One of the most fascinating parts of the offseason every year is seeing how the SB Nation offseason simulation shakes out. Conceived of and ran by Royals Review’s own Max Rieper, this marks the 11th consecutive simulation. What makes this different, unique, and interesting is that it isn’t simulated by computers. Rather, 30 real life human beings act as team general managers, submitting offers and counteroffers for free agents and negotiating with other sim GMs in trades.
This year was my fourth consecutive year of running the Royals and my seventh overall participating in the sim. Just like last year, I tried to make my shadow Royals team better for the long haul. Below are my moves. For information about what other clubs did, check out the 2022 SB Nation sim summary as well as the roster and transaction summary.
Kansas City is in a bit of a weird place. They lost 97 games, so spending a bunch of money and trading prospects for big league talent isn’t a smart move. At the same time, with so many young players on the roster, the team has the capacity for significant improvement internally.
As a result, my plan was simple. First, I wanted to shop a few key players on the market—namely, Brady Singer, Scott Barlow, and MJ Melendez. Those are all solid players, but they are arguably of greater value as trade chips considering the makeup of the rest of the roster. Second, I wanted to acquire premium talent that filled specific holes. Third, I wanted to get some pitching depth while not paying an arm and a leg for it.
Overall, it was a relatively quiet year for me, for reasons we’ll get into later. But I did make some moves. I ended up with a total payroll just shy of $92 million, a reasonable number that more or less maintains from this year, while avoiding long-term entanglements.
Transaction one: Royals non-tender Ryan O’Hearn, Luke Weaver, and Brad Keller
No-brainer moves, these were. O’Hearn stinks and I needed his roster spot more. Keller was not worth $7 million; I did try to sign him for a $3-$4 million deal, but was outbid and I didn’t want to basically give him what he would have gotten in arbitration. Luke Weaver isn’t worth guaranteed money, either; he eventually signed with the Mets on a minor league deal.
Transaction two: Royals DFA Hunter Dozier
I wanted nothing to do with Dozier, one of the worst players in baseball, so I cut him. Yes, I’d have to eat the remaining $16 million. But that was the previous administration’s decision. I gain his roster spot in return while improving by subtracting.
Transaction three: Royals sign Zack Greinke to a 1-year, $13 million deal
Greinke is a franchise legend who still pitched at a solid level last year, and was, outside of Singer, the sole rock in the rotation last year. I didn’t want to expose more of the young pitching before it was ready, so I had to bring him back. On only a one-year deal, sure, maybe it was a bit of an overpay. But he was worth it last year.
Transaction four: Royals trade Nick Loftin and Alec Marsh to the Pirates for Nick Gonzales
MJ Melendez was a hot commodity on the trade market. The left-handed Melendez didn’t quite fit at catcher, nor does he necessarily look like a strong corner outfielder. First base, meanwhile, is also occupied. So, I targeted some other players at different positions. The Pirates honed in on Melendez early, and in return I honed in on a target I’ve always been fond of: second baseman Nick Gonzales. The right-handed hitting Gonzales provides some balance against the Royals’ lefty-heavy lineup.
The Melendez deal fell through, but the Pirates coveted other youngsters in my farm system. I am not high at all on Loftin, who posted a 69 wRC+ at Triple-A this year in 168 plate appearances. Likewise, Marsh’s disastrous year at Double-A included an ERA that started with a 7. While both players had nice 2021 campaigns, I valued the higher certainty of Gonzales over those two.
Transaction five: Royals sign Danny Duffy to a 1-year, $3 million deal with incentives
Partway through the sim, I got a nod from Duffy’s agent (Max) that Duffy would love to return to the Royals. I had a few million in my budget, so I offered a one-year deal. Duffy has been dealing with a variety of injuries these last few years, but if he can return healthy, he honestly might be one of Kansas City’s best relievers. If not, it’s a one-year deal.
Transaction six: Royals trade Brady Singer and Scott Barlow to the Cardinals for Nolan Gorman, Gordon Graceffo, Jack Flaherty, Ivan Herrera, and Paul DeJong
Ah yes, the big one. Singer is a budding star who won’t get to pitch for a contender for another two years at least. Barlow is an excellent reliever who has for all his career seemed like Joakim Soria back in 2009 when Mike Jacobs was striking out to end games and Ron Mahay was blowing middle relief innings. As pitchers, both are volatile, and both are potentially at their peak trade value. I used this opportunity to shop both.
Two potential deals almost came to fruition, both involving Singer and Barlow. In addition to the above deal, the Mets offered a prospect package that included shortstop Ronny Mauricio (ranked 32nd in Fangraphs’ most recent Top 100), outfielder Alex Ramirez (ranked 85th in Baseball America’s most recent Top 100), pitcher Calvin Ziegler (ranked ninth in MLB.com’s ranking of Mets prospects), and outfielder Nick Morabito (ranked 14th in their system by MLB.com). They added in Mike Vasil (ranked 11th).
