It’s that time of year again — our friends over at Royals Review convened the annual MLB GM simulation. Like last year, I got to play GM for the Twins for a few days. With a flurry of trades and a few free agent signings, I put together a team I think should be able to take advantage of our weak AL Central competition and make a deep playoff run. The short version of the rules are:
- We rewind to the end of the regular season. The assumption is your GM has resigned and been replaced. The new GM is free to set their own organizational philosophy.
- Each team has a “recommended” budget. We weren’t concerned with the 40 man roster, or options.
- Players with no-trade clauses could not be traded (this includes players with 10-5 rights). Players with limited no-trade clauses could be traded, but the commissioner/super agent reserved the right to veto it if he thought the player would not accept the trade.
- Minor leaguers could be traded, but must be specified. No Players to be Named Later. Cash could also be dealt, but the amount must be specified.
- Teams were free to frontload or backload contracts, although player preferences are for contracts not to be backloaded. Anything ridiculous would not be accepted. We could offer player, club, mutual, and vesting options.
- Top offer was typically taken, although there may have been exceptions if a player had a preference on where he wants to play (big market over small market; older vet may want to play for a “winner.”)
- No negotiating long-term deals for players that are not free agents (just to keep things sane.)
I’ll give you the full rundown of how things unfolded and my logic in a bit, but with no further ado, here is the opening day roster for the 2019 fake Twins.
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Jose Berrios
LHP Steven Matz
RHP Frankie Montas
RHP Michael Pineda
RHP Shane Carle
RHP Joe Smith
LHP Paul Fry
RHP Brandon Kintzler
RHP Trevor Hildenberger
LHP Sam Freeman
RHP Brad Brach
Miguel Sano (R)
Jonathan Villar (S)
Zack Cozart (R)
Joe Mauer (L)
Ehire Adrianza (S)
Eddie Rosario (L)
Max Kepler (L)
Avisail Garcia (R)
David Peralta (L)
Mitch Garver (R)
Blake Swihart (S)
Willians Astudillo (R)
Chris Davis (L)
The following players will be waiting in the minor leagues for an opportunity, which will surely come.
RHP Fernando Romero
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kohl Stewart
LHP Adalberto Mejia
RHP Zack Littell
RHP Aaron Slegers
LHP Steven Brault
RHP Chase De Jong
RHP Alan Busenitz
RHP John Curtiss
LHP Gabriel Moya
LHP Andrew Vasquez
RHP Tyler Duffey
RHP Carson Fulmer
RHP Matt Belisle
RHP Blaine Boyer
LHP Zach Duke
IF Hanser Alberto (R)
IF Kevin Newman (R)
IF Drew Ward (L)
OF Zack Granite (L)
OF LaMonte Wade (L)
OF Brandon Barnes (R)
C Raudy Read (R)
C Rene Rivera (R)
Before you beat me up too much in the comments, lets roll through how this happened, and the logic involved.
Prior to the start of free agency, teams had a 48-hour “legal tampering” period where they could engage with each other on trade talks, and a couple deals started here. I entered the simulation with the idea of fielding a competitive team in 2019, but truly competing in 2020 and 2021. That evolved a bit based on the way things played out, but the first few deals played out with this mindset. I also valued positional versatility very highly, which I’m sure you noticed from my final roster. Almost every position player can cover two or more positions at a reasonable MLB level.
The Angels offered Cozart in exchange for Robbie Grossman, and I accepted. Grossman is a nice role player, but a bit redundant, and we needed some middle infielders. Cozart was a nice piece to add because he can play second base, third base, or shortstop. He was an all-star in 2017, and hit well for years in Cincinnati before struggle in LA this season. Perhaps stepping out of the bright lights, and in to a smaller market will help him. He is 32, but we are only on the hook for two years of his salary. He will be my starting second baseman in 2019.
The second trade hurt a bit more, moving Jorge Polanco to the Pirates, and picking up Kevin Newman and Steven Brault. Again, I was looking at delaying my window a bit, and as much as I hated to break up Kramer and Newman, adding the pitcher seemed to be worth the slight step back. Newman can, again, play third, second, or short; plus has a slightly higher ceiling than Polanco. He probably takes over from Cozart in 2020. Brault is a left-handed pitcher who can fit into the back end of a MLB rotation, and is still pre-arbitration.
I also started to put together the framework of the deals for Davis and Villar, and for Greinke at this stage, although they took a bit longer to develop. As free agency opened up, trades were still flying around, but there was one player I knew I wanted to offer a deal to — Joe Mauer. I gave Mauer his choice of three offers. Offer one was a position in baseball operations that would have him home every night. Offer two was a one year deal for $7.5 million; and offer three was a three year deal at $17.5 million, with $6.5 million in year one, and mutual options at $5.5 million in years two and three. Mauer chose to accept the one year deal, and return to the team.
