In each of the past three (?) years, Royals Review's overlord Max Rieper has presided over an SB Nationwide offseason simulation (the nuts and bolts of which can be found here, here, and here) in which each major-league team was taken over an run in the vision of a new General Manager plucked from the larger MLB SB Nation community. Generally, each team was represented by a writer or active member of that respective team's SB Nation team site, but just like in previous seasons, a few teams ended up managed by other Royals Review writers.
Once again, I helmed the Royals, my version of which has been and will continue to be the Shadow Royals. With the Royals riding high off the World Series win, it felt like there was significantly less to do to get the team ready for 2016.
The first step of the simulation is to figure out what to do with the 25-man roster. The construction of the 40-man roster is not something with which the faux General Managers have to concern themselves, but when applicable, I did try to keep in mind remaining options.
At the end of the regular season, the 25-man roster looked roughly like this (with some filling in the roster at the back end to account for filling opened spots by players departing via free agency without receiving qualifying offers--and for the sake of ease, we'll use $500K for the pre-arbitration salaries, not the actual $507,500):
*club options with buyouts as follows: 2016 - Rios $1.5M, Guthrie $3.2M, Davis $2.5M, Escobar $0.5M; 2017 - Volquez $3M, Morales $1.5M, Davis $2.5M, Medlen $1M, Hochevar $0.5M, Escobar $0.5M; 2018 - Infante $2M
I'll make a few notes before getting into the decisions.
I found out near the end of the simulation that Salvador Perez's salary was $3.8M because of escalators triggered by his multiple All-Star selections and Gold Gloves won since his extension was signed. Both Max, Rob Huff, and I thought that it was $1.5M, and I'd made all but the final few moves with the lower figure in mind. I end up going over budget by a few million, as you will see, but $2.3M of that was on account of the Perez figure.
I also felt comfortable applying the insurance payout from the Royals' policy on Jason Vargas. Estimates of the payout on the policy were $6M in the Star, so I applied that money towards my 2016 payroll. I assume this is what the Royals will do as well.
Alex Gordon was clearly going to opt out of the final year of his contract. As a free agent, he was the only Royal who was worthy of a Qualifying Offer--a one-year, $15.8M offer that the player can decline with the caveat that if another team signs said player, the team who lost the player to free agency gets a compensatory sandwich pick between the first and second rounds and the team who signs the player loses their highest remaining draft pick.
The only other players eligible were those whose club options were being bought out to grant them free agency or those who left via free agency who were Royals for the entire season. Clearly, none of these players was worth the near-certainty that they would jump at the opportunity to make $15.8M next year.
Gordon turned down the offer and opted to test the waters of free agency. If Gordon ended up signing somewhere else, the Shadow Royals would have been given a draft pick somewhere in the high-20s or 30s after the offseason dust settled.
Faced with increasing salaries through arbitration (figures that in the simulation are not negotiable, so the Shadow Royals invariably end up paying more for the players who go through arbitration than the real life Royals--who historically are quite good at settling below expected arbitration figures) and worrisome holes opening up in the rotation, bullpen, and outfield to make no mention of Omar Infante, the Shadow Royals had no room to carry risky luxuries on the rolls.
Buying out the club options on Alex Rios and Jeremy Guthrie's contracts was an obvious choice. Similarly, exercising the reasonable club options on Alcides Escobar and Wade Davis took no thought at all. The buyouts on Rios and Guthrie's contracts meant that the Royals would take a $4.7M payroll hit in 2016.
The only club option that was an arguable borderline decision was Jonny Gomes, who had a $3M club option with no buyout for the 2016 season. As the Shadow Royals were likely going to have to head into 2016 with a platoon at an outfield spot with club-controlled Jarrod Dyson and a lefty-masher due to budgetary constraints, carrying the beloved clubhouse guy in the form of southpaw destroyer Gomes was something to consider.
Despite Gomes's appeal, it seemed likely that right-handed platoon corner outfielders would run a little less on the open market. His club option was not exercised.
Arbitration offers and non-tenders
With Kelvin Herrera and Eric Hosmer both agreeing to two-year deals when avoiding arbitration last year, neither were up for arbitration this offseason.
The highest arbitration figure that the Shadow Royals needed to consider was Greg Holland's $11.3M price tag for 2016. As he is set to miss virtually the entire season with Tommy John surgery, he was not going to be getting a deal from a Shadow Royals set on contention in 2016.
In the most obvious of moves, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Jarrod Dyson, and Danny Duffy were all reliable sources of potential surplus value at their arbitration price tags and were retained for the 2016 season.
Tim Collins's healthy and effective return was a big enough question mark in the 2016 season to warrant his modest price tag an unnecessary expenditure. Back-up catchers on this team are used so sparingly that there seemed little point in paying $1.1M to employ Drew Butera. Given the fact that he was barely used at the major-league level last year, the prospect of paying Louis Coleman $1M seemed pointless.
