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How I assembled the 2022 Shadow Royals

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Duffy’s back, baby!

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy (30) walks toward umpires to have his hat and glove inspected in between innings during the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy (30) walks toward umpires to have his hat and glove inspected in between innings during the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Every fall after the World Series ends, the top minds from around SB Nation’s MLB baseball sites participate in an offseason simulation. Run by our very own Max Rieper, the annual SB Nation Offseason Simulation throws each team’s general manager into a Slack channel where 30 of us furiously type away messages and search obscure players’ names on Fangraphs.

What makes this simulation special is that real humans operate every part of it in real time. The 30 general managers are trying to improve their teams by trading with other general managers who are, in turn, trying to improve their team, and all this while Max negotiates free agent deals on behalf of the players to replicate the whole thing.

This is the 10th offseason simulation, and it is the third in which I have run the Shadow Royals organization (it is my sixth overall, having run the Mariners, White Sox, and Marlins as a roving GM). You can read the transaction thread here.

This year, these were my main objectives:

  • Keep payroll relatively low. This isn’t a “go for it year.” It’s a “see what they youngsters can do” year.
  • Maintain stable of young arms and top prospects. They’re going to be playing a lot this year. Can’t trade ‘em for veterans.
  • Figure out the middle infield situation. With four guys and three spots, something had to give.
  • Jettison Carlos Santana. That 1B spot is gonna be necessary, and he’s not a good enough hitter to fill the DH role either.
  • Collect young talent. I don’t want to rebuild, but we saw this team win only 74 games last year. They need more talent.
  • Shore up bullpen depth. Look, the Royals could explode this year, plus we saw just how much stress was placed on the poor Royals bullpen.

So, without more ado, let’s take a look at my specific transactions and why I made them.

2021-2022 Shadow Royals Transactions

Transaction One: Royals non-tender Ryan O’Hearn and Hanser Alberto

Ryan O’Hearn stinks, and he does not deserve a roster spot or a guaranteed contract. If he goes somewhere else and does well, hey, good for him, but his clockwork-like 68 wRC+ can go play elsewhere. Hanser Alberto I would have kept, but nearly $2 million is a little much for a player like that.

You’ll notice that I did not non-tender Jake Junis, like the real life Royals did. That’s because I still think that he can still be a contributor in the bullpen. Besides, getting a similar kind of buy-low veteran for that role would have been just as expensive. The devil you know, as they say.

Transaction Two: Royals trade Andrew Benintendi, Foster Griffin, and Emmanuel Rivera to Braves for Will Smith and Kadon Morton

With Jake Brentz’s late season struggles and Richard Lovelady’s Tommy John surgery, I’m not exactly hyper confident in the bullpen from the left-handed side. Will Smith solves this—since leaving Kansas City in 2014, he has legitimately been one of the most consistent and excellent left-handed bullpen arms in baseball, if not the flashiest.

Andrew Benintendi was the cornerstone for this move, and he was never going to be a long-term fit in left field for me. He’s a solid player, but with a salary of $9 million and only one year on his contract, he didn’t quite fit. Going along with Benintendi is Foster Griffin and Emmanuel Rivera, both of whom have had their moments come and gone, though I wish him the best. Kadon Morton is a toolsy young center fielder where the Royals don’t have a lot of firepower.

Transaction Three: Royals trade Adalberto Mondesi to the Nationals for Victor Robles

Both Adalberto Mondesi and Victor Robles are young, hyper athletic talents who haven’t quite been what their team needed them to be. Both had very disappointing years in 2021, and both probably need a change of scenery if they are to unlock their full potential.

This rare one-to-one deal hopes to do just that. Mondesi goes to Washington in search of offensive consistency and, well, playing consistency. Robles, meanwhile, comes to Kansas City to fill the every day center field spot, having not been a productive player since 2019. Robles has three years of control; Mondesi has two. Mondesi has been more productive when he’s been on the field, but is nearly two years older than Robles.

At the end of the day, Bobby Witt, Jr. is knocking on the door and the Royals already have an excellent defensive shortstop in Kansas City in Nicky Lopez. Meanwhile, they have no young center fielder coming. And if Robles continues to struggle, Michael A. Taylor is right there to step in.

