If you weren't following along to the SB Nation GM simulation run by Max Rieper of Royals Review, you missed an incredibly good time. If you want to go back and follow the moves as they happened, click on this link and follow along in the comments. As the representative from Camden Chat, of course I was responsible for setting the direction of the Baltimore Orioles. I also did this last year, and it was a blast then too. I even traded Jim Johnson ahead of his disastrous season, so I did something right.
The idea is that each team's GM is replaced by a member of the SB Nation community, and they are free to remodel or tweak the team as they see fit. Free agent salaries are negotiated directly with Max of Royals Review, and trades are negotiated directly between the replacement GM's. Each team is given a recommended budget and if they don't stick to it, they are subject to the scorn and ridicule of everyone. The entire offseason is crammed into a few days, but somehow it works.
While some of the GM's in the simulation completely remade their teams (cough Phillies cough), I chose to keep it as realistic as I could. I didn't pull off any blockbuster trades though there was plenty of interest in Gausman, Bundy and Machado. I would've needed to be overwhelmed to deal one of them, and I didn't get that kind of offer.
Here is what I ended up doing:
Picked up the options on Wei-Yin Chen ($4.75m) and Darren O'Day ($4.25m)
These decisions were fairly easy. Chen has been a stabilizing force in the O's rotation for each of the last three seasons. He had probably his best season in 2014 by cutting his walk rate down to a career low 4.5%. At $4.75 million, it's a no brainer to bring him back. O'Day has been excellent out of the bullpen in each of the three years he's been in Baltimore. It wasn't a difficult decision to bring him back either.
Declined the options on Nick Hundley ($5m) and Nick Markakis ($17.5m)
One of these options was an incredibly easy decision, so let's get that one out of the way first. Nick Hundley did an admirable job serving as part of the duo tasked with the unenviable job of replacing Matt Wieters. He compiled a .233/.273/.353 line in 50 games for the Orioles and was fairly similar over 33 games with the Padres. Combined, he compiled 0.3 WAR in about a half season's worth of playing time. Not known for his defensive prowess either, this isn't a player that's worth $5 million per season. Hundley ended up getting a one year deal for $1.5 million in the sim.
The slightly more difficult decision was deciding what to do with Nick Markakis. There was a $2 million buyout attached to the mutual option in Markakis's contract, which would've had to be paid if I turned down the team side of it. I chose to pay the buyout rather than the $17.5 million. He'll be 31 next season and has put up a wRC+ of 106 and 88 over the last two years. He's produced somewhere around league average offense, which I wouldn't expect to get much better as he gets older. There's a lot of disagreement over his defense, with the metrics thinking he's not that good while he's winning Gold Gloves at the same time. To me, he's a solid right fielder who makes all of the plays he gets to, he just doesn't have the range many other guys do. He's does possess a fairly good and accurate throwing arm which helps him. Add it all up, and I don't think you have a guy worth $17.5 million.
Traded C Caleb Joseph for OF Josh Bell
Joseph did a solid job partially replacing Matt Wieters last season. He was especially effective controlling the running game, which was never more apparent than during the ALCS against the Royals. His 40.3% caught stealing percentage was good for second in the league last season. He's also got above average power for a catcher, but there's a lot of swing and miss in his game and he'll be 29 years old next June. There's a good chance that 2014 is the best we'll ever see from Joseph.
When the Pirates came calling looking for Joseph, I didn't hesitate too much when they threw some of their better prospects on the table. Josh Bell was the best bet of the guys they made available and I was aggressive in closing the deal to swap Joseph for him. On the mid-season update from Baseball Prospectus, he was 39th on their list of the top 50 prospects in the game. From the reports at BP, he has two plus tools in his power and arm. The 22 year old laid waste to high A ball last year before getting his feet wet in AA. It's likely that he only needs one more season in the minor leagues before taking over right field, where his plus arm would play best. The cherry on top is his career 14% strikeout rate. A 6'2" 235 pound power hitter who doesn't strike out. Yes, please.
This is the only trade I made in the sim, mainly because it's hard to make deals. Or it could possibly be because I hold out too long for the best possible trade I can get. It's tough to know whether you're holding too tightly onto your guys or whether you're valuing them properly. Either way, this is the only deal I made but I feel good about it.
Signed J.J. Hardy to a 3 year, $40 million contract
Since this exercise rolled back to the rosters at the end of the regular season, Hardy's extension in real life didn't count. So I signed him at the same price the real Orioles did. I originally offered him 3 years and $30 million but his agent didn't go for it. We eventually agreed to 3/40. Even though Hardy's power fell off in 2014, he was still a 3 win player as he has been for the last 4 seasons. I'd expect his power to bounce back somewhat going forward and he's still playing excellent defense. He's easily worth this contract. I even received trade offers for him in the sim after I signed him.
