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Is This The Darkest Timeline? - 2021 SBNation Offseason Sim (Toronto Blue Jays Edition)

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The Jays spend some fake money and make pretend trades in an artificial offseason.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Press Conference Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
MLB: Cleveland Indians at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Every off-season at SBNation, Max Rieper of Royals Review hosts a baseball blog wide off-season simulation. One volunteer from each of the 30 blogs assumes the role of GM for their team. Under the rules of the simulation, over 3 days, each GM is responsible for managing their offseason: signing free agents, reviewing opinions, non-tenders, and trades with other teams. The specific rules are as follows:

  • We rewind to the end of the regular season. The assumption is your GM has resigned and been replaced. The new GM is free to set their own organizational philosophy.
  • We’re not concerned with the 40-man roster.
  • GMs will not have a specific budget but will receive notes from the owners’ outlining limits.
  • Players with no-trade clauses cannot be traded (this includes players with 10-5 rights). Players with limited no-trade clauses can be traded.
  • Minor leaguers can be traded but must be specified. No Players to be Named Later. Cash may be dealt, but the amount must be specified.
  • You are free to frontload or backload contracts, although player preferences are for contracts not to be backloaded. Anything ridiculous will not be accepted. You can offer player, club, mutual, and vesting options.
  • Top offer will typically be taken, although there may be exceptions if a player has a preference on where he wants to play (big market over small market; older vet may want to play for a “winner.”)
  • I am not going to negotiate long-term deals for players that are not free agents.

This year I decided to volunteer for the job as the representative for Bluebird Banter. Why, you might ask, since every year the results are like chumming shark infested waters in the comment responses and I’m notoriously bad at fantasy baseball in general? The reality is that I wanted to get a perspective on this weird little idea that has turned into an annual event. I wanted to see what the tone was in the simulation and the dynamics that shape it. Also, what’s the worst that can happen other than the four posts worth of content I just handed to the community to write about how I blew it?

Going into the offseason, the rules immediately changed it from what the actual off-season priorities of the Jays would be. A Berrios extension should be front and centre this off-season, but under the rules, that was off the books. Also, the no-trade/10 and 5 rule took a couple of potential options off the table. The biggest change also is that the Jays were tagged as a team willing to spend big, which meant I could fish in the top tier FA market if I chose to. However, I decided I was going to try and stick within both the likely payroll and the existing Shapiro influenced philosophies of the current Front Office.

The thing most firmly in my mind was to try and remember that this is a simulation with a history of some pretty crazy things. A few years ago, Bryce Harper got $500M+ as a free agent. Many of the GMs had been doing this simulation for years so it absolutely couldn’t be approached from just a real-world mindset. So if I wanted to try and stay as realistic as possible, I needed to bear in mind that the environment would be like if the Winter Meetings were heavily inundated with illegal drugs and any of the sensible moneymen had been locked into closets the second the first charcuterie board loaded with meth was passed around.

My strategy was fairly simple. Without the ability to negotiate with Berrios, Bichette, Hernandez or Vladdy, I had to focus on what I needed to start next season. By my estimate, I needed the following:

· A big bat at either 2B/3B

· Two starting pitchers, one of them mid-rotation or better

· Two quality relievers

I had decided that I was comfortable going into the season with some mix of Espinal or Biggio starting at either 2B or 3B. I’d upgrade both if I could, but if I had to spend for one, I could accept that situation for the other. I also decided, internally, that we were happy to let Robbie Ray go and focus on re-signing Marcus Semien. My FO assessment was that along with his tremendous contributions on the field, Semien’s ongoing presence would be a key linchpin in helping this club handle consistent playoff contention and he was more likely to retain value as he aged.

There were several avenues I could take to get to fulfilling my goal. I was willing to move a reasonable amount of prospect capital, especially if I landed a long-term deal in certain positions. I also had a big bag of Rogers money to toss around. However, again, trying to stay true to the Shapiro led FO, I gave myself internal limit of $170M for payroll with a strong organizational preference towards maintaining financial flexibility if possible. Reading back into previous years, I also noticed that things got progressively more expensive and harder to anticipate as the simulation entered day two and three, so my other plan was to try and lock up my targets as fast as possible. While the other GMs circled the big money guys, I’d push to try and get the pieces I needed off the board.

