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Braves 2016 SBN Offseason Simulation: A Recap

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I traded for a (minor league) bat!!! Also a bunch of arms. Sorry.

Hahaha because I impersonated the front office, get it?!
Hahaha because I impersonated the front office, get it?!
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

As you may or may not be aware, the baseball blogs at SB Nation get together for an offseason simulation over a very frantic half-week at some point before the real Winter Meetings begin. This year, Eric and I took the reins of the hypothetical Braves and navigated 29 other virtual GMs in a bid for free agents and the spoils of trade. How did we fare? Well, that's for you to decide.

To put it one way, the simulation this year was insane. Don't take my word for it, just read this. Or, short of that, look at the below:

  • Red Sox acquired Jose Fernandez from Miami for Yoan Moncada, Clint Frazier, Michael Chavis, Edwin Escobar, and Austin Rei. Yes, this is a thing that happened. Not crazy enough, how about...
  • Red Sox acquired Evan Longoria from Tampa Bay for Rafael Devers, Manny Margot, Brian Johnson, Rusney Castillo, and $30 million. Still not fazed? Well...
  • Marlins acquired 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. What the what.
Okay, so, the trades were often mind-blowing. But at least free agency was normal, right? Right?
  • Diamondbacks signed David Price to a 7 year $259 million. No, that's not a typo. That's $37M AAV. I actually thought this was a typo and was off by $100M (I assumed it would be a total value of $159M). That would be an AAV of $23M. Yeah, that wasn't a typo. (The Snakes still came in under budget, I think. I don't know how that works.)
  • Cardinals signed Jason Heyward to an 11 year $310 million deal with an opt-out after five years. I did not make an offer on Jason Heyward. (I asked at one point where the bidding on Cespedes was on a lark and my eyes went all googly at the numbers. Cespedes ended up signing for $200M for seven years.)
Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and super-grateful shoutouts are warranted to Max Rieper for running the whole thing, Rob Huff for putting together some excellent spreadsheets (and being a joy to talk about Braves-Cubs trades with), and of course, our very own Eric, for being the voice of reason and preventing me from acquiring like 15 different #4 starters. (Seriously, you don't want to know. So many #4 starters.)

Note: I'm going to use the pronoun "I" a lot going forward, but Eric was instrumental in most of this, and as usual, all the dumb stuff is mine, and the not-so-dumb stuff is reflective of where he had a hand in it.

So, what did I actually do? Well, not much, actually. I felt kind of constrained by the fact that the Braves took on a bunch of dead weight salary for 2016 in the shape of Swisher and Bourn, and also that I was basically pigeonholed into the "wait for assets acquired during rebuild to develop." So given that, I mostly tried to work around the fringes and deal off some really excess pitching depth, and targeted guys that could maybe fetch even more pieces in return. Feel free to yell at me in the comments, but don't yell at Eric, because everything dumb was totally my fault.

Non-tenders: Mike Minor, Pedro Ciriaco

I didn't have much faith in Minor to come back and be a good use of money, so I non-tendered him. Of course, the sim "let" him sign for $1M with $1M more in incentives. I honestly think that due to the arbitration rules Minor won't settle for less than $4.4M or so, but no big loss I don't think. I'd probably have taken a chance on him at $2M though.

Ciriaco hit terribly and didn't walk last season. He'll probably only make like $0.8M in arbitration, but Daniel Castro exists, so sayonara, Pedro.

Trade #1: Acquired Jeff Locke from the Pirates for Williams Perez, Brandon Barker, and Chad Sobotka

Why Jeff Locke? Because he's cheap (in prospects and salary), he's fairly durable (over 160 innings pitched every season since 2011, and over 100 every season since 2008 when he was still a Braves farmhand), he's left-handed, and honestly, I think the Braves need someone to backstop the horrorshow that might occur if all the young arms struggle again. His xFIP is right around 4.00 which is pretty decent, and he's cheap enough to be parlayed into a decent mid-season or off-season return if he puts together a good season. Your mileage may vary, but I won't miss Williams Perez, Brandon Barker, or Chad Sobotka much (except for potential future references to The Wire as far as Sobotka goes), and we have so much pitching depth in the minors now that, well, I felt fine dealing it. (I can discuss more in the comments if you're interested, but I can't type hundreds of words about every trade or we'll be here forever.)

