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SBN Offseason Simulation 2017-2018: Moves Analysis

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This is the longest post on TC.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Philadelphia 76ers John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, and welcome to maybe the longest post on TC. In case you missed in, Part 1 of this exercise, where overall strategy, a succinct listing of moves, and some projections for the 2018 sim-Braves were set out, you can access it right here. I think it’s useful to read that one before this post, because it provides a framework for the individual moves analyzed here.

Alright, now that you’ve (maybe) read Part 1, let’s get into what everyone really cares about: analyzing the individual moves themselves. Of course, individual move analysis isn’t really quite the entire purpose of the exercise, since the goal is to build a team and not make a collection of disparate moves, but this is still possibly the most intuitive way to go about the process.

Options picked up on Flowers ($4M), Dickey ($8M)

These are a couple of no-brainers. I tried to give sim-Dickey and his representatives the option to retire and/or request that we decline his option so that he could play somewhere closer to his sim-home in sim-Nashville, but that didn’t happen. Not much more to say here, except that Flowers continues to impress despite some very, very low expectations for him when he was first signed a few years ago, and Dickey isn’t really much of a problem, or much of a reliable solution, at $8 million.

RHP Tommy Hunter signed to a $10 million, 2-year deal

The reliever market will always be one of those things where the theory and the expectation clash in fairly awkward ways. Relievers are volatile and very tricky to forecast, and on top of that, they’re one place where there’s a discontinuity between team WAR and team performance, because a really good bullpen can make a given team more likely to win close games and exceed its run differential. That’s not necessarily why there’s a feeding frenzy at the top end of the reliever market, but it could be a factor. Towards the middle or bottom of the market, though, you basically have a bunch of unknowns or lemons, and you’re hoping that they either pitch well in the immediate future for you if you’re a good team, or pitch well enough to get a crazy deadline return, if you’re not a good team.

Tommy Hunter is a longtime major league veteran who worked primarily as a starter with the Rangers until being acquired by the Orioles and making the transition to relief. He’s had some success, and some failures. He was really good as a half-time starter in his first full season (2009, 1.7 fWAR in 112 innings), but didn’t really replicate or improve on that as a rotation member. His first two seasons of relief (2013, 2014) were also quite good (0.7 fWAR in each), but he didn’t quite replicate that level of effectiveness in the following seasons, bouncing around from the Orioles to the Cubs, to the Indians, and then back to the Orioles. The Orioles and Indians both cut him in 2016 despite perfectly cromulent middle relief work, and he joined the Rays, where he had his best relief season: 1.2 fWAR, 3.07 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, 2.61 ERA, and a strikeout rate nearly double his career average (28.1% versus 15.9%).

Can he replicate that success in 2018 and 2019? Who knows. He is a reliever, after all. But $10M/2 isn’t a large commitment, and it meets the dual goals of being eminently tradeable if the Braves are not in contention, and being market-rate reasonable even if they are, unless he very heavily regresses. The big thing for Hunter that makes him different than “sign a reliever coming off a good year” is that he totally changed his approach in 2017, more than halfing his rate of four-seam fastballs and replacing them with cutters and his slurve-type pitch. He hasn’t really had platoon splits as a reliever, so there’s not a huge worry about letting him face lefties in medium-leverage situations either. There’s also no reason why he can’t serve in, or slide into, a closer role if need be.

There was no finagling for this deal; Hunter accepted our initial offer as listed.

Siegeface: Much like acquiring Sean Rodriguez last year, this will likely be the one move in the sim that comes to fruition in the actual 2018 offseason for the Braves. This team has put a premium on veteran leadership amongst the pitching corps in past seasons, but wisely it seems this regime (whoever they may be) is realizing the importance of stability in the bullpen this year, rather than blocking up a young but promising rotation. Tommy Hunter isn’t anything special, but the right handed options the Braves trusted the most down the stretch was a mix of Arodys Vizcaino and Dan Winkler. Due to a variety of factors, mostly revolving around the health of elbows, that’s not really the most reliable pair in the business (to say the least). Hunter’s coming off his best season as a full time relief option, in which he posted a career best 11.5% swinging strike rate to pair with the re-emergence of a vicious 94 MPH cutter. Pair that with a .234 xwOBA (7th amongst all relievers in 2017), and you can start to even see some upside in his run prevention skills (.288 xwOBA on balls in play, .259 BABIP, 11.8% HR/FB in 2017) repeating in 2018 (2.61/3.07/3.29 ERA/FIP/xFIP triple slash in 2017). Sometimes it’s good to be predictable, and if the Braves acquire Tommy Hunter I’ll certainly be happy that they are.

BravesRays: Tommy Hunter in 2017 looked to me like another Rays pitching success story in the vein of JP Howell or Fernando Rodney. As Ivan and Siegeface point out, Hunter made some real changes in his approach by throwing his cutter harder and more often. He also worked his four-seamer up in the strike zone more consistently. Hickey himself predicted that Tommy Hunter would be much improved based on some of the changes that he’d made. I thought Hunter was the Rays’ best reliever in 2017, and that includes Alex Colome, who was traded for a king’s ransom in the sim. Also, his nickname is Tommy Two Towels (presumably because he sweats a lot on the mound), so that’s fun.

LHP Sam Freeman traded to Cleveland Indians for C Yan Gomes

Sam Freeman was a very popular target, which strikes me as half-odd because surely every team has seen their own version of The Cautionary Tale of Ian Krol in recent history. Sam Freeman did have 60 very good innings last year, but his ERA → FIP → xFIP suggest regression, and he had 116 innings before that in which he was a pretty generic AAAA-type arm. He’s also not quite the sort of guy you want to leave in there against righties (4.47 xFIP), which means his surface stats are somewhat misleading regarding his going-forward usability.