Roster overview after options, non-tenders, and arbitration offers were made
A quick look at the depth chart after these decisions were made looked roughly like this:
- Catcher - Salvador Perez, Francisco Pena
- First base - Eric Hosmer
- Second base - Omar Infante, Christian Colon
- Third base - Mike Moustakas, Cheslor Cuthbert
- Shortstop - Alcides Escobar
- Left field - Jarrod Dyson, Brett Eibner
- Center field - Lorenzo Cain
- Right field - Paulo Orlando, Jose Martinez/Reymond Fuentes
- Designated hitter - Kendrys Morales
- Starting pitchers - Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlen, Danny Duffy, Miguel Almonte/Andy Ferguson/Kyle Zimmer/Clayton Mortenson/Yohan Pino
- Bullpen - Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Michael Mariot, Buddy Baumann, Scott Alexander, Troy Patton
- 60-day DL - Jason Vargas
While initially discussing trade scenarios with other General Managers, my first goal was a noble one: dump Omar Infante. While unsuccessfully attempting to get owners to hold their nose at Infante's undesirable contract in the early goings of discussions, an offer fell in my lap. Pittsburgh came a-courtin' with an offer for Omar Infante, Sam Selman, and Brett Eibner with the return to the Shadow Royals being Pirates' hurler Charlie Morton. Morton's 2014 extension had one year remaining at the reasonable amount of $8M, with a trade turning a $9.5M club option in 2017 into a mutual option with a $1M buyout if the club bought out the option. With payroll always being a concern, I countered with Pittsburgh pitching in $1M this year to offset that 2017 buyout. They agreed.
- to Kansas City - Charlie Morton and $1M
- to Pittsburgh - Omar Infante, Brett Eibner, and Sam Selman
While Eibner could conceivably contribute at the major-league level on a non-contender, it's hard to see where his place would be on the Royals. Morton strengthens the rotation. Selman can't not walk batters. Omar Infante is Omar Infante and is owed $17.75M over the next two years including the buyout on his 2018 club option. Christian Colon slides into Infante's spot and any number of replacement-level infielders slides in behind him, at least for the time being.
Free Agent signing #1
The Royals wasted little time in trying to get Alex Gordon to agree to terms on a deal. In previous simulations, the free agent market has gotten insane on the bigger names. I pushed pretty hard trying to get Alex Gordon to agree to terms on a deal early in the simulation before the other free agent outfielders got signed. Talks eventually got pushed into the nine-figure range, which is where I expected them to end up, but using Max Scherzer's deal as a guidepost, I got Alex Gordon to agree to the following, convoluted deal:
- five years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020) at $14M each season
- ten years of deferred compensation running from 2021 to 2030 in which Gordon receives an annual sum of $3.5M, guaranteeing a minimum of $105M
- performance bonuses of $2.5M in 2019 and 2020 if he reaches the 600 PA benchmark
- award bonuses of $1M for any year in which he finishes in the top ten of MVP voting or wins the Gold Glove; award bonus of an additional $2M if he finished top three in the MVP voting
This is clearly a huge deal. The incentives can add up to $25M to the deal. The deferred compensation seemed viable within the construct of the sim given that the Royals' penurious regional sports network deal is up in 2019. Between a likely sizable bump in revenues from that stream along with the annual increases in revenue from the national TV deals, MLBAM money, revenue sharing, etc., it seemed like $3.5M would be a palatable sum for the retention of Gordon's services.
Free Agent signing #2 and #3
With the depth of the bullpen a major concern, it seemed imperative to lock down a few low-dollar options on one-year deals. Jason Frasor and Oliver Perez both came to terms on low-risk single-season contracts. But I Don't Know What To Do With Those Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs signed for $1M. The left-handed Perez, who has quietly become a reliable reliever over the past four seasons, signed on the dotted line for $1.75M.
Minor-league Free Agent pseudo-signing #1
Having signed Frasor, it made sense to go after Jesse Crain as well. He was initially offered minor-league deal with $250K bonuses at 20, 40, and 60 major-league appearances to which his agent gladly agreed. Moments later, it was revealed that Crain, who rehabbed some in the minors this past year, was not part of the sim. The world will be a better place if the Shadow Royals have the Frasor/Crain tandem in their pen.
The Pirates came calling once again. This time they were shopping Oswaldo Arcia, who they'd gotten in a deal from the Twins. They were initially interested in Michael Mariot and Andy Ferguson. As Arcia is out of options, it seemed an unnecessary risk to deal two of the next minor-league arms in line for a spot at the back end of the bullpen. I countered with either Ferguson or Mariot and Daniel Stumpf. Of the pair, Pittsburgh's GM opted for Ferguson, so the powerful but frustrating Arcia is now a Shadow Royal as a decent flyer at the low, low cost of two minor league bullpen arms relatively close to the majors. At just 25 years of age, Arcia still has potential, though he doesn't fit in a platoon with Dyson as both bat left-handed.
