The annual SB Nation Off Season Simulation project occurred over this past week. I volunteered to run the Orioles. You can read about the parameters and the rules here. Basically, every team has a SB Nation writer assigned to them. That writer makes all the decisions for the team. This includes Qualifying Offers, Trades, Free Agents, etc. The simulation runs as if you are starting with your team from the end of the regular season and goes from there.
Once again, the brave man who runs it all, Max Rieper of Royals Review, is the hero of this whole project. He runs it to perfection and this would not happen or be nearly as fun if it happened without him.
Below is a summary of my moves and my thought process during the simulation. First and foremost, I was working with a budget of about $160 million based upon this past season’s payroll and the typical year or over year payroll increase. I figure that is near the realistic limit for the Orioles this off season.
Because I completed this simulation last year I was much more prepared for the insanity this year. I had a plan that I think I executed reasonably well, but I made some deals that may not have been the best value. Now, onto the moves.
Qualifying Offers and Non-Tenders
The first decision of the off season is always who are you going to give a qualifying offer to. The only realistic Orioles options are Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo. At the time the simulation began I knew they were going to give Mark Trumbo the qualifying offer and not one to Matt Wieters. I agreed with this and did the same thing. Wieters at $17.2 million would have crippled my budget. Trumbo ended up declining his offer.
I non-tendered T.J. McFarland and Vance Worley for being bad and being not good enough to warrant the cost respectively. I tendered a contract to everyone else which included: Zach Britton, Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, Ryan Flaherty, Brad Brach, and Caleb Joseph. Flaherty is also a decent candidate to be non-tendered due to cost, but I really like him as the 25th man so I kept him around.
I started off knowing that I wanted Chance Sisco to be the starting catcher on Opening Day. I know this is somewhat of a controversial opinion and one that the Orioles themselves seem not to agree with.
However, he can hit and he has a set of skills at the plate the Orioles seem to lack, mostly in that he can make contact. I think his power eventually develops. You cannot hit a home run the opposite way out of Petco without having some real raw power.
Also, his defense, the biggest question mark, can be developed at the major league level. The Orioles did this with Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph and both of them are basically carried by their gloves. I believe in Sisco.
Also, I wanted to improve the outfield defense. Last year it was a tire fire and it dearly hurt the pitching staff and cost the team runs and ultimately wins. That means that Hyun Soo Kim cannot play left field. However, I wanted to keep his bat and with the departure of Mark Trumbo there is a vacuum left at the designated hitter spot.
That makes Kim, at the very least, my left side of a DH platoon. I planned on the right side either being a cheap bench bat or simply plug in Trey Mancini. He has shown an ability to hit left handed pitching in the minors and he had a great start late last year.
I realize trusting Mancini and Sisco is a bit risky, but with the rising arbitration salaries of so many Orioles, the cost had to made up somewhere. I needed to plug in a few pre-arbitration players to make it work.
For the position players that leaves left and right field. Someone who can play defense and preferably someone who can hit left handed pitching.
On the pitching side, I love making additions the bullpen. Being that there are seven spots in a bullpen, one spot can always be made better. For the rotation, I did not have much hope of improving it. With Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yovani Gallardo clogging up three roster spots and over $30 million it was going to be tough to change much. I figured I would try to add some depth in case of injury or poor performance and depend on a strong bullpen once again.
I knew from doing this last year that everyone is willing to work on trades so I went hard and heavy after some outfielders that fit the bill of what I was looking for. I needed at least one full time corner outfielder and one to platoon with Joey Rickard or another right handed outfielder I could pick up. I focused on guys I liked and guys I thought teams might think were too expensive.
I immediately sought the availability of Marcel Ozuna, Khris Davis, Cameron Maybin, Ben Revere, Charlie Blackmon, and Jarrod Dyson. Ozuna, Maybin, and Davis all crashed and burned immediately either due to a poor fit or too high of a cost on my end.
On Revere, I offered Adrian Marin, but they had no interest and asked for a left handed pitching prospect. I eventually offered Zack Muckenhirn who the Orioles drafted this past year in the 11th round and had a good debut in Aberdeen. However, the Nationals never responded. Which was probably for the best because Revere was eventually non-tendered and I signed him to a minor league contract anyways.
On Blackmon, I offered Jomar Reyes and they said they wanted someone closer to the majors. I floated Trey Mancini and they said they were willing to discuss something around Manicni, but I let the talks fizzle out. Blackmon has pretty bad home/road splits and Rockies hitters always freak me out. Plus, I was getting decent traction on another trade.
I really wanted Jarrod Dyson. He is an excellent defender. He can steal bases. He also can work a count and make contact. He is exactly what the 2016 Orioles were missing. So I went after him pretty hard. The Royals GM seemed reluctant, but I was willing to make it work. At first I floated Tanner Scott, but his walk rate scared off the GM. So I thought about it for a while and floated Jomar Reyes again. He said he would want just a little more to pry Dyson away. A reliever close to the major leagues. So I offered Richard Rodriguez who is an extraneous part who put up pretty good AAA numbers. He thought about it for a while and I waited on pins and needles, but he eventually accepted the deal.
As I said, I really like Dyson and think he is a great fit for this Orioles team. However, I am not sure I love this deal in retrospect. Dyson only has one year left before free agency and Reyes is a good hitting prospect. He had a down year after a broken hamate bone so I sold on him pretty low. On the other hand, he is basically a first base only prospect who has never really shown his power in game. This deal stung a bit, but I got the guy I wanted.