For what it’s worth, though, it’s not like the offers we were getting were blowing us away. From my memory, it was mostly 25th-man type options (Zack Granite from the Twins stands out as one offer, and there may have been others but none that went into “this guy will definitely make your roster” territory.)

A bit later, the Indians were seeking to move on from one of their two catchers to make room for highly-touted prospect Francisco Mejia. Faced with the choice of Roberto Perez (no bat, good defense, good framing, very cheap contract) or Yan Gomes (better bat despite disastrous 2016, worse at framing and defense but decent defensively and average at framing, somewhat more expensive contract), I opted for Gomes, thinking that Perez’ bat was almost non-rosterable (82 career wRC+, 57 and 75 the last two years).

Gomes has had a very strange career. He’s the first Brazilian-born player in MLB history, and made a huge MLB splash after being acquired by the Indians, putting up 7.7 fWAR in his first two “full” seasons of play. Even before his elite 2014 campaign, he signed a cheap extension with the Indians, which then ended up being a mixed bag because his 2015 (74 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR) and 2016 (32 wRC+, -0.6 fWAR) were quite poor. He did bounce back somewhat in 2017, putting up an 87 career wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR in 383 PAs. Given that he’s not a defensive or framing liability and has recently demonstrated an ability to hit decently (wRC+ around the 90s), he seems to fit as a backup catcher. I think that even if he starts, he probably won’t be a below-average catcher, all-told, and a fly-ball-oriented approach is a good thing these days. Gomes only costs $6M in 2018 and $7M in 2019; the Braves can jettison him after that with a $1M buyout, or pay him slightly more with a series of club options.

As a minor, but cool, thing, Yan Gomes and Luiz Gohara give the Braves the opportunity for the first Brazilian battery in MLB. This didn’t really have anything to do with the impetus for the move, but hey, neat. (And if this were real, you could say there was a tiny, marginal effect on talent acquisition from Brazil as a result, a la Andruw Jones and Curacao. But, this would need to be real, and the Braves would need to be good, for this to matter. No one cares about bad team trivia, really.)

The Flowers-Gomes tandem should be pretty good in 2018. Not as good as best-in-baseball-Flowers-and-Suzuki-Monster-Truck-Rally-Mode, but pretty good. At least average, before framing is taken into account, is my guess, with room for more. Both contracts and players are eminently tradable if a better opportunity comes along at any point, as well.

Siegeface: I think we all liked Sam Freeman last year. He was a dumpster dive acquisition that ended up being the go-to-lefty for a somewhat significant portion of the 2017 season. That might say more about how badly Ian Krol crashed and burned, or the mind boggling insistence to keep giving Eric O’Flaherty innings in a Braves uniform, but it shouldn’t diminish the pleasantness of the surprise that is Sam Freeman. However, I think we all prioritized moving Sam Freeman in the sim because of not only how badly burned the Braves were by Krol in 2017, but how they weren’t burned by Hunter Cervenka or Dario Alvarez in 2016. We felt that in recent experience, the decision to strike while the iron was hot on an overperforming Braves lefty (especially when they didn’t have any semblance of a track record) was decidedly the right call. Yan Gomes, in spite of his hitting woes, is at the very least a high quality glove-first backup catcher. It was too much value to pass up on a guy that, with regular innings, could likely be a league-average starting catcher with a pretty good contract to work with. He’s not going to get that opportunity with Tyler Flowers in the fold, but we felt he was an upgrade over Kurt Suzuki and could really stabilize the 2019-2021 seasons if a Braves catching prospect doesn’t emerge. Low-key, one of the best moves Ivan we made in the sim this year.

RHP Sergio Romo signed to a $3M, 1-year deal

I take zero credit for this one; I think BravesRays suggested it and I was like, “Sure, why not?” after seeing that Romo resurrected his career in Tampa Bay after the Dodgers bailed on him (DFA, traded to the Rays for a PTBNL or cash considerations) in late July. Romo pitched over 30 innings in those two months and put up a sparkling 2.96 FIP despite an xFIP of 4.20, which was even worse than the mark that got him banished from the Dodgers earlier in the season. While the xFIP is a concern, the commitment is low and nearly inconsequential.

Romo actually has a lot of warning signs, including declining velocity, and a pitch mix evolution that’s hard to nail down as being “good” or “not so good.” He found greater success in Tampa Bay by throwing more fastballs as opposed to more sliders, and mixing in the changeup a bit more. Still, he’s pretty much a ROOGY-type that you can go to for a strikeout, especially when the opposing batter struggles with breaking pitches.

BravesRays: Most of Ivan’s reservations about Romo are valid, but he’s a solid ROOGY who still has a great “no dot” slider. Romo’s slider is a fun pitch to talk about, as unlike most sliders, it’s spinning seams don’t create a dot visible to the hitter. Used properly, he’s a nice depth piece in the bullpen. Most of his problems with the Dodgers came from an extremely high HR/FB rate, which reversed itself to a low one with the Rays.

C Kurt Suzuki traded to the Colorado Rockies for LHP Mike Dunn and OF Raimel Tapia

With Gomes in the fold, catchers were made available. The offers for both Flowers and Suzuki were kinda lowballed, with teams wanting them as backups, and only willing to pay generic backup prices, which led to stalled discussions.

The Rockies changed that by offering Tapia. I don’t know much about Tapia, but he’s well-pedigreed and team-controlled. He’s a lefty that I think will struggle with lefties, but finding a right-handed-hitting handcuff in a corner outfield spot isn’t a huge issue. Plus, at this point, we still had Markakis and Kemp on the roster. Tapa didn’t hit well last year, but a huge chunk of his issues were an inability to make contact against lefties. With his exposure to southpaws limited, and his speed (which is supposed to be decent) giving him defensive value at the expense of various leadfoots that teams start in left field (like Matt Kemp), I think there’s a decent low-end outcome. Of course, he could be terrible. But so could every other young player.