Free Agent signing #4
With no real internal platoon option for Jarrod Dyson in right field, the Shadow Royals came to terms with Justin Ruggiano for one year at $2M. Having initially talked with the Dodgers on a deal in which the Shadow Royals would send Charlie Morton to Los Angeles for Alex Guerrero and Ruggiano, I was glad to have the chance to sign him after they non-tendered him. While Guerrero and Ruggiano would have plugged some roster holes inexpensively, Morton actually had quite a bit of value to the Shadow Royals, who had little starting pitching depth at this point. Ruggiano getting non-tendered meant I could pounce.
Free Agent signing #5
The Shadow Royals were in contract negotiations with Ben Zobrist up until about the final hour before he signed. At one point, it seemed like both Zobrist and Gordon might be able to come back to the fold while the Shadow Royals remained within their payroll constraints. It seemed like a deal might have been doable that would have gotten Zobrist four years and $60M with another $8M of easily attainable bonuses if healthy and $8M in deferred compensation. With that deal on the table for about a day, I suddenly got a counter asking if I could match four years, $84M. It was clear that Zobrist was no longer an option. With Guerrero still being theoretically attainable, I tested the waters with Howie Kendrick. With Kendrick having received a qualifying offer, too many teams seemed scared to lose the draft pick associated with signing him.
With no wrangling at all, the Shadow Royals and Howie Kendrick agreed to terms on a three-year, $36M deal.
Kendrick is more than two years Zobrist's junior. Zobrist is projected to be worth 3.1 fWAR per Steamer and signed for five years and $108M. Yes, you read that correctly. The younger Kendrick is projected to be worth 2.4 fWAR and signed for two fewer years and $72M less.
Free Agent signing #6
From the beginning of the sim, I was trying to sign Chris Young. He simply makes too much sense for this team.
Young waited for the market to shake itself out, rightly so. He eventually signed to a one-year, $5M deal with a $5M club option for 2017 with a $1M buyout.
The Royals came to terms quickly with Erik Kratz and Louis Coleman on minor-league deals. Internally, it is assumed that both will break camp with the major-league roster, but signing both relatively fungible players to minor-league deals offers the club more roster flexibility coming out of camp. Kratz's deal is worth $500K with a $100K bonus if he makes 30 starts in the majors. Coleman's is worth $600K guaranteed with a $250K bonus if he makes 30 appearances with the Royals.
Part way through the sim, Shaun Marcum signed an incentive-laden minor-league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. If added to the 25-man roster, he'll make $1M. If he makes ten starts for the Royals, he gets an additional $2M. There is also a player opt-out clause if he hasn't been added to the 25-man roster by July 1.
For more rotation depth, the Shadow Royals added Chad Billingsley and Jeremy Guthrie on minor-league deals. Billingsley is guaranteed $500K with $400K bonuses at 10 and 20 major-league starts and a $3M bonus if he makes 25 starts. Guthrie is guaranteed $750K with $750K bonuses at 10 and 20 major-league starts and a $2M bonus at 30 starts. Guthrie also has an opt-out clause if not added to the big-league roster by July 1.
Final payroll picture
The Shadow Royals were given a $125M payroll figure under which to work. They ended up with a $127.9M payroll. $1.8M of the $2.9M overage comes from the difference in Perez's initial and eventual salary. The major-league payroll does not have Guthrie figured into it, nor are fliers Billingsley and Marcum's salaries. As has been the case in every season, the real-life Royals will likely race past the $125M figure under which the Shadow Royals are operating.
The 25-man Shadow Royals roster looks like this:
italics indicate bonuses are possible
^2016 salary less $1M paid by Pittsburgh
+2016 salary less the insurance payout
Given the holes to fill, I feel relatively good about the shape in which the Shadow Royals find themselves heading into 2016. If the quintet of Ventura, Volquez, Medlen, Morton, and Young are healthy, Duffy can go to the pen, a job for which I believe him to be better suited. While far from sexy, that rotation is serviceable with some upside.
A down year for the farm system and the 2015 departures via trade of arms like Sean Manaea, Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, and John Lamb limited what I was able to do on the trade market. While I've never shied away from trading prospects, there just weren't many opportunities to prey upon the collective overvaluing of prospects that presented themselves.
The prospects lost via trade were only Brett Eibner, Sam Selman, Andy Ferguson, and Daniel Stumpf, all of whom were basically org guys.
The outfield is now very deep, with five legitimate options to mix in and quite a bit of injury insurance not counting minor leaguers Paulo Orlando, Reymond Fuentes, and Jose Martinez.
With the goal being to reload for a possible repeat, it feels like contention is in the works for the Shadow Royals while staying very close to the recommended budget.