Trade #2: Acquired DJ Peterson from the Mariners for Cameron Maybin and Jordan Edgerton

With Michael Bourn eating salary and a roster spot, and Mallex Smith being a personage who definitively exists, I was happy to part with Cameron Maybin and was pretty surprised that this trade found me rather than vice versa. (I reached out to the Pirates about Locke and Charlie Morton, on the other hand, but decided I didn't want both of them. Again, #4starters4lyf.) DJ Peterson had a dreadful 2015 in repeating AA as a 23-year-old, and isn't faring much better in the AFL (he's no Connor Lien but .209/.321/.388 isn't pretty in a hitting-friendly league, even if his BABIP is pretty low), but I'm willing to take a chance he can bounce back and maybe be awesome in the future. I didn't feel Maybin was a particularly steep price, and Jordan Edgerton is not much of a factor in my eyes either.

(For those unfamiliar with Peterson, he is (was?) a 55ish FV 1B/3B prospect who was a hot commodity after he tore up minor league pitching in his first two professional seasons. His simulation self is reunited with his brother, Dustin Peterson, in the same system.)

Trade #3: Acquired Dario Alvarez and Eric Campbell from the Mets for Adonis Garcia

The Mets came asking about Adonis Garcia, and I obliged. Garcia has huge power and is kind of a fun player, but he walked five times in 200 PAs last season, and he had the same HR/FB as Josh Donaldson and Joey Votto . He also had a 95 wRC+ in Gwinnett last season because he never walks (and his BABIP was .314!).

Eric Campbell is a guy you're probably familiar with: he killed AAA for years as an older player, and is kind of the backup/understudy to David Wright. Except then when David Wright got hurt they went and got Juan Uribe, so that kind of tells you what you need to know about Eric Campbell. But anyway, he's a player, his defense is probably non-horrible at third, and he's probably a generic 1 WAR/600 generic bench guy. Maybe he shows some of that AAA promise at some point but I've written too many words about Eric Campbell now.

I had no delusions of getting like, Syndergaard's little brother Lokigaard (ha ha ha Norse God humor) from the Mets, and I got a guy that I think is kind of fun (much like Garcia). Dario Alvarez is a guy who went from A-ball in 2014 all the way up to the Mets in 2015. He's a hard-throwing lefty reliever who is probably a LOOGY-plus, with a slider that can flash a 55 grade and can run it up to 93. He's probably going to strike out 30% of the lefties he faces, but also walk like 10% of them. Still, he can't be any worse than Matt Marksberry, and if hypothetical Roger McDowell can work some Kimbrel-esque "harness your mojo/control" magic, with him, he becomes a somewhat potent bullpen weapon, maybe. Also, his name is Dario, so we can just pretend his name is really Daario, and Alvarez sounds like Naharis. And then when he takes the mound we can make Game of Thrones references and say Daario Naharis quotes and it'll be great. (Only from the books, not the show, though, because the show is awful.)

Trade #4: Acquired James Loney, James Loney's salary, Enny Romero, and David Rodriguez for Andrew McKirahan and Carlos Salazar.

This trade is probably the one I'm most McKayla Maroney-face on. The general idea is that the Rays dump Loney's $8M salary on me for the privilege of getting something called an Enny Romero and something called a David Rodriguez. Also, I have to part with Andrew McKirahan (kinda sad?) and Carlos Salazar (eh, another pitcher from a class that is far behind on the organizational depth chart for arms).

If I had to do this deal over, I would potentially try to find some way to get a taker for Loney in exchange for just about anything, even if I had to eat the salary, as this way Loney might get released. Still, he's not the worst bench bat ever and he's kind of a terrible but still living and breathing insurance policy for Freddie's wrist, but really that's just a nonsensical justification that I'm not sure I should make.

