It was that time of the year again, where I get to ruin another franchises future as Max handed me the keys to the general manager's office (I’ve done the Marlins, the Pirates, and the Orioles and also the Red Sox). This year I had the Royals AL Central rival the Cleveland Indians.
The commissioner of the entire exercise created “notes from the owner” for every GM to operate under and I think every GM should try to mostly live within the confines of those notes. The Shadow Dolan Family in this case asked that I
”have to look long-term as well as short-term and think about sustainability. Keep payroll in the $110-120M range.”
I would have really operated this way without these notes because I respect the Indians model of mostly trying to sustain a winning team instead of boom and bust cycles.
Sometimes when I do these sims, I have a clear idea in my head of “this guy should be moved” or “we should bring in that guy” but I didn’t really one as the Indians GM. I knew that we (I’m adopting this term for now) needed some outfield help but even if we didn’t make a single transaction, the team would still be competitive but not quite the threat that the Astros or Dodgers or Yankees are thought of.
I wanted to try to pick up an outfielder and add to the bullpen. I felt comfortable with the infield and rotation, but wasn’t opposed to trying to making moves there if they helped the long-term value of the team.
Transaction #1 - Exercise Corey Kluber’s team option, decline Dan Otero and Jason Kipnis
The Kluber option was a no-brainer, even if he’s coming off his worst season and entering his mid-30s, he’s a valuable pitcher and he cost ~60% of his market value.
If I could go back, I think I might have picked up Otero’s option because it was cheap and I could have used him for some depth but I’m not going to worry about the $1.5M.
Kipnis I felt pretty good I could bring back at a reduced price. His option was for $16.5M but I wasn’t even sure if he was going to be in the starting lineup for me, and $16.5M is too expensive for a role player when it only costs $2.5M (his buyout) to decide what to do.
Transaction #2 - Indians trade Sam Hentges to the Athletic’s for Jurickson Profar
This trade was born out of the A’s GM saying Profar was available and I thought I’d at least poke around. He’s projected for ~2 wins and can play a few different positions. I reached out asking what the cost would be and they came with a clear answer: Sam Hentges.
I wouldn’t say I liked or disliked Hentges, he was a fine prospect and sometimes fine prospects turn into great players...and maybe more than sometimes they don’t. So I found him...expendable? Not quite the right word but more so that he wasn’t unmoveable.
Profar only has one year of control, so I’m typically loathe to trade for one-year assets in exchange for 6+ year assets unless the immediate reward is obvious. It’s fairly close with Profar over Hentges. Jurickson is still somehow 26 years old (he’ll be 27 at the start of next season) and he projects to be an average or so hitter and he’s played five different positions over the years. He’s not a star but he’s an average player and one the Indians could bring back next winter if they wanted to do such a thing.
Transaction #3 - Indians trade Corey Kluber to the Dodgers for Keibert Ruiz, Jeter Downs, and Michael Busch
The first of the two big moves I made in this. Kluber I wasn’t really intending on exploring trading for him and was penciling him in as the lead in the rotation but the Dodgers came calling.
This one came together really quickly and I’ll admit I didn’t really explore the trade with other teams because I liked the Dodgers package and I know that other GMs in this sim have historically been reticent to trade their prospects or typically undershoot the value of the player they are acquiring.
I think there is a chance I could have down slightly better on the back end piece (Michael Busch) if I shopped around but I had a bird in the hand and took it.
I love Kluber about as much as someone who isn’t a die hard Indians fan can but 2019 was Kluber’s worst season. Yes, part of that was because of a freak accident and then another non-arm related injury he suffered while rehabbing the first injury and I don’t have any concerns about his long term health. However when he was on the mound he wasn’t quite his dominant self. Couple that with him being 34 next year and only two years of control left (2020 and 2021) I thought if we could get good value for him we should take it easier than we would for someone else with longer control and fewer years on their age.
Ruiz is currently the 11th best prospect in baseball (according to FanGraphs - who update their board constantly but also to be fair they haven’t rolled out their full blown 2020 board) and the best catching prospect not named Adley Rutschman. He has elite bat to ball skills and off the charts catching tools that his instincts allow to play up even more some how. His 2019 wasn’t his best season, but some of that is BABIP related and the rest is probably that he was a 20 year old in AAA. If he isn’t ready for the majors this year, he will be next year when the club options for Roberto Perez kick in.
