santana and his full $10.5MM salary for a LH hitting OF with minor league options remaining. It did cost me Castaneda, but seeing as I didn't have a good spot for Santana to play anyway this was a decent cash saving maneuver. It also means that with the $8MM KC sent me in the trade, Merrifield ends up being free for the Brewers (even if we pick up his option next year).
Lastly, I also ended up with the following players on minor league deals/invites to camp over this whole process. These guys signed throughout the process, but I lumped them all together here:
C Pedro Severino
IF/OF Jace Peterson
C Luke Maile
RHP Greg Holland
RHP Jacob Barnes
SS Orlando Arcia
IF Rio Ruiz
OF/DH Khris Davis
At this point, I was done. There were a few other proposals that floated in towards the end which weren’t to my liking and with only hours left in the SIM (so basically the equivalent of late January), I felt I had done enough.
Likely 26-man roster:
C: Omar Narvaez, Mario Feliciano* (2)
1B: Matt Olson*, Rowdy Tellez (2)
2B: Kolten Wong, Whit Merrifield (2)
SS: Willy Adames (1)
3B: Luis Urias*, Josh Donaldson (2)
OF: Christain Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Yastrzemski, Tyrone Taylor (4)
SP: Corbin Burnes*, Brandon Woodruff*, Alex Wood, Adrian Houser, Eric Lauer* (5)
RP: Josh Hader*, Devin Williams*, Tyler Rogers*, Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria, Brent Suter, Jake Cousins*, Miguel Sanchez* (8)
* Denotes MiLB options remaining
Likely 40-man roster:
All of the above, plus:
INF – Pablo Reyes, Rio Ruiz, Brice Turang
OF – Corey Ray, Victor Reyes, Yadiel Hernandez
SP – Dylan File, Alec Bettinger
RP – Hoby Milner, Jake Weisenberger, Carlos Luna, Wander Suero, Jandel Gustave
This leaves me at 39 spots with one open (which I would have used to sign an MLB-ready catcher with options remaining, but the guy who ran the SIM stopped updating the DFAs/free agents so I wasn’t too sure who was left.) I promoted Turang, but this also would not be necessary prior to ST. I just felt like giving him a confidence boost after hearing all of the poor outlooks on him from rival GMs around the "league".
I am a little nervous about catcher with Feliciano being asked to really step up in 2022. I could also just promote Severino or Maile and keep MF in AAA for another year if I feel it necessary. Either way, with Manny Pina taking a MiLB deal to go to BAL (I had a potential trade for Mitch Garver on the table and missed out on bringing Pina back because of it) I am left leaning hard on Narvaez in his walk year as the primary backstop.
My final payroll projection (based on my best calculation) ticked in at $102.2MM. That includes the deferral payment to Braun, Garcia’s buyout and the cash I received from MIN and KC. My Luxury Tax number was considerably higher ($131MM) because of contract structure, but overall I felt like this payroll was both realistic and gives me the flexibility to offer extensions to key pieces going forward.
On the whole, I added the #8, #43 and #88 best players in MLB last year – with at least 500 PA’s - in wRC+ (Olson, Donaldson and Yastrzemski respectively) plus another 3.3 fWAR guy in Merrifield without adding hardly anything to the payroll. Yes, I gave up a lot of nice younger players. And I did deal from the club’s pitching core. But on the whole, I feel like this roster is deep and much more balanced than the 2021 squad. Run scoring should not be as much of a problem and the ability to play matchups up and down the lineup is there for a full-162 game season.
Depth-wise, I still hung on to Jace Peterson and some disaster insurance in the form of Arcia, Severino, etc. And I came away with some nice guys to shuttle back and forth to AAA in Hernandez, Reyes, Ruiz and Weisenberger. I don’t have as much shuttle flexibility on the MLB club as years’ past, but with a DH I don’t think that will be as big of a problem for the position player group.
All in all, I left this year’s SIM feeling like I accomplished all of my primary goals. I kept added a lot of quality MLB players to the teams core and only subtracted Peralta and Ashby. I kept the payroll in great shape, allowing future moves that can keep the core of this team together and I really beefed up the offense. I didn’t get sucked into a bidding war on a potential albatross contract and actually shed any bad money I ended up taking. And I did add a Top-100 prospect to the farm in the form of Heliot Ramos to help buffer the loss of Mitchell.
I know this was a long read, but I’d appreciate any comments/thoughts/suggestions. Also, go over to Royals Review and read the full recap once it’s up. These guys do a great job of running this each year and the more clicks they get, the better!
**Showing my work, if anyone wants the additional payroll details:
|1||Christian Yelich||7yr/$188.5MM||$23,888,888||$22,000,000||$22,000,000||$22,000,000||$22,000,000||$22,000,000||9||Josh Hader||$8,000,000||ARB4||Free Agent||Arbitration|
|2||Lorenzo Cain||5yr/$80MM||$16,000,000||$17,000,000||Free Agent||10||Brandon Woodruff||$6,000,000||ARB3||ARB4||Free Agent||Club option|
|3||Whit Merrifield||$2,950,000||$6,700,000||($0.75m buyout)||***salary adjusts based on performance***||11||Corbin Burnes||$5,000,000||ARB2||ARB3||Free Agent||Free Agent|
|4||Kolten Wong||2yr/$18MM||$9,000,000||$8,500,000||$10,000,000||12||Willy Adames||$4,000,000||ARB2||ARB3||Free Agent||Player option|
|5||Josh Donaldson||$21,000,000||$16,000,000||($8m buyout)||13||Omar Narvaez||$4,000,000||Free Agent|
|6||$2,000,000||Free Agent||Contract Total||14||Eric Lauer||$2,500,000||ARB3||ARB4||Free Agent|
|7||Alex Wood||$7,333,333,||$7,333,333,||Free Agent||$58,250,000||15||Brent Suter||$2,300,000||ARB4||Free Agent|
|8||Free Agent||16||Adrian Houser||$2,000,000||ARB2||ARB3||Free Agent|
|9||ARB Total||17||Luis Urias||$2,000,000||ARB2||ARB3||ARB4|
|11||19||Rowdy Tellez||$1,750,000||ARB2||ARB3||Free Agent|
|12||From MIN||-11,500,000||-10,000,000||PreArb Payroll||20||Jandel Gustave||$900,000||ARB3||Free Agent|
|13||From KC||-8,000,000||$2,400,000||21||ARB2||ARB3||Free Agent|
|14||Garcia Buyout||1,500,000||22||ARB2||ARB3||Free Agent|
|15||Braun Deferred||$1,800,000||Luxury Tax Payroll|