One of the most interesting things that the SB Nation MLB communities do is put on an offseason simulation after the World Series comes to a close. It’s one thing to put half-baked trade suggestions in the comment section or to fire off a tweet about why your team doesn’t just go out and acquire X player. It is another thing entirely to try to be a GM of a fake team during a couple of days with 29 other real life human beings.
In last year’s offseason simulation, I took on the task as the Shadow Royals GM for the second straight year. Now that the real life Royals season has come to a close, it’s time to take a look back at what I did and see if I made good moves or if they just flopped. Let’s go.
2021 Shadow Royals Review
Royals non-tender Mike Montgomery, Kevin McCarthy, and Glenn Sparkman
What I said: These replacement-level pitchers can be replaced by those with more minor league options as well as those who are, well, better.
What happened: Well, none of these players pitched a single big league inning in 2021, so the roughly $4.6 million I saved from non-tendering them was money well-saved.
Did it work? Yes.
Transaction 1: Royals trade Maikel Franco to the Blue Jays for Otto Lopez
What I said: I did not think Franco was worth $8 million on the open market, and I came to the conclusion that his defensive performance in 2020 was likely a small sample size aberration from his lengthy history of poor defense.
What happened: Sure enough, Franco stunk in 2021. Per Fangraphs, he was worth -0.3 WAR in 104 games and had a -7 DRS, so. Yeah. Meanwhile, Otto Lopez soundly defeated Double-A pitching, turned in a respectable Triple-A campaign, and even debuted for one (1) plate appearance for the Blue Jays in real life.
Did it work? Yes.
Transaction 2: Royals trade Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez, and Richard Lovelady to the Angels for Jo Adell
What I said: I included Perez, who becomes a free agent at the end of the year, and Lovelady, who has fallen out of favor with the real life organization, to get a consensus top-ten prospect in baseball.
What happened: Whew boy, a lot. In this scenario, Salvy probably hits 50 homers this year, and he and Merrifield potentially propel them to a winning season. Lovelady didn’t pitch much for the Royals this year and then shredded his elbow, so he was mostly a non-factor.
Meanwhile, Adell continued to flounder at the big league level. Over a whole year, he probably turns in a 0.5 WAR season, which is undoubtedly worse than I expected and puts a damper on the future of the deal. Still: he’s just 22.
A few important things to note here, though: when we did this sim, Salvy had yet to sign his extension with the Royals. As a result, I was trading only one year of Salvy, and the future payroll of the Shadow Royals is much wider open.
Did it work? Too early to tell, but it’s not looking great. Could be worse.
Transaction 3: Royals trade Hunter Dozier to the Brewers for Lorenzo Cain, Tristen Lutz, Payton Henry, and Nick Bennett
What I said: Cain is overpaid and unlikely to be much more than a league average player. However, getting Cain back is also an olive branch for Shadow Royals fans who have seen Dozier, Whit, and Perez leave. Dozier turns 30 next August and we’ve already seen his athletic peak. Extending him to a Merrifield-esque contract is a possibility in real life, however.
What happened: Hey, I got the Dozier extension prediction right. Anyway, Cain put up 1.8 WAR in 78 games, while Dozier put up -0.2 WAR in 144. Yeah, they got out from under Cain’s salary, but Dozier is probably a pumpkin now and they traded three minor leaguers for the opportunity of being pumpkin owners.
As for the minor leaguers, performance was mixed. Lutz struggled in his 64 games in Double-A, hitting .217 with an unsightly 32.1% strikeout rate. Henry went to Triple-A, where he was mediocre. And Bennett kinda struggled in High-A and really struggled in Double-A and might be a reliever.
Did it work? Absolutely, unless Dozier isn’t a pumpkin next year, but even in that case, yes.
Transaction 4: Royals trade Josh Staumont to the Padres for Reggie Lawson and Blake Hunt
What I said: Why did I trade Staumont and not, as you see below, Scott Barlow? It’s simple: Staumont is volatile—just look at his FIP and xFIP numbers this year.
What happened: Staumont turned in the best year of his career this season, doing so by clamping down on his walk rate and focusing more on control. Good for the Padres. In return, I got Lawson, who is still working his way back from Tommy John, and Hunt, who rather hilariously put up a wRC+ of 9 in his 63 Double-A plate appearances.
Did it work? Relievers are volatile, so yes, though I probably should have shopped Staumont more.
Transaction 5: Royals trade Jorge Soler and $9 million to the Rockies for Ryan Vilade and Michael Toglia
What I said: Jorge Soler will hit one billion home runs at Coors Field, too, in the 2021 Shadow Season. It will be awesome.
