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SB Nation offseason sim: It's a wrap

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The Twins are better...but was it enough?

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Excuse my absence on this topic over the last couple of days. Living in the sticks means unreliable internet at times, and it kept me from getting on the laptop since Monday. Such are the dangers of rural living.

As far as the SB Nation off-season simulation goes, you can see my wrap on days one and two here. Here's what actually went down on days three and four, followed by an analysis of this year's process and some insight into some of the things that did - and did not - happen.

Transactions, Days 3 and 4

Twins non-tender Kevin Jepsen
Twins non-tender Casey Fien
Twins non-tender Tommy Milone
Twins sign IF Kelly Johnson to one-year, $3.5 million contract
Twins sign OF Peter Bourjos to minor league contract

First, yes. I signed Peter Bourjos. I obviously didn't need him, but I couldn't help myself. I thought you all would appreciate it. My other move was signing Johnson. I needed another useful player off of my bench, and he played every position except catcher, pitcher, and center field in 2015. He's got a little bit of pop left too, which is a bonus.

What stands out for me in terms of this simulation are A) the things that I couldn't pull off, and B) the exorbitant prices that free agents get on the free agent market. I knew the second point already of course, which is why I focused so extensively on trades in this simulation. Even there, I think you'll agree, the prices were high. No, it wasn't anything exorbitant or anything the organization couldn't absorb, but it was still a seller's market.

On the trade fronts, my targets included:

  • Jonathan Lucroy - The Brewer's GM originally asked for a package headed by either Jose Berrios or Max Kepler. I was willing to deal one of them, but my preference was to hold Berrios; the outfield had a bit more depth. The best package I offered was Max Kepler, Kohl Stewart, and then Stephen Gonsalves or Nick Burdi. I was willing to negotiate, but once the Brewers GM changed his mind and asked for both Kepler and Berrios together there was little I could do.
  • Stephen Strasburg - When the Nationals' GM mentioned in his reply to me that he was also looking to move Ryan Zimmerman (and eat salary), I tried to put together a super package. First and foremost, I saw it as an opportunity to acquire the front-line starter I wanted. Second, I saw it as an opportunity to shift Ricky Nolasco's contract. He wanted relief pitching, catching and first base help, and so for Strasburg, Zimmerman, and Drew Storen, I offered Max Kepler, Aaron Hicks, Felix Jorge, Ricky Nolasco, Ryan Pressly, Casey Fien, Mitch Garver, and Kennys Vargas. It was a low offer, but in further negotiations there was a disconnect in how each of us valued our own pieces. In the end we whittled it down to Zimmerman for Nolasco and Walker. I'd just acquired Alvarez as well, but he was an inferior bat and superfluous so I threw him into the offer as well to ensure I could shed his salary.
  • Jose Fernandez - While discussing Carter Capps (who the Marlins wanted three of our top 20 prospects for, including one player in our top ten), conversation eventually shifted to Fernandez. My initial offer was Max Kepler, Kohl Stewart, Jorge Polanco, Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Danny Santana (he wanted a guy to play infield and outfield). He liked the offer but was tempted away by an offer from Boston including Yoan Moncada and Clint Frazier, saying my offer would need to include Byron buxton to saw him. I did offer Buxton, with three other prospects, but ultimately there was little I could do. He wanted Moncada, and it's hard to blame him.
  • Shelby Miller - I had an opportunity to acquire Miller, but the demand was exceptionally steep and, to be honest, his peripherals weren't that encouraging. Considering the cost I was happy to give those opportunities to Tyler Duffey or Trevor May.
  • Giancarlo Stanton - When Fernandez fell through, the Marlins' GM and I continued talking. I offered Byron Buxton, Kohl Stewart, Tyler Jay, Stephen Gonsalves, and Trevor Plouffe for Stanton, which - again - I thought might not be enough. But he approved. My outfield would have been Rosario-Hicks-Stanton, with Kepler still in the wings, and pairing Stanton with Sano would have made the offense formidable. The independent arbiter of the simulation refused to waive Stanton's no-trade clause, however, killing the deal.
  • Derek Norris - I tried to include Norris in the Joaquin Benoit trade, but the Padres' GM was hesitant to move him.
  • Yan Gomes - The Indians' GM was ready to swap Gomes for Tyler Jay straight up. As I took time to think it over, he sent him to Tampa Bay for Jake McGee. Straight up. So, there's that.

Those players were my primary targets. There were a number of other discussions, including inquiries on Trevor May and Trevor Plouffe, but most of those involved offers for prospects. The Twins were better suited holding onto them both in the end.