Transaction Four: Royals sign Danny Duffy to a 2 year, $16 million deal

Danny Duffy will begin 2022 in a bullpen role. He’s not pitched more than 61 innings since 2019 and is entering his age-33 season, so that is unlikely to turn around. But during the first time through the order as a starting pitcher over the last two years, Duffy has an FIP in the high 2s and has struck out about 30% of hitters. He’ll be a great bullpen arm, and if the 2022 Shadow Royals eventually need him as a starter, he can fill that role, too.

Transaction Five: Royals trade Mike Minor, Angel Zerpa, and Dylan Coleman to the White Sox for Andrew Vaughn and Andrew Dalquist

Mike Minor was the odd man out in the rotation. He would have been a pretty good bullpen arm, but I get the feeling that’s not what he signed to do. The White Sox get Minor—paying his entire salary—as well as Angel Zerpa and Dylan Coleman. Coleman is a serious loss, as I think he’s going to be excellent.

However, I pulled the trigger because of the return. Andrew Vaughn, the third overall pick in the 2019 draft, was forced to make the transition from High-A ball to the big leagues and learn the corner outfield position in one go. He’s a special talent, and while he’s not going to be a contributor on the defensive side of the ball, he held his own in left field.

Why did the White Sox offload Vaughn for so little? I have no idea. But they suggested this exact trade, and I pounced on it before they could think better of it.

Transaction Six: Royals trade Whit Merrifield, Carlos Santana and $8 million to the Brewers for Keston Hiura and Max Lazar

I promise I did not intend to trade Whit Merrifield. I knew I was probably going to unload one of Merrifield, Mondesi, or Nicky Lopez. Turns out, I only kept one: Lopez.

One of the reasons why I traded Merrifield was because of Carlos Santana, who was receiving a startling amount of interest but who was, understandably, difficult to find a fit for. The Brewers GM reached out about Merrifield, and I said that a deal must include Keston Hiura—I had already traded Mondesi, and Hiura can cleanly slot into second base. I might not have thought any further except the Brewers also suggested taking Santana, and at that point I was mostly out of options there.

So, I did it, throwing in some money to make the deal happen and to get another prospect back in return (Max Lazar, an 80-grade name, joins the low minors pitching ranks).

Transaction Seven: Royals sign Dee Strange-Gordon, Pete Kozma to minor league contracts

After shipping away three middle infielders in Mondesi, Merrifield, and Alberto, I was left without a backup middle infielder. Strange-Gordon was always meant to be a Royal, what with his 333 career steals and general utility player vibe. Ditto Pete Kozma, both of whom will represent some infield depth. They won’t see a lot of playing time, but he’s there for insurance the same way that Alberto was.

And yeah, I would have signed Alberto to a minor league deal, but the Braves had already done so by the time the dust had settled on my other middle infield moves, so sucks for me.

Transaction Eight: Royals trade Jon Heasley to the Mariners for Mike Moustakas and $18 million

With the sim winding down, I found that I had more money in my payroll coffers than I thought I’d have. So, I put out a call to other teams letting them know that I could take a bad contract if a shiny prospect was attached to it, and the Reds reached out. They told me that they had a deal involving our friend Moose in the works, but that they’d like to discuss a fallback option.

Honestly, I hadn’t even considered a Moustakas reunion until that point, but the more that I thought, the more I liked it. The two infield spots I needed help with were second base and third base, the two positions Moustakas plays. Furthermore, I needed some more left-handed power, which I didn’t really have much of in a righty-heavy lineup.

So, I reached out to the Mariners once the Reds completed their trade, and I ended up sending Jon Heasley to Seattle for Moose’s return. Furthermore, I got the Reds’ money that they included in the deal, too, lowering the Royals’ part of Moose’s deal to $16 million over the next two years.

2022 Shadow Royals Roster

The starting lineup:

  • Catcher: Salvador Perez
  • First Base: Hunter Dozier
  • Second Base: Keston Hiura
  • Shortstop: Nicky Lopez
  • Third Base: Bobby Witt, Jr.
  • Left Field: Andrew Vaughn
  • Center Field: Victor Robles
  • Right Field: Kyle Isbel
  • Designated Hitter: MJ Melendez

I’m starting Witt and Melendez on this team because I honestly believe the new CBA will make it more conducive to teams to start their top prospects on opening day. Either way, they’re both ready. Melendez and Perez will share most of the catching/DH duties, with an occasional start at third base and first base by Melendez.