Offered Nelson Cruz a Qualifying Offer
Coming off of a 40 home run season without the same steroid questions hanging over his head, Cruz is certain to decline the qualifying offer this year. I'm sure him and his agent thinks he can sign a four or even five year contract this go around. It didn't quite end up working out that way for him as he ended up with a two year, $36 million contract with a vesting option with the Indians. I had a chance to sign him for either 3/48 or 4/44 right before he signed with the Indians but I chose to pass. I didn't have much money to spend at that point in the sim, and Cruz is going to be 35 next July. I didn't want to lock into a long term deal with a DH only going into his upper thirties. I would've taken him back if he came cheaply, but in this scenario we'll happily take back the compensation draft pick.
Offered Nick Markakis a Qualifying Offer
In the three year history of the qualifying offer, 34 players have received the offer and none have accepted. Well, Michael Cuddyer may have accepted it this year if he didn't reach a deal with the Mets. Until players start more regularly accepting these qualifying offers, I think that teams should be more aggressive in offering them. Especially when the club is willing to bring the player back for a slightly lesser salary than the qualifying offer amount, which is $15.3 million this year. Honestly, I was hoping Markakis turned the offer down. I had a plan in place to replace him with a similar player who would cost a lot less and if he signed elsewhere, I could add another compensation pick. My plan ended up working to perfection as Markakis signed a 4 year, $62 million contract with the Cardinals and I signed this guy.
Signed Nori Aoki to a 3 year, $18 million contract
Over the three years Aoki has been in the major leagues, he's been worth 6.2 WAR according to Fangraphs. Over those same three years, Markakis has been worth 4.1 WAR. Most of the difference comes down to the advanced metrics liking Aoki's defense while not liking Markakis's. While Aoki will be 33 years old next season, he hasn't shown any signs of decline to this point and as a contact hitter, his skill set is one that should age well. With a career line of .287/.353/.387, Aoki has been effective at getting on base throughout his career. If you wanted to, you could point out that Aoki only hit one home run in 2014, but have you seen Kaufman Stadium? That place is enormous! I'm not saying he'd turn into a home run hitter at OPACY, but I think it's safe to say that he'd hit more than one.
For $44 million dollars less, I feel like I signed a very similar player to the player that we let go. With a strong on base percentage, he can legitimately hold down one of the top two spots in the lineup. On the defensive side of the ball, he sometimes looks funny doing it, but the metrics like his defense out there and he seems to be solid. I'll take this switch between Markakis and Aoki to save some money considering all of the raises the Orioles have to pay in arbitration this offseason. And we picked up a draft pick to boot.
Signed Geovany Soto to a 1 year, $2 million contract
Since we turned down Nick Hundley's option and traded away Caleb Joseph, we needed to get a back up catcher. Geovany Soto, come on down. The Orioles have some catching depth in the system, but it's mainly a couple years away. I didn't want to commit long term to a back up either, so this contract for Soto works. He's no great shakes, but he's ok at controlling the running game (have to keep Buck happy) and he's got some pop in his bat. Likely only to play 30-40 games next year, we'll take it.
Signed Billy Butler to a 1 year, $6 million contract
I wasn't planning to sign Butler or any DH only player for that matter, but there he was sitting unsigned with only two hours left to go in the sim. This was all taking place on the same morning that it was rumored Butler got an offer for 3 years and $30 million. Despite the fact that the rumor may have been placed by his agent, Butler is a good deal at $6 million. Butler had a down year in 2014, but the fact remains he has a career .359 OBP and .808 OPS. Still only 29 years old in 2015, he shouldn't be at risk for a steep decline yet. Put him in a more favorable hitting environment, he may have something of a bounce back year.
I would never play him in the field and he absolutely clogs up the bases when he reaches, but the man can still hit. Even in a down year, he put up a 22% line drive rate in 2014. As long as we don't expect this year's last minute one year DH signing to work out as well as last year's, this should work out just fine. This move put us slightly over budget but we couldn't pass him up at that price.
Signed Franklin Morales and Brian Duensing to minor league contracts
We offered a ton of guys minor league deals in the sim. But for some reason, they were loathe to accept. A couple long shot left handed relievers are all we ended up with. Duquette will do way better than this, don't worry. This is one area where I can't hold a candle to him. He'll sign a whole bunch of guys off the scrap heap and they'll contribute to the major league club.