At 11 a.m. Arizona time, the 2015 SB Nation Baseball GM Simulation came to a close. As some might recall, last season's version of the simulation did not treat the Diamondbacks very kindly. The team wound up with something of a troll in the GM's seat, resulting in (among other things) the Diamondbacks trading away Goldschmidt for a handful of so-so prospects and then signing Hanley Ramirez to a contract so ridiculous that his real-life mega-deal paled beside it. As a result of last year's disappointing showing in the simulation, when the call went out for GMs for this year's simulation, I made sure to get my name in the hat.
Once the dust settled and the GM's were in place, I was part of sort of a GM triumvirate along with Makakilo and I Suppose I'm a Pessimist. With there being three of us, there were some checks and balances in place, though this year they wound up not being terribly necessary. There were no unilateral decisions made in the process. There were some difficulties in the early-going with delays caused by all three of us needing a chance to give our input. Once that was identified though, the approach was slightly altered and we managed to work well together.
Being a Diamondback fan is good fun. However, being the three-headed simulation GM was amazing! Like visiting another planet, there was much to watch. When things did not go our way - it was a chance to learn the laws of nature on this strange planet. Even when a big thing went our way, it included a downside. Three times, I was jazzed beyond reason, and that alone made it all worthwhile.
For the duration of the simulation, I ran point on things, acting as the primary contact and the "final stamp" guy for any and all transactions. With that job in mind, I put together a rough framework for how to approach trades and free agent targets. The three of us examined our finances and looked at just how far we were from the $101 million budget we had been handed and came to one conclusion; we were going to aggressively target signing no less than two of the premium pitching free agents. We even had a long-shot scenario in which we would target three of them (Cueto, Zimmermann, Kazmir). In addition to signing two of the free agents, we were going to comb the trade market for another solid arm to add to the rotation - a Francisco Liriano-type pitcher (though the price for him specifically was way too high). To help with this goal we came to an agreement to cut ties with Jeremy Hellickson and Jhoulys Chacin (despite his friendly arbitration number). Additionally, we made the decision to free up yet more salary by not exercising Josh Collmenter's option. The Collmenter decision was a tough one, but as it turns out, the team was able to make the moves it needed to without him. Everyone else was brought back. With our new roster and our new budget in place, it was time to get to work "manning the phones". Here's what happened, with rationales saved for the end.
Pre-Sim. Our plans were flexible. We knew we needed starting pitchers. I identified eight top pitchers we could trade for - we got none of them. I was uneasy about our catcher position. I identified five worthy catchers. A big surprise was receiving about a hundred emails every day. Like real life, organizing them into folders was vital.
Despite our relative success in this simulation, we were not without our missteps. The first misstep was mine. I entered into the simulation with the wrong mindset entirely. I was still in the "rational approach" mindset, expecting the rest of the simulation to be the same. The very first official transaction of the simulation should have divested me of any such notion.
Miami acquires Jayson Werth, Jonathan Papelbon, Lucas Giolito, Trea Turner, Yunel Escobar, and $5 million from Washington for Adeiny Hechevarria, Dee Gordon, Kyle Barraclough, and Adam Conley
Yup, that should have been a sign. But hey, even the real world sometimes has absolutely ludicrous deals go down, especially when Miami is involved. Maybe that was just a one-off sort of deal. Besides, I was neck deep in email negotiations with other GMs trying to make something happen. One trade I floated out there was the same one that has been floated in real life, Aaron Hill for Brandon Phillips. The Reds were (not surprisingly) terribly interested in Aaron Hill, even when it meant unloading Phillips. But then, a funny thing happened, during the course of the discussions Ramon Cabrera became available in exchange for taking Brandon Phillips off their hands. More dickering happened back and forth, but eventually, a framework, and then specifics were agreed upon and we had a deal. So, in the first hour of the simulation, Arizona had made a somewhat big splash.
