For the fifth season in a row, I was privileged enough to represent the Arizona Diamondbacks in the annual SBN GM Simulation. Scarily, in 2015, I went with the last moment sniper tactic and scooped up Zack Greinke for an estimated $35 million per season, shocking the simulation and drawing some chuckles. Little did I know that the Diamondbacks would do exactly the same thing almost exactly a month later.
In the past, I have always taken the approach of putting together the best possible team with the finances available to me, passing on any opportunity to rebuild. This season, I changed that tactic. This year I went for a major rebuild, while looking to also field a semi-competitive team in 2019. The goal was to have the pieces in place for the rebuild to take shape as early as 2020, and for the team to be a strong competitor by 2021. Here’s how it went down.
The official thread for the simulation can be found here at Royals Review, who hosts this simulation every season.
The team was given a budget of $137 million, but cautioned that it should be considered unlikely that the team would actually go this high. In other words, unless I was fielding a surprisingly strong team for the money, I should be looking to come in below that.
Yasmany Tomás exercised his player option to remain with the Diamondbacks for another two years and $32.5 million.
The Diamondbacks exercised their option on Paul Goldschmidt (DUH!!!)
Taking the same path the real-life Diamondbacks did, I both Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock qualifying offers. Patrick Corbin quickly signed with the Yankees for 6 yr/$153 million.
The team needed to cut salary, plain and simple. The first place I did this was through non-tendering some arbitration eligible players. The following players were non-tendered.
- Brad Boxberger
- Shelby Miller
- Chris Owings
Boxberger was the toughest of the three to decide on. However, he is expected to make nearly $5 million in 2019 and is slated to be gone before my next anticipated competitive window. It was that lack of control that helped me to make the decision, as Boxberger was actually good for the Diamondbacks until his arm fell off from overuse.
Shelby Miller was an easy decision for me. I have no faith in his ability to be a starter at the big league level anymore. If he returns stron, I expect it to be out of the bullpen. I don’t need that headache for nearly $5 million. The Boston Red Sox eventually signed Miller to a 2-year/$6 million deal with incentives.
Chris Owings was allowed to leave. I simply could not justify the dollars for a rebuilding team when I already had a stacked infield in mind. I did bring Owings back on a minor league deal with an invite to spring. Chances are, he winds up in Reno as a solid depth piece.
The prospects picked up are listed with their ranking as currently listed on the MLB Pipeline. THis is not the best list at this point in the season, but it still gives some idea of where things stand.
Jarrod Dyson (OF) to the Seattle Mariners for Darin Gillies (RHRP) (#28)
Jarrod Dyson was owed $3.75 million for the 2019 season, after which, he would be a free agent. The Mariners and Cubs were interested in Dyson from the outset. By trading Dyson, the team cleared an excess of $3 million in payroll and picked up five years of control of a Major League ready relief pitcher with PCL numbers that indicate a decent middle relief option that can go multiple innings with good strikeout numbers.
Archie Bradley (RHRP) and Andrew Chafin (LHRP) to the Chicago Cubs for Michael Rucker (RHP) (#13)
I’m going to get blasted for this one, especially as a trade in a vacuum. I understand that hatred, I really do. Taking it in context and looking at the finished product, I still stand by it. The team saves an additional $3.8 million in payroll and acquires one of the most-polished pitching prospects in Chicago’s system. Rucker is never going to be an ace, but he has gone from a fast-rising bullpen arm to being a potential mid-rotation starter as his ceiling with long reliever as his floor. His ETA is late-2019. Though it is a lot to hope for, Rucker shows the potential to be Zack Godley 2.0. The five years of MLB control is a big deal here if he indeed sticks as a starter.