I also acquired Ryan Bucther via trade from the Padres. Buchter is an excellent left handed relief pitcher who was very good against lefties and righties last season. Furthermore he is pre-arb and only 27 years old. I traded Parker Bridwell and last year’s fourth round pick Brian Hanifee for him. I am pretty happy with this trade. Hanifee has some definite upside, but I am not sure either of those guys ever reaches Buchter’s level. The other reliever I tried to go after was Will Smith, but the Giants were uninterested in moving him.
The other trades I made were initiated by other teams. The Braves contacted me about interest in a reunion with Nick Markakis. They floated Chance Sisco. I had little interest in that deal. Markakis is not the defender the Orioles need and while he makes contact at the plate, he hits for absolutely no power. Also, he is left handed so he wouldn’t help much with left handed pitching.
However, I said that I might be interested if they took on the contract of either Wade Miley or Yovani Gallardo. They said they would take both. I snapped that deal up right away. I had to take on two years of Markakis’ contract, but this opened up spots on the roster and some 2017 payroll flexibility. Also, it gives me a guy who can play everyday and not embarrass himself, something Orioles teams of past years have lacked. That’s right Birdland, I brought home you favorite son.
Also, the Dodgers contacted me and asked if Ubaldo Jimenez was available. I asked if they wanted to do a bad contract swap or a trade for prospects. They said that they would trade Brandon McCarthy for Jimenez. I said yes, but because of McCarthy’s lengthier contract (two guaranteed years versus one) and injury history that I would need a kicker. They offered Keibert Ruiz who is their 25th ranked prospect, I accepted that deal. So my rotation was completely blown up in two trades. I like McCarthy’s upside better than Jimenez's so I went with it. Also it gave me a little more wiggle room on the 2016 budget and a prospect to bolster the farm system.
Then, the Rangers contacted me about some cheap pitching options and I jumped on Lucas Harrell. He has pretty decent career ground ball rate, only cost $1.7 million with two more arb years remaining, and is left handed. I offered Jason Garcia or Tanner Scott. They tried to expand the deal to include Sisco, but I quashed it by saying it would take a big deal to get Sisco. They moved back to just Harrell. I offered Garcia first, they said they liked Scott better so I went with that. I just do not like Scott as a prospect. He can throw hard, but has got nothing else and has not advanced as he has moved up levels. Harrell could slot into the fifth spot in the rotation or as a bullpen/depth arm.
The other two trades were minor. The Mariners contacted me about Mike Wright. I said I needed outfield prospects and they offered Braden Bishop (11th ranked Mariners prospect on mlb.com) and Ben Gamel (ranked 15th on mlb.com). I do not particularly like Mike Wright, so I like this move. Again, adding more depth to the farm system.
Also, the White Sox inquired about Chrisitan Walker and I traded him for Shortstop Amada Nunez. Nunez was an expensive international signing and the 17th ranked prospect on mlb.com for the White Sox. Walker has basically no place in the Orioles organization, so I took the shortstop.
That was it for completed trades. I floated Britton’s name to some people and said he was “available,” but that it would take a big haul. No one was really interested, same as last year, which really surprised me especially after this year’s playoffs. However, I’ll gladly keep him.
Other players that were floated to me by other teams: Cameron Rupp, Yasmany Tomas, Jorge Soler, Michael Wacha, Jamie Garcia, Curtis Granderson, Matt Garza, and Chris Ianetta. There was also some interest from other teams in Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman, J.J. Hardy, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens.
After the trades the only big hole was now in my rotation and I had a decent amount of money to make a move with. Therefore, I went after the best pitcher on the market, Rich Hill. I offered 3 years and $45 million at first. It was clear from the beginning I was bidding with one other team as the increases kept going up. I ended offering five different contract terms. However, I topped out at matching a 3 year $70 million offer. Eventually, Hill signed with the Cubs for 3 years and $72 million. I went over budget on my offer, but I really wanted Hill. However, I thought the numbers were getting ridiculous so I bowed out.
This left me having to search for a relative bargain. I identified Edinson Volquez as my next target. The trade market at this point was not really developing for me anymore on the starting pitching front and Volquez was best target in my mind. I offered 1 year $10 million at first. There was already a multi year offer on the table at 2 years and $18 million so I countered with 2 years and $22 million.
That offer was accepted. I like Volquez’s ground ball rate and he has had some recent success without his velocity really dropping in recent years. I know it’s another Orioles starting pitching free agent contract, but I am trying to win and needed a guy. Not wild about it, but it’s a relative bargain for a free agent pitcher.
I also made a run at Brad Ziegler in free agency, however he got more expensive than I was willing to go to have another side arming right handed pitcher in the bullpen.
I wrapped up free agency by signing Ben Revere, Peter Bourjos, Nick Hundley, and Jorge De La Rosa to minor league deals. I ended up trading Revere for cash considerations to the Astros basically as a favor. It’s important to make friends in the GM’ing world.
I came in with a plan and some goals this year and I think I accomplished them reasonably well. The rotation, if healthy (GIANT, HUGE, IF), has some more upside this year. The bullpen is even stronger with the addition of Buchter. The outfield defense is also vastly improved. This Orioles team would be much better at run prevention than the 2016 Orioles.
The lineup however definitely has more question marks and lacks the pop of the 2016 team. Joey Rickard, Trey Mancini, and Chance Sisco are all playing significant roles at very young ages with this roster. Also, Dyson and Markakis lack the thump of the guys they are replacing. Lastly, Markakis is a defensive upgrade over Mark Trumbo, but literally any right fielder would have been. Markakis is not the best fit, but I thought that trade was too good to pass up.
You can look at the Spreadsheet I worked with here to see my numbers and my final 25 man roster. I stayed just under budget when taking luxury tax into account. Let me know what you think and tell me how I did.
Once again, thanks to Max, this was incredibly fun.