Enny Romero was the prize in this trade for me. He only got a 45 FV from Kiley McDaniel (who was not present in the simulation as my advisor) pre-2015, but that was still good enough to be the Rays' 11th-best prospect at the time. He's a big, tall lefty (6'3", 210 lbs) who throws in the mid-90s with a good slider and an okay changeup, and while it looks like he won't cut it as a starter, I'm hoping he'll be a devastating reliever that can shut down lefties. He had middling stats in 2014-5 as a starter in AAA, but in 30 relief innings for the Rays, he threw up a 2.80 FIP and a sub-4.00 xFIP, and didn't seem to be particularly troubled by righties. His ERA is ugly but driven by a .400 BABIP-against (25% infield hit percentage is bonkers). One downside is that he's out of options, but I would trust the hypothetical staff to determine if they want him to feature in a swingman, middle relief, LOOGY-esque, or something else role. I'd even be open to seeing if he can maybe develop into an okay starter in Atlanta, and 2016 is a decent enough year to do so at the major league level.

David Rodriguez is a 40 FV-esque contact-oriented catcher from Venezuela. Don't expect much other than depth, but he seems to have a good foundation for the defensively-oriented aspects of catching, and didn't hit awfully in the Appy league as a 19-year old.

Not much to say about losing Carlos Salazar, as I won't lose much sleep over it. It's kind of lame parting with McKirahan given that the organization liked him enough to use a season-long roster spot on him, but McKirahan isn't really the type of guy I'd let face a lot of righties, and his against-lefty splits aren't to die for either. This trade probably looks a lot better if I send someone like Marksberry over McKirahan but c'est la vie.

The $8M from Loney is fairly irrelevant: I let the Braves with $15M-ish of salary room to work with, largely because I didn't feel like burning money for no reason, and also in the hopes of taking on salary in trades for more prospects, or some other creative use of funds. If nothing else, maybe they'll take some of that saved salary and give me a bonus for being such a good hypothetical GM, right?

Free Agency Fun

I didn't make a giant splash in the free agent market.

  • Matt Joyce, $2M/1 year
  • John Axford, $3M/1 year
  • Chris Iannetta, $12M/2 years
If I had to bet, I'd actually guess that Matt Joyce is done as a major league player. Still, there's some chance I'm wrong on that, and at $2M, that's a fine gamble to take. Even Jonny Gomes fetched some pseudo-prospect last season despite being awful, so there's a hope that Joyce will share the same fate. Honestly, though, Joyce's batted ball profile last season was ghastly and he shows clear signs of that old-player skill where he tries to compensate for losing effectiveness by attempting to hit more balls in the air. It didn't really work for Joyce, but he still has a career 121 wRC+ against righties, so as long as he's deployed well as part of a platoon (with Swisher in LF, perhaps), maybe he'll regain some value and be non-horrible, and can be spun off for something. If not, well, maybe we'll get to make James Joyce references and say, "Man, I hate watching Matt Joyce bat as much as I hated reading Ulysses." Totally worth the $2M of fake money, right?

John Axford is a generic "hey you're a pretty good reliever come be pretty good for us and then get traded to a contender for stuff" signing. He had a solid bounceback in 2015 with a 3.57 FIP / 3.74 xFIP, and will always be a pitcher who strikes out and walks a ton of guys. It also feels like he's been around forever but he's only 32. Kind of surprised I got him for only $3M, to be honest.

Lastly, the real jewel here is Chris Iannetta. Yes, he was awful at hitting last year. Yes, his 13% LD% was laughable last year. Still, he's only 32, he had two good years in 2013-4, and he seems to be improving defensively as he ages. This is also a great read about him. I was prepared to pay considerably more for him and his defensive attributes, but at $6m per season, he will make an attractive trade candidate for a team looking for catcher help, or a non-eater of the budget if the plan is to push forward with building a contender for 2017. The way I see it, Iannetta is the starter and Bethancourt will serve as the backup. If Iannetta really can't hit, Bethancourt can take over primary catching duties until he also proves he can't in an extended second audition. If they're both terrible, no big loss. If Iannetta is great, he can be traded, paving the way for Bethancourt's audition anyway. Almost a no-lose situation, except for the 2016 Braves, who are going to be losing a lot.