Arizona acquires Brandon Phillips, Ramon Cabrera, Pedro Villarreal, $5 million from Cincinnati for Brandon Drury, Taylor Clarke, and Rubby De La Rosa
The first day. We did one trade. The downside was we gave up Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Drury. And yet my neighbors heard me yelling like we had just won the world series - we received Ramon Cabrera - a 26 year old catcher who can hit great - a player to include in our core. Including arbitration, he is in team control for 6 years, and I know that our coaches know how to develop Cabrera into an all-star! Another plus is that by platooning with Castillo, they will both be less prone to injury. Because the trade also upgraded second base, the trade left only one priority - TOR pitching!
A net increase of a mere $5 million to the 2016 budget and suddenly the offensive hole at second was fixed and the top-notch infield defense actually improved. Additionally the team landed a catcher that could play solid defense and catch a good game to push Castillo for starting duties and a quality lefty out of the bullpen. If the goal moving forward was not "World Series 2016 or bust," we likely could have stopped right there and still managed to call the offseason a successful one. We were not content to stand pat though.
Negotiations with Oakland picked up, and a preliminary framework was hammered out that would unload Aaron Hill from the team's books. This possible eventuality would come to shape the free agent bidding tactics the next morning.
Tuesday morning saw the opening of bidding for free agents. Here came misstep number two. The previous night the three of us had come to a consensus on rough numbers we were willing to offer for the free agent pitchers. Given the likelihood of moving Hill, I wanted to adjust some of those up and possibly land both Zimmermann and Cueto with money to spare for Maeda. But then, the three of us were confronted with the reality that our aggressive plan may fall to pieces around our ears. No sooner had free agency opened than San Francisco messed with our plan to augment the rotation with Kenta Maeda.
San Francisco is awarded Kenta Maeda on a 7 year $106 million deal
Maeda for seven years? For how much? Zimmermann, Cueto, and Maeda were our top three targets and two of them were gone in the space of minutes. That's right, two of them. I had a bid for Zimmermann for 6 years and $144 million ready to submit, but waited on input from the others before offering to increase it. Jordan Zimmermann decided he wanted to sign quickly so he could enjoy his offseason. He wound up signing with someone else for the same offer we made while I sat waiting for input from the others. It was then that I changed my approach somewhat. As long as one of the other two agreed with my take on a transaction, I was going to call it a majority vote and simply make it happen.
Cueto was said to be taking his time with multiple offers, meaning there would be more time for big market teams to fix their finances. There was a very big risk that if we waited on trying to land Cueto, we might be left with no free agent acquisitions. We knew we needed to make a solid starting acquisition, and needed to make it happen quick. We could not be left as the only one without a chair when the music stopped, as it would mean gutting the farm to get what we were after. That led me to take the Maeda money and offer it up to Scott Kazmir, my least favourite of targets, but he was at least something. Our initial offer was enough to stop him from signing elsewhere and give us strong consideration. I asked my fellow GMs if I had a go-ahead to increase the offer and received it. Kazmir came back with a counter-offer, I countered again, and then finally Kazmir gave a firm figure he would sign for without offering the other team a chance to match. I took the offer.
Arizona signs Scott Kazmir to a four year $64 million deal
Wait, what? Did we just sign Kazmir to a $16 million AAV contract? How in the world did that happen? Then it occurred to me, there was no way I would do that deal in real life, but it was very much within the rules of the simulation, was at least marginally defensible, and was no more spectacularly out of whack then some of the deals starting to come out. That realization changed my thinking, and irrevocably altered the face of the entire simulation for just about everyone. Kazmir took Maeda's money, but did not take Maeda's posting fee. Jordan Zimmermann signed elsewhere. Price was said to be nearing a deal at any moment. I had found some folks at least willing to discuss Yasmany Tomás. I did some quick math and then sent some email, "Hey guys, mind if I take a run at Price after all? We might be out of money when I'm done, but I might be able to make it happen."
Arizona signs David Price to a 7 year $259 million deal
Arizona reportedly bid-sniped two larger teams fighting it out over David Price.
Yes, those numbers are right. But hey, according to the rules, I was still under budget and 6/222 wasn't enough. More importantly, we had landed the two pitchers we needed in order to fill out our rotation. We still needed the Aaron Hill deal to go through, but if nothing else happened, we could rest on our laurels.
