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Old Man Duggan’s 2019 Shadow Royals - A GM simulation retrospective

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Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers
G-O-N-E
Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

For the sixth (?) straight year, Max Rieper has overseen an SB Nationwide simulation in which members of team-sites across the network have taken the reins of each major-league club in an extremely abbreviated off-season. This year’s simulation unfolded here. Its recap can be found here.

In contrast to my approach in years past, I wasn’t particularly active this year. The contracts that we all would like the Royals not to be chained to would have cost too much in prospects going out the door to get out from under them without damaging the team’s prospects in the longer term. The thought of signing any free agents on more than a one-year deal would have been similarly deleterious to the Shadow Royals’ long-term prospects of success.

The key for the Shadow Royals this offseason was simple. Evaluate if and when the Royals could be realistically expected to be competitive and make sure every serious move pointed toward success in that window.

In this faux GM’s eyes, that window probably doesn’t open until 2022. Any Royals unlikely to be around then who have value now were the candidates to move.

As we’re all aware, there aren’t many of those players on these Royals.

*Stats and scouting grades that follow come thanks to the tireless efforts of Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen over at FanGraphs. THE BOARD made this sim a lot easier for me than it was in years past.

Options

First came the exercising and buying out of options.

Jason Hammel would have been due $12MM in 2019. Just like the real-life Royals, the Shadow Royals bought out that option at the price of $2MM. No explanation should be needed for this move.

Wily Peralta was either due $3MM in 2019 or would have been bought out at the price of $250K. Since extensions aren’t an option in the simulation, the real Royals’ restructuring of Peralta’s deal wasn’t an option to me. They basically just moved $1MM to 2020’s ledger with the never-exercised mutual option technically a remote possibility the year after next. In the sim, Peralta seemed a decent shot to be a reliever to move at the deadline at a semi-palatable price tag. Club option exercised.

Arbitration and non-tenders

The decisions on this front were fairly straightforward also.

Brandon Maurer would have been due $3.1MM in 2019. Everyone here can agree that’s about $3.1MM too much. Bye, Brandy.

Cheslor Cuthbert’s arbitration figure was $1.1MM in 2019. He can’t stay healthy, and I figured I could re-sign him to a minor-league deal. I outrighted him and offered him a minor-league deal to save the 40-man roster spot. Cuthbert eventually agreed to a minor-league deal. Money saved and a modicum of depth at third preserved while not taking up a 40-man roster spot (which we’re not supposed to concern ourselves with in the sim, but I do try to take these things into consideration whenever possible).

Jesse Hahn and Nate Karns are roughly the same pitcher, complete with their injury history that runs longer than their playing history. Hahn was due to get $1.7MM in arbitration. Karns was set to receive $1.4MM. I don’t believe that Hahn will be healthy. I really don’t believe that Karns will be healthy. I wasn’t going to commit guaranteed money to either player. I outrighted both and offered minor-league deals to both. They both agreed to minor-league deals elsewhere.

The remaining arbitration candidate was Brian Flynn, who was set to earn $1MM per MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration estimates. His left-handedness and lowest arbitration figure of the candidates on the roster with two remaining years of control to follow 2019 made him a worthy gamble in my eyes, and I was less certain that I could retain him than I was Cheslor Cuthbert if trying to get them off the 40-man roster.

The Moves

Trade #1

Whit Merrifield and right-handed pitching prospect Janser Lara to the Chicago Cubs for utility man Ian Happ, Tyler Chatwood, and right-handed pitching prospects Jose Albertos, Oscar De La Cruz, and Cory Abbott

In the first of three key trades for the Shadow Royals, I sent soon-to-be-30-year-old Whit Merrifield to Chicago along with 22-year-old pitching prospect Janser Lara. The key piece to this deal was obviously Ian Happ.

Happ was a consensus top 100 prospect heading into 2017. He doesn’t hit arbitration until 2021 and is under club control through 2023, a year longer than Merrifield was under control. Happ is also 5.5 years Merrifield’s junior. The Royals will not be competitive for at least a few more years, so getting a much younger version of Merrifield—remember, Happ’s last two seasons were spent mostly at the major-league level while Merrifield spent his age-22 and age-23 seasons mostly at high-A Wilmington with a 24-game dip in the pool at Northwest Arkansas—will help in years in which the Royals could actually use a 26- or 27-year-old player with positional flexibility.

