Earlier this week, as occurs after every World Series, SB Nation holds a massive offseason simulation, courtesy of Max Rieper at Royals Review. This was my third time taking “Fake GM” duties, and I’m proudest of this effort as opposed to the two others. (Eric and I did this one a couple of years ago, and a rowdier/wider group of us did something else the following year. That’s two separate links, there, by the way.)
This year, I was joined by the impeccable talents of TC commentariat members Siegeface, rajah, and BravesRays, and we had a grand old time in a Slack channel, mostly consisting of me going “I don’t know who [random #25 Twins prospect] is” and posting Wil Myers radial charts and Ian Happ heatmaps into the chat, while the others actually contributed useful ideas and knowledge. Sometimes, I use “I” below, when I really should say “we.” That’s more of an issue with my writing than anything else; rest assured that all of the moves you consider inspired during this sim on the sim-Braves’ part were the result of my collaborators’ contributions, and all the moves you consider boneheaded were my fault, and no one else’s.
[Paid advertisements from my collaborators follow below.]
BravesRays: Ivan’s too humble. He ran point on the sim, dealt with the sometimes vague, stubborn, and confusing offers and counteroffers of other GMs, and provided more than his fair share of analysis in our Slack channel, all while crunched at work. It’s yeoman’s work he does, and the TC community is lucky to have him.
Siegeface: Yeah don’t kid yourself here. We just bombarded you with crazy ideas for a few days, you’re the one dealing with 29 other sim GMs. We’re just along for the ride while you are steering the ship.
[Okay, done with paid advertisements now.]
If you only care about the moves themselves, and the analysis therein, I suggest that you scroll to the bottom of this post, and look out for the companion piece that will analyze each move. If you want to read me blather about overall strategy and considerations, that’s what this post is.
As I indicated in the fanpost soliciting ideas and so on, I was actually kind of dreading this exercise. Not so much the process of doing it, but because the current state of the Braves imparts somewhere between a frisson and a pang of terror unto mine soul. In fact, before the whole “John Coppolella resigns” bombshell hit, I had a post all fired up and ready to go, after how I really wouldn’t envy the Atlanta Braves Front Office for the 2018 offseason. The thesis was valid, but not for the same reasons -- while being the focus of an MLB investigation is one thing, there’s a bigger existential issue at play.
The Braves are at a weird crossroads. For one, they’re not very good. And when they haven’t been very good for the last few years, they haven’t done so by letting young players play and fail; they’ve been bad while fielding one of the oldest and most-predictable teams in the majors. So now, we come to 2018, which will mark Year 4 of the rebuild timeline. The main question, and really the only question is: are the Braves going to be good? From the perspective of the Front Office (such as it is), that’s not a rhetorical one, as moves can be made to make the Braves good, or not so good.
Therein lies the trepidation. Could the Braves be good in 2018? Certainly. Should the Braves be good in 2018? In other words, at what price glory, wherein “glory” means “2018 success.” There are paths to take, but they are full of uncertainty. The Braves can’t upgrade the roster in any meaningful way without expending either prospect capital or committing to large free agent deals, and that’s the challenge: if you trade away the wrong prospects, or trade for the wrong players, or make the wrong big-money signings, you’ve actually set the rebuild back. But without doing those things, what have you really done? Doomed the fans to yet another meaningless season that wends on through the summer with a double-digit deficit in the standings? These aren’t great choices.
A further quandary has to do with the fact that Braves have made their bed in many, many roster slots, and now they have to lie in it. If you look, C, 1B, 2B, SS, and CF are spoken for, and Ronald Acuna is on his way to Atlanta, atop a destrier and clad in a sparkling white set of plate mail (we hope). There are more major-league viable (again, we hope) starting pitcher candidates than there are rotation spots. 3B is an open question, there’s the Kempkakis tragedy on the books and maybe in the field, and when the team gets serious, it will be time to build a real bullpen, and not a rotating cast of castoffs. (Sometimes, those castoffs are good, like Sam Freeman. Often, they’re really bad. Remember David Aardsma? How about Ross Detwiler? I actually didn’t remember Ross Detwiler, confusing him with Tyler Clippard, who never pitched for the Braves.)