Unlike Ruiz’s age-20 season, Downs did hit the ball well in A+ and AA this year. He does a lotta bit of everything, can stick up the middle, and he’s athletic. He also could be ready by 2020 but it’s more likely he’s a 2021 option who could fill the shoes of Jurickson Profar if he leaves.
I really liked Michael Busch in the 2019 draft (he went 31st overall to the Dodgers) but I also have an affinity for college first basemen who I think get dinged too hard for being college first basemen. The Dodgers moved him off the cold corner and slid him over 90 feet to play second base because of his athleticism (and also probably a bit because of the guy that have at 1B now in the majors so it doesn’t hurt to get reps somewhere else). He’s not as athletic as Bellinger but Busch is a great hitter at the plate who dominated the ACC (where he was MVP of the tournament) and hit in the Cape as well.
Transaction #4 - Indians sign Brett Anderson to a 1 year, $5 million deal with a $6 million club option and $1 million buyout
With Kluber gone and knowing I wanted some sort of bullpen or starting pitching help, I looked at the free agent market and saw Brett Anderson still there. He saw a resurgence last year where he was healthy all season and even though he wasn’t stellar, he still was worth 2 wins and he projects for 1.7 next year. As the moves kept going on, I eventually ended up sliding him into the bullpen instead of the rotation, so I knocked that 1.7 WAR projection down to 0.9.
Transaction #5 - Indians trade Francisco Lindo, Tyler Freeman, and Gabriel Rodriguez, and $2.2M to the Mets for Michael Conforto, Amed Rosario, Steven Matz
*takes a deep breath*
Okay. Going into the simulation I knew I wanted to at least explore offers for Lindor, a player I love. I got bombarded with offers ranging from fairly pathetic to “okay that is at least reasonable but I don’t love it and I’m going to look around some more”
So as the sim went on and I was bombarded with offers, I kept an eye on the MLB team holes I needed to be filled. Still trying to boost the outfield I posted to our general chat about the need and the Mets can calling and basically right away pitched the idea of Conforto + Rosario + Matz.
I was looking to swap Lindor potentially for guys with 5-6 years of control but Conforto and Matz “only” have two (the same as Lindor) but Rosario has four more years. To quote Alex Anthopoulos, we turned two years of control into eight years.
The money we pitched in makes the deal salary neutral for 2020. I don’t know the attachment or value that Indians fans put on Tyler Freeman but I didn’t have much of an issue including him given the additions to the farm system and how he’s behind a few guys on the 2021+ depth chart now.
Transaction #6 - Indians trade Danny Salazar to the Red Sox for Nate Eovaldi and Nick Decker
We were still eyeing some pitching depth, either in the rotation or bullpen. There were a few free agents that I was eyeing but their prices just got too high.
Now it’s not like Eovaldi is making the league minimum, but at least swapping Salazar offset ~$5M in 2020 and he isn’t a player I have much hope for making any impact. He is actually projected for negative WAR in 2020.
Eovaldi is a little rich in price but he’s been a pretty good pitcher as recently as 2018, his wOBA-xwOBA differential of .040 was the 8th largest discrepancy in the league, and his fastball velocity is still averaging 97 MPH. I’m betting on a bounceback.
To help offset some of the cost, I asked the Red Sox to include either Nick Decker or Cameron Cannon. I was hoping they’d chose Decker and they did. Decker is a 2nd rounder from 2018 who has hit pretty well as a teenager between rookie ball and A-. He could stick in center but it’s probably a corner outfielder who could be a 50/50 bat who gets the most out of his tools due to his high effort style.
Transaction #7 - Indians sign Dellin Betances to a 3 year, $28 million deal
I still didn’t feel comfortable with our bullpen yet. Unfortunately every team I tried to pry away a good, cheap reliever from they were asking for far too much (Nolan Jones is a very popular player). So the next best thing was to just look to the free agent market. Betances didn’t have a hot market and was still available as the deadline got closer. He had a deal in place initially that fell through after we bowed out when his price got too high. Then his “agent” messaged us back and let us know that he’s re-available now. We offered 3/$21M but another bidder came in for slightly more, so we topped that and settled on 3/$28M.
Betances spent a large amount of time on the IL (all season) for the first time in his career as a shoulder injury kept him out. Then we he was cleared, two outs later he went down with an achilles injury. However that won’t require surgery and he should be good to for 2020.