Most of the communication was done via email or Slack, and while the simulation didn’t start until 5pm on Sunday, the Slack channel was opened on Saturday night. That’s when several of us technically started the game. I decided to follow AA’s philosophy of checking in on everyone. Anyone who showed up in Slack got a series of questions about existing players on their rosters, potential trade ideas, and what the prices would look like.

Welcome to Wonderland, Alice.

Within an hour, I had learned the following. Kirk had almost no market in trade with any of the teams I might be willing to make a deal with for pieces. Prices for all players, even guys on the last year of their deals on non-contending teams, were extremely high in terms of prospect capital. Almost every possible deal involved either Pearson, Moreno and/or several of the other top four in my system. I had been hoping to deal for a starter in the Berrios fashion – top starter with only a year or two on their deal. Cubs, Oakland, Cincinnati – all premium cost to make a move. I found prospect cost quite high in multiple venues. I had some deep discussions with Oakland about Matt Chapman, but the price started at Jordan Groshans. Frankie Montas would cost two prospects out of the BA Top 100. It was clear that my perception of the value of my prospect depth wasn’t aligned with the cost of MLB ready players.

However, I had been engaged closely with the Marlins GM that night. It was immediately apparent that Sandy Alcantara, a prime target of mine, was off the table. But as we talked, two things became clear. First, he really liked Gurriel Jr and second, a guy I assumed would be even less available than Alcantara, Pablo López, was potentially up. We went back and forth all night, with the initial ask for López plus a minor league piece for Gurriel Jr, Tanner Harris and Kirk. Finally, the next day, we closed on a deal that no doubt JaysfanDL is going to put a hit out on me for, but I was happy with.

Toronto trades Lourdes Gurriel Jr – LF to Miami for Pablo López – RHP, Steven Okert – LHP, and Zach McCambley- RHP

Lopez really emerged in 2020 and was dominant in 2021 before losing almost the last third of the season to a rotor cuff strain. He throws a lot of strikes and doesn’t give up a lot of home runs. He’s also cheap at $2.5M and comes with three years of control. I consider him to be a mid-rotation guy on a good team and still has upside to improve. Okert is a lefty reliever who had a solid season last year and was a nice fit in the depth of the bullpen. McCambley is an interesting prospect – signed in 2020 out of college, big, advanced curveball and a quality fast ball which has already landed him in AA. If the Jays can iron out his delivery, he could be a quality reliever in a relatively short period. I pushed hard to get Andrew Bender as part of the deal but that was a bridge too far for the Miami GM.

That was one of the first trades of the simulation. However, while I’d landed the big pitcher I needed, I’d just made a major subtraction to the club to do it which I was not expecting. Gurriel was never on my list to be shopped. Now, while I’ve filled in my biggest SP gap and added a solid lower end bullpen piece, I’ve just opened up LF and a gap in my offense.

As soon as the simulation officially opened, I made my first mistake. I had been trying to keep in mind the dynamics of the simulation in looking at decisions, knowing that certain costs wouldn’t be a big deal. But as I submitted my qualifying offers for Ray and Semien, I balked at adding one to Matz. In the real world, that was the smart thing to do, but in the simulation, under the rules, my rationale was this: either the QO crushes his market, and he signs the 3/$36M offer I made him or someone beats it and I take the extra draft pick. While there’s a chance he takes the QO and turns down the three year deal, I thought the rules of the sim made it most likely he’d take the guaranteed years and money over the risk. Unfortunately, with the idea of paying $18.4M for one year of Matz and losing that money out of my self-imposed payroll parameters, I chose not to. Matz would sign with Minnesota for 4/$50M.

My initial contract offers were as follows: Semien – 5/$131M, Matz – 3/$36, Suzuki – 5/$55M, Bradley – 1/$4M, McHugh – 1/$4.

