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Introducing the 2015 Mirror Mariners

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In an alternate dimension, Logan is GM of the Mariners, and shrimp do not exist...

trade target?
trade target?
Duane Burleson

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a user's guide to fake baseball trades. I was more than a little conflicted about how to do it. On the one hand, I wanted to stem the inevitable winter flood of rosterbatory essays, because fake baseball trades are super dumb. On the other hand, you know what's even dumber than fake baseball trades? Telling people who make fake baseball trades that fake baseball trades are super dumb.

I mean, c'mon, let 'em have their fun. There's a reason LL has a guideline about not telling other people how to be sports fans. Everyone should get to experience sportswatching in their own personal way, and if that way involves armchair GM'ing and in-depth analysis of meaningless hypotheticals, hey, I sympathize! I pour hours upon hours into writing about baseball on the internet. My baseball writing has zero impact on actual baseball. Like everything else I do, it's all just an elaborate effort to spend my time in the most entertaining possible way before I die.

With that in mind: last week I made some fake baseball trades!

For those of you who somehow managed to see this article but not the previous SBN Winter Simulation Thread on the front page, every year Royals Review runs a sort of offseason simulator. Representatives from all 30 SBN MLB websites "take control" of their teams, making trades, signing free agents, and non-tendering their least favorite players until they've arrived at a result that represents their hopes and dreams for their team's winter moves. Last year, in an attempt to provide a "more realistic" alternative to the Lookout Landing Offseason Plan, I created the Mirror Mariners. This year, in an attempt to provide a "more existent" alternative to the Lookout Landing Offseason Plan, I did it again.

It is with great pride that I introduce to you: the 2015 Mirror Mariners!

The Moves

  • Traded SS Chris Taylor and RP Tom Wilhelmsen for OF Matt Kemp, OF Scott Van Slyke, and $80M.
  • Traded RP Dominic Leone, RP Mayckol Guaipe, and SP Luiz Gohara for SP Cliff Lee, RP Antonio Bastardo, and $15M.
  • Traded C Tyler Marlette and SP Victor Sanchez for OF Jon Jay and 1B Xavier Scruggs.
  • Traded OF Jon Jay, SP Cliff Lee, RP Matt Brazis and $8M for SP Anibal Sanchez.
  • Signed SS Jed Lowrie to a 3-year, $24M contract with a $8M team option or a $3M buyout.
  • Traded RP Logan Bawcom for C A.J. Ellis.
  • Traded 1B Xavier Scruggs for SP Robbie Erlin.
  • Traded SP Tyler Olson for OF Daniel Fields.
  • Traded 1B Justin Smoak for RP Marco Estrada.
  • The Roster

    Position Name sWAR Salary Position Name sWAR Salary
    C Mike Zunino 2.4 $550K SP1 Felix Henandez 4.7 $24.9M
    1B Logan Morrison 1.4 $2.6M SP2 Hisashi Iwakuma 3 $7.5M
    2B Robinson Cano 5 $24M SP3 Anibal Sanchez 2.7 $14.8M
    3B Kyle Seager 3.9 $5M SP4 James Paxton 1.7 $550K
    SS Brad Miller 2.7 $550K SP5 Taijuan Walker 1.2 $550K
    RF Michael Saunders 2.4 $2.9M CL Fernando Rodney 0.7 $7M
    CF Austin Jackson 2.4 $8M LH Charlie Furbush 0.5 $1M
    LF Dustin Ackley 1.8 $2.8M RH Danny Farquhar 0.6 $550K
    DH Matt Kemp 2.5 $5M LH Antonio Bastardo 0.1 $2.8M
    Bench IF Jed Lowrie 1.2 $8M RH Carson Smith 0.2 $500K
    Bench OF Scott Van Slyke 1 $550K RH Brandon Maurer 0.1 $550K
    Bench C A.J. Ellis 1.2 $3.8M RH Yoervis Medina 0.4 $550K
    Cut Willie Bloomquist 0 $3M Swing Marco Estrada 0.1 $4.7M