As I indicated, I don’t have many specific feelings on Tapia. The aggregate prospect rankings suggest that he could very well be an average regular. That’s a huge bargain for one (cheap) year of Kurt Suzuki. John Sickels gave him a B/B+ before last year, which is really a backend top 100 guy in many respects; I believe he was also right around there from Eric Longehagen’s rankings.

Another very notable thing about Tapia is that he actually had a 110 wRC+ in the first half last year, before his already-low walk rate cratered to an unthinkable 1.5% in the second half. Now, the 110 wRC+ was propped up by a near-.400 BABIP, so he’s not a finished product, and he may never really be playable as a starter or platoon partner.

Old friend Mike Dunn, who I signed in last year’s sim, was actually the real impetus for the Rockies in this deal, as they wanted to move some salary as part of the catcher-acquisition process.Dunn is owed $7M in each of the next two years, which is kind of an overpay considering he’s not that good, but hey, relievers. Dunn had two unfortunate things working against him last year: he was a fly ball pitcher in a juiced ball era, pitching his home games at Coors Field; and, his ability to neutralize lefties really went the way of the dodo.If it comes back, having him to pair with A.J. Minter is an asset in a home park that makes lefties a home run threat; if it doesn’t, he’s an expensive middle reliever that provides some marginal benefit over the innings sponge stylings of Luke Jackson, et alia.

Overall, this move transformed a catching logjam and an extra $3.5M of salary wiggle room into a generic middle reliever and a position player with a lot of team control but very real prospect/development/can’t hit lefties/etc. risk. There’s really no downside here, not in a way that matters. And if Tapia ever makes good on the types of 55 FV grades he gets here and there? The Braves have basically fixed left field for the future, and all it took was selling high on Kurt Suzuki (who’ll make Coors his personal stomping ground if he carries over his 2017 success and approach, by the way).

Rajah: Tapia has above average speed and an above average arm. He has the tools to play in CF, but he was fairly late in putting more focus on the finer points of defense, so he might be a late bloomer there. He has always hit well throughout the minors, but he has an odd two-strike approach. He’s an inefficient basestealer, so he has room to learn how to use his speed better. Getting him at a low cost and putting him in a platoon where he gets opportunity without being a key piece, and where there’s some flexibility to let him earn more or less time, is a win-win. If nothing else he becomes an interesting fourth outfielder.

Siegeface: Really easy call here. Suzuki was expendable even before we got Yan Gomes, and we were even fielding calls on Tyler Flowers. But Raimel Tapia was by far the best offer we got on either Suzuki or Flowers. We had on aggregate a 50 FV tag placed on Tapia, who is MLB ready and fills either a fourth OF spot, the heavy side of a LF platoon, or a full-time starting gig in a corner. We actually had the option of picking up Mike Dunn or Adam Ottavino’s contract in the deal, and we ended up choosing Dunn because he was left handed and we needed a lefty. In a vacuum, I like Ottavino more because he’s been a highly successful MLB relief option in the past, but the Rockies really backloaded his contract to the point where he and Dunn make the same amount of money in 2018 ($7MM). Dunn does have an extra year at $7MM in 2019, which will almost certainly be a drain. But we felt we could take the hit and the importance of getting a second lefty still reigned supreme.

BravesRays: Like Ivan, I’m not sold on Tapia’s ability to be an everyday OFer. He doesn’t hit many fly balls, something which probably worked against him playing in Colorado. He also chases pitches out of the zone too much. Still, he should provide value as a baserunner and as a defender, but he needs to improve his plate discipline and cut down on the strikeouts.

“OF” Matt Kemp, RHP Kyle Muller, and RHP Freddy Tarnok traded to the Chicago White Sox for RHP Matt Cooper

The salary dump that really made this sim for the Braves needs not that much discussion. Trading for Matt Kemp was a pretty clear-as-day mistake when the Braves made it despite arguments to the contrary, and multiple hours across multiple GM sims have now been spent on trying to dump his deal.

Luckily, blessedly, the White Sox were here to oblige. The cost could have been higher, but without anything to really spend the salary on (weak free agent class, extensions not allowed in the framework of the sim), there was no real point to move high-caliber prospects for salary relief. The White Sox started with a more aggressive offer (think a top 10 and a top 20 prospect, inclusive of Alex Jackson or William Contreras), but we figured we’d reorient it to essentially guys around #20 and below on the community prospect list. They came back with Muller and Tarnok, and I scrambled to press the proverbial “accept trade” button.

As a replacement-level producer, Matt Kemp is essentially entirely underwater on his deal, meaning it’s about $38 million in negative surplus value. Are Tarnok and Muller worth $38 million in surplus value themselves? Absolutely not. I think that makes this a coup.

The funny story about Matt Cooper is that I don’t really have anything to say about him, and have no idea who he is. He makes… barrels? That sounds right. Discussing the parameters of the deal, a return (of course) never came up. When we agreed on the deal, it was just “Matt Kemp, Freddy Tarnok, and Kyle Muller.” Not “for XYZ.” Just those three names. That, of course, struck me as odd: you can’t make trades in MLB that have literally no return. But, I didn’t want to point out this out, lest that seem overly pedantic/annoying, and ruin our good fortune.

Luckily for us, the White Sox sim-GM felt the same way, and revised it, easing both my spirit and the nagging aspect of my brain that was going “technically not a legal trade!” Phew. I still don’t know anything about Matt Cooper.

Rajah: Tarnok and Muller, if they were to each hit their ceilings, could be #2 SPs, but they’re very far away and risky. It was a great price to pay for dumping Kemp’s contract, as more than likely the White Sox end up with little or no MLB value from those 2.