Zack Greinke (RHP) to the Minnesota Twins for Andrew Cosgrove (C) and Jordan Balazovic (RHP) (#30)
Zack Greinke was far and away the player that I received the most inquiries on. With only three years remaining on his contract and the price that pitching has exploded to for starters that can eat innings, many teams felt that Greinke’s deal only having three years left on it made it something of a bargain. Had I been willing to eat a bit of salary, I could have increased my return even more. Given the larger scheme I had in mind, I decided the dollars were more valuable at the moment. In exchange for Greinke, the Diamondbacks received a 22-year old catcher ready for A+ ball in 2019 with a strong bat and above average defense. He profiles as a (good) Alex Avila 2.0. The second piece coming over, Balazovic, is a high-upside pitcher who profiles as a potential mid-rotation power pitcher who likes to pitch aggressively. Balazovic is still two or three years from the majors, but his upside is bigger than the other potential pitcher I could have landed, Kohl Stewart, who is MLB-ready. The better call may have been to take Stewart, but I decided to gamble on upside here, choosing to call unloading 100% of the salary the big win.
Alex Avila (C) to the Oakland Athletics for James Naile (RHP) (#27)
It was a bit surprising to me when Oakland contacted me about Avila. Then the catching market picked up and Avila suddenly looked like an affordable bounce-back candidate. Moving Avila created a hole at catcher, but ist also saved the team about $4 million. The return from Oakland is a Major League-ready starter with a reputation for being a superior defender, both with the glove and with his ability to control the running game, two things that have helped Greinke to become the pitcher he is. Though Naile will never reach Greinke’s heights as a pitcher, at best he cracks the 2019 Opening Day rotation. At worst, he’s a dependable reliever who could still play his way into the rotation.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B) to the New York Yankees for Gary Sanchez (C), Jonathan Loaisiga RHP) (#3/#66 MLB), and Albert Abreu (RHP) (#4/#85 MLB)
Bidding wars are a beautiful thing. The market for Paul Goldschmidt was slow as molasses in February to get going. Mid-way through the simulation I had only one even remotely decent offer for Goldschmidt, that coming from Milwaukee. Then, The Cardinals came calling. THe Brewers, not wanting Goldy in their division if not playing for them, substantially upped their offer. In response, the Cardinals offered Carson Kelly, a future starting pitcher just about ready and a potential Pollock replacement about a year from sticking at the MLB level. I was weighing my choices and about to make a decision when the Yankees swooped in asking what I was looking at for Goldschmidt, stating that they would like to start with offering Sanchez. I explained the outline of the Cardinals’ offer without giving specifics. At that point, the Yankees offered to include their #1 position prospect, Estevan Florial, ranked #45 overall on the top-100. They then asked what else it might take and mentioned that both Loaisiga and Abreu were available. I pushed the amount of upside and closeness to MLB performance I was getting from St. Louis in the deal. The Yankees then made it clear statement with a, “What makes this happen now?” Since the Yankees were not willing to part with Florial and a pitcher, I took both pitchers and danced a jig. Patience paid off here in spades, filling a massive need for the team at catcher, and also setting the team up with some more premium arm to rival Duplantier and Widener at the top of the farm system.
Robbie Ray (LHP to the New York Mets for Dominic Smith (OF/1B), Ali Sanchez C) (#25), and Desmond Lindsay (OF) (#11)
This deal was about clearing payroll and gambling on upside. Smith’s time playing for the Mets has not been what was expected when he debuted, having been a top-100 prospect as recently as 2017. Much of that might be due to the way the Mets used and didn’t use him in 2018, where he never given substantial playing time at one position and was more plugged in as needed in left and at first and coming off the bench. A change of scenery and regular playing time could do Smith plenty of good. Playing in hitter-friendly Chase might help things too. Ali Sanchez will play 2019 in AA as possibly the best defensive catcher in the minors. There are questions about his bat still, however, his glove is good enough that he could still be Jeff Mathis 2.0 in 1.5-2 years. With any improvement in his bat, he becomes a prized starter. Desmond Lindsay is coming off a down year that was caused by a leg injury and a change to his vision correction prescription. The change in prescription resulted in his slow-starting bat to taking off and reminding everyone of his high ceiling at the plate. He also still has the legs to play center field. He’ll start 2019 in AA, but could make a quick move to AAA if his bat does not slow down. Reports are, he’s no A.J. Pollock in center field, but he won’t hurt the team with his glove. Also, he has more than enough bat to slide over to left as a prototypical corner bat.