If his shoulder injury is just a blip on the radar, he should be back to being one of the 10 best relievers in the game and I don’t feel the price for that potential vs risk was too much. He also did not cost a draft pick as he was not offered a QO.
Transaction #8 - Indians sign Jason Kipnis to a 2 year, $6 million deal
Our final move here. We threw some flyers at a few different guys we saw as potential bench bats (such as Ryan Zimmerman, Avisail Garcia, Alex Gordon) who were still out there. Kipnis was up for our proposed deal and we went with him because he offered the most positional flexibility and that he’s of course familiar with the organization.
He’ll be in a reduced role (which is obvious by his contract) but we were happy to bring him back for that cost.
Note that he’s actually $5.5M in 2020 because we paid his $2.5M buyout instead of picking up his 2020 team option for $16.5M. In 2021 he’ll be a flat $3M.
So here is how the roster/payroll looks
I projected the roster before the sim officially started (using Steamer projections - which are usually a little more conservative than the other systems) as being worth ~37 WAR, which would put the team at ~85 wins.
After the moves I made (and like I said some proration down for guys who were projected for full playing time but I only envision getting half that time) it’s ~43 WAR, or a 91 win team.
I’m happy with the team overall but my biggest concern is the 2021 payroll where we are at $93M before arbitration. Now that number is assuming every team option gets picked up, so it’s more of a worse case scenario type of thing. We’ll see what happens with Roberto Perez and Brett Anderson in 2020, which could free up $11.5M, but I expect the team options for Brad Hand and Carlos Santana to be picked up.
On the prospect side of things, here is how the farm system looks (top 100 and FV are courtesy of FanGraphs):
The system is better than it was before, but it of course essentially cost Corey Kluber to get there, but I think the exchange was good given the risk of Kluber.
Mainly I’m most happy about not giving up anyone of high importance like Valera, Jones, and Rocchio. The strength of the system is solid at every level instead of concentrated at the lower levels.
- The Orioles and I talked about a slew of Baltimore players. John Means, Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens to name a few. We ultimately just couldn’t agree on the price of those players.
- The other team we were most in discussion with was with Tampa. They were interested in Lindor and it just came down to price. We discussed a few pieces (Brujan obviously being one) but also discussed a package that would include Lindor and Santana. I of course tried prying Wander Franco away but was unsuccessful. Needing outfield help, I inquired on Austin Meadows. I felt like Lindor was worth more, so asked for Meadows + but we couldn’t agree there. We also kicked the tires on Charlie Morton at one point, but the price wasn’t right for us.
- There was at one point a tentative three way trade between us, the Braves, and the Reds. A package that would have involved Ender Inciarte, Tyler Mahle, Freddy Galvis, and some prospects from our side (we would be getting Mahle). However as discussions evolved both with them and elsewhere, our side just didn’t make sense for us.
- I also made it clear to teams that I had little interest in trading Daniel Espino. He isn’t a top 100 prospect by any means but I didn’t want to trade away a first round pick before knowing more about what we have with him (see Turner, Trea).
- We poked around on a few bigger name free agents: Marcell Ozuna, Didi Gregorius, Yasiel Puig, and then pitching help of Ryu/Wheeler/Keuchel/Hamel/Bumgarner/Odorizzi/Gibson. We were almost immediately out on all of them when their price came back except for Kyle Gibson and Odorizzi. However we offered Gibson 3/$40M but someone else came along with 4/$48M and we bowed out.
- We kicked the tires on Michael Wacha but ended up liking the terms for Brett Anderson more
- Even after acquiring Profar, we were in discussion with Oakland for some of their starting pitchers. We wanted to look at their more front line guys but they seemed more interested in dealing from the back end of their rotation, so we couldn’t quite find common ground.
- I did check in on Michael Chavis from the Red Sox. I think I underestimated his trade value because my initial offer wasn’t particularly close.
- Ramiel Tapia from the Rockies came across our radar momentarily but after a bit further investigation into his peripherals and performance, we passed
- The only other team we had much discussion with was the White Sox as we were looking for reliever help. Alex Colome was available and we liked him, but they had a specific need they were looking to fill (left handed power). I was only willing to deal prospects for Colome and suggested Will Benson but discussions never really took off.