Last week, one writer from each of SBNation's 30 team specific blogs took the reins of their team's GM chair for five days in a simulation of the winter meetings. Well, really it was the whole offseason crammed into a few days, but winter meetings will do. The ground rules stated that we would rewind the rosters to the end of the 2013 season so all of the qualifying offers were undone and any international free agents that had signed were unsigned.
You can find the results for each of the teams and free agents in this google spreadsheet.
The first order of business was to take a bird's eye view of the roster so that I could map out a general strategy. Players eligible for arbitration would have a salary of the MLB Trade Rumors prediction if you chose to offer the player arbitration. Also, payrolls were increased by 10% in most instances unless there was a published report that the payroll was going to be substantially different. The Orioles were given the standard 10% bump, and our payroll was capped at $100 million. Here is the roster and salaries that we had to work with.
|1||Nick Markakis||$15,000,000||$17,500,000||$2,000,000 buyout|
|3||J.J. Hardy||$7,000,000||Free Agent|
|5||Darren O'Day||$3,200,000||$4,250,000||Free Agent|
|6||Dylan Bundy||$1,245,000||$1,245,000||Arbitration||$400,000 buyout|
|8||Alexi Casilla||$3,000,000||Free Agent||$200,000 buyout|
|10||Jim Johnson||$10,800,000||Free Agent|
|11||Chris Davis||$10,000,000||Arbitration||Free Agent|
|12||Matt Wieters||$7,900,000||Arbitration||Free Agent|
|13||Bud Norris||$5,000,000||Arbitration||Free Agent|
|14||Tommy Hunter||$3,100,000||Arbitration||Free Agent|
|16||Nolan Reimold||$1,200,000||Arbitration||Free Agent|
|18||Steve Pearce||$1,100,000||Arbitration||Free Agent|
|Remaining players on roster|
The first decision that had to be made was what to do with the three options the Orioles hold for the 2013 season. When I made this decision, the options hadn't yet been declined in the real world but they since have been. I chose to decline the options on Tsuyoshi Wada ($5 million), Alexi Casilla ($3 million, $200k buyout), and Dan Johnson ($800k). These really weren't very difficult decisions, though I am curious what Wada would look like on a major league mound. Wada and Casilla would end up getting signed to minor league deals in the sim.
After I turned the options down, I had to decide which arbitration eligible players I was going to offer arbitration to and which of them I was going to non-tender. I ended up offering all of them arbitration except for Nolan Reimold, Steve Pearce, Chris Dickerson, and Dan Johnson. Johnson became eligible for arbitration after I declined his option. I didn't decline arbitration to Reimold and Pearce because I don't like them, I just didn't want to pay them because they're easily replaceable. This ended up working out as I was able to bring back both Reimold and Pearce on minor league contracts. I briefly thought about non-tendering Jim Johnson but I decided that since Duquette had already made public his decision to keep him, that I'd do the same. I was also hoping he had some measure of value on the trade market.
If I picked up the options for all three guys and extended arbitration to everyone that was eligible, I would have only had about $1.5 million to spend. With all of the raises due to Orioles players eligible in arbitration, I really didn't have a lot of money to work with. I knew it was going to be next to impossible to sign any big free agents and stay under budget. After I declined the options and non-tendered a few guys, I had about about $15 million to work with. So I set out to clear some salary early on in the sim so that I could at least entertain the thought of signing a high ticket free agent. MLB Trade Rumors predicts Jim Johnson to get a salary of $10.8 million in arbitration this year, which is entirely too much to pay a closer.
I offered Johnson to a variety of different teams. As I suggested in my article last week, I offered him to Detroit for both Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly. No dice. Most of the GM's in the sim leaned toward the sabermetric valuation of closers, which is to say they didn't value them very much at all. It proved very difficult to find a suitor for a closer on a one year deal for $10.8 million. At the same time, I was also trying to move Nick Markakis because he didn't come close to earning his $15 million salary in 2013 and I don't think he will in 2014 either. I came close to closing a deal with the Angels for Peter Bourjos but even a large market team like the Angels didn't have room for him in their budget.
I ended up finding a taker for Jim Johnson, as you'll see later in the write up below but it wasn't until late in the sim and it didn't create a ton of cap space either. I actually ended up trading for a higher priced player in Andre Ethier but was able to convince the Dodgers to pick up enough of his salary that it made Ethier cheaper than Johnson.
At this point, many of the higher priced free agents had signed. Since I was still unable to unload either Johnson or Markakis, I didn't bid on any of the high priced free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. Well, I did put a $50 million posting bid on Masahiro Tanaka but I knew it would take a miracle for me to come out on top. The top three bidders would get to negotiate a contract for Tanaka. Of course, the Yankees ended up coming out on top. From what I've seen of Tanaka, I think he's going to be very successful in MLB. He got an insane amount of money in this sim: a posting fee of $72 million to his Japanese club and a 6 year, $90 million contract. That ends up working out to $162 million over six years, which is of course crazy but that could appeal to a team like the Yankees where the posting fee won't count against the luxury tax.
