What would happen if you handed the reigns of all 30 Major League Baseball clubs to 30 fans to speedrun the entire offseason in a single weekend? That’s what we aim to do with our annual SB Nation Offseason Simulation. This year marked the 12th consecutive year of its operation, with our own fearless leader Max Rieper at the helm for each and every one of them. Max plays the role of player-agent, negotiating free agent contracts while also serving as the final ratifier for all trades.
For the fifth consecutive year, I helmed the Royals in attempting to make the team better for 2024 and for the long haul. Last year’s sim was relatively successful, with 55% of readers grading my fake offseason with either an “A” or a “B.”
However, last year was also relatively straightforward. This year, not so much. It is imperative that the Royals be better next year but also gather talent for its farm system, which is one of the worst in baseball—all this without a traditional premium trade chip.
Could I have sat around and been realistically milquetoast? Sure. But that’s no fun. Let’s recap what I did.
There were three main things I wanted to do in this sim. They were, in no particular order:
- Make use of available payroll. Without any moves, the Royals will enter 2024 with a payroll under $70 million. With a recommended payroll at nearly $100 million, I had $30 million to work with and wanted to use it.
- Move on from redundant position players. The Royals have a bit of a logjam in a few areas, and I wanted to get value out of the players that had some and move on from the ones who didn’t.
- Revamp the organization’s pitching talent. Kansas City’s main issue is that they need an entirely new pitching staff for 2024 because their current pitching, outside of Cole Ragan and a dream, is underwhelming to say the least. They need depth and upside in the big leagues and the farm system.
Things that didn’t happen
Right out of the gate, I wanted to be aggressive and nab one of those pricey free agents the Royals never get. But I rather quickly ran into one of the biggest issues of this sim: free agent prices can often get out of hand because A) there’s no long-term team consequences for screwing up and tying your team to the wrong free agent forever and B) no one’s money is actually changing hands.
Within the first hour of free agency, I offered the following deals to multiple free agents, knowing that not all would sign for what I offered. I also pursued some additional free agents after the flurry of signings happened. Here were some of my offers that did not happen:
- Shota Imanaga - 4 years, $80 million
- Jung-Ho Lee - 4 years, $60 million
- Lucas Giolito - 3 years, $60 million
- Marcus Stroman - 3 years, $65 million
- Sean Manaea - 3 years, $30 million
Little did I know there was a bloodbath to happen. Imanaga signed for 7 years, $160 million. Lee signed for 10 years, $260 million. Giolito signed for 5 years, $105 million. Stroman signed for 4 years, $80 million. None of those seemed particularly good bets, seeing as I would have had to beat those numbers in order to secure their services. I was about to get Manaea, but the Red Sox swooped in out of nowhere to offer him 4 years, $75 million and blow my deal out of the water.
Successful free agent signings
I wasn’t left totally out in the cold, though. I ended up with a variety of free agents, including the following free agents on minor league deals:
- Noah Syndergaard
- Josh Taylor
- Brad Keller
I did, however, sign a few players to some big league free agent deals. They included:
- Cam Gallagher, one year/$2 million
- Michael Wacha, three years/$45 million
- Naoyuki Uwasawa, four years/$44 million
I wanted one of Stroman, Giolito, or Imanaga. None happened for obvious reasons. But near the end of the sim, I was able to acquire two secondary targets. Wacha has been quietly quite good in the last three seasons, with a 3.84 ERA and 5.1 bWAR over 386.1 innings. Meanwhile, Uwasawa comes from Japan, where he tossed 170 innings with a 2.96 ERA in 2023. Gallagher is, well, Gallagher.