The second day. James bid for free agents. We learned lessons each time we failed (Maeda and Zimmerman). The big takeaway was that the market was much more expensive than any of us had expected. James had bids on our two remaining targets - Kazmir and Cueto. James saw an opportunity to join the bidding for Price and he did. I sent an email encouraging James to increase the Price bid to $222 for 6 years - he did that and more! We submitted competitive bids for all three at the same time -it would have been fun for a simulation KK to write an email reacting to the possibility of being $40 Million over budget. I was hopeful when we were told our Kazmir offer was strong and being considered. Then came a bidding war, and we won Kazmir - Yahooo! I was jazzed! While I was still enjoying that satisfying victory, I received an unbelievable email from James. Price is Coming!! Another Yahoo with a dance around the office!! Then I sat down. I added the numbers and at that moment we were $9.5 million over our simulation budget for 2016. James asked, should he go for the trifecta with Cueto, or pull back his bid? My reply was pull it back because we are already over budget. We made four more trades that improved the team, and got us back under the simulation budget.
That free agent acquisition did two things. First, it destroyed the curve on salaries (not that it was much of a reasonable one to begin with). The second thing it did was probably even more important though. Before the trade, manning the phones was much like being the tiny new kid on a playground full of bullies. Teams continued to contact me with the not so subtle intent of pushing the Diamondbacks into a full-on rebuild by doing us the "favour" of trading for our bigger talents. After those transactions, those sorts of offers stopped rolling in. Instead, those that came calling came armed with solid, at least reasonable offers.
Seattle acquires Peter O'Brien from Arizona for Tony Zych and Dave Rollins
NY Mets acquire Yasmany Tomas from Arizona for Rafael Montero.
Pittsburgh acquires Matt Reynolds from Arizona for Chad Kuhl.
Oakland acquires Aaron Hill, Silvino Bracho and $4 million from Arizona for Eric Sogard
In each deal, an area of concern was addressed and the team got leaner. We continued to monitor the free agent market, but nothing really presented itself that would work and continue to leave us under budget.
Here was the final roster, coming in at a budget of $98 million in 2016 and still remaining workable moving forward.
Chad Kuhl is assigned to AAA all the way. He spent all season in 2015 in AA and did quite well.
Eric Sogard is optioned to AAA Reno
Bradley/Blair (I would bet Blair over Bradley, especially due to innings, but maybe rookie status contract keeps Bradley first)
That's FOUR LEFTY STARTERS! (Would prefer some balance, but hey, still not complaining.)
Bullpen (with a competition for closer)
Plenty of starting and bullpen pieces waiting for the very first opportunity in Reno, including Rollins and possibly Montero.
Brito (as a heavily used 4th OF)
The hardest deal to justify was probably the first one, largely because of the inclusion of Taylor Clarke. By allowing the Reds to ask for Clarke though, I was able to push through including De La Rosa, and also insist on an effective, pre-arbitration, left-handed reliever. Villarreal's method is not sexy. He doesn't blow people away. But he does get outs and limit walks. What this deal was mostly about though, was adding Ramon Cabrera. Cabrera is not arbitration eligible until 2019. He is a switch hitter with exceptional plate discipline. He is a solid receiver with a strong arm. His caught-stealing has been improving. He is only 25. Frankly, he turns Arizona's catching from an area of moderate concern into one of strength by being in place to back up Welington Castillo, if not outright force Castillo to the role of reserve catcher. Adding De La Rosa's cleared salary to the money being sent by Cincinnati meant that Phillips was only running the Diamondbacks $5 million in 2016. With Phillips in the fold, Drury became a bench player for the next two seasons at best. The only other interest in Drury on the trade market to that point had been as a complementary piece, not as a prime one. With no place to play him, it seemed this was a safe time to move him. This sort of long-term upgrade and financial wiggle-room moving forward was well worth parting with Clarke, a player still two or three years distant and with no track record.
I've already explained the free agent signings. They were made based on how the market was developing and with an eye on the money we were allowed to spend, not whether or not we should spend it, which would be the point in real life.