After missing out on Tanaka, I was ready to make my first big move of the simulation.
Free Agent Signing #1: Signed Colby Lewis to a 2 year, $5 million contract
The Orioles need to upgrade their rotation for 2014. I think Colby Lewis would be a good way to do that. The prices for starting pitching in this sim were absolutely crazy. For example, a realistic Orioles target I went after, Dan Haren signed a 4 year, $48 million contract with the Twins. And Matt Garza got 4 years and $75 million. When the market zigs, you should zag. Or that's what I figured anyway. Everyone else could sign the high profile free agents, but I would sign a low cost alternative who will only cost me $2 million in year one and $3 million in year two.
Lewis is coming off of shoulder and hip surgeries but I think he's a reasonable bet to bounce back. If he is able to get back to full strength, he will make a strong fourth starter for the Orioles. He's pitched two and a half very good seasons in Texas so he is no stranger to pitching in tough environments. The ballpark conditions in OPACY may actually be an improvement over the Ballpark in Arlington. Since he came back from Japan, he's had a strikeout rate of over 20% each season and a walk rate of between 3-8%. I have a feeling he'll give up a few less homers in Baltimore than he would have in Texas also. He's somewhat of a health risk, but given the price I felt it was a risk worth taking.
Free Agent Signing #2: Signed Aledmys Diaz to a 4 year, $8 million contract
Aledmys Diaz is a 23 year old Cuban shortstop, who got in trouble in an age related controversy last summer. It's not often that you hear of an international prospect falsifying his age to make himself older, but that's what Diaz did. The way the rules are set up, if he was 23 or older his bonus wouldn't count against the international spending cap set by MLB. So he lied and said he was 23 when he was only 22 to try to get more money. Now it appears that he is 23 years old and his true birth date is August 1, 1990. He's ineligible to sign until February, 2014 but in this sim he was eligible during the winter meetings.
Diaz is reported to have plus hit and power tools, while being an average runner. He also has an above average arm and is said to be close to being ready for the major leagues. That is the kind of player I always want the real world Orioles to sign, and I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity here. It doesn't bother me that he's a shortstop. There's an old adage; get as many shortstops as you can into your system and figure out where to play them later. I figure that between Diaz and Jon Schoop, one of them will be ready for the second base job maybe a third of the way through the 2014 season. Flaherty can play second until then. Further, the infield defense should be in good shape for the foreseeable future with Schoop, Diaz, and Machado playing second, short and third in some combination.
Trade #1: Traded Jim Johnson for Andre Ethier and $34.5 million
When the Dodgers asked if I was interested in Ethier, I responded that I could only afford him if they would take back Jim Johnson or Nick Markakis. To my surprise, the Dodgers replied that they would take back Jim Johnson. I asked for them to cover some of the salary and we had a deal. The Dodgers actually agreed to pick up half of Ethier's salary during each year of his contract. Here is Ethier's contract:
2014: $15.5 million
2015: $18 million
2016: $18 million
2017: $17.5 million
2018: $17.5 million club option ($2.5 million buyout)
Since the Orioles are only covering half of those salaries, Ethier's deal turns into a very reasonable 4 year, $34.5 million contract. With the prices that free agents were going for, this turns into a far below market contract. Ethier has basically been a 3 win player in each of the last 3 seasons and has the ability to get on base, which is sorely needed in the Orioles lineup. He has a career .362 OBP, which would be the highest number on the entire club. The plan would be for Ethier to play left field for 2-3 seasons or as long as he could handle it adequately, before shifting into the DH role at the end of his contract.
Just a fun side note: the Dodgers signed Nate McLouth to a 2 year, $10 million contract. For less than $3 million more in 2014, our simulation team will have Andre Ethier in left field instead.
Free Agent Signing #3: Signed Luis Ayala to a minor league deal
One of my favorite things in baseball is when a team trades a player away during the season and then signs him back during the off season. That gives the team the player they traded away and the player they traded for. It's a strategy that isn't used enough. I don't know if players don't want to come back after they're traded away because their feelings are hurt or something but there were no feelings allowed in this sim. On top of that, Ayala is a pretty solid reliever who I was able to pick up on a minor league deal, which doesn't count against the spending limit.
Free Agent Signing #4: Signed Steve Pearce to a minor league deal
I always wanted Steve Pearce back, but I didn't want to pay him his proposed $1.1 million salary to come back. By signing him to a minor league deal, I was able to bring him back for free with no risk. Perfect.
Trade #2: Traded Connor Narron for Ryan Ludwick and $4.5 million
Ryan Ludwick had been traded to Seattle along with Tony Cingrani for Nick Franklin. Seattle didn't have any use for him so they basically gave Ludwick to me for free. I consulted my scouts and Connor Narron was suggested as a guy that doesn't have a big league future. He's just an organization soldier at this point. Ludwick is one season removed from putting up a .275/.346/.531 line with 26 homeruns in 125 games. He wasn't very good in 2013 but that was in large part due to a shoulder injury. As long as that heals properly during the offseason, Ludwick should be a nice player to have around on a 1 year, $3 million deal. With two of our three outfielders being left handed, Ludwick will be able to find plenty of playing time between the outfield corners and DH.