It had been made absolutely clear by Semien’s camp that anything under 5 years was a non-starter. Matz, I liked at $12M per year. I’m quite high on Seiya Suzuki. I think he’s going to translate extremely well to the MLB, and I thought my offer was quite aggressive. I’d be proved wrong a day later. Archie Bradley and Collin McHugh were my two favourite relievers that I thought might fly a bit under the radar.

Toronto signs Archie Bradley to 1/$4M

Bradley isn’t a high leverage guy, but I like his ability to limit runs and work quality innings. He basically slots in with Richards in the bullpen at a reasonable cost.

Now options were a bit constricted because we had some GMs show up to the simulation quite late so a few of my targets I was never able to engage with, like Jose Ramirez. Early on, I had conversations with Arizona, talking about Marte. We had talked about a deal that would see a trade for Marte and Bumgarner, with Grichuk and a big haul of prospects going back the other way. Unfortunately, Marte was the hottest early commodity in the game and the Arizona GM was really good in accelerating discussions to get packages committed. Marte went to the Yankees for Oswald Peraza, Luis Medina, Oswaldo Cabrera, Trey Sweeney, Matt Sauer, and Luke Voit.

By now, the Hotstove channel on Slack was heating up and I started to check in on everyone that made a reasonable fit. When San Diego offered that Adam Frazier was open to being dealt, I popped in to get a sense of the price. The GM immediately focused on Ryan Borucki. While I like Borucki, he was out of options any how and I didn’t see him in my bullpen. I was considering releasing him and re-signing him to a minor league deal. To find a trade partner for a piece I liked was huge. His injury history came up, so I added a sweetener.

Toronto trades Ryan Borucki - LHP and Victor Mesia - C to San Diego for Adam Frazier - 2B

There’s a lot to like about Frazier. He’s a good defender and even if he lacks power, he rarely strikes out. He could slot into the top of the order easily and with his ability to play both 2B and LF, I bought myself a bit of flexibility with my ability to fill my need for a big offensive player who I could now find out of the 2B/3B/OF markets. If Semien turned too expensive, I could pivot to other options.

This was still the first night. We were getting close to the end when I found out Matz had a better deal, so I pivoted to another of my quick sign targets - Anthony DeSclafani. With all the big-name pitchers still on the board, that second tier was ripe for a quick strike. I offered him 2/$20M. Half an hour later, his camp came back asking for an extra year and we settled on a club option and a buy out.

Toronto signs Anthony DeSclafani – RHP to 2/$20 + a club option at $10M or a $2M buyout.

That would be it for the night. On the first day, I solved my rotation, picked up a couple of bullpen pieces and cleared up one position player question. I had barely touched my prospect capital and I’d only added a total of around $20m in payroll to get there. Now it was about opportunities and my white whale.

The next day was largely spent chasing relievers. Offers were made to Neris, Wood, Petit, and Melancon, all of which ended up with 2 or more-year deals at $6M or more AAV which was more than I was willing to go. I wanted to largely avoid multi-year deals for relievers. However, Adam Ottavino was largely ignored so he took my first offer.

Toronto signs Adam Ottavino – RHP to 1/$2M

While Ottavino is far from the dominant Yankees reliever he’d been, he still represented an upgrade from a Castro or a Yates coming out in med-low leverage and could still rediscover his form. At the cost, it made plenty of sense. If he’s cooked, cutting him won’t hurt.

At this point, things went nuts. Big names started to come off the board, but the most relevant one to me was Trevor Story who signed for 7/$194 with Seattle. Semien’s camp wouldn’t decide until the SS market started to move. My other targeted big bat, Kris Bryant, went off the board at 6/$210 to the Angels and Correa was taken by the Tigers for 10/$375. I started pushing Semien’s camp hard as they announced that they had an offer at 6/$150. This is the deal I agonized over. I didn’t want to go to six years, but the AAV was acceptable to me around that number. Finally, I sent back a counteroffer.

