Update: 1:00 p.m.
Last week, I somehow tripped into the role of co-faux-General Manager of the Houston Astros for the SB Nation Winter Meeting Simulation. The Simulation was conceived and hosted by RoyalsRetro over at our SB Nation sister site, RoyalsReview.com, and the general consensus afterwards was that the exercise was great fun and taught us all a little bit about the complexity of managing a baseball roster on a budget.
The simulation wrap-up can be found here, and I provided a play-by-play throughout the week. Through the process, I traded emails with some very interesting people who write for or are regular readers to various SB Nation baseball websites, and I intend to stay in touch with some of them. Notably, my co-GM Shaun (KCTiger) and I traded somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 emails this week as we bounced ideas off each other, strategized, and fielded or made offers with other clubs. I also exchanged 200+ emails with the Phillies', Royals', and a couple other GM's to work out the specifics of trades.
The rules were simple: we each had total control of our team. RoyalsRetro would act as the agent for all Free Agents (a job he performed admirably, and in some cases well enough to get him hired by players such as Brandon McCarthy, Shaun Marcum, and Jeremy Guthrie), and the GM's would negotiate with him to sign players. The GM's contacted each other directly to work out trades. No 2012 Draft picks could be traded, and contracts had to be average annual value (no front- or back-loaded contracts). Naturally, we all tried to compress the entire offseason into one week, so there were ten times the number of deals and signings as the actual Winter Meetings, but we only had a week to fix our teams and made the most of it.
Here's how it went:
Shaun and I decided that we would work with the Astros' stated budget of $30 million for the 25-man roster, though we decided that payments to non-rostered players (Wandy Rodriguez, for example), would not count towards that. Late in the Sim, as prices skyrocketed beyond a reasonable real-life level, we expanded the budget to $35 million. To my knowledge, we are the only one of the 30 teams that had a budget of less than $50-$60 million by the end of the Sim, and that made our job very interesting. Most teams ended up close to or well over $100 million.
Our strategy broke down into several main goals, under the understanding that we intended the Astros to compete for a playoff spot in 2015 at the earliest:
- Fix the Astros' major league rotation
- Find a Designated Hitter
- Do not block any of the top prospects in the high minors who figure to contribute at some point in 2013 or 2014 (Singleton, Springer, Grossman, Cosart, etc.)
- Continue to build the farm system via trades.
Over at this post, I detailed the additions/trades that we made through the course of the week. In the interest of brevity, here's a quick summary:
- Astros trade Bud Norris to the Royals for RHP Yordany Ventura, RHP Mike Montgomery, LHP John Lamb, OF Elier Hernandez, and OF Jeff Francoeur
- Astros trade Jeff Francoeur and $2.5 million to the Cubs for RP Eric Jokisch.
- Astros sign SP Jair Jurrjens for 2-years, $11.5 million, plus a $6 million club option for 2015
- Astros sign 2B/3B/OF/DH Ryan Raburn for 2-years, $4.5 million
- Astros trade Wilton Lopez and Fernando Rodriguez to the Phillies for C Sebastian Valle and 3B Mitch Walding
- Astros sign SP Shaun Marcum for 5-years, $52 million
- Astros sign SP Roy Oswalt for 1 year, $2.5 million plus up to $2 million in incentives (for reaching inning plateaus)
- Astros sign RP Matt Capps for 1 year, $1 million
- Astros Trade Jokisch and OF Jean Batista to the Padres for 1B/LF/DH Kyle Blanks.
- Astros trade Wesley Wright to the Royals for P Robinson Yambati and P J.C. Sulbaran.
At first, Raburn was intended to be our DH. We liked his upside and he was cheap. But as we started to clear payroll, we realized we had an opportunity to add Kyle Blanks as well. Blanks has suffered at Petco park (mostly due to injury, but also because he is a born DH with no good position and his home park hates hitters in general), and we thought the gamble worth the cost of Batista and Jokisch. I didn't really want to trade Batista, but the addition of Elier Hernandez in an earlier trade (a toolsy international signing with a major league future) made Batista expendable.
Starting Pitcher contracts went crazy pretty early in the sim (4-years/$50 million for Brandon McCarthy, Zack Greinke for 6-years/$175 million, Clayton Kershaw for 10 years/$300 million). As such, there was a bidding war on Marcum, and I was trying to treat this simulation as realistically as possible. I knew it would take an overpay for the Astros to land a rotation anchor, and I really wanted somebody who could help lead the rotation into 2015 and beyond. Marcum has a history of injury, but he has been stellar for several years since his major injury in 2009, and he hasn't posted an ERA over 4.00 since his first full season six years ago. He had several offers on the table (one that I know of for sure was for $40 million over 4 years from a team in contention), so it became clear we would need to up the ante. A frontline starter was the one big expense I was willing to shell out for, and I'm happy with the guy we landed.
Jurrjens, Blanks, and Raburn were obvious fits for the Astros. All three have huge upside and have shown it in the majors in the past, and all three have been in circumstances preventing them from reaching it. These would be the "