    AAA: SP Roenis Elias, SP Robbie Erlin, SP Danny Hultzen, 1B D.J. Peterson, SS Ketel Marte, IF Ty Kelly, OF James Jones, C Jesus Sucre, assorted minor league signings

    Total Salary: $132,707,000

    Total Steamer WAR: 44.4

    Steamer-Projected Wins: 92

    The Rationale

    With the Mariners coming off an 87-win season, and with their two best players (Felix and Cano) presumably about to begin declining, I decided that the Mirror Mariners would go all in to win now. I expected payroll to climb by about $20MM, the lower levels of the farm system to be seriously depleted, and the Mirror Mariners to become the favorites in the Mirror AL West. I did, however, want to leave payroll room for a major splash on the 2016 free agent market (cough cough Jason Heyward cough). This meant I couldn't really afford to splurge on marginal upgrades at positions of strength: no Hanley Ramirez, no Pablo Sandoval, no David Robertson. Unlike last year, when I targeted any and all major league talent, this year I set out to patch the Mariners' holes.

    My model for roster construction was the 2012-2014 Oakland Athletics. The A's may have missed the ALDS this year, but for a stretch between late 2012 and early 2014 they were easily the best team in the sport, flattening opposition with a terrific bench and a remarkable ability to weather injuries. Their use of platoons was masterful, as was their exploitation of their home park. I decided that the Mirror Mariners would employ a similar job-sharing roster construction technique and keep at least one "serviceable" bench piece in AAA for every position.

    With this in mind, my first order of business was to acquire an outfielder. Instead of employing a 162-game DH, as the actual Mariners are probably going to, I decided to use the DH spot in an A's-like fashion: rotating players through it to give everyone days of rest while maintaining production and DH handedness flexibility. This meant having four outfielders. I went hard for Ben Zobrist, but unfortunately the Cubs used Albert Almora and Dan Vogelbach (a package approximating Alex Jackson and D.J. Peterson) to steal him away. I got into contact with the Red Sox about Victorino and Cespedes, but the Red Sox demanded Iwakuma or Walker. I contacted the Braves about Heyward and was offered Upton instead - at a rather exorbitant price. When I declined to pay up, the Braves GM told me he'd "find a sucker" somewhere else.

    Finally I contacted the Dodgers about Matt Kemp. I don't love Kemp for the Mariners - his defensive skills are questionable, as is his health - but once I saw what the Dodgers were willing to pay me to take him, I was all over the deal. The Dodgers' GM apparently really likes Chris Taylor, as he was willing to eat 4/5 of Kemp's salary and toss in secondary target Scott Van Slyke in order to nab him from me. When he asked for relief help, I was a little scared... when he asked for Tom Wilhelmsen, probably the most likely regression candidate in the Seattle relief corps, I submitted the deal as soon as I could. Yes, even before I knew the results of some of my other pursuits. When you get an offer that good, you don't let it sit.

    The next order of business was to add a starting pitcher. Because of a strange quirk in the simulation the trade market was in motion long before the free agent market was, so although my initial plan was to grab Ervin Santana, I wound up in talks for a starter with the Phillies. I inquired on Hamels, but they wanted Walker, which was a nonstarter. In the Open Thread here on LL, though, user Munenori's Espresso Stand told me to ask about Cliff Lee. It turned out that the Phillies were willing to move Lee for basically nothing if I'd eat most of his contract. After 50 emails' worth of negotiating I managed to add Lee, $15M, and a second lefty for the 'pen in exchange for Dominic Leone, Luiz Gohara, and Mayckol Guaipe. I don't care about Mayckol Guaipe, Gohara's going to hit the majors just as the Cano and Felix contracts are starting to really hurt, and while I love Leone he's just a reliever. In exchange for Cliff Lee at either 1/27.5 (if he busted) or 2/37.5 (if he suceeded)? Rather than waiting to bid on Santana, I pulled the trigger.