The last two years in the GM sim, I kind of stood pat. As I emailed my sim GM counterparts back then, “We’re going to let our young players tell us when they’re ready to compete.” That statement is about as content-free as possible, for decision-making or strategic purposes. I know, and I apologize for saying it. This year, though, I think we did a decent job of creating a team that actually holds to that ethos really well. As you’ll see, the SB GM Simulation 2018 Atlanta Braves can compete, not just for a Wild Card spot, but for a division… if the young players are good. If they’re not, though, it’ll be more of the same. Was that potential, the glimmer of hope for an exciting season that can actually become something more, something akin to a ray of competitive baseball, worth the cost? I think so. Maybe you don’t. Either way, it was fun, and that’s where we are.
In reality, this strategy mostly hinged on Kyle Seager. I really like Kyle Seager. Since his debut, only 16 position players have put up more fWAR, and only 10 pitchers. If you move the goalposts to 2012, his first full season, the lists shrink to 13 and six, respectively. Now, Kyle Seager is getting on in years (he turned 30 a few days ago, making him just slightly younger than me), and his contract isn’t cheap, paying him around $19 million in each of the next four seasons. But, the Braves have a hole at 3B. Upgrading 3B is the single biggest move the Braves could make to compete (you could argue that the case is similar here for LF, but with Nick Markakis pushed to LF when Acuna rides into Atlanta, the floor for 3B is lower). So, my first email was to Seattle, to ask on Seager’s availability. To my astonishment, they said that yes, they’d be willing to move some of their major league players, including Seager. That set up the strategy, and the rest stemmed from that.
You’ll see that the moves upgraded the position player core and the bullpen, but didn’t touch the starting pitching. The Braves have a lot of moving parts in the rotation, and picking winners and losers there seems difficult. (I pick Luiz Gohara to be a winner, though.) Yu Darvish signed for $140 million over six seasons. Alex Cobb signed for $62 million over four years. Jake Arrieta was the only pitcher I bid on, and only after a lot of cash had been freed up, but it was half-hearted. We bid around $80 million for four years (I believe it was actually $76 million), and the winning amount was $88 million over the same length. So, we could have had Arrieta if we really wanted to, but that seems in some ways even riskier than just letting the kids pitch. Maybe that was wrong, but I’m not too confident in Arrieta’s viability long-term, given his peak and decline. The rotation is really the linchpin, or, I guess, the fulcrum. If the Braves can do what this rebuild apparently intended to do: field a really good rotation on the cheap, the 2018 sim-Braves will be really, really good. If they’re just kind of generically average, it’ll likely be a competitive year, albeit not one with superb odds for a playoff berth unless the position players really outperform. If they’re bad, well… that’s kind of on me, but that’s really on the rebuild as a whole.
List of Moves
Deals do not include extra money changing hands unless otherwise specified, which is to say, not at all. All players traded were with their entire commitments intact.
Analysis of each move will be done in a later post; this one is already really long.
- Flowers and Dickey had their options picked up. Dickey did not, in fact, retire in the simulation.
- Tommy Hunter, right-handed reliever, signed: $10M/2.
- Sam Freeman traded to the Indians for catcher Yan Gomes.
- Sergio Romo, right-handed reliever, signed: $3M/1.
- Kurt Suzuki traded to the Rockies for left-handed reliever Mike Dunn and outfielder Raimel Tapia (sorry, Kurt, but you’ll put up crazy stats in Coors).
- Matt Kemp, Freddy Tarnok, and Kyle Muller traded to the White Sox for minor league right-handed starter Matt Cooper (this is just a salary dump, but what a salary dump it is).
- Ian Krol traded to the Astros for minor league left-handed reliever Devon Carr (Krol would have been non-tendered otherwise).
- Nick Markakis traded to the Astros for right-handed pitcher Mike Fiers.