David Peralta (OF) to the Minnesota Twins for Tyler Austin (OF)
This was mostly a money-saving deal. Peralta’s home/road splits made him a harder sell than I expected. Still his $7 million cost and two years of control meant there was a small market for him. The exchange essentially garnered the Diamondbacks a pre-arbitration fourth outfielder with a decent sample size of MLB success, saving the team about $6.5 million. There are reasons not to like this deal, but the lack of a reasonable expectation of contention in 2019, along with the years of control of a major league asset made it worth it when looking at the bigger, developing picture.
Matt Andriese (RHRP) to the Atlanta Braves for Adam McCreery (LHRP)
I fully intended to hold onto Andriese, his value having tanked after being acquired by Arizona. It just didn’t make sense to try pushing too hard to unload a guy on such a small ($1.1 million) contract. But, late in the simulation the Braves dropped in and asked if I would be willing to move him. After having already spent many hours trying to work out a deal in which Paul Goldschmidt would have headlined a package to acquire Cristian Pache and pieces fell through due to my unwillingness to include Daulton Varsho, we were both rather familiar with the other team’s stable. McCreery has had exactly one (albeit bad) inning of MLB experience. Before his August 2018 debut, he profiled as a hard-throwing strikeout lefty reliever who dominated left-handed hitters. Needing a left-handed arm, happy to save money, and also happy for a couple of extra years of control, this move was an easy one to make.
Thoughts about the trade market
I was surprised at the lack of avid interest in Robbie Ray and how slow the market for Goldschmidt developed. Unsurprisingly, there was no market at all for Jake Lamb. Catchers proved to be the ultimate commodity, meaning that Alex Avila actually became an unexpectedly easy move. Teams were far more attentive to things like home/road splits than in the past. Teams also were quick to penalize even minor platoon splits in bats, especially outfield bats. This depressed Peralta’s market, though a bit more patience might have resulted in a better deal for Peralta. Given the free agent strategy I was committed to, waiting this out until the last few hours simply was not an appealing option. A few teams, including the Braves, inquired about Nick Ahmed. However, Ahmed is still affordable and the team’s only other option for an everyday shortstop is Ketel Marte, limiting my projected infield flexibility, therefore, my take has Ahmed returning for 2019.
Free Agent Signings
The simulation uses the end of the regular season as the cutoff for rosters entering the simulation. This means that the extension that Arizona signed Eduardo Escobar to was not part of the simulation, allowing Escobar to join the free agent pool. In these sorts of simulations, some contracts can get terribly out of hand. Or, at least they seem to get out of hand. As mentioned earlier, my Greinke deal was considered one of those at the time it happened. Still, I think at the two mega-deals that were agreed to will look silly compared to the eventual real-world deals.
My trades and non-tenders cleared an excessive amount of payroll from the budget, meaning I could get aggressive with spending if I so chose to. I had four players in mind when I started spending, two that just made great common sense and two that were primary building targets. The latter two were Yusei Kikuchi and Bryce Harper.
I waited a bit for the Bryce Harper market to develop and for the final dollars to fall off of my expected payroll (including some early signings) before inquiring on what it would take to have a seat at the table to add Harper to the team, looking at Harper as a LF/1B candidate. At that point, the market was at 12 years and $475 million. Given I was already aggressively pursuing Kikuchi, I politely declined to get involved in something that large.
The Diamondbacks set the pace for Kikuchi negotiations with an initial offer of 7 years/$49 million with an opt-out after four years. At an AAV of $1 million per year, this was a zero-risk move, despite the length of the deal. Bidding eventually took that deal significantly higher, the Diamondbacks going as high as a much riskier offer of 7 years/$63 million with opt-outs after years three and five. The Astros finally beat out Arizona by offering a 6-yr/$65 million deal with an opt-out after 2022 as part of their budget-busting one-year all-in approach. In hindsight, this is probably a good thing for Arizona. However, I refused to at least make aggressive offers that would improve the team just because Arizona is a mid-market team. No risk usually means no reward.
Here are the signings
Eduardo Escobar 3yr/$21 million
Despite being below-market, the amount of material out there that highlights just how happy Escobar was to stay in Arizona, even at a steep discount, convinced the decision makers to award the Diamondbacks with the contract at the outset when I offered it. I had been ready to bid things up to a higher level, but it turned out to be unnecessary.