Ultimately, as you can see, I went with the Cardinals’ deal, as I preferred their two centerpieces more than the Mets’ centerpieces. One such centerpiece was Nolan Gorman, ironically selected one spot after Singer in the 2018 draft. Gorman boasts great power and isn’t afraid to take a walk, and in his age-22 season, put a up wRC+ of 107. He also slots cleanly at third base, his preferred position and the one he has the most experience with in the minors.
The other centerpiece was Gordon Graceffo, ranked by Baseball America as the 66th best prospect in the game. The right-handed pitcher has already seen Double-A, and could factor into the rotation as soon as next year.
But it wasn’t just those two. I also got Jack Flaherty, who has dealt with shoulder injuries but when healthy is a frontline starter. Additionally, the Cardinals sent over catcher Ivan Herrera, who Baseball America ranks as the 84th best prospect in the game. Herrera will eventually take the catching mantle from Perez, just as he was expected to do for Yadi. Paul DeJong punctuates the deal with a fart sound as a salary dump on the Cardinals’ part.
Transaction seven: Royals sign Sean Manaea to a 2-year, $22 million deal
Of all the moves that happened in this sim, I think this one is both the most likely that the Royals would do and the one that I would like the Royals to do the most. Yeah, it’s potentially more likely they re-sign Greinke and grab Duffy. But this could be a sneaky good deal for the Royals: before last year, Manaea has produced at a 3.1 WAR (Baseball-Reference’s version) per 32 games started pace and accrued 12.4 total WAR in his career.
Sure, there’s risk here. Manaea has had some injuries, and he wasn’t very good last year, his age-30 season. However, for only two years and $22 million combined—only $11 million per year—the Royals get a relatively young lefty who’s been really solid when healthy.
Transaction eight: Royals sign Dallas Keuchel and Ian Kennedy to minor league deals
If I were actually running the Royals, I would have picked up more players on minor league contracts, especially on the position player side. I am not actually doing so. But I do make an effort to get some pitching on minor league deals.
Look; Keuchel, entering his age-35 season, might be toast. He’s certainly toast as a starter. But he could be a viable reliever or offer some long relief help. Likewise, Kennedy is toast as a starter. But he was a perfectly good reliever from 2019 through 2021, and we’ve seen the Royals cash in on relievers on small deals before (see Rosenthal, Trevor).
What Might Have Been: The MJ Melendez Saga
A lot of interest happened for Melendez, but I didn’t find a deal. Here are some of the discussions that happened. Should I have pulled the trigger or pursued one of these more? Let me know in the comments or tweet at me while Twitter yet lives.
- I had an assured deal with the Diamondbacks consisting of left fielder Jake McCarthy and pitcher Blake Walston. I eventually declined.
- I had another assured deal with the Reds consisting of lefty pitchers Brandon Williamson and Andrew Abbott. I eventually declined.
- I had yet another assured deal with the Yankees consisting of shortstop Gleyber Torres, catcher Austin Wells, and relief pitcher Ron Maranacchio. Once I got Nolan Gorman to fill the third base slot, this didn’t make sense anymore for either team.
- I was discussing Melendez in a trade for Gonzales with the Pirates with third baseman Jared Triolo tagging along, but I ended up getting Gonzales for minor leaguers.
- I tried to get the Angels to discuss shortstop Zach Neto, but they didn’t want to part with him.
Not gonna lie, I kept Melendez in part because there were so many options but I didn’t love any of them. The good news: I didn’t have to trade him.
Man oh man, the 2023 Shadow Royals lineup looks exciting:
- Catcher: Salvador Perez
- First Base: Vinnie Pasquantino
- Second Base: Michael Massey
- Shortstop: Bobby Witt Jr.
- Third Base: Nolan Gorman
- Left Field: MJ Melendez
- Center Field: Michael A. Taylor
- Right Field: Drew Waters
- Bench: Sebastian Rivero, Adalberto Mondesi, Nicky Lopez, Edward Olivares, Kyle Isbel
Partway through the season, Ivan Herreara, Nick Pratto, and Tyler Gentry could join this group. It’s young and talented with a lot of upside. As for the pitching, it’s a lot like last year—with some additional veteran help.
- Starters: Zack Greinke, Jack Flaherty, Sean Manaea, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic
- Relievers: Amir Garrett, Josh Staumont, Ian Kennedy, Dylan Coleman, Taylor Clarke, Richard Lovelady, Carlos Hernandez, Danny Duffy
There’s a lot of relievers that could appear, but it’s the starting pitching depth has arguably improved. Yes, losing Singer stings. But the additions of Flaherty and Manaea ought to mean fewer young pitchers like Angel Zerpa and Jon Heasley tossing innings they probably shouldn’t have been.
All in all, I’m more pleased with this year’s result than last year’s. But I’m looking forward to next year, when the challenge will be, hopefully, to push the chips in and try to compete.
What grade would you give this offseason simulation?