Siegeface: What more needs to be said? Matt Kemp is a $40MM drain on the Braves right now, and the White Sox were willing to take on that contract for the privilege of acquiring two high ceiling right-handed starters that are light years away (and carry the usual risk that comes with being light years away). In the sim, the ability to free up a dead contract isn’t extraordinarily useful for our priorities, since you can’t use the money to offer extensions to players on your team. But two 45 FV pitchers don’t really come close to $40MM in surplus value, so this is a no-brainer even with our limitations.

LHP Ian Krol traded to the Houston Astros for Devon Carr

This is how this conversation went, with some embellishment:

Astros: “Hey, we want Ian Krol”

Braves, internally: “Wait, we still have Ian Krol? I guess he was kicked to the curb after the season ended, so we do?”

Also Braves, internally: “Hahaha someone wants Ian Krol?”

Braves: “You can have him. Make it so.”

The name Devon Carr was never discussed or agreed upon. For all I know, Devon Carr is a 1994 Geo Metro with a baby blue paint job whom its owner named “Devon.” (Siegeface: I actually picture “Devon Carr” as the name of the AMC Gremlin Hans Moleman almost drives into a tree, then just spontaneously combusts. What a great Treehouse of Horror story that was.) Just imagine sim-Devon Carr showing up to minor league Spring Training next year, and he’s not on any of the clipboard or iPad or whatever-they-use rosters. “I’m sorry, sir, you can’t take the field, your tire treads will mess up the grass.”

Let it be known that in the GM sim, Yonder Alonso went unsigned, yet someone wanted Ian Krol. We’re through the looking glass, people.

OF Nick Markakis traded to the Houston Astros for RHP Mike Fiers

There wasn’t really a huge need to do this deal, but Markakis was essentially expendable with a lefty-hitting Tapia now on the roster, and it’s not like he hits or fields or does anything so well that you really want him to round out some kind of sharp corner.

There’s not much to Mike Fiers; I think he could have been non-tendered and the deal would just go off as a straight salary dump. As is, with him tendered for about $5M, the deal only saves about half of the Markakis’ salary. But with Kemp no longer in the picture, payroll space is actually not a huge issue for this sim-Braves iteration. Fiers himself has been very inconsistent. He busted onto the scene with a phenomenal rookie campaign in 2012, but 2013 saw him ineffective in a swingman role; he missed most of the season with injury. He came back in late 2014 and made eight starts to close out the year, which were some of the most dominant he’s ever had. That was followed up by two average seasons across the Brewers and Astros, before he sunk to a replacement-level performance last year.

Part of Fiers’ change was shifting to more of a sinker approach, in lieu of his previous fastball-cutter paradigm. For various reasons too detailed to get into here, I’m not sure that was the right idea for him, but the Astros almost certainly know better than me, given their emphasis on biomechanics and the like, so it’s possible that Fiers is just kind of done being useful. Either way, I envision a fifth starter backstop or swingman role for him next year. While Fiers might be tempting as a “fireman” type who can go multiple innings with stuff playing up in shorter stints, he’s not really a good fit for this role because he doesn’t throw very hard and is really more of a kitchen sink / bamboozle-type pitcher. He’s also kind of redundant with Sergio Romo in some ways, but worst case, he just gets non-tendered or traded for very little.

Overall, this move was about salary and roster space, and not Mike Fiers. That was probably obvious, but just in case it wasn’t, I’m not making any claims that Fiers is a “get” here.

Siegeface: Nick Markakis is an expendable 1 fWAR outfielder that’s owed $11MM. Mike Fiers is an expendable 1 fWAR pitcher that will probably be owed much less than $11MM in arbitration. Basic maths, people.

BravesRays: Think of Mike Fiers as a $1 million insurance policy on the health of some of our young arms. The Braves can non-tender him as late as March 15th and still only pay about $1 million worth of his 2018 arbitration salary. If everyone stays healthy in camp, then there’s probably not much need for him.

IF Jace Peterson and IF/OF Danny Santana non-tendered; contracts tendered for remaining arbitration-eligible players, including 1B Matt Adams.

The real issue here is that we weren’t able to unload Matt Adams for anything, in the end. I fear the Braves may have the same problem, for real. All of the deals to unload Adams wanted someone to pay us for the privilege, which just wasn’t going to happen. Mike Foltynewicz and Daniel Winkler are no-brainers to stick around; Jace Peterson has run out of chances, in my mind, and Danny Santana should have never happened.

Siegeface: I don’t really have anything to say about the arbitration process, so here’s a great clip from the first episode of The Mighty Boosh.

SS Kevin Maitan and LHP Joey Wentz traded to the Mariners for 3B Kyle Seager and RHP Tony Zych.

The evolution of this move was wacky. As I indicated in Part 1, this was really the centerpiece of everything, and the most important move, and yet… it happened so far down the line, temporally. As I indicated, it was the first move I made, and agreement was reached, in theory, pretty quickly.

The general axis of the deal was always Maitan for Seager. The Mariners asked for Maitan and Wentz; I made the initial sidestep of waffling on Wentz given his high ranking on the community prospect list, but rajah made a very convincing case that Wentz was a great guy to move if the Mariners were indeed targeting him specifically. For a long time, the deal sat at Maitan and Wentz for Seager, $15 million, and Tony Zych, which I was very happy with. The Mariners did not want a stopgap 3B like Rio Ruiz or Johan Camargo from the Braves as part of the deal.

Zych is kind of a non-entity in the grand scheme of the deal, so I won’t say much about him. He was a really good reliever when he first debuted a few years ago, but his arm might be toast. He’s basically a throw-in, and maybe he develops into something akin to what Daniel Winkler is to the Braves right now (potential, but not reliability). It’s another option to have; he’d be better as a lefty but c’est la vie.

