First off, a huge "thank you" to RoyalsRetro for coming up with this idea and all the work it took to make it happen. I enjoyed being a SIMGM® and I would do it again.
The sim jobs were offered first to the moderators of the SBN team sites, but not all teams had takers. RoyalsRetro then offered the openings to some of the stalwarts on the RR site. There were only a few teams left when I selected, and I chose the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates are a small market club and similar to the Royals in many ways. I am a Royals fan, and I knew next to nothing about the Pirates, so I spent several hours researching "my" team.
Based on past Opening Day payrolls, I thought it would be prudent to keep the Pirates salary at $63M or less. I justify this number on Forbes valuation and estimated revenues for last year. They had the same revenue as the Royals, they had the same operating income ($28M), and here on the RR site we have suggested that the Royals could go to $80/$85M and still make a profit. Keeping the Pirates at $63M seems pretty conservative to me.
I knew my needs were starting pitching and catcher. I also wanted to trade my closer, Joel Hanrahan, but I could keep him if no deals were forthcoming. I have an emotional dislike for Wandy Rodriguez and I wanted to get rid of him also. My goals going into the sim were:
- Keep Andrew McCutchen
- Fill catcher and SP needs
- Keep salary below $63M
The Pirates have a history of taking on bad contracts plus cash. They had on their books A.J. Burnett (from Yankees) with a 2013 salary of $16.5M but Yankees are paying $8.5 of that. They also had Wandy (from Houston) with a 2013 salary of $13.5 but Astros pay $4.5 of that. If I could trade Wandy and keep the Houston cash, that would be terrific.
The sim rewinds your team’s roster and payroll to the end of 2012. It took awhile to rebuild that (who knew the Pirates were so busy early in the offseason?). My team had a projected payroll of $48.5M, so I knew I had some money to spend.
First I had to take care of options and arbitration. I tendered arbitration to:
Garrett Jones (probable 2013 salary of $4.4M)
James McDonald ($3M)
Gaby Sanchez ($1.8M)
Chris Resop ($1.3M)
Joel Hanrahan ($6.9M)
Jeff Karstens (injury concerns + rising cost)
Charlie Morton (who I hoped to bring back on a cheaper deal)
I also declined the option on Rod Barajas – exactly as the real Pirates did.
Now to the exciting part: trades and free agency!
Bryan Morris is a valuable relief pitcher, which is to say he has less value than most other players on my roster. Like most RR visitors, I think middle relief is fungible. Adding John Buck allows me to keep pressure off my prospect catchers and if I do bring one up during spring training, Buck is a valuable backup and mentor.
I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I CAN be a MLB GM! Trade #2 brought me back to earth.
It was the perfect storm of emotions and those are never good for rational trades. Out of the blue, the White Sox GM offers Chris Sale for Andrew McCutchen. Remember Andrew is on the no-trade list, but I really like Chris Sale. Thinking this is my opportunity to get rid of hated Wandy, I counteroffer: Pirates give McCutchen and Wandy for Sale and Nestor Molina (#2 prospect in White Sox org). I am thinking if I free up enough cash, I can go after Anibel Sanchez and Melky Cabrera. Two minutes later, the e-mail returns, "done". Oh, no! I just screwed up! The Royals Review cognoscenti caught me, too. Here are the mistakes I made:
1. I thought McCutchen only had two years of team control left. I was confusing McCutchen’s contract with Pedro Alvarez’ contract. I should have double-checked.
2. I didn’t think the whole trade through – I could have made this deal and got more from the White Sox. I should have also offered McCutchen/Wandy to other teams to increase my return.
3. I didn’t couch my e-mail in suggestive terms that I could back out of. Instead of saying, "what do you think about…", I said, "how about…". RoyalsRetro had already told us "no backsies" so I didn’t feel I could back out.
4. I didn’t separate my emotions from rational analysis.
5. I didn’t bounce the idea off anyone else. A real GM would have people to consult, and some of the sim teams have co-GM’s.
6. I had done nothing about the next step of my plan. When I did try to sign Sanchez and Melky, the market for them had gone far past what I expected. It ultimately went beyond what I felt the Pirates could honestly afford.
So, several lessons learned there. I did get to keep the $4.5M that Astros sent when they traded Wandy to Pirates, so at least I have some extra cash laying around.
I did try to negotiate for Free Agents Melky Cabrera and Anibel Sanchez. My thinking was to sneak in under the radar and grab those guys before the big fish were landed. Unfortunately, other GMs thought the same. After the bidding went past 6/$85 for Sanchez and 2/$18 for Melky I dropped out. Plan B was Edwin Jackson and Angel Pagan. I finally won the bidding for Jackson at 5/$60 – I had the option of 4/$56, but our agreement on contracts was they were evenly split over the length of the contract. $10M per year allowed me to pursue more options than $14M per year, so I took the longer contract. Angel Pagan wanted 4/$56, so I dropped out there also. I felt he was worth it, but I didn't think the Pirates could afford it.
One commenter called me "the least skilled" of all the GMs and that is probably true. I will say this in my defense: I kept to a reasonable budget. I started out with a much lower target price for all of my free agent targets, but the rich clubs kept bidding things up.
I made a mild offer for Jeremy Guthrie, but he was at 3/$24 with an option year, so I dropped out. I also checked in on other premium free agent center fielders, but no luck.
I’m pretty happy with my starting pitching:
That is an improved starting rotation and it only costs me $22M in 2013 (an increase of $2M over my beginning starting payroll). If I subtract out the $4.5M that Astros are sending me, then the starting pitching payroll is less than last year.
My offense is clearly worse. I lost McCutchen and replaced him with Starling Marte. But I still have lots of cap room – my 25 man roster is $49.5M
The problem is that Free Agent Center Fielders are made of gold, and the Pirates budget is made of wood. I suppose I could overbid and gotten one (like I did with Edwin Jackson), but I wanted to stay within the Pirates’ realm of budget land.
I did get a bunch of bottom feeding on the last day and got some good value with Ryan Ludwick at 1/$3 and a bunch of minor league deals:
It’s quite possible some of those guys end up on my major league team. I also resigned Charlie Morton for 1/$1.5M, but he will likely not be ready for opening day. My lineup looks like this (not arranged for batting order):
C John Buck
1B Garret Jones
2B Neil Walker
3B Pedro Alvarez
SS Clint Barmes
LF Ryan Ludwick
CF Starling Marte
RF Travis Snider
LF Jose Tabata
1B Gaby Sanchez
IF Brock Holt
UF Josh Harrison
Minor league invitee
My final payroll is $51,950,000 so I think I kept it "real" in that regard. The simulation was extremely enjoyable, and I would do it again (but with more research).