Minor League Deals

I offered and received acceptance of a bunch of minor league deals, including:

  • Anthony Recker (Lavarnway 2.0)
  • Gordon Beckham (fulfills the requirement to sign one Atlanta/Georgia player per offseason)
  • Will Middlebrooks (maybe he repeats something like his rookie year since we have a gaping hole at third, but more likely he doesn't make it out of Spring Training with the team)
  • Eric O'Flaherty (probably not dominant anymore, but maybe still an okay LOOGY)
  • Anthony Varvaro (raw deal, happy to snatch him back up, could be very effective if he's able to return from his torn flexor tendon in his throwing arm)
  • Rafael Betancourt (he's 40 years old and amazing, and actually had a really good 2015 that was marred by a high BABIP and low strand rate, as well as pitching at Coors).
Between Vizcaino, Axford, O'Flaherty, Betancourt, Varvaro, Romero, Alvarez, and the recovering Shae Simmons and Chris Withrow, the general hope is that we don't have to watch guys like Donnie Veal and Brandon Cunniff bleed bullpen runs anymore. Then again, reliever performance is so volatile that it's all a bit of a hope and a prayer, but I feel more comfortable in this group of guys than in the 2015 Braves bullpen, which was basically the interpretive dance version of throwing one's hands up in the air.

Trades I didn't make

I discussed a lot of stuff with a lot of people. The most common inquiries were about Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran. I got a single inquiry about Simmons and a single one about Freeman, and they were pretty low, so they didn't go far. That was honestly about it (some folks asked about Sims, but only in the context of a bigger package), but it's pretty clear that Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller are probably the team's most movable and attractive assets at the moment.

My favorite deal that didn't happen (thank Eric if you hate it) was Miller for Trevor Plouffe, Trevor May, Max Kepler, and [something else] from the Twins. I fell in love with Kepler while researching him (another fun guy to look up is Brent Honeywell, who is hilarious from what I've read about him), but ultimately, we were unable to come to an agreement about what exactly the return should be, and talks fell apart. I generally wanted something like four 50 FV or higher prospects for either Miller or Teheran, with two or three of those being 55 FV, and everyone understandably balked at that sort of thing. But, I felt no real pressure to trade either, especially not Teheran at a point where I'd be selling low, so I stood pat.

I also considered taking on Rick Porcello's contract (with some money thrown in) in exchange for Nick Markakis, with a prospect coming in to sweeten the deal for me. Ultimately, the contract was just too much (Porcello's contract is kind of insane if you think about it) for a team that would need financial flexibility in the near future, so I passed.

Here's a bunch of other #4 starters (or worse) I explored trading for, and probably could have, but didn't, because we don't need that many #4 starters: David Phelps, Chris Rusin, Charlie Morton, Joe Kelly. Those guys just aren't valued very highly, even if they provide some decent surplus value.

Overall, my main takeaways from stuff that did and didn't happen were as follows. These don't really mean much from an overall MLB general managers trading perspective, but are really more of a window into the minds of participants of the simulation, in my view:

  • Top prospects were pretty much off the table except for the top players in MLB. In exploring many trades for Teheran and Miller, including top prospects was mostly a non-starter. There was instead a lot of haggling over, "No, this guy that's #15 in my system is really good!" and I just really wasn't generally interested in trading Teheran or Miller for guys like that. Tons of top prospects got moved, but generally only for the best players, and neither Teheran nor Miller really fit into that category.
  • Meanwhile, everything in a lower tranche was mostly kind of indistinguishable. Aside from Max Povse, whose name came up a lot for some reason, it was mostly like, "oh hey your system has lots of pitchers just pick some random ones and we will take them." That's actually oversimplifying it because I can't tell our like, 50th-on-the-organizational-depth-chart pitchers apart, but that's really how it felt all over. It's what made potentially trading for #4 starters really easy, if I wanted to fill an entire hockey team with them.
  • This pattern was also reflected in free agency, with insane contracts at the top and not much interest or bidding for lower-tier free agents. I probably could have signed Gerardo Parra but didn't feel like it (I did bid on him), and I was worried I'd get outbid on Iannetta but my opening bid was enough to secure his services. It just feels a little weird when Jordan Zimmermann is making $24M/season per the simulation, but I'm able to trade for Jeff Locke (who is like half of a Zimmermann) for what essentially might be organizational depth. But I'd never be able to trade three Jeff Lockes, or nine organizational depths, for a Zimmermann-esque player, because there's a gulf that develops between "stuff that is great" and "stuff that is meh."
So, that's that. I'm happy to discuss more happenings in the comments, if that's the sort of thing that seems fun to you guys.