Once I knew the Mauer deal was in place, my interest in trading with the Orioles waned a bit. They wanted out of Davis’ contract, and we had the space to absorb it, but I already had two first basemen in Austin and Mauer. In return for taking Davis’ contract I wanted Villar. Once Fry, an intriguing lefty reliever, was thrown in, it just came down to price. The O’s wanted Gordon plus another prospect, and we settled on Anthony McIver. Villar is under arbitration through 2020, and would serve as a good stop-gap until Royce Lewis or Wander Javier was ready for the big time. Villar has played primarily shortstop, but has also played a lot of second base, and a total of six positions. When I took on Davis’ contract, my thought was to eat about 2⁄3 of his salary, and shop him. I ended up getting a bit more interest in Tyler Austin, so moved Austin and kept Davis. Although Davis struggled last season, he isn’t far removed from an all-star appearance, and is only 32 years old. He may never hit .260 again, but if he can hit 35 home runs, he has value. With most of my core under arbitration until at least 2021, paying Davis $17 million per year through 2022 won’t handicap me too much, and he can always be moved with some cash later. Fry is an interesting pitcher. He’s a 26-year old left-handed reliever who pitched well in his debut season with Baltimore. Think of him as a slightly better version of Gabriel Moya.
A lot of other teams expressed trade interest in various Twins outfielders. Byron Buxton and Max Kepler were the most popular names — surprisingly no one even asked about Eddie Rosario. Several teams made appealing offers on one or both of them, and I was only willing to move one of the two. The best deal I received was from the Mets. They offered Steven Matz for Buxton, and were willing to throw in Anthony Kay if I included Trevor Hildenberger. I preferred to keep Hildy, and we agreed on Buxton, Addison Reed, and four million dollars going their way, in return for the left-handers Matz and Kay. Matz is only 24 years old, and has produced a sub-4.00 ERA in 71 MLB starts. He does have a terrible win-loss record, but he played for the LOLMets. He’s under team control until 2021. Kay is a highly regarded left handed starter pitching in the lower minors. Max Kepler is capable of being my centerfielder in this scenario. Buxton still has nearly unlimited potential, but I feared another low-production, injury-marred season would drastically lower his value.
Jake Cave was a player I hadn’t planned to move, but keep in mind how cheaply the Twins acquired him. Once I was able to get Atlanta to give me Shane Carle in exchange, I couldn’t resist. Carle had a good season last year, and is still young and cheap. He fits well into the group of developing relievers the Twins already have.
Another player I hadn’t planned to move was Lewis Thorpe, but Oakland was very interested, and was willing to give me Frankie Montas, another young pitcher who could put some things together. He put together a career-best year last season, despite his strikeout rates dropping to an incredibly low number. If we can keep the other improvements and bring the whiffs back, he could be a huge asset, and is also still being paid a pre-arbitration salary. Adding Kay from the Mets helps to offset the loss of Thorpe as well.
The Greinke offers came down to myself and one other team. I had offered Jordan Balazovic, and another team offered a lower pitching prospect, but also a catcher prospect. In order to seal the deal, I threw in Andrew Cosgrove. At this point, I started to really think about competing sooner rather than later; because I had the pieces coming together, and Cleveland was inexplicably selling off pieces (they traded away Kluber!)
With Buxton, Cave, and Grossman gone, I needed an everyday right fielder. The White Sox offered me Avisail Garcia in exchange for Kyle Gibson. Gibson was expendable due to my other acquisitions, and the salaries balanced out. Both players have one season of arbitration left. I believe that one more year in the minors will have LaMonte Wade ready to take over in 2020, soone year of Garcia made sense. We also exchanged Luke Raley and Jordan Guerrero in the deal. Guerrero is an interesting prospect, he’s been a left-handed starter in the minors, but projects to be a part of Chicago’s bullpen this season.
One of the earliest trade talks had also been with the Chicago Cubs to acquire Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Kintzler, but with Greinke in the fold, Chatwood was no longer a piece we needed. Kintzler had a $10 million team option, which Chicago declined, and a $5 million player option, which he accepted. At that price, I wanted him badly to serve as veteran leader in the bullpen, a set-up man, and a potential closer if others failed. Chicago had been interested in Jhoan Duran in the earlier package, so we agreed to a one-for-one swap of the two players. It might have been a bit steep for a one-year pitcher, but the Cubs GM is a very good negotiator, and you usually have to overpay him a bit.
With the world-series-or-bust attitude I was embracing, I wasn’t comfortable going into the season with Granite as my fourth outfielder, so started looking for player who could cover all three positions, and hit off the bench. Arizona was shopping David Peralta, and solved my DH backlog by trading him for Tyler Austin.
Washington also came knocking, asking about Trevor May. While I like May, he was made somewhat expendable by the bullpen depth that I was starting to build. They were willing to send me a couple of prospects who could contribute soon, Raudy Read and Drew Ward, so the deal was struck. Read is a 25-year old catcher with a cup of coffee in the majors, and great minor league batting numbers. Ward is 23 years old and plays third base. He reached triple-A last season, and gives me a bit of a back-up plan if Miguel Sano cannot stick in the position.
For payroll reasons, I had two other players I wanted to move elsewhere. The first was Jake Odorizzi. I would have non-tendered him if it came down to it, so got what value I could instead, and traded him to the Texas Rangers for Hanser Alberto. Alberto reminds me a bit of Adrianza when he came to the Twins, so this could be a sneaky good move. Alberto hasn’t hit well in a few brief MLB stints, but worst case can fill a role similar to what Gregorio Petit offered the 2018 Twins. It also saved me around nine million dollars.