With only a few methods of significantly improving the team’s long-term chances and shoring up weaknesses, I chose the one that hurt the most: trading Bobby Witt Jr. After discussions with a couple of teams—multiple of which provided laughably low offers for the star—I connected on a deal with the Seattle Mariners for the following return:
- Harry Ford, C, ranked 61st overall per Baseball America and 49th overall per Fangraphs
- Cole Young, SS, ranked 62nd overall per BA and 58th overall per Fangraphs
- Emerson Hancock, P, sixth overall pick in the 2020 draft
- Bryan Woo, P, started 18 MLB games as a 23-year-old with a 4.21 ERA/4.36 FIP
This is not a perfect deal. Even though I got back two of the consensus top-60 prospects in baseball and a pair of young pitchers with stellar resumes, Witt is still a better player than the rest.
But that’s kind of the point. The Royals had Witt and lost 106 games in 2023. They need significantly more talent, to roll the dice on a broader set of high-upside players, lest they waste Witt’s talents on perennial 90-loss teams (either that or extend him, which I could not do in the sim). So I went with the best combo I could: four good, valuable prospects, two of which will start at Double-A next year and two of which will likely be rotation members.
As for my other trades, of which there were a lot, here they are in all their glory:
- Nick Pratto to the Mets for RHP Raimon Gomez and RHP Sean Reid-Foley
- Jonah Dipoto to the White Sox for RHP Sean Burke, OF Andrew Benintendi, and $32M
- Devin Mann to the Nationals for OF Victor Robles
- Freddy Fermin and John McMillon to the Rays for LHP Mason Montgomery and IF Willy Vasquez
- Max Castillo to the Red Sox for RHP Noah Song
- Nelson Velasquez to the Athletics for RHP Joan Adon and RHP Ryan Cusick
When the sim started, I knew I wanted to trade either Witt or Maikel Garcia and one of MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, or Vinnie Pasquantino. Pratto got the nod, and I shipped him to the Mets for a pair of pitchers. Freddy Fermin had a surprising amount of traction, and I used him to get some promising young players (one of which was, shocker, a pitcher) from the Rays.
I picked up Noah Song because he’s an X-factor with upside that could be acquired on the cheap. I’ve always liked Victor Robles and dreamed on his upside, and he fills in the spot vacated by Edward Olivares. As for old friend Andrew Benintendi, I was able to buy a prospect off Chicago and get a player who I think is much better than his replacement level 2023 for a very reasonable four years, $32 million. Win-win there.
Projected 2024 Royals roster after the sim
And here we have it, the 2024 Shadow Royals in all their glory:
- C: Salvador Perez
- 1B: Vinnie Pasquantino
- 2B: Michael Massey
- SS: Maikel Garcia
- 3B: Nick Loftin
- LF: Andrew Benintendi
- CF: Kyle Isbel
- RF: Drew Waters
- DH: MJ Melendez
- C: Cam Gallagher
- IF: Samad Taylor
- OF: Victor Robles
- OF: Dairon Blanco
- Cole Ragans
- Brady Singer
- Emerson Hancock
- Michael Wacha
- Naoyuki Uwasawa
- Daniel Lynch
- Joan Adon
- Sean Reid-Foley
- Austin Cox
- Angel Zerpa
- Alec Marsh
- Carlos Hernandez
- Jordan Lyles
Not having Witt hurts, and the lack of premium talent in the farm system will be evident. However, moving Garcia to shortstop increases his overall value, and the rest of the infield should be interesting. The classic Salvy/Gallagher pairing continues, and Melendez spends most of the time in the field where he belongs—not being in the field at all.
On the pitching side, this looks much, much better than last year. Jordan Lyles gets bumped to long relief, and with the likes of Alec Marsh, Austin Cox, and Daniel Lynch serving as depth alongside Bryan Woo, who likely starts the season in Triple-A Omaha. Noahs Song and Syndergaard could force their way into the bullpen, but it’s not set up like it needs them.
Ultimately, this team is still probably not making the playoffs. But you would hope that a drastically improved pitching staff would perhaps help drive this team closer to .500.
How do you think I did? Vote in the poll and comment below!
What grade would you give this offseason simulation?
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