    It was at around this point that the Cardinals got wind of my desire for an outfielder and called to offer Jon Jay. They initially asked for James Paxton, which I shut down instantly, but then they walked it back to... Tyler Marlette? And Victor Sanchez? I leaped. Sure, I already had enough outfielders, but as with Kemp, when you get a deal that good you don't let it sit.

    Before the free agent market opened, I made a couple of other minor deals: the utterly inconsequential Tyler Olson for Daniel Fields swap with the Tigers, and the non-tender-candidates-everywhere Marco Estrada for Justin Smoak trade. Olson-Fields was basically a goodwill gesture to the Tigers, which came in handy later in the sim. Estrada-for-Smoak was just me being ecstatic to get anything for Smoak. It ended up biting me in the ass later, though.

    By the time the free agent market opened, my roster was more or less set. The only things left on the to-do list were "add bench depth" and "clear payroll". Thinking that the latter could be easily accomplished towards the end of the sim by shipping out Austin Jackson and Fernando Rodney, I grabbed Jed Lowrie off the free agent market as a replacement for Chris Taylor. I did so with the idea that Lowrie and Miller could platoon, with Lowrie also serving as injury insurance for Seager and Cano and letting them DH a couple days a week.

    With my infield and outfield now overstuffed, I had essentially committed to trading someone - preferably someone expensive, as my payroll was bumping $130M. Unfortunately for me, clearing payroll wasn't as easy as I thought. I tried hard to shop Austin Jackson, but absolutely no one I talked to was interested; everyone wanted the cheaper Jay instead. (It was at this point that I should've realized Estrada needed to be non-tendered. Stupidly, I took a nap during the non-tender deadline, and I was stuck with his $5M contract for the rest of the simulation.) Neither was anyone intrigued by Fernando Rodney. I sent out several league-wide blasts declaring his availability and didn't get a single bite. Still, I thought, I'd do my best to cut down on the Mirror Mariners' contract obligations.

    Is the sim realistic? No. But it's super awesome.

    My best ended up being sending Jon Jay and Cliff Lee to my friend in Detroit. Detroit was trying to clear Anibal Sanchez's salary to leave room for a run at Max Scherzer and badly wanted Jay in the deal; I must've gone through about fifty three-way trade proposals involving Sanchez and Jay before deciding to just deal with Detroit straight up. Boston tried to get in on the action, but Detroit was skittish about dealing with the twelve-headed BtBS monster that was the Boston GM. (Boston had just annihilated the Astros in a ridiculously lopsided Cespedes trade, so I understood Detroit's feelings). The Padres were briefly involved, but wanted Detroit to eat payroll. I finally found a match in Washington - I was going to get Detroit catcher James McCann and Nationals prospect A.J. Cole for Jay and Yoervis Medina - but the A's (the fucking A's) signed Scherzer to a $250MM contract at exactly the wrong moment. Detroit started asking for a top SP back in a Sanchez deal. Finally, I just flipped them Lee, Jay, and about half of the Phillies money. In the process, I cleared $5M in 2015 payroll and $11M in 2016.

    By that point, it was the last day of the sim, and I had three needs remaining: a backup catcher, a #7 SP to stash in AAA, and someone to take $15M of salary. Unfortunately, I'd waited too long to act on those needs. Jason Castro and Yasmani Grandal, who'd previously been available, were now both off the market. I was forced to grab the displaced-by-Russell-Martin A.J. Ellis from Los Angeles instead. Annoyingly, LA wouldn't eat any of the contract, but at least I got him for almost nothing. Finally, I added Robbie Erlin, who I knew from my three-way talks with San Diego was available. Xavier Scruggs, the throw-in from the initial Jay trade for whom I had no major-league room, was a natural piece to send over in return.

    With my roster complete, I set out to clear payroll, shopping Bloomquist, Estrada, and Rodney hard. At one point I offered to include a prospect along with Bloomquist in exchange for literally nothing. The only team willing to take on Bloomquist's $3M - $3M! - was Boston, who wanted the return to be Dustin Ackley. I gave up. I was resigned to blowing past my suggested payroll cap... and with that, the simulation came to a close.

