A couple of weeks ago, Scott posted the 2014 Lookout Landing Offseason Plan. For those of you who haven't read it, there's a link in the sidebar. Go. Read. It'll only take a few minutes. Promise.
Back? OK, cool. So as you'll remember from the 5,000 words I just conned you into rereading, when coming up with dollar values for free agent signings and packages for trades, we LL writers tried to be reasonable in our estimations. In some cases, we even ran proposals by authors on other blogs. But there's still some level of inaccuracy and imbalance to that process - who's to say, for example, whether the Tigers would really trade away Austin Jackson? As Mariners fans, we're not terribly qualified to make that call. The central difficulty, the most common critique of any offseason plan, is that fans tend to overvalue their own pieces while undervaluing other teams'. And this imbalance in valuation leads to unrealistic proposals.
I wonder if there's a way we could eliminate that imbalance...?
Enter Royals Review's Winter Meetings simulator. It's a pretty simply arranged affair: thirty GMs are recruited from SBN's baseball blogs, every GM has a set budget, a Royals Review editor plays agent for the players, and the GMs have four days to remake their teams however they see fit. It's all the fun of fantasy baseball with none of the tedious lineup-setting.
It's also completely insane. The Indians landed Giancarlo Stanton. The Blue Jays sent Jose Bautista to Arizona for Tyler Skaggs, Adam Eaton, and Martin Prado. The Dodgers traded away Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Andre Ethier for Jonathan Papelbon, Chris Sale, and Jim Johnson. The Houston Astros - the Houston Astros - signed Corey Hart to a 2-year, $30M contract. Clearly, there's some difference between what happens in the sim and what happens in the real world.
But it's still a cool exercise, and it's still probably more realistic than an offseason plan compiled by just one blog, so I've decided on your behalf that it's worth your time to read about what I accomplished as Mariners GM. Honestly, what were you going to do with this day anyways? Work? There's always more time for work. There's only so much time to read about hypothetical baseball on the internet. Gotta get that in quick, before you die.
|C||Mike Zunino||2.1||$500K||SP1||Felix Henandez||4.7||$22M|
|1B||Lucas Duda||1.5||$1.8M||SP2||Hisashi Iwakuma||3.4||$6.5M|
|2B||Dustin Ackley||2||$500K||SP3||Brandon McCarthy||1.7||$9M|
|3B||Kyle Seager||2.9||$500K||SP4||Tony Cingrani||2.1||$500K|
|SS||Brad Miller||3.2||$500K||SP5||Taijuan Walker||1.6||$500K|
|CF||Peter Bourjos||2.6||$1.1M||CL||Joe Nathan||1||$7M|
|LF||Michael Saunders||1||$2M||RH||Danny Farquhar||0.7||$500K|
|DH||Kendrys Morales||1.6||$8M||LH||Tim Collins||0.4||$1M|
|Bench IF||Danny Espinosa||0||$500K||RH||Erik Davis||0.1||$500K|
|Bench OF||Casper Wells||.5||$700K||LH||Oliver Perez||0.1||$2M|
|Bench 1B||Gaby Sanchez||1||$3M||RH||Al Alburquerque||0.6||$1M|
|Bench C||John Buck||1||$2M||Swing||Erik Bedard||1.2||$1M|
AAA: SP James Paxton, SP Brandon Maurer, SP Danny Hultzen, SP Blake Beavan, RP Stephen Pryor, RP Carter Capps, RP Tom Wilhelmsen, RP Carson Smith, RP Logan Bawcom, RP Brian Moran, RP Lucas Luetge, RP Bobby LaFromboise, 3B Stefen Romero, 2B Cord Phelps, IF Nate Tenbrink, OF Andres Torres, DH Raul Ibanez, 1B Brock Peterson
Total Payroll: $93.2M
Pre-Simulator Steamer WAR: 28.3
Post-Simulator Steamer WAR: 41.2
Projected Win Total: 89
So the Mariners are really bad. I mean really bad. Jack Z has a lot to do this offseason if he wants to build a competitive team; my seventeen transactions were the most of any GM in the simulator and I still only barely got the Mariners to the fringe of hypothetical projected playoff contention.