The $15 million has to do with a personal quirk of mine: Jack Zduriencik gave Seager his extension, which included a contingency that his end-of-contract $15 million team option vests if he’s traded. As I didn’t agree to take the burden for that extension, I wanted the Mariners to cover it.

The deal kind of sat in that manner for a while. The Mariners balked at including cash, and eventually I learned that the hold-up was because the Mariners were waiting to find a stopgap major league 3B before agreeing to the deal. I thought they were going for Mike Moustakas, but he went to the Yankees. In the course of this, I was probably a really annoying email compatriot (no 2,000-word text messages, though) because I really wanted this deal to go through, and while we first wanted some kind of additional return if the Mariners weren’t including $15M to go with Seager, if only a much better reliever in place of Zych, we eventually gave up, especially once the Matt Kemp money was cleared (which was not the case when we first asked about Seager, but was the case long before we finalized the Seager deal). In the end, we agreed to do the deal with no cash.

On a surplus value level, the cash is actually really important. Seager is owed $89.5 million over the next five seasons. If you figure that he is a 4-win player, but declines by 0.5 WAR every year since he is in his 30s already, he’s 4+3.5+3+2.5+2 = 15 wins of production, total. At $8M a win, that’s only $30.5M of surplus value, so the $15M is actually a huge chunk (a 50% infusion) to the surplus value Seager provides. At $7M a win, the $15M is actually equal to the surplus value on his deal. Of course, this assumes a steady decline, and assumes Seager starts at 4 wins in 2018. If Seager starts a bit lower, declines faster, or if he starts higher/declines slower, the contours change.

Of course, the deal isn’t just for Seager, it’s stuff for Seager. And the stuff was voted to be two top 10 prospects according to the TC community prospect list. If Maitan is a top 50 MLB prospect, his value can be akin to $38M. If Wentz is a top 100 MLB prospect, his value can be akin to $16M. Together, those guys provide $54M. My own, conservative quick math suggested that Seager would be worth more like 16.5 wins over five years (again, not IWAG, just to clarify), suggesting about $42.5M in surplus value at $8M per win. That means that there’s a bit of a bath there as far as surplus value, but not a huge one. (Prospect risk versus non-prospect risk leads me to add a 10%-20% markup on the surplus value of non-prospects, and $42.5 x 1.2 is still short of about $54M.) But, if you think that Maitan and/or Wentz are overrated (and again, rajah was very convincing here, I thought), it looks better.

I don’t really have any strong feelings about Maitan and Wentz myself. They’re prospects. They’re far away. The Braves can wait on them to develop, but what happens in the interim? I thought Kyle Seager was the right guy to take the team from a possible .500ish level to a possible playoff level. I’d definitely pay for that, and I did. Maybe you wouldn’t, but then you should ask yourself: what prospects would you deal, and when, to get your team into playoff position? That answer will vary, but it’s not going to be universal. I’d prefer the Braves to follow a similar mode of thinking as me -- there are times when these moves make sense, and times when they don’t, like the last two years; I don’t know if they will.

A few words on Kyle Seager. Seager is really interesting, in that he’s pretty consistent. He both hits well and fields well. He’s not a monster at the plate (116 career wRC+), but he has a fly ball-heavy approach which is delicious both in general right now, and given the contours of SunTrust Park’s right field. Cheap homers are still homers. When he’s patient, he walks a lot. He was very patient in 2016, and that patience persisted into 2017; the downside was that he swung through a lot more pitches in 2017. If that’s age and bat speed showing up very soon, we could have a serious issue on our hands. But, I think the friendly confines of the Braves’ home park will help with some of that, and there’s the fact that his main drop in effectiveness came against the sinker, not the four-seamer, and was potentially the result of a highly-exaggerated approach that tried to uppercut everything (which would indeed have a detrimental effect when you face sinkers). Seager actually lowered his soft contact rate last year, and I believe he was an xwOBA underperformer, so concerns about his immediate future performance may be overblown. He’s a decent athlete who should not see huge deterioration of defense at third base, and has added more power as he’s aged without any real detriment to contact. I’d be very excited to watch Kyle Seager on the Braves.

Rajah: I knew before the sim that I was willing to deal Maitan if the right deal came along. The upside is huge, but we tend to struggle to grasp the odds on prospects like him. That meant someone was likely to overpay. Similarly, Wentz is a sell-high opportunity. He has a plus change-up and pitchability, and pitchers like that always give low-A hitters trouble. If the pitcher doesn’t have much else, though, he’ll struggle in the higher levels. Scouts are questioning his fastball, his breaking ball, and whether he can be projected to add more velocity despite his tall height. There’s considerable risk there that doesn’t show up in stat-line-scouting.

Siegeface: This might be the one deal made by us that involves the Braves possibly losing a bit of surplus value. Kyle Seager’s a 3-4 fWAR player owed about $18.5MM per year over the next four years (plus the $15MM fifth year option that has now vested), and he’s 30 years old. Factoring in age related decline, best case he’s probably breaking even in terms of surplus value with the prospect package we decided to part with. As such, originally we were only confident giving up Maitan alone or needed the $15MM to include Wentz in the deal. However, after we freed up the two worst contracts on the team, and identified Seager as the piece that could make the 2018 sim Braves a contender, we decided we could take a small hit and take the deal that the Mariners’ GM wanted. As for how we came to decide on offering Maitan+Wentz, rajah was definitely the point on advocating which prospects to include, though we all agreed early on in the sim that Maitan was our best trade chip given the extreme risk in his profile at the moment.

Rajah: As Ivan said, the Seattle GM came in asking Maitan and Wentz. I only had to persuade the guys that Wentz was ok to include. Later, I advocated dropping the $15M demand for the reasons Siegeface stated plus the fact that in the sim the money beyond 2018 is really just not all that important.