Elsewhere, things fall into place around that decision pretty cleanly. Dozier’s best position is first base, which is where he’ll start. Vaughn’s best position was at left field last year and was fine there, so that’s where he will be.

The bench:

  • Mike Moustakas
  • Michael A. Taylor
  • Cam Gallagher
  • Edward Olivares

I’m rolling three catchers here for a few reasons. First, Gallagher does have a minor league option remaining, and can be sent down whenever. Additionally, he allows the Royals to play both Perez and Melendez while maintaining a safety net. Taylor is your first defensive replacement in close games, and Moose is your first pinch hitter as well as the backup to both second base and third base, where he’ll play relatively often, especially if Hiura falters again.

Why isn’t Nick Pratto here? There’s certainly a spot for him—Gallagher’s, specifically, or perhaps Olivares’—but with both Vaughn and Dozier on the team there’s reason to rush him. Unlike Witt and Melendez, Pratto had a pretty high strikeout rate last year. If he can repeat, he’ll be up soon.

The rotation:

  • Brad Keller
  • Carlos Hernandez
  • Brady Singer
  • Daniel Lynch
  • Kris Bubic

I expect Keller to bounce back next year, and the rest of the arms are the youngsters most well equipped to handle a rotation spot. You could sub out Bubic for Jackson Kowar, I suppose, or toss Duffy in the fifth spot to begin the year.

The bullpen:

  • Scott Barlow
  • Jake Brentz
  • Josh Staumont
  • Danny Duffy
  • Will Smith
  • Jake Junis
  • Kyle Zimmer
  • Ronald Bolanos
  • Domingo Tapia

This bullpen looks a heck of a lot like last year’s bullpen, with Duffy, Smith, and Junis taking the spots of the rotting corpses of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana. There are a lot of options for the final two spots, but it makes just as much sense to see if Bolanos and Tapia are the real deal as any other approach.

How will the 2022 Shadow Royals do?

The 2022 Shadow Royals will be much thinner in the infield, that much is for sure. Mondesi is still highly talented and could very well see a breakout year. Likewise, while Merrifield has limited upside, you know he’s going to give you 3 WAR at second base. With Hiura’s recent struggles, it places a lot of pressure on Whit and Nicky Lopez to be productive.

However, the 2022 Shadow Royals are also much more talented overall. The combined difference in ceiling between the group of Vaughn, Robles, and Hiura as opposed to the group of Benintendi, Taylor, and Merrifield is rather extreme.

All this happened while staying mostly payroll neutral and without dealing any of the Royals’ big young prospects. Mondesi is only under club control for two more years, and the only prospects dealt were second-tier starters (Heasley) or relievers (Coleman)

Behind the Scenes

  • You guys, I tried my hardest to sign Zack Greinke. I offered a one-year deal worth $15 million plus as much free guac as he wanted. Greinke eventually signed a two-year deal with the Dodgers for a 2-year, $24 million deal.
  • Other teams inquired about the availability of Nicky Lopez, Pratto, Staumont, and even Vinnie Pasquantino, along with other bullpen names. I didn’t really want to deal any of them, so I did not.
  • The fifth and sixth trades happened within, no joke, about 45 seconds of each other. Not sure I finalized a trade faster than the one with the White Sox.
  • I kicked the tires on a Lorenzo Cain salary dump, but I secured Robles shortly after and it morphed into the Merrifield trade you see above.
  • The Cubs tried to get Jason Heyward to waive his no-trade clause in a potential trade for Carlos Santana with money involved. Heyward declined.
  • There was a lot of interest in Benintendi. A lot. Benintendi eventually got dealt a second time, making it at least five teams that were interested.
  • One year after attempting to get Dom Smith from the Mets, the Mets tried to trade for Merrifield with...Dom Smith as the centerpiece. Too late.
  • The Padres and I engaged in some trade talks regarding Wil Myers, in a potential Myers-for-Santana swap, straight up. They dealt Myers, unfortunately. Additionally, one year after attempting to get Hosmer and prospects in a salary dump from the Padres, the Padres tried to...dump Hosmer and his salary on me.

Poll

What grade would you give this shadow offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    A
    (30 votes)
  • 33%
    B
    (111 votes)
  • 32%
    C
    (106 votes)
  • 17%
    D
    (59 votes)
  • 6%
    F
    (22 votes)
328 votes total Vote Now