A.J. Pollock 4yr/$60 million
Unwilling to get left without a chair, Pollock agreed to this contract in the opening moments of free agency. As the market developed, it looks like Arizona received him at a discount. The reality is, Pollock was still the only free agent who could realistically be called an everyday center fielder. The trade market for such players was out of hand. This locked Pollock up for both the anticipated “rebuild” and for the first two years of the next anticipated contention window. By then, it was hoped that prospects coming up through the system would push him to left field or into a trade. If not, the team is not actually overpaying for Pollock, so long as he can make his poor 208 the minimum performance in each of the next four seasons. Some veteran stability at a key position is not a bad thing.
Clay Buchholz 2yr/$14 million
I would have preferred a one-year deal for Buchholz. However, the pitching market being what it is, I had to acknowledge that a healthy Buchholz had played himself into a multi-year pact the way he pitched for Arizona in 2018. Even with the larger contract, the Diamondbacks don’t need much out of the veteran righty to break even on this deal. Also, this fills one of the rotation holes the team had after free agent departures and trades. The length is still short enough that it works for allowing prospects to push him out of the rotation rather than prospects being dropped into the fray from the outset.
Anibal Sanchez 2yr/$12 million
This deal took a bit longer to come together. Like Buchholz, Sanchez’s 2018 played him into a multi-year deal. Unlike Buchholz, should Sanchez slow down again, he’s also makes a very viable bullpen arm. At an even lower total cost than Buchholz, the Diamondbacks should be able to break even or come out ahead in this deal. The timeline once again works out as well, filling another rotation slot and allowing prospects to actually develop.
Kurt Suzuki 1yr/$3.5 million
This deal pushes John Ryan Murphy firmly back to third catcher or AAA depth. Suzuki will back up Gary Sanchez and still bring an above average glove along with a bat that can actually hit its way out of a paper bag. It’s only a one-year deal, so he’ll be gone before the rebuild is over. However, he makes sure the team is fielding MLB-caliber catching to receive the developing pitchers and creates a bridge to Daulton Varsho that will make Varsho force the issue instead of the team finding themselves in a position where they might as well bring up Varsho because there are no other reliable options.
Drew Pomeranz 1yr/$8 million
This is a bit more than my initial offer, but only slightly. The team is gambling on a bounce-back by Pomeranz here. If they get a good bounce, Pomeranz is a minor steal at $8 million. If not, he’s gone at the end of the season and the team moves on.
Adam Jones 2 yr/$16 million
Jones’ days as a regular in center field are long behind him. He was once above average as a defender in center. Now, he’s well-below average. However, he still has good instincts for the position. He provides a viable candidate to keep on the 25-man roster for days when Pollock needs a day off. Otherwise, he is shifted to left field where his glove should be well-above average. He’s still hits a bit above league average, so he shouldn’t be a black hole at the plate and should solidify the outfield defense, forcing Smith to earn his reps in left and Souza to earn his reps in right. It could be pointed out that Peralta was set to play for $7 million on an arbitration deal. However, this deal was made after both the Harper and Kikuchi chases both fell through, chases made available in part by trading Peralta. Also, I’m banking on Jones’ superior defense in left and his veteran presence to help the developing players along. On such a small deal, breaking even should be easy. By the time the deal is up, the Diamondbacks’ top outfield prospects, including Marcus Wilson, should be forcing the issue anyway.
Chris Tillman minor league deal with an invite to spring
Tillman is almost certainly done as a pitcher in the majors. However, healthy competition in spring is going to do nothing but help Arizona’s 2019 rotation and make the likes of Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener, Loaisiga, Abreu, and Taylor Clarke work all the harder to break into the bigs.
Nick Tropeano minor league deal with an invite to spring
This is for the same reasons as the Tillman signing, but comes with the added benefit of Tropeano possibly competing for the bullpen as well.