Toronto signs Marcus Semien – 2B for 6/$155M

That was the highest I was willing to go and fortunately, it landed him. I’m sure a lot of people will think it is too much, but Semien at under $26M a year I believe will maintain his value for the bulk of this deal. I love the idea of him and Springer as the leaders on this ballclub. And I think a winning team will find the money to make the other pieces work as needed.

Now, if that deal hadn’t been taken, I was going to pivot hard to Suzuki, thinking I could likely land him at 5/$80M and take my draft pick for Semien. Turns out it was a good thing Marcus signed because Seattle signed Suzuki at 6/$120M.

Shortly after, I got a message from Oakland’s GM. He and I had been talking the entire time, as I had been in on Montas, Chapman and Bassitt but we hadn’t worked out a fit. Both of us had made several moves when he pinged me about a deal for Lou Trivino.

Toronto trades Anthony Kay – RHP to Oakland for Lou Trivino – RHP

There was my high leverage setup man for Romano going into the season. As much as I liked Kay, Trivino still has three years of control and can help anchor that pen.

Sprinkling through out all of this I made a number of minor league deals. Some teams loaded up, but with my prospect capital largely intact, I didn’t want to stuff too many guys in the system to take at-bats and innings away from my prospects. I think Baltimore signed about 25 MiLB deals in the sim offseason. I signed the following MiLB contracts:

Corey Dickerson – OF

Jarrod Dyson – OF

Chad Kuhl – RHP

I like Dickerson as a lefty bench option, especially if there’s an injury or Grichuk is unplayable. Dyson is entirely a speed/defense option if needed. Kuhl getting released and agreeing to a minor league deal surprised me. I mean, he was bad last year but not unplayable. He’s a nice depth piece that maybe Pete Walker’s magic pitching dust can turn around.

This was the end of the second day. I’d had some discussions on moving Grichuk, which wasn’t a priority but would have been nice. Nothing really went anywhere. I had a number of teams check in on Kirk, but none had assets I was really looking for. Someone deeper informed in the farms of all 30 teams could have made a haul, but I was happy to have Kirk start the season.

Then I made my second mistake of the off-season (or my sixth, seventh, or eighth mistake, depending on how much you hate my moves so far). The Cubs had some interest in Reese McGuire as a stopgap catcher, but we couldn’t make a deal that night. I’d been trying to finesse something with Grichuk in it. Unfortunately, the next day, the simulation closed early at 1PM while I was working and unable to get on, as there were the offers of one of two limited but kinda interesting prospects with some backup bullpen depth for the year. With McGuire out of options, I should have moved him for something in the minors, as he’s likely the first one looking at a DFA.

That was my offseason simulation. I learned that the GM’s job is quite stressful and it doesn’t matter how many ‘Moneyball’ and ‘Draft Day’ quotes you make, you can’t force people into the best deals for you. I tried to be realistic and keep money open for extensions and mid-season opportunities if the Jays make a run and I think I did that.

Here’s the total transactions for Toronto:

Non-tenders

Jacob Barnes

Free agents

Signed Archie Bradley to a one-year, $4 million deal

Signed Anthony DeSclafani to a 2 year, $20 million deal with a $10 million club option and $2 million buyout

Signed Adam Ottavino to a 1 year, $2 million deal

Signed Marcus Semien to a 6 year, $155 million deal

Signed Corey Dickerson, Jarrod Dyson and Chad Kuhl to minor league deals

Trades

Traded Lourdes Gurriel, Jr to the Marlins for Pablo Lopez, Steven Okert, and Zach McCambley

Traded Ryan Borucki and Victor Mesia to the Padres for Adam Frazier

Traded Anthony Kay to the Athletics for Lou Trivino

Received a compensation pick from the St Louis Cardinals following signing of Robby Ray

Payroll: $157,466,666

You can go here to check out the overall simulations for all the teams: https://www.royalsreview.com/2021/11/10/22772549/a-summary-of-the-2021-sb-nation-off-season-simulation

And you can go here to look at the off-season by transaction: https://www.royalsreview.com/2021/11/7/22768443/the-2020-sb-nation-off-season-simulation-official-thread