What happened: Well, Soler really struggled with the real life Royals, but turned in a league average hitting year thanks to a hot streak with the Braves. Did you know he hit 27 home runs this year? In an off year? Crazy power.
Like many of the prospects I acquired, Vilade took a step back in 2021, though he did go from High-A ball to Triple-A ball. He’s still just 22, though. Toglia, however, held his own in High-A and Double-A. He’ll go to Triple-A next year for his age-23 season.
Did it work? Yes. Soler’s -0.2 WAR on the season is why.
Transactions 6, 7, and 8: Royals sign Wade Davis, Ivan Nova, and Matt Kemp to minor league deals
What I said: Minor league deals are essentially no-risk deals: they’re one-year deals that can be severed at no cost to the team if done so before the season starts. I pursued a number of minor league deals, and ended up with three players who accepted them.
What happened: Well, the Royals signed Davis to a minor league deal in real life, so I had the right thought train. But Davis sucked and Kemp and Nova didn’t play a single inning in 2021—minors or majors.
Did it work? Minor league deals never don’t work because they’re so cheap. So...yes?
Transactions 9, 10, 11, and 12: Royals sign Mitch Moreland, Mike Zunino, Zack Cozart, and Jake Arrieta to one-year deals worth a combined $20 million
What I said: After trading the Royals’ starting first baseman and DH in Dozier and Soler, respectively, the lineup needed someone to fill the void...There were a lot of catchers to choose from on one-year deals, including former Royal Drew Butera. I went with Zunino, an excellent defensive catcher and a veteran who should be an asset to a young pitching staff...Cozart was probably a bit of an overpay, but he can adequately handle all middle infield positions and has enough of a history as a hitter that a bounceback season could mean that another team could want him at the deadline...The former Cy Young winner Arrieta fills the fifth spot of the rotation, giving the Royals some breathing room and allowing them to debut their prospects when they are ready.
What happened: On these one-year deals, I was willing to overpay by a few million to get the guys that I really wanted. Moreland was unnervingly close to Carlos Santana’s overall production, except that I paid less and didn’t have a second year attached. Mike Zunino was actually excellent this year; his 3.7 WAR is easily the steal of the sim.
Unfortunately for me, Cozart never played an inning this year in real life, and Arrieta put up a cool ERA of 7.39 in almost 100 innings, so. Let’s just say he was the first to go when the young pitchers were ready.
Did it work? For one-year deals, I’ll absolutely take one extreme overachiever and a couple of stink bombs. Yes.
So: how did the 2021 Shadow Royals do? Grabbing Zunino as my catcher definitely helped soften the blow for trading Perez before his crazy season, but there’s no doubt that the Shadow Royals missed Merrifield’s consistent production, and Addell was a frustrating non-factor. Cain was just as productive as Michael A. Taylor (when he was on the field, that is) from the real life Royals.
Additionally, I should note that I moved on from Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler during down years and didn’t sign Jarrod Dyson or Carlos Santana. Those four players combined for -0.8 WAR on the year.
Ultimately, the 2021 Shadow Royals probably lost more games than the 2021 Real Life Royals. In addition to the lack of Merrifield, I didn’t sign Mike Minor or trade for Andrew Benintendi like the real Royals did. That’s a decent amount of production. Still, the 2021 Shadow Royals would have had more playing time for Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares, so maybe they could have mad up on the “production” of the likes of Ryan O’Hearn and Kelvin Gutierrez. For what it’s worth, the 2021 Shadow Royals also kept Khalil Lee and Franchy Cordero as a result.
But, in my opinion, the Shadow Royals are better suited for long-term success. I managed to squeeze value out of players at their peak and acquired a variety of young, talented position player prospects to shore up key positions. The 2022 Shadow Royals are set to start:
- 22-year-old Jo Adell in center field
- 25-year-old Kyle Isbel in right field
- 21-year-old Bobby Witt Jr. at third base
- 26-year-old Adalberto Mondesi at shortstop
- 26-year-old Nicky Lopez at second base
- 23-year-old Nick Pratto at first base
- 23-year-old MJ Melendez at catcher
That is, of course, in addition to all the young pitching, none of which got traded away, and with a 2022 payroll of $60 million or so—at least $25 million less than the real life 2022 Royals will have.
But of course I’d like it. What do you think? Let me know in the comments or in the poll.
What grade would you give the 2021 Shadow Royals now that the season is over?