On the free agent front, my targets included:

  • Jason Heyward - Remember when I non-tendered all those players and a few of you disapproved? It's because I thought I was getting Heyward. I still would have been closer to $130 million in payroll than $120 million, which was my rough target, but for a player of his caliber it would have been worth it. For a while, my ten-year, $270 million contract was the leading offer. But eventually the skewed economics of the sim came through, and I bowed out when the bidding hit $290 million. The Cardinals signed him for 11 years and $310 million in the end.
  • Zack Greinke - While in limbo with my Heyward offer and the Stanton trade awaiting news on the no-trade clause, Boston offered to pay half of Greinke's salary (up to $15 million per year for six years) for Max Kepler. It was unorthodox, but if I could land one of those outfielders and then Greinke I'd have put together a special team. But I wouldn't compete with the Yankees, who signed him to a seven-year, $210 million contract. Even if I'd matched that offer, I'd have been on the hook for $145 million for Greinke - including all $30 million in the last year of his contract. And I have no doubt that if I'd matched that offer, New York just would have bid more.
  • Yoenis Cespedes - I inquired on him late in the process because I wanted a hitter. At that time the high bid was six years and $185 million, which was an absolute joke. The White Sox signed him for seven years and $200 million.
  • Justin Morneau - I offered him a minor league contract with a $3 million dollar base salary if he made the roster, but didn't get a reply. Morneau remained a free agent at the end of the simulation.
Thoughts on aquisitions
  • Bullpen guys: Wood will be a premier left-handed bullpen arm. Neshek, Benoit, and Rodriguez aren't an overwhelming trio, but they'll be reliable and they'll miss bats. They'll also vacate the bullpen in the next year or so, making room for players like Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, and others. I know people think it was a mistake non-tendering Jepsen, but we're not going to miss him. His 2016 salary will be $2 million with the Padres.
  • Francisco Cervelli: He's not the long-term answer I was looking for, but as the best pitch-framing catcher in 2015 he'll help the Twins' rotation get the most out of their borderline offerings. Over the last two years he's been worth 5.1 fWAR and has hit .296/.370/.406 over the last two seasons.
  • Ryan Zimmerman: A slow start and injuries hobbled him early in 2015, but decent walk rates and his power will make him a threat as long as he's healthy. He'll provide backup at first and third, although Sano will take most of the third base opportunities when Plouffe isn't in the lineup. Considering the Nolasco trade, we're essentially getting him for $2 million in both 2016 and 2017. He hit .311/.372/.652 after returning from the disabled list at the end of July.
  • Kelly Johnson: With a career OPS 60 points higher than Nunez and considering it's probably a push on defensive skills, I'm content with this move as well.

Conclusions

As I've said after every other simulation, this is a learning process. In past years my goal was more about making the club better in the future while simply keeping the coming year's club competitive, but this year my goal was to actually make the Twins a contender. Which actually makes things more difficult. Because instead of offering most teams in the league your better players in order to make them better now, you're trying to convince the few other teams with the good players you need to give them to you so that you get better. Your options are limited. It turns into a seller's market with fewer teams bidding for those even fewer really good available players.

And in that sense it's easy to see how a club's off-season blueprint can change so quickly. Having the pieces to acquire a guy like Stephen Strasburg or Jose Fernandez isn't the same as having that team prefer your combination of players. Having offers accepted on second and third-string offers while your first choice is still deciding puts you in a bind, forced to choose between the possibility of getting the guy you want or the guarantee of an alternative option.

But that's just me commiserating on the challenges of pulling off what I was trying to pull off. I didn't get my big pitcher, but the bullpen is better and in the process of shedding Nolasco's salary I picked up a backup third baseman/first baseman who will serve as my primary designated hitter. Ryan Zimmerman will be a nice addition provided he stays healthy. Francisco Cervelli was the best pitch-framer in baseball in 2015, and he's a productive hitter for a catcher. Here's my 25-man roster.

Starting pitchers: Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey

Bullpen: Glen Perkins, Joaquin Benoit, Travis Wood, Francisco Rodriguez, Pat Neshek, Michael Tonkin, Ryan O'Rourke

Catchers: Francisco Cervelli, Kurt Suzuki

Infielders: Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, Eduardo Escobar, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Santana, Kelly Johnson

Outfielders: Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario

Lineup:

Byron Buxton (CF)
Joe Mauer (1B)
Brian Dozier (2B)
Miguel Sano (LF)
Ryan Zimmerman (DH)
Trevor Plouffe (3B)
Eddie Rosario (RF)
Francisco Cervelli (C)
Eduardo Escobar (SS)

Per John Sickels' top 20 Twins prospects list for 2016, I traded four players: Walker (#8), Chargois (#15), Harrison (#15), and Jones (#19). I'm comfortable with that, even though I didn't exactly achieve what I set out to achieve. I also came in right around my payroll ceiling, as this roster will cost the Twins $123 million.

Perhaps most encouraging is that the farm system has retained its best players. Jose Berrios, Max Kepler, Nick Gordon, Tyler Jay, Stephen Gonsalves and more remain in-house, ensuring the influx of talent won't taper off in the near-term.

With that I'll turn it over to you. We also recorded episode two of our podcast tonight, so look for that tomorrow - I'll review the SB Nation off-season sim in more detail there.