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2019 SBNation MLB GM simulation: The Shadow Twins push forward

How did TJ do as GM?

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Every year the good folks at Royals Review convene thirty baseball fans to simulate the MLB off season in three days. As in the past few seasons, I have run the shadow Twins, stepping into the metaphorical shoes of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. For several reasons, this was the most difficult simulation I’ve been involved in. Attempting to enhance the Twins contender status while staying within the constraints I was allowed challenged me more than this simulation ever has. I’m sure you didn’t really come to a baseball site to read 3,000 words about me playing make-believe, but here we are, I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did putting it together.

For each GM, you are to abide by the following ground rules:

  • 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.
  • We ditched the “budgets” this year in favor of “notes from the owners”, a few guidelines from ownership that we’ll reveal when the simulation is over.
  • We’re not concerned with the 40 man roster.
  • Players with no-trade clauses cannot be traded (this includes players with 10-5 rights). Players with limited no-trade clauses can be traded.
  • Minor leaguers can be traded, but must be specified. No Players to be Named Later. Cash may be dealt, but the amount must be specified.
  • You are free to frontload or backload contracts, although player preferences are for contracts not to be backloaded. Anything ridiculous will not be accepted. You can offer player, club, mutual, and vesting options.
  • Top offer will typically be taken, although there may be exceptions if a player has a preference on where he wants to play (big market over small market; older vet may want to play for a “winner.”)
  • I am not going to negotiate long-term deals for players that are not free agents.

In this simulation, contracts always get a bit wild, especially for the most desirable players. For example, Bryce Harper pulled 13 years and $515 million in last year’s version of this exercise and Clayton Kershaw took four years and $130 million to stay in LA.

Meanwhile, for this season I was given an approximate budget of $130 million, and told to find the pitchers that would allow us to take the next step. My exact instructions from ownership were:

$130 million was a bit of a shock to me, as the Twins record payroll in 2018 reached $129 million, and this is the year to go all in. I was expecting to see at least $145 million as a ceiling. Still, the notes from ownership are actually rather realistic, and I’m going to play by the rules. In addition to that guidance, I gave myself the goal of competing in multiple World Series while this core is still intact—essentially before 2023, and secondary goals of maintaining future payroll flexibility, and of not entirely gutting the farm system.

Through roughly 11 moves, I built a roster that I hope accomplishes all of those goals in a fairly reasonable manner. They’re broken down in order below, and then I go over the line up and some notes, and then you finally get a chance to grade me.

My starting payroll, including arbitration and league-minimum salaries was roughly $91 million. I was able to give myself roughly $21 million in additional flexibility with declined options and non-tenders, leaving myself with $70 million committed, and $60 million to spend. With that $60 million, I would need to find four starting pitchers who deserved to be in a playoff rotation, a new back-up catcher, bolster my bullpen, and fill in any other miscellaneous holes.

So, as much as I dream about adding Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg to the Twins, it probably isn’t going to happen. Here are the moves I made, in fitting with my goals, my strategy, and my limitations we discussed here.

Move #1

Decisions on players

The Minnesota Twins non-tendered C.J. Cron and Sam Dyson; and extended Qualifying Offers to Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. The Twins also exercised the option for Nelson Cruz, and bought out Martin Perez. Perez would eventually end up taking a minor league deal with the Rangers.

Dyson was an absolute no-brainer, as I saved six-and-half million, and he probably won’t pitch in the majors next season. He ended up getting two years and eight million from the Braves. Good luck in Atlanta, fake Snuckles!

Odorizzi turned down my QO, but Michael Pineda accepted it. Pineda will be suspended for the first 39 games of the season, but his performance down the stretch in 2019 was encouraging, and we believe he can be positive asset again. At $13.6 million, the pro-rated portion of his salary is fairly affordable, and it gives me good depth.

Move #2

Traded Tyler Duffey to the Washington Nationals for Sean Doolittle

Doolittle is a bit older, a bit more costly, and has a bit less control than Duffey. Doolittle, however, is a left-handed setup guy. We desperately need such a player. Doolittle is also a 2019 World Series champion, and pitched in some of the biggest moments of the playoffs. He has a level of experience that will be very beneficial for our team.

Move #3

Traded Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and Brent Rooker to the Detroit Tigers for Matthew Boyd, Buck Farmer, and Paul Richan.

Wow, I can already feel the hatred coming my way. I was deep into talks for Noah Syndergaard, which would have involved Byron Buxton, Brusdar Graterol, Lewis Thorpe, and Wander Javier going to New York. The deal-breaker here is that they asked me to take back Jed Lowrie and his $10 million per year salary. That just seemed so out of character for the Twins, and I didn’t really want to tie up that money, as I had it earmarked elsewhere. Instead, Thor and Lowrie ended up going to Oakland in exchange for A.J. Puk, Lazaro Armenteros, James Karpellion, and Joakim Soria. I had also contacted the Rockies about trading for Jon Gray, but they didn’t really want to move him.