BravesRays: Ivan and Siegeface did a thorough job discussing the surplus value considerations in the Seager signing, so I don’t have much to add there. I would like to compare the Seager deal to the alternative of signing Mike Moustakas, who signed for 5/$75 in the sim. Would the Braves would have been better off signing Moose and forgoing the Seager deal? That is, would the Braves be better off with Moose at 5/$75, Maitan, and Wentz than with Corey’s Brother at 4/$74.5? I’ve concluded that the Seager deal was a better play.

Using a standard aging curve and each player’s 2018 Depth Chart projection, I come out with Seager on his contract having roughly $13 million more in surplus than Mike Moustakas on his fake deal in the sim. I’m assuming that Seager’s fifth year club option is not exercised by the Braves. [Even though it has to be, because stupid Jack Z’s stupid stupid. Note, however, that this doesn’t fully change the calculus. That option is only for $15M, so Seager still comes out ahead unless he’s essentially replacement level.]

Are Maitan and Wentz worth more than that as prospects? Yes, clearly. However, the volatility of their value is much greater than the volatility of the difference in production between Moose and Seager. In other words, there’s some certainty in the conclusion that Seager will be a significantly better and more valuable on his deal than that Moose will be on his, but the range of outcomes for Wentz and Maitan are far more variable, and thus their value comes with more risk attached.

Also, there’s the Braves position on the win curve to consider. The half-win or so more that Seager is projected to provide over the next four seasons has real value for a team that might be on the cusp of the playoffs more than once over that time period.

Furthermore, there’s some reason to think Moustakas’ 2017 performance was less indicative of his talent going forward than Seager’s. First of all, Moose and Seager had nearly identical xwOBA’s on contact in 2017 (.378 and .375, respectively). However, their actual wOBAs on contact were much farther apart (.399 for Moose and .362 for Seager). This is a good indication that Moustakas had much better fortune on batted balls than Seager. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that Seager had a four-year-low HR/FB rate of 11.2%, while Moose’s HR/FB rate of nearly 18% was 8% better than his career average. Seager combined a career-high flyball rate in 2017 with a career low pop-up rate. That’s not an easy trick to pull off. Moose popped up three times more often than Seager while hitting flyballs 6% less often. Seager had a career low line-drive rate in 2017 (line-drive rate is the most volatile of the batted ball rates from year to year), while Moose’s was slightly better than his career norms. Seager chased pitches out of the zone at a career-low rate of 24%, while Moose chased pitches out of the zone at a career-high 40% (!) rate. Seager even had a higher hard hit rate than Moose (36% to 32%). You put all of this together, and for me the conclusion is clear. Seager’s process as a hitter in 2017 was far superior to Moose’s, who hacked at everything, popped up a lot, and was saved by some good fortune when he connected. I’d expect Seager to be the better hitter in 2018, and there seems to be a real chance that Moose’s offense craters, if not next year, then sometime in the next few years.

A final point in Seager’s favor is that despite Moose being a year younger, Seager’s skill set might age better. Seager is a better athlete than Moose, whose average Speed Score of 1.2 over the past two seasons means that he’s painfully slow, reflected in the nearly 5 runs he gave away on the bases last year. Seager’s not a great baserunner, but he’s not a bad one, either (more like slightly below average). Moose posted career-low defensive metrics in 2017, rating as a below-average defender by UZR and DRS for the first time in his career. Seager was roughly average by DRS and well above average by UZR. In other words, Moose is starting to look more like an old player who doesn’t move around well than Seager. Even Moose’s offensive skill set, which is highly dependent on harvesting power, has begun to look like one we tend to see among aging players.

The choice to make the Seager deal or sign Moose at 7/$75 wasn’t presented to us as such in the sim. We didn’t know what Moose’s final contract would be, or if it would go too high for us to be comfortable. Nor did we know whether Seattle’s GM would agree to the Seager deal for most of the time that teams were bidding on Moose. Still, given the choice, I would have come down on the side of acquiring Seager. I’m more confident in his ability to continue producing as an above-average player over the next four years. The projections have Seager and Moose much closer than I do. Moose has several red flags. I can’t find any for Seager.

RHP R.A. Dickey traded to the Red Sox for IF Tzu-Wei Lin.

This deal was fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, but I’m excited to get a toolsy guy who backstops the potential to bleed value on the infield.I don’t think that Lin is really going to be a quality hitter without a lot more development, but my main criteria seems to be that he can hack it defensively. If he can man short very well, that’s a great handcuff-to-a-handcuff (Johan Camargo), and gives the Braves a good option that hits from the left side to use as a 25th or 26th man to spell Albies and Swanson, and combine with Camargo (who has hit lefties much, much better than righties thus far) on a short-term fill-in platoon.

I’m not sure Dickey was any kind of improvement on any pitching slot the sim-Braves will use this year. As a knuckleballer, he’s just far too volatile to predict. While the same can be true of any of the young pitchers that constitute the rotation, I’d rather have Lin’s team-controlled career and the $8 million than Dickey’s version of that volatility.

We probably could have made another similar-tiered Red Sox prospect work here as well, so blame me if we didn’t get your favorite in lieu of Lin.

Rajah: This report on Lin was a driving force behind picking him from the list the Sox gave us. He also featured in Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five report several times and was mentioned in https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-matt-carpenters-of-the-minor-leagues/. So suffice it to say that the analytics world has seen cause for offensive improvement with Lin.

The way I see the utility depth with Camargo, Forsythe, and Lin is that we have two guys in Camargo and Lin that have option years, so we have flexibility to stash one of them (probably Lin) in the minors for part of the year and use them to cover the inevitable injuries that will come up.