My strategy was simple: add major league talent. I didn't care where it was coming from: offense, defense, left-handed hitters, good baserunners... I wasn't picky. I wanted good players. However, I also didn’t want to burn the farm to gun it for 2014 by adding a bunch of rentals that would be gone after the season. To balance these competing ideals, I committed to trade significant value only for under-30 players with at least two years of team control remaining. In terms of position, only SS and 3B were locked in (with Miller and Seager). I was open to upgrading everywhere else, including at catcher and second base, though obviously I wasn't able to revamp the entire roster and some positions went unimproved as a result.
The first order of business was Masahiro Tanaka, who I (like Scott in the LL Offseason Plan) identified as the best bet of the "big splash" free agents. Unfortunately, the bidding on Tanaka got out of hand very rapidly, and rather than handing him 6/$100M with vesting options and an opt-out on top of a $70M posting fee, I decided to bail and target an outfielder instead. When I checked in on Choo and Ellsbury, I was told that the former was looking for 5/100 while the latter wanted 6/110. Choo sounded like a terrible overpay waiting to happen, and indeed he ended up netting 7/$137M, but having just written this article saying 5/105 was fair for Ellsbury, I was all over his asking price. When I had to up it to 7/120, I wasn’t terribly miffed. Overpay? Yes, although in my opinion not nearly as egregious as what Tanaka and Choo got. But that’s what it’ll take to for Seattle get a top-tier free agent in this market, and with Ellsbury on the roster I at least had one less hole to fill.
The whole time I was negotiating for Ellsbury, I was trying to drum up outfielders on the trade market. I must have emailed half the teams in the sim – I checked in on Jackson, de Aza, Venable, Quentin, Aoki, Gomez, Cain, Marte… the only talks that really went anywhere were the ones with the Angels. I was in on both Bourjos and Kole Calhoun, who is to my mind the Brad Miller of the outfield, but I ended up just pulling the trigger on the Bourjos deal from the Offseason Plan. I was a little worried about having two center fielders, but I figured worst comes to worst I can just have Ellsbury pull a Victorino (or Bourjos’ll get injured).
Of course, once I’d flipped Erasmo I needed two new starting pitchers instead of one. I’d always been interested in the sort of risky mid-range guys like Haren and Lincecum; their markets quickly went crazy, but I was able to get Brandon McCarthy on a 1/$9M contract by sending Arizona the oft-injured Julio Morban, which is way more cost-effective than what would’ve happened on the FA market. McCarthy's injury-proneness is a concern, but not a huge one, given James Paxton's presence in my hypothetical AAA.
Still, I needed one more guy. With my outfield now full of Ellsbury/Bourjos/Saunders, I wasn’t going to have Ackley playing out there. I mean, I wasn’t anyways – I hate him as an OF – but this meant that for sure I had two second basemen. Even though Nick Franklin’s trade value is higher, I like Ackley better as a 2B, so I resolved to deal Franklin. I was in a bunch of different negotiations for him: to WAS for Ryan Zimmermann (incidentally, that email chain is how the terrific-for-me Espinosa trade happened), to DET for Porcello+, to NYM for Niese and Duda… but when I emailed the Reds about Cingrani and they responded positively, I was all in on that one. The youth and extra team control really sold it for me – as did the idea of having a 10+ K/9 flyball lefty in Safeco Field. Plus, I really don’t like Nick Franklin. When I was offered Cingrani in exchange for Franklin and taking on Ryan Ludwick’s salary, I was ecstatic, immediately said yes, and then dumped most of Ludwick’s contract over to Baltimore.