The other player whose contract I wanted out of was Jason Castro. Mitch Garver has proven to me that he can be my primary backstop, and Castro wasn’t terribly cheap. We went back to trading within the division, and got the White Sox to trade Carson Fulmer for Castro and two million. This gave us about six million dollars in salary relief, and a lottery ticket in Fulmer, who I plan to convert to a reliever. While he has struggled to put it together as a starter, I think his stuff will play well in bullpen.
At the same time, I had a couple more deals cooking. Joe Smith was acquired from Houston for Lewin Diaz to add another veteran reliever to the pen. Smith is on the wrong side of age 30, but has a remarkably consistent track record, and projects to give me 50ish innings at a sub-4.00 ERA. Sam Freeman was added from the Braves in exchange for Luis Severino, so that I felt comfortable making my next move. Freeman has become a bit of LOOGY, but is a pretty decent one.
The Red Sox had expressed interest in Taylor Rogers for awhile. I had initially held out, and I like Rogers, but with the players added to the bullpen, I felt okay trading him, and got back a huge target in Blake Swihart. That deal also cost me Luis Arraez, but I wanted Swihart badly for his positional versatility. By keeping both Swihart and Astudillo on my roster, I have two players who can handle almost any position on a given day. As a side note, Two of my three catchers now hail from the same hometown, which I find quite enjoyable.
Finally, since I was committed to winning it all, I went over my payroll threshold by about ten percent to add one of the top free agent relievers, Brad Brach. I had offered him a contract earlier in the offseason for a 3 year deal. Year one was for $8 million, year two for $12 million and year three was a team option which vested at 80 inning pitched, for $14 million. Since he was finally willing to sign, we reached out to our ownership, got permission to overspend a bit, and took advantage of the opportunity.
I finished the offseason by adding depth on minor league deals. I primarily reunited with some old friends. Matt Belisle, Blaine Boyer, Zach Duke, and Rene Rivera were all willing to come aboard at that price, as was outfielder Brandon Barnes. While none of these players may have much to offer any more, they are also very affordable, and won’t take up a roster spot unless they show something, or I need them.
One last move was just for fun — with some time left on the clock, and some bored GM’s who had a pretty set roster, an idle conversation in Slack turned into a four-way trade. Twins send Kody Funderburk to Cubs; Cubs send Edmund Americaan to Pirates; Pirates send Lizardy Dicent to As; and As send Gio Dingcong to Twins. Yes, we were just swapping rookie-league guys with fun names. You’re welcome!
Remember what I said about coveting positional versatility? All of my middle infielders can play anywhere in the infield. Both Swihart and Astudillo were an intentional sacrifice of some catching prowess to gain the ability to play as a super-utility guy. Villar has played a decent amount of outfield, and Adrianza has experience there as well. I have four outfielders on my MLB roster, and all four can credibly cover centerfield if needed. This team is certainly not injury-proof, but is constructed to be able to give guys a day off as needed. Hopefully this will prevent some injuries, and line us up for a deep playoff run.
The starting staff looks to be strong, but if anyone falters or suffers an injury, there is enough potential waiting behind them that the leashes will be very short, especially for the guys with options.
My bullpen will start the season with Hildenberger in the closer role. Brach will be my “bullpen ace” however, and pick up the highest leverage situations, no matter the inning. Freeman and Kintzler will serve in a set-up role from each side of the mound. Carle and Fry will likely be my inning-eaters, and spend a lot of time on a plane, as I swap them in-and-out with fresh arms. I have plenty of arms here, as well, if anyone struggles; and the roles will be very fluid, depending on player success.
Since we ended up going all-in on the next three seasons, I, as GM, was able to convince the ownership to spend about 10% above the projected salary totals. I think this idea is supported by statements made publically in real life by Terry Ryan, Derek Falvey, and Jim Pohlad. They have all stated that the team is willing to spend if it is the right baseball move. In this case, it was the Smith and Brach deals that put me over the spending limit, and two very good relievers pushed me over the edge in terms of contention, in my opinion.
I did give up some pieces in the farm system, but also added a few players, and kept most of the top prospects. For a team that is all-in, we will also be well positioned to succeed long-term, with a wave of prospects slated to arrive as my current window starts to close.
Some total numbers:
Players traded away: 21
Players added by trade: 20
Free agents signed: 7
Total 2019 payroll: $149,231,667
Recommended 2019 payroll: $135,000,000
Payroll committed for 2020: $66,166,667 (not factoring in arbitration salaries)
Was this totally realistic? Not at all — no team would make this many trades in real life. But it was fun.
As always, a ton of thanks go out to Max Rieper for putting this on, and a shout out to my fellow GM’s. If any of you want to jump in the comments with your side of the story, Twinkie Town would love hear your takes.
Time for you to sound off. A couple quick polls, and then lets hear the comments!
Grade the Fake Twins offseason
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How many games do the Fake Twins win?
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69 or fewer