    Final Thoughts

    In conclusion: I added six projected 2015 WAR by giving up $32M (about 4.5 wins' worth of cash), Chris Taylor, Tom Wilhelmsen, Dominic Leone, and the entire bottom half of the 2015 Jackson Generals's roster. That's not a great conversion rate... but I also added 6 WAR in 2016 for only $24M (3.5 wins' worth) in additional moneys. The Anibal Sanchez and Jed Lowrie contracts are good; the Matt Kemp contract is incredible. The Mirror Mariners' bench is deep and talented, their position player corps is solid, and their pitching staff is probably the best in the Mirror AL. A point on the curve: the Mirror Red Sox, run by the entire staff of Beyond the Box Score and widely considered the "winners" of the sim, wound up with a roster that Steamer pegs for 42 WAR. The Mirror Mariners are better by about 2 wins and have a payroll $45M lower. So that's the good news.

    The bad news is, I failed in one of my chief duties: meeting my recommended payroll limit. If this were the real world, the Mirror Mariners' owners would've forced me to non-tender Estrada and stopped me from signing Lowrie. The team would've ended up significantly worse (although it also would've been significantly cheaper). For reference, the 2015 Mirror Mariners with Mirror Middle Management Meddling:

    Position Name sWAR Salary Position Name sWAR Salary
    C Mike Zunino 2.4 $550K SP1 Felix Henandez 4.7 $24.9M
    1B Logan Morrison 1.4 $2.6M SP2 Hisashi Iwakuma 3 $7.5M
    2B Robinson Cano 5 $24M SP3 Anibal Sanchez 2.7 $14.8M
    3B Kyle Seager 3.9 $5M SP4 James Paxton 1.7 $550K
    SS Brad Miller 2.7 $550K SP5 Taijuan Walker 1.2 $550K
    RF Michael Saunders 2.4 $2.9M CL Fernando Rodney 0.7 $7M
    CF Austin Jackson 2.4 $8M LH Charlie Furbush 0.5 $1M
    LF Dustin Ackley 1.8 $2.8M RH Danny Farquhar 0.6 $550K
    DH Matt Kemp 2.5 $5M LH Antonio Bastardo 0.1 $2.8M
    Bench IF Willie Bloomquist 0 $3M RH Carson Smith 0.2 $500K
    Bench OF Scott Van Slyke 1 $550K RH Brandon Maurer 0.1 $550K
    Bench C A.J. Ellis 1.2 $3.8M RH Yoervis Medina 0.4 $550K
    Fast Guy James Jones 0 $550K



    AAA: SP Roenis Elias, SP Robbie Erlin, SP Danny Hultzen, 1B D.J. Peterson, SS Ketel Marte, IF Ty Kelly, OF Daniel Fields, C Jesus Sucre, assorted minor league signings

    Total Salary: $121,207,000

    Total Steamer WAR: 43.1

    Steamer-Projected Wins: 91

    Of course, I'm skeptical that there was any particular need to be "realistic" in my payroll management. Last year's "realistic" payroll cap for the Mirror Mariners was $93M; the actual Mariners spent $106M. And it's not like the rest of this sim was particularly realistic. Real Yoenis Cespedes isn't going to net the entire Astros roster in a trade, and the real Dodgers won't eat 4/5 of Matt Kemp's salary just to get Chris Taylor. But if you're a stickler for "realism" in your offseason hypotheticals, well, the Mirror Mariners with Mirror Middle Management Meddling are for you.

    As for me, I think I'll revel in the fun of fake baseball trading and the dream of a 92-win projection for my favorite team. Is the sim realistic? No. Is it kind of dumb? Yes. But all of baseball fandom's kind of dumb, especially the parts that happen when there isn't any actual baseball on TV. Like everyone else, I have the right to experience sportswatching in the way that's the most fun for me. And I'd say this way was pretty darn fun.

    I hope you agree.