I re-signed Morales for a little bit more than I’m honestly comfortable with, but again, I needed a DH. I guess if I’d’ had better foresight I would’ve waited for the Morneau market to totally collapse and given him something better than the minor-league contract he ended up getting, but… whatever. I'm OK with having taken Door #3. After that was done, I needed to fill 1B on the cheap, so I decided to do it with a platoon. Lucas Duda and Gaby Sanchez fit the bill. I got Duda for Ty Kelly, mostly just to annoy Scott, and signed Sanchez for $3M. Then I dumped Justin Smoak for Cord Phelps - an AAA infielder considerably better than Kelly.
As for the bench: I’d already picked up Espinosa (and a reliever!) for Furbush, which I was thrilled with, so that had the IF position locked up. Sanchez was the bench bat. That left an outfielder and a catcher. For the catcher, I grabbed the underrated John Buck for $2M; in the OF, I traded nothing for Casper Wells and got Andres Torres on a minor league deal. I figure they can fight it out in spring training. I also signed Raul Ibanez, half to back up Duda from AAA and half to make you all mad at me.
Last was the bullpen. With Felix/Kuma/McCarthy/Cingrani/Walker/Paxton/Maurer/Beavan/(Hultzen), I figured I was all set for SP depth, so I flipped two crappy AAA starters (Noesi and Gilheeney) for two pretty good relievers in Collins and Albuquerque. Davis came over in the Espinosa deal, and I got Perez back for cheap. Erik Bedard seemed like an amazing swing man / LOOGY candidate, so I gave him an incentive-laden deal. I was OK to go into the season with Farquhar as closer, but then I saw the Balfour contract and realized Joe Nathan wasn’t going to have a good market, so I grabbed him too and made Farquhar the setup man. I’m really happy with the end result.
In conclusion: I added 13 projected wins by giving up $46M (depending on what you think the market is, that’s between 9 wins’ worth and 7 wins’ worth), Nick Franklin, Erasmo Ramirez, Charlie Furbush and some scrap. Franklin and Ramirez were dealt for pieces with lots of team control remaining, so I didn’t make any big win-now trades. Keep in mind that Steamer hates the rotation again, pegging Felix and Iwakuma for 1-WAR regression and Walker for some serious struggles. Overall, I think this is a good team with a boatload of upside, I think it’s about as much as the Mariners could reasonably hope to improve in one offseason without mortgaging the future, and I’m really happy with the big picture of what I pulled off.
Now, is it realistic? Absolutely not. Simulator GMs systematically undervalued bench pieces and relievers - in the real world, the Mariners almost certainly can't get an entire high-quality bench for Charlie Furbush and $5M, and Joe Nathan's not going to sign a 2/15 contract. Certainly Andres Torres will receive more than a minor league deal. Extra-certainly no one's going to be trading Erik Davis, Al Alburquerque, and Tim Collins to Seattle for a big fat whopping nothing. The sim is closer to reality than what we can approximate on our own as a single blog, but it's still a far cry from what'll actually happen this winter.
On the other hand, the $90M budget I was assigned for the exercise probably also wasn't terribly realistic, and the top-tier free agents (or at least Tanaka, Choo, and McCann) were more expensive in the sim than I imagine they'll be in real life. So the inaccuracies counter-balance a bit. At any rate, I think we can accept the simulator as a proof of concept: it's possible that, this offseason, the Mariners could build a team that has a chance of making the playoffs next year without relying on rentals or blowing up the farm. It's possible. There does exist some nonzero amount of hope.
And isn't that worth a week of 2 AM emails?
More from Lookout Landing:
- Lloyd McClendon, Jack Zduriencik and analytics: what they're saying
- Kendrys Morales declines qualifying offer, will test free agent market
- Shin-Soo Choo may fit with Mariners
- Choose Your Own Adventure: Seattle Mariners 2014 General Manager
- Rosenthal: Mariners want one of Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, as well as a starting pitcher and RH bat