Siegeface: I hold the prospect evaluation guys at Fangraphs in very high regard, particularly Eric Longenhagen. So when Ivan said the Red Sox were interested in Dickey, I asked him to find out if Tzu-Wei Lin was available. Lin was a pretty decent defensive middle infield prospect for the Sox for many years, but experienced a bit of a breakout last year as a 23 year old in AA by hitting more fly balls. He added some power projection to his profile, and as a result was a decent little mid-season call up for Boston. In typical Ivan fashion, he claimed to not even know who that person was. But he asked and found out that Lin was available. From there, we had extended talks about who we wanted from a list the Sox sent to us, as RA Dickey had really become expendable as an insurance policy for the young guys with the addition of Mike Fiers as a swingman. In the end, we picked Lin because he was probably the only guy who had scouts that believed he could profile as something of a regular (albeit a low end regular) in the bigs.

IF/OF Logan Forsythe, signed: $23.5 million, 3-year deal

The Logan Forsythe story is really kind of the Ian Happ story. Up through all the moves above, the sim-Braves had full-time starters at every position, two handcuffs for Swanson’s potential for downside, and a complete unknown in LF (Tapia), with another unknown with massive potential in RF (Ronald Acuna).

Negotiations with the Cubs had been on and off throughout the sim, first around Mark Zagunis (one of my faves due to his walk rate, but I’m a bigger fan of that than I should be, perhaps) and then around Ian Happ once it was clear he was perhaps on the block. I offered Kolby Allard, and I suspect, but have no way of knowing, that that was actually the leading offer for a while, and perhaps in total. In the end, the Cubs asked for both Allard and Anderson or Wentz (Wentz was already spoken for), and that was just ridiculously too high to even consider. Thinking we might actually get Happ for Allard added some clarity to the roster: Happ, a switch-hitter, could do some kind of platoon with Tapia and/or play a super-sub role all around the diamond. (I won’t discuss the various concerns with Happ and Allard here, since this is about Forsythe, but suffice to say, I’m not really enamored with, or bamboozled by, Happ’s really good 2017 numbers, and wouldn’t pay the appropriate prices for those if we all thought they were real and not a mirage.) In any case, they fell through, and we needed someone else to fill the Happ role.

Very luckily for the sim-Braves, the Dodgers had declined Logan Forsythe’s option. Why they did so, rather than just throwing money at him and literally every other player in existence, confuses me. Forsythe is a career 2.1 fWAR/600 player who finished a 2.3 fWAR/600 season and is 30 years old. At worst, he’s a great bench guy, and that sort of thing is really what we needed to round out the roster. (At best, he’s a legitimate starter in his own right, and given that he traditionally pounds lefties, he’s a wonderful platoon partner that can fill in everywhere.)

We potentially could have signed Forsythe for less, but real life (work issues) were getting in the way, so I just offered a bit more to lock it down to begin with. The AAV of this deal is under $8 million, so it’s really kind of a bargain unless you think he’s going to transform from an average regular to an average bench player pretty quickly. There were other options here, but Forsythe made the most sense given his platoon splits. Lots of available players could have filled this role, but whichever of my compatriots noticed Forsythe and suggested him acted brilliantly in that moment.

Siegeface: IIRC, Ivan got on the horn with Max Rieper, who runs the SB Nation GM simulation and handles the free agent bidding, right before the window closed on Logan Forsythe. After plans to acquire Ian Happ fell through, Forsythe was identified by a couple of us as a great alternative to Happ. We needed someone that could feasibly play a corner if Tapia needed a platoon partner, as well as an insurance policy for the middle infield if either Albies or Swanson gets hurt or bombs out in 2018. Forsythe fits all of those criteria, plus he can fill in at 3B or 1B if something happens to Freeman or Seager. 3 years/$23.5MM is plenty fair value for Logan Forsythe, and we were more than willing to pay that price to fill out our bench with a playoff caliber super utility guy.

BravesRays: Had we dumped Kemp and added Tapia before the sim began, a guy like Howie Kendrick, who signed for 1/$6.5 probably would have been a better alternative to Frosty, but by the time we dumped Kemp — which we didn’t expect would happen without taking a prospect bath, something that none of us were willing to do — many of the free agents had already signed. [Howie Kendrick would indeed have been a great choice, and one that never occurred to me. This is why you should work in teams, people.]

Frosty was one of the last decent players around when we were bidding for him, which may have driven up his price up a bit. As a Rays fan, I like Frosty. He mashes lefties, and the Braves could use that in the line-up. I like him to be roughly in a 2 WAR player in 450 PAs or so. His xwOBA on contact this year was .363, better than it was in his breakout 2015 season and about 30 points better than his actual wOBA on contact in 2017. Also, there weren’t a lot of red flags in his offensive profile (his BB/K rate was the best of his career).

He can probably play an acceptable LF, though I’d be more certain of that if he had a bit more footspeed. Between Tapia, Forsythe, and Lane Adams, the Braves probably have enough “spaghetti against the wall” in left field that something will stick, even though each of them carry some uncertainty.

Stuff that we discussed, that didn’t happen

A lot of conversations were had, both internally and with other GMs, about things that never came to fruition. I owe a debt to rajah for remembering and cataloging this, because my take on a lot of stuff that didn’t come to fruition was just to move on and not really file it away for later use or remembrance.