- Jace Peterson and Danny Santana non-tendered; contracts tendered for remaining arbitration-eligible players, including Matt Adams.
- Kevin Maitan and Joey Wentz traded to the Mariners for third baseman Kyle Seager and left-handed reliever Tony Zych.
- R.A. Dickey traded to the Red Sox for shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin.
- Logan Forsythe, infielder/outfielder, signed: $23.5M/3.
(I did not make any minor league signings because the process was kind of unrewarding, with no negotiation. It’s not an issue, it’s just not really a creative or interactive exercise. Take your pick of random guys and sign them to minor league deals in your head; it likely won’t matter in the end.)
That list is chronological, and you’ll notice the Seager deal is nearly at the end. If it had fallen through, that would have been kind of lame, as the other deals were partly made with it in mind. But, I had faith we could work something out, and after other dominoes fell for my Seattle counterparts, we came to an agreement.
BravesRays: In addition to the general vision laid out by Ivan, we had more specific hopes of dumping the Kemp and Markakis contracts without sacrificing needed contributors at the big-league level or top prospects, but none of us had much faith it would happen with Kemp. We identified Sam Freeman and Suzuki as “sell high” candidates, Matt Adams as a player who might have more value to other teams than the Braves, and Maitan, Wentz, and Allard as prospects whose perceived value to outsiders likely exceeded our own estimations.
Siegeface: God bless the White Sox, man.
The roster is, essentially, as follows:
C: Tyler Flowers, Yan Gomes
1B: Freddie Freeman, Matt Adams
2B: Ozzie Albies
SS: Dansby Swanson
3B: Kyle Seager
LF: Raimel Tapia
CF: Ender Inciarte
RF: Ronald Acuna
Other bench players: Johan Camargo, Logan Forsythe, (Tzu-Wei Lin if the team only carriers seven relievers).
SP: Luiz Gohara, Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Max Fried (with alternatives in the form of Lucas Sims, Mike Fiers, Aaron Blair, Matt Wisler, etc., and further reinforcements midseason)
Left-handed relief: A.J. Minter, Mike Dunn
Right-handed relief: Arodys Vizcaino, Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo, Daniel Winkler, Jim Johnson, Mike Fiers, Jose Ramirez, etc. etc. etc.)
The payroll is around $110 million. That’s actually a reduction over last year’s Opening Day payroll of $122 million, and a bit lower than the current 2018 Opening Day estimate of around $114 million or so, assuming no upgrades. There’s some flexibility there to do stuff, both in terms of payroll and prospects, especially given that according to the Community Prospect List, only #6, #8, #19, and #27 were traded away.
As far as very rough WAR projections (these are not the official IWAG projections, but I can provide those in the comments for folks interested):
1B: 5 +/- 1
2B: 3.5 +/- 1.5 (overly aggressive?)
SS: 1 +/- 1
LF: [I have no idea]
RF: [I have no idea]
That gives the position player corps 19.5, with a very clear variable range of around 16 to 23, before taking Acuna and Tapia/Forsythe in left field into account. If we assume that the combination of those is average, that’s +4, and maybe the range is something quite high, such as +/- 4. So perhaps we can say that the position player estimate is really +23.5, with an effective range of 16 to 31.
The bullpen, if it’s average, will manage +4 or so. It could be +/-2 given actual reliever variation. So now we’re to something like +27.5 with an effective range of 18 to 37.
That leaves the rotation. I don’t know what this rotation is going to do. If the position players and bullpen are indeed +27.5, and you need 37.5 wins (85 minus 47.5) to be an 85-win team, then that’s a 10-win gap; in other words, an average rotation leads to a contender. If the young guys play better (say, 31 total wins) and you have an average rotation to boot, that’s an 88-89 win team. Of course, this also breaks the other way, and you can do the quick math yourself. Bottom line, you’re looking for about 37.5 wins for a Wild Card contender, and about 42.5 wins for a division contender. There’s definitely a chance of hitting those marks, which is far more than you could say for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 teams.
Detailed moves analysis to come...