Tyler Chatwood was a salary the Cubs were looking to offload. In agreeing to take on the $25.5MM due Chatwood over the next two seasons, I got Jose Albertos. Chatwood’s sinker suddenly became garbage last year, and he was positively abysmal in the walk department. The hope is that he corrects things and becomes a pitcher who could be flipped. If he doesn’t, well, the Royals weren’t going to be good anyway.

Albertos turns 20 today. The Mexican right-hander spent all of his age-18 and -19 seasons stateside. He walked a bunch of dudes in 30.1 innings this season during his first taste of full-season ball, but he’s got three 60-future grade pitches. He’s wildly inconsistent, but he flashes plus on three different pitches. With a guy this young, I’m fine taking a shot at high upside.

Oscar De La Cruz served an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a masking agent. When not serving his time in the PED penalty box, the 23-year-old struck out 73 and walked 31 in 77.1 innings at AA - Tennessee, all those Ks being amassed before his suspension in July. De La Cruz has a plus curve with a projectable fastball and change. Maybe he ends up in the pen, but his curve, which he can drop in for strikes, could make him a viable back-of-the-rotation arm if he can’t stay healthy enough to remain in the rotation.

Finally we come to Cory Abbott, the Cubs’ second round pick from 2017 out of Loyola Marymount. Abbott had a stellar 2018, striking out 131 while walking just 39 in 115 innings split between the Midwest League and the Carolina League. He did this as a 22-year-old, so he wasn’t young for the level, but given his unquestioned success at both levels this season, there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t start the season at AA as a 23-year-old next season if healthy. His ceiling is probably that of a #3 starter, but he works with four pitches right now and has done nothing but succeed since being drafted two Junes ago.

Merrifield is not an easy loss to stomach [well, not for me, of course], but I feel good about this deal in the long and short term. This was far and away the preferred return for me from the couple of offers that came my way. Happ was the highest-upside/lowest-risk piece that was offered in trade talks, and I think he’d benefit from being utilized as a full-time player in the lineup, even if he were to move around the diamond as his skillset lends itself to.

Trade #2

Danny Duffy and $6MM in 2019, $8MM in 2020, and $9.5MM in 2021 to Boston for prospects Triston Casas and Nick Decker

Shaun came a-callin’ regarding Duffy, who I honestly thought no one would be interested in acquiring. I was happy to eat much of Duffy’s salary to increase the return in prospects. Between a shoulder injury to cut his 2018 short and a discouraging season on the mound, the prospect of getting serious prospects in return for Duffy was one I could not pass up.

The headliner in the deal for the Royals was Triston Casas, drafted out of the same high school as Eric Hosmer this past June. Taken 26th overall, he was taken as and played briefly as a third baseman in two games in the Gulf Coast League before undergoing surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb. Turning 19 in January, the 6’4”, 238-pound future first baseman’s calling card is his monster raw power, grading presently as 70-grade. Given his pedigree and loud tools, he could be a rapid riser up prospect charts assuming he’s healthy to start 2019.

Nick Decker was Boston’s second-round pick in this past draft. Like Casas, Decker went down just two games into his professional career with a small fracture in his left wrist. The prep outfielder graded out as a five-tool prospect. Decker’s hit tool is a little less polished than Casas’s, and he doesn’t quite have the loud power that Casas has, but he’s playing up the defensive spectrum a few slots from Casas.

It would be preferable to have had these first two picks of this last draft for the Red Sox to have played more than four combined games, but I went with the upside play here.

Free Agent signings #1, #2, and #3

Derek Holland signed to a one-year, $1.5MM deal; Daniel Hudson and Cheslor Cuthbert signed to minor-league deals

Poring over the available free agents near the end of the sim, a few stood out as solid options to be flipped at the deadline who were overlooked by other owners. The oft-injured Derek Holland actually threw 171.1 innings last season and was worth 2.0 fWAR for the Giants. At such a low price tag, it seemed a sensible risk to sign him in the hopes that he would prove himself worthy of a deadline deal to a pitching-starved team in the hunt. If not, hopefully he could at least fill a spot in the rotation after dealing Duffy.