In Boyd, I got at least close to the ace I desperately wanted in a young, cost controlled package. He is projected to make about $6.4 million in arbitration this season, and won’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season. Yes, I know he sort of melted down in the second half. I’m proceeding on the assumption that he is fixable, and the Twins have the personnel to do so in Wes Johnson. Even in a rough half-season, Boyd put up some good peripheral numbers. Farmer is also cheap, young, and pretty damn good. He’s also a guy I could see getting better when he leaves Detroit, which is pretty good. He basically replaces Tyler Duffey.

Richan is a throw-in to give us some value back in the future. He is MLB’s #19 ranked prospect in the Tigers system, a high-pedigree right handed starter with a 2021 estimated arrival.

Trading with a division rival is generally considered a bad thing for a reason—you’re giving them the guys who will beat you for the next five-plus years. There was a small element of galaxy-brain game theory at play here. Like I said, I’m going all in for this core, and planning to tear it down and rebuild if they don’t win a ring. With the budget I’m looking at, and the value of pitching proven in the 2019 playoffs, this was my way to compete. We’ll look for cyclical success. If we are tanking, and Detroit is rocking in 2024, It actually helps us draft higher every time they beat us. Conversely, if we do win a World Series with this core, we can jump-start a restock of the farm system by trading guys away as they become expensive. If I had an extra $20 million in my budget, I probably would have ended up taking the Syndergaard deal, but Boyd and Farmer together only command $7.5 million of my precious payroll dollars. I also didn’t have to give up Buxton, which was a plus, and Kirilloff plus another top prospect is somewhere near what the real Tigers were asking for at the trade deadline.

Move #4

Trade Cody Stashak to Oakland A’s for Josh Phegley plus $500K.

This solves my back-up catcher question, as the light-hitting Phegley partners with Mitch Garver and Willians Astudillo to give me a triumvirate with vastly different skill sets. Expect to see Garver catch around 90 games, with Phegley catching 40 and Astudillo 30. Stashak was a little more than I wanted to give up, but there are very few catchers available as free agents this season. Phegley is relatively affordable, at $2.2 million, plus the A’s threw in a little bit of cash.

Move #5

Get outbid for basically everyone.

When Jake Odorizzi turned down the QO, I offered him a three year, $48 million deal, and was shot down. He went to Saint Louis for three years and 54 million. I offered Kyle Gibson a deal at two years, $12 million with a club option for the third year, but was outbid. I went as high as 3 years, $33 million for Gibby, and lost. He ended up getting 4/48 from Seattle. Gio Gonzalez got priced way out of my comfort zone as well. Gerrit Cole ended up getting seven years and $280 million while giving a bit of a hometown discount to the Angels. Stephen Strasburg ended up going to the Phillies for eight years and $324 million. There was a top tier starter I made a strong offer for—Zack Wheeler. I ended up offering him a deal with following terms: $30 Million per year in 2020 and 2021; $24 million per year in 2022, 2023, and 2024; and a Club option for 2025 at $26 million per year, with a $6 million buyout. I also included a player opt-out after 2022, a $5 million incentive for any year the Twins win the World Series, and an additional $5 million incentive if he is named World Series MVP. I got bid up to 6/170, and bowed out when the market added another $10 million on to that. Damn Yankees.

Move #6

Re-sign C.J. Cron, at three years and $19.5 million

Since I non-tendered C.J. Cron, I needed a new first baseman. I didn’t get a new first baseman, but I did fill the hole. After catcher, first base was the thinnest position in the free agent market place, and most options weren’t much of an improvement over Cron, who is a guy we know and like. I offered him a fair deal at four years and $24 million, and he countered with 3/21, before agreeing to meet me at $6.5 million per year for three years. I save $1.2 million this season, and he gets a couple extra years of stability. Seems fair across the board.

Move #7

Sign Rick Porcello to a three year deal worth $39 million guaranteed

That’s right, the eternal 20-year-old is coming to the fake Twins. Last season was the worst of his career, and he just turned thirty, despite being around forever, so his value is a bit depressed, and I’m rolling the dice a bit on a career resurgence. Since Porcello has been around forever, consistent pitched between 170 and 200 innings per season, and only pitched in the American League, I’m not terribly worried about him falling entirely off the table in the next few years. As my #3/4 starter, if he can hit 170 innings at just under a 5.00 ERA I think we will be okay, and I trust him to do so more than most guys in his position, while having a good chance to do a bit better. He also has a mountain of post season experience. The deal is structured as $39 million guaranteed, with 12 million in each of 2020 and 2021, 13 million in 2022, and a $15 million club option with a $2 million buyout for 2023.