Free Agent Signing #5: Signed Joel Hanrahan to a 1 year, $2 million contract
The Orioles bullpen wasn't nearly as good in 2013 as they were in 2012. In my estimation, they could use some reinforcements. I am philosophically against spending a lot of money to build a bullpen, so this is the first of a few low costs signings to fortify the pen. Hanrahan is a fastball, slider righty who even in a down year averaged almost 97.5 mph on his fastball. He has also consistently struck batters out at a high rate. Relievers are often a crap shoot, but if I have to pick one to have a good year, I'm going to choose the guy that throws hard and misses bats. According to the latest reports, Hanrahan should be throwing off of a mound by December and ready to return to action by late March.
Free Agent Signing #6: Signed Frank Francisco to a 1 year, $1 million contract
This was another cheap signing to fortify the bullpen. Francisco has closing experience so he could potentially fill that role if needed. Relievers that rely on a fastball and splitter have been able to have a great deal of success as we've seen recently from guys like Edward Mujica and Koji Uehara. I'm not suggesting that Francisco will be as good as them, but those relievers have shown that throwing just those two pitches can work. For the first time last year, that was all Francisco threw. Well, besides 4 curveballs but who's counting those? He has averaged almost 10 K/9 over his career.
Free Agent Signing #7: Signed Nolan Reimold to a minor league deal
Reimold is coming off of his second consecutive season ending spinal fusion surgery. Because of all of his health problems, he is no longer worth a guaranteed major league deal. But on a non-guaranteed minor league contract with an invite to spring training? Sure. I'll sign up for that. If nothing else, this gives Nolan access to team doctors and a familiar place to rehab his injuries.
Free Agent Signing #8: Signed Paul Maholm to a 1 year, $2 million contract
By the last day of the sim, there wasn't a lot of talent left but there were some great deals to be had. I've got to be honest, Maholm is not my favorite pitcher in the world. But for $2 million, he could be a very steady 5th starter for the team. Over his career he's been extremely durable and has been able to eat innings. He also has a career 52% ground ball rate, which would serve him well in Camden Yards. He throws seven pitches, one of which is an eephus pitch so that would be fun. In any case, Maholm should provide depth for the rotation.
Free Agent Signing #9: Signed Matt Albers to a minor league deal
Albers has been an Oriole before, but when he was here he was bad. Since he left, he's become less bad. In the last two years, he's posted ERA's of 2.39 and 3.14. He's no great shakes but he's a major league reliever. I was pleased to be able to pick him up on a minor league deal. He is great depth to have in AAA when injuries strike the major league bullpen.
Free Agent Signing #10: Signed Jamey Wright to a 1 year, $1 million contract
Wright is the definition of a journeyman reliever. However, he seems to have figured out how to pitch late in his career. He'll be 39 next season but he's had an ERA below 3.20 in two of the last three seasons. I'll take a $1 million chance to see if he can replicate that performance for one more season.
Free Agent Signing #11: Signed Chad Qualls to a minor league contract
Pitching last season in anonymity for the Florida Marlins, it was easy not to have noticed Qualls' 2.61 ERA last season. He also bumped his strikeout rate back into respectable territory and posted a 63% ground ball rate. That was enough for me to take a shot on him on a minor league deal. He'll be a nice guy to call up from AAA when the dreaded injuries hit.
Chad Qualls was the last player I signed. In the end, I wasn't able to sign any high priced free agents. If I was able to learn anything from this exercise, it was that the Orioles don't have room in the budget for a high priced free agent this year. Unless you expect the team to start spending some of the MASN money (which I don't) there just isn't enough money to sign a big ticket item. Free agent starting pitchers went for exorbitant prices, prices at which I don't think the Orioles could or should compete. It's way too big of a risk for the club to sign a guy like Matt Garza to a 4 year, $75 million deal. He's had two serious injuries over the last two seasons, and his salary would be almost 20% of the payroll were they to sign him. The Orioles aren't built for that kind of expenditure.
I ended up spending $96.3 million out of the $100 million I had to spend. The left over money can be used for in season acquisitions and upgrades if the team is in contention. The opening day lineup and roster should look something like this:
RF Nick Markakis
1B Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
LF Andre Ethier
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
DH Henry Urrutia/Ryan Ludwick
2B Aledmys Diaz/Ryan Flaherty
Paul Maholm/Bud Norris
I realized while going through this simulation that making roster decisions is very difficult when you're competing with 29 other smart guys in the room. Every time I thought I had a smart move to make, there was someone else who was thinking the same thing. I missed out on a lot of guys that I wanted to sign and I sent out more trade offers than I can remember. All in all, I feel like I upgraded the offense, the rotation, and the bullpen. That was my goal for this simulation, to try to upgrade all three areas of the team.
How do you think I did? What would you have done differently if you were running the show?