The three big deals of the simulation
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent, Clayton Kershaw for 4 yr/$130 million
The Philadelphia Phillies signed Manny Machado to a contract for 11 yr/$433 million
The New York Yankees traded Giancarlo Stanton and signed Bryce Harper for 13 yr/$515 million
After all the trades and signings, the 2019 Arizona Diamondbacks would look both familiar and entirely different. The team would still be built around pitching and defense first, relying on the two to keep them in games in hopes that the offense can do just enough to win games. The end payroll was a mere $92,120,000. That’s right, not even at the woeful 2014-16 levels of spending. However, this produces some opportunities that will be addressed.
Catcher - Gary Sanchez and Kurt Suzuki
First Base - A platoon of Christian Walker and Jake Lamb
Second Base - Ketel Marte / Escobar
Shortstop - Nick Ahmed / Marte
Third Base - Eduardo Escobar / Lamb
Utility Infield - Ildemaro Vargas
The plan on the infield is to get plenty of at-bats for the listed starters with Vargas on the roster for depth. Against tough righties, Nick Ahmed would sit, Marte would slide to short, Lamb to third, and Escobar to second. Against lefties, tough or not, Lamb would sit. The others would play as listed. Then, on a match-up basis against more average righties, Lamb and Walker would share time at first. This may or may not be an ideal solution for first base, but it gives everyone enough at-bats. The team can then patiently await the arrival of one of Drew Ellis, Pavin Smith, or Kevin Cron to take over at first. Alternatively, the team could use its huge payroll availability to pursue Paul Goldschmidt to make a return to first base when he hits free agency after the 2019 season.
Right Field - Steven Souza, Jr.
Center Field - A.J. Pollock
Left Field - Adam Jones
Fourth Outfielder - Dominic Smith
Fifth Outfielder - Socrates Brito/Tyler Austin
The outfield is going to be a plus defensively with a very high offensive ceiling. Should Souza fall flat again, there are options in Smith, Brito, and Lindsay waiting to take his place. Souza and Jones are both around just long enough to create a bridge to top outfield prospects, Marcus Wilson, Desmond, and Jake McCarthy. The team also has Kristian Robinson and Alek Thomas, and Eduardo Diaz right behind them.
Starting Pitching breaks down like this:
James Naile/Matt Koch/Taijuan Walker
The upside to this rotation is rather impressive. The downside is enough to give one nightmares. Chances are the group falls somewhere in-between. The benefit of this group though is that it allows the team to make the likes of Jon Duplantier,Taylor Widener, Taylor Clarke, along with newcomers Loaisiga and Abreu to force the issue. The five prospects listed are the future of the team, starting as early as the middle of 2019 and extending debuts out until the beginning of 2021. It would also allow the team to bring those starter prospects up as bullpen arms to finish developing before joining the rotation should the team wish to use that strategy.
The last slot, as well as McCreery’s spot as a lefty arm are both open for filling from minor league depth and from potential future starters. The plan is also to stop developing Cody Reed as a starter and move him into the role of lefty reliever to speed up his development, given that he is now sufficiently deep on the potential starter prospect list. The same goes for Alex Young. As a reliever, Young could quite easily make the 2019 Opening Day roster as a lefty out of the bullpen.
The Final Analysis
This version of the 2019 Diamondbacks is not a playoff team unless they get outside help. However, this team will not be relying on any players having to play above their expected levels to make the team a .500 team, meaning anything could happen. One or two players falling flat could turn the 2019 club into a 74-76 win team. Some pitching developing faster than anticipated of a bit of luck with Souza and Lamb returning to older form could keep the team in the Wild Card race (albeit at the back of the pack) into September. The real goal is for the team to bridge the gap to the eventual promotion of premium prospects moving into the 2020 season. The team should also have in excess of $30 million in payroll space (despite the Presence of Tomás’ contract) to spend on the 2020 free agent market, making a reunion with Paul Goldschmidt a very viable option, just in time for the team to have young, premium talent at nearly every position on the field.
So there you have it. A full-on rebuild of the Arizona Diamondbacks that potentially has Goldy in the desert for the next contention window, does away with salary concerns, and puts what should be a competitive team on the field within the next 2-3 seasons, instead of going for the more common five-year plan.