Move #8

Traded Jhoan Duran and Misael Urbina for Dylan Bundy and Adam Hall

In principle, the idea here was similar to the trade for Boyd, but without quite as much exorbitant cost. Bundy is also young and cost controlled. He was worth 2.3 bWAR and put up a 4.79 ERA in 161 2019 innings. Paired with Porcello as my #3/4 guys, the two former AL East hurlers should do a decent job of filling in the middle of the rotation.

Hall is 45-grade, 20-year old middle infielder in A-ball. He signed for above-slot as a second round pick in 2017, and projects as a serviceable everyday player, while perhaps not a superstar. He has a high floor and a low ceiling, rather the opposite of Urbina, and is much closer to the MLB, making him a solid upgrade in system for me.

Move #10

The Twins sign Nick Tropeano and Peter Bourjos to MiLB deals.

These were truly “break glass in case of emergency” moves, as Tropeano can sit at Rochester with his 9.88 ERA in case one of our starters is injured enough to skip a start, and we don’t want to use one of the arms with a future for a spot start. His career numbers look serviceable, but he’s seen a bad trend. Still, its a warm body.

Peter Bourjos was signed for exactly one reason, and one reason only. Long time readers know why. Still, we needed someone for an emergency call-up, as given the spate of outfield injuries in 2019, I am loathe to trust that four out of six will be healthy all season, between Buxton, Kepler, Rosario, Cave, and Wade. Bourjos isn’t actually good any more, but he’s been around forever, and if we get to that point, can be a reasonable fourth outfielder. If I hadn’t sent all of our almost-there-and-really-good outfield prospects to Detroit, this move probably wouldn’t have happened.

Move #11

Twins sign Michael Wacha to a two year, 15 million dollar contract

This was basically a late-in-the-game value signing. Wacha is a 28-year old former first round pick. He’s struggled to stay healthy the last couple seasons, but has pitched well when he’s been on the field. He doesn’t strike out a lot of guys, and gives up a lot of contact, but keeps the ball in the park fairly well. He’ll start the season in the fifth starter role, and likely cede it Pineda come May, depending on various injuries and performance. If all my starters stay healthy somehow, well, we just move one to the bullpen.

After all is said-and-done, here are your fake 2020 Minnesota Twins:

First Base: C.J. Cron
Second Base: Luis Arraez
Shortstop: Jorge Polanco
Third Base: Miguel Sano
Left Field: Eddie Rosario
Center Field: Byron Buxton
Right Field: Max Kepler
Catcher: Mitch Garver
DH: Nelson Cruz

Bench: Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza, Jake Cave, Josh Phegley, Willians Astudillo

Starting rotation: Matthew Boyd, Jose Berrios, Rick Porcello, Dylan Bundy, Michael Wacha (Michael Pineda)

Bullpen: Devin Smeltzer, Zack Littell, Ryne Harper, Buck Farmer, Sean Doolittle, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers

Final payroll: $126,983,333

Subtractions from the farm system:

Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Brent Rooker, Jhoan Duran, Misael Urbina

Additions to the farm system:

Paul Richan, Adam Hall

So, How did I do?

Management wanted me to capitalize on our success, but also stay below $130 million in payroll. I kept the payroll in line with that request, and even have a few million in pocket change left over. As far as capitalizing, that is a bit more subjective. I kept the bomba squad together, with only Jonathan Schoop and Jason Castro departing among the 2019 regulars. I added a couple seasoned reinforcements to my bullpen, and I rebuilt a starting staff that will hopefully be competitive into the MLB playoffs.

I also kept the payroll flexible in the future, leaving room to lock Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and/or Jose Berrios into long-term deals. I’ll go into 2021 with around $37 million committed to player contracts, and in 2022, that total drops to under $32 million. In 2023, the Shadow Twins are only locked into $16 million of spending—Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco’s real life contracts.

I did have to give up more assets from the farm system than I hoped to. Losing Kirilloff, especially, hurt—but I had to overspend in prospects to get a pitcher, because I couldn’t afford to do so in dollars. While several of our top talents are leaving the organization, I did retain Royce Lewis, Brusdar Graterol, and Jordan Balazovic, among others. Both pitchers were highly sought after in the trade market.

Some last notes:

I tried to shop Eddie Rosario a little bit, and no one had any interest. Sano and Buxton did each draw a bit, but I set the price too high for any team to seriously attempt acquiring them. The pitching market was absolutely bonkers at the top end, before slowing down enough I could grab a decent deal on Wacha. Meanwhile, the position players had a very soft free agent market, and many took lower-than-expected deals, with the exception of Anthony Rendon. Had I known that would end up happening, I probably could have gotten a better deal on Cron, and signed a better catcher option. Overall, I’m fairly happy with how the offseason played out, but there were a few things I’d have done differently—I probably would have waited out the “ace” market a little longer, and tried to pay less for Boyd. I’d also have waited on a catcher and signed a value free agent.

Here is the thread with all the official transactions, or feel free to ask me in the comments on the other deals I considered, but didn’t do.


How did the Shadow Twins do this offseason?

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