Daniel Hudson has pitched serviceably out of the bullpen since his return in 2015. His last two seasons have been roughly replacement-level, but on a minor-league deal, it’s hard to argue with the potential that he could help bolster what was a bad bullpen last year.

Cuthbert returns on a minor-league deal, no longer taking up a spot on the 40-man.

Trade #3

Salvador Pérez and $10MM in 2019, $6MM in 2020, and $6MM in 2021 to Milwaukee for prospects Brice Turang, Troy Stokes Jr., Zack Brown, and Larry Ernesto

This was another situation where we were talking about a Royal who isn’t going to be around in 2022, the first year of realistically competitive baseball for the Royals. To increase the return on Pérez, I was more than willing to take on some of the burden of his salary.

In Brice Turang, the Shadow Royals got back another first-round draft pick from this past draft. Turang, a prep out of Santiago H.S. in Corona, CA taken 21st overall by the Brewers, presently plays mostly at short and has the defensive skillset to believe he could stick there. At one point in 2017, he was in the conversation for going first overall in the next year’s draft, but concerns about his power (or lack thereof) dropped him down the chart a bit. He matured into his eventual 6’1” frame, and he’s got plus speed to go with projectably average field, raw power, arm, and hit tool. He walked 31 times compared to just 34 strikeouts and stole 14 bases in fewer than 200 PA split between two levels of rookie ball.

Playing primarily in left field, Troy Stokes Jr. was a fourth-round pick for Milwaukee in 2014 our of Calvert Hall College HS in Maryland. He’s a power/speed guy (19 steals and 19 dongs in 129 games in AA last season on the heels of a 20/30 season the year before between two levels) with K-rates that have escalated with moves up through the minors, but nothing quite reaching unpalatable levels yet. He’s posted walk rates between 9.8% and 12.2% through every stop in the minors. He also has a reasonable shot at reaching the majors late in 2019.

Despite having thrown just 25.0 innings in high-A the year before, Zack Brown excelled in his full season at AA. A ground-ball inducing righty, he threw 125.2 innings as a 23-year-old while striking out 116 and walking 36. He sported a 2.44 ERA and 3.33 FIP. With a present 60 fastball, 55 curve and 50 change, his 40 command is the thing that will likely limit him to the ceiling of a #4 pitcher, but like Stokes he is close to the majors, with an outside shot of making his major-league debut this coming season.

Last but certainly not least is Larry Ernesto. Ernesto signed during the 2017 J2 period, getting a $1.7MM signing bonus out of the Dominican Republic. At 6’2”, 175, the just-turned 18-year-old is still getting the bulk of his reps in center, though he figures to shift over to right as he fills out. His arm, raw power, and speed all grade out at 50 presently, and there is a 55 future grade on his hit tool. Ernesto could very well end up being the best prospect in this deal. He could end up being the best player I acquired in this sim.

Free Agent Signings #4, #5, and #6

Bud Norris signed to a one-year $2.75MM deal; Shawn Kelley and Blake Wood signed to minor-league deals

Bud Norris seemed like another decent bullpen flyer with the hopes of flipping him at the deadline. Kelley and Wood cost nothing. Kelley would have to pitch the season without a glove, but otherwise low-risk, moderate upside. Wood comes home again, just like nearly every sim that has happened before. Tradition.

Summary

The Royals suggested payroll was $90MM. I came in at $88.31MM.

The Shadow Royals will not be good. Neither will the real ones.

The eye was toward 2022, maybe 2021 if everything broke extremely advantageously. The Shadow Royals would still be paying $15.5MM to players dealt this offseason in 2021, but Chatwood, Kennedy, and Gordon are all off the books after the 2020 season. With no payroll obligations past that point other than Soler’s likely reasonable final year of arbitration, the $15.5MM paid to Boston and Milwaukee for Duffy and Pérez are palatable expenses when considering the fact that two first rounders from 2018 were brought back in those deals.

The only prospect I dealt was Janser Lara. Maybe he turns into something, but I have to hope he doesn’t.

More importantly, no one who should be evaluated next season was blocked by acquisitions of players like Lucas Duda or Alcides Escobar.

What say you all?