Peter O'Brien might be a catcher or an outfielder someday. With the arrival of Ramon Cabrera and the presence of current outfield personnel, it was a certainty he would never do either for the Diamondbacks. Interest was not high in him early on, but I was able to find a taker in Settle, willing to part with two pieces, one of which rates very highly and would serve as some cushion for a planned future trade. Tony Zych might not be Silvino Bracho, but he actually comes close. He's another one not arbitration eligible until 2019. That adds some serious fire power to the bullpen. Dave Rollins is a left-handed reliever with a very strong track record of success at every stop in the minors who got a rough cup of coffee at the end of 2015. Maybe he develops, maybe he doesn't. He certainly presents an option though. Those two in exchange for the good-looking guy with no future seemed a win.
If parting with Rubby De La Rosa was at all difficult, getting a younger, cheaper version in return for Yasmany Tomas and 100% of Tomas' contract certainly eased the blow. Moving Tomas meant the salary situation moving forward, especially in a few years was still under control. It protected the Diamondbacks from the possibility of him bnever panning out. IN exchange, the Diamondbacks landed a right-hander with a tarnished star. 2016 will see Montero returning to full health for the first time in a while. Maybe he still pans out as a #2 starter. If he doesn't, he has filthy power pitches to use in the bullpen the same as De La Rosa did.
Moving Matt Reynolds was not a necessity. There was not much in the way of salary savings, only $300,000. It did still save money though, and it brought yet another player with significantly more years of control. While Chad Kuhl's peripherals are not at all spectacular, the reality is he is 2.4 years below the league average, pitched an entire season in AA, and did so with some rather impressive results. Kuhl is a replacement for Tyler Clarke, except he'll open the season in Reno (perhaps Mobile) and be ready much sooner. The extra years of control were worth moving him alone as Reynolds is such a wild card and was only retained for his left-handedness.
The last one is the other one many may balk at. It is not as friendly to the Diamondbacks as first hoped, but it still comes close. Yes, it hurts to part with Silvino Bracho in order to clear Aaron Hill's contract. When the deal was first broached, however; moving that salary was the difference in making a run at the top free agents on the market. Despite Bracho's stuff in the minors and his small sample size of success in the majors last season, he remains first and foremost a reliever. Relievers are volatile things. Was Bracho, working only 40-60 innings in a season going to provide the team with $8 million of value in 2016? Could those $8 million dollars be used to sign an ace pitcher? Sogard was sent back by Oakland and immediately designated. The money was saved (and spent) on David Price.
The Interesting Tidbits
Most Asked About Major Leaguer: Ender Inciarte (it wasn't even close)
Most Asked About Player: Braden Shipley (though it was very close if Shipley or Inciarte actually held more interest)
Most Lop-sided Ask: Braden Shipley in exchange for Jake McGee straight up, with honourable mention going to being told that Archie Bradley + Taylor Clarke is still not even close to the ask for Francisco Liriano. (That was not my offer, but that was the point at which the conversation stopped.)
Hardest To Turn Away: If the team was more heavily invested in building for the future and less focused on the "win now" the Phillies offer of Jorge Alfaro, Zach Eflin, and Jake Thompson in exchange for Patrick Corbin would almost certainly have been taken. This is a very solid package, especially given the still limited scope of Corbin's success in the regular season and the fact that Corbin is already in his arbitration years.
Honourable mention in this category goes to a deal with Toronto that would have sent them Ender Inciarte for R.A. Dickey and Max Pentecost. Had the Diamondbacks not landed two quality pitchers, this would have been a tough deal to pass up. The presence of Price and Kazmir made the deal much easier to say no to, especially given the "win now" mentality.
On Spending: Despite two massive contracts, the Diamondbacks were still among the cheapest speners. Only seven teams spent the same or less than Arizona did. Of those teams, Miami blew right past their budget by $23 million. Out of everyone else, 7 teams overspent their budget, some of them significantly. The fact that our biggest "miss" was not getting a bench bat, I'm happy with coming in $3 million under and meeting all of our needs, especially nabbing the biggest name on the market.
Summary. Under a very limited budget of $101 million, moves were made to improve both short term and long term. The simulation Diamondbacks' team is strong in pitching, offense, and defense - clearly a post-season team with world-series aspirations! Job well done! The simulation experience was fun, educational, and very satisfying.
Great fun was had by all and I look forward to the possibility of representing the pit in the GM simulation again next season.