  • We batted around many ideas for a platoon/fourth outfielder candidate, including Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Jason Kipnis, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, Giancarlo Stanton, everyone on the Cardinals, Jurickson Profar, Willie Calhoun, Delino DeShields, Jr., Ian Happ, etc. Some of these got to the “reach out” stage, including Kipnis and Calhoun. Happ seemed to be one where there was the most mutual interest (Calhoun was dealt by the time we inquired), we didn’t hear back on some others, and the price for Happ ended up being way too high.
  • We really wanted to dump Matt Adams on the Rays, and had Jake Odorizzi as a possible target to facilitate a swap. There was zero interest at the beginning of the sim on their part, and zero at the end. There was also zero interest on their part in a Chris Archer trade, which we aimed for at the very end since we had prospects and salary space to spare.
  • At one point, the Diamondbacks asked us about Dustin Peterson, which was kind of weird, because, really, Dustin Peterson? We were willing to entertain pretty much anything on that front, and never heard back.
  • Rajah floated the idea of a Twins middle infielder, e.g., Jorge Polanco, as Swanson insurance. I think it would’ve been fine, I just wasn’t really enamored with moving stuff for insurance that I didn’t think had great upside.
  • We also tried to move Adams to the Rockies towards the end, when they expressed interest, but my work schedule got in the way again, as they instead pulled off a deal for Justin Bour. We probably could have moved Adams had I been quicker to the punch. Peter Lambert and Colton Welker were the names rajah had in mind in an Adams swap. We later tried moving Adams to the Rays for something like Josh Lowe, Garrett Whitley, or Adrian Rondon (whom rajah describes as “lottery tickets”), but they got a 1B candidate from elsewhere.
  • There were discussions with the Athletics about Matt Joyce, because you know I love Matt Joyce. Unfortunately the price was far too high (a la Christian Pache), and instead the “negotiations” developed into a highly enjoyable vaudeville where we discussed trading Drew Waters for Athletics GM David Forst. And then trying to invite either sim-David Forst or the real David Forst into our Slack channel. As rajah points out, this actually had a precedent because the Red Sox received compensation for Theo Epstein moving to Chicago, in the form of Chris Carpenter (not that one), a four-A pitcher with nothing real of note other than being part of this trade. Would you trade an Akeel Morris, a Caleb Dirks, a Matt Wisler for a targeted GM upgrade? I would.
  • Boston’s offer for Dickey gave us a variety of choices, including (rajah’s commentary on each in parentheses) Bryce Brentz (4A guy at this point), CJ Chatham (meh), Bobby Dalbec (meh), Aneurys Tavarez (meh), Cole Brannen (toolsy 2017 second rounder in the Drew Waters vein), Marco Hernandez, or Lin. The latter two are utility infielders. Per rajah, he found Brannen interesting, but I wanted a bit of a handcuff for the infield, and Lin came with both interest and team control. Hernandez seems to perhaps have a better arm but he’s older and hasn’t shown the same changes to start elevating the ball like Lin, so eh.
  • After the Happ-for-Allard deal grew out of control, we had to go back to look at the OF market to find a partner for Tapia. We batted around ideas on Jason Kipnis (a salary dump harder to make work now that Kemp wasn’t on the roster), Wil Myers, Jose Bautista, Cameron Maybin, Logan Forsythe, and Delino DeShields, Jr. I liked Forsythe the best because of his penchant of mashing lefties, and the fact that he was not that old (like Bautista), not necessarily yet in decline, and wouldn’t involve protracted negotiations to acquire. Forysthe also jumped out at us because he could fill a similar role to Happ, whereas some of the other options were strictly outfielders.
  • At the very end, we tried to shop Camargo, Matt Adams, and Jim Johnson (including full salaries for the latter two if we could get anything), but most of the sim activity took place well before Wednesday, and as such, there were no takers. Rajah also made a good point that a late-in-the-sim return for Camargo and Jim Johnson probably wouldn’t be of any interest to anyone, but I don’t think we got a single call either way.
  • I did entertain the idea of getting Martin Prado back here and there, but his contract is actually pretty onerous (something like $28M over the next two years), and he had moved to a different club by the time salary was less of an issue. I did, however, write a haiku as a response to a Prado-for-Markakis swap, so that was a highlight of the sim for me.
  • We had some discussions with the Cubs around Victor Caratini and minor league third baseman Jason Vosler, but we had pretty much zero interest in the latter and the Cubs never secured a different backup catcher, making it hard to trade for Caratini. Caratini would also be blocked by Flowers and Gomes, with Alex Jackson potentially on his heels as well.

Siegeface: I do think it deserves mention that towards the end of the sim we were really pushing hard to get Chris Archer. This wasn’t really a realistic goal at the beginning of the sim, when we had a lot of dead money and no good options at 3B or LF. But after we miraculously made some significant improvements to the lineup (and the budget) without sacrificing anyone in the top five of our prospect list, it became feasible to consider putting together a serious offer for a top of the rotation guy. Alas, the Rays GM kept trying to push Jake Odorizzi, who as you may know is not Chris Archer. Archer was not for sale. Furthermore, one of the bittersweet issues of our accomplishments cutting the dead weight of Kempkakis meant we had a ton of money available to spend, but since it was freed up towards the end of the sim we had no one really to spend it on. So we were stuck in a position where we had $18MM of payroll and an elite level prospect package, but no one to really go get with it. C’est la vie.

BravesRays: After the sim I talked to the Rays GM about a potential Archer deal. He was set on keeping the Rays competitive, so even a package of Austin Riley, Kolby Allard, one of Max Fried/Touki Touissaint, one of Brett Cumberland/Abrahan Gutierrez/Drew Waters, and $17 million probably wouldn’t have been enough to get Archer. In other words, we never really had a chance at him.

Rajah: We maybe haven’t touched on every discussion that we had in what amounts to about a 65 hour exercise, but in total we’ve come pretty close. I think our results this year are amazing. Maybe we got very lucky with some of the proposals that other teams happened to make to us, and maybe our biggest success was having the restraint to not hurt ourselves much of the time, but at any rate I’d be quite happy if the real Braves did something like this.

Siegeface: I would put up our results this year with any of the other GMs in the sim, and if the 2018 Braves were able to pull this off in real life I’d be ecstatic. We traded away all of our bad contracts, filled in the voids of the lineup and bullpen with imminently capable options, and didn’t have to give up a single prospect above Single-A Ball. This is a playoff team as currently constructed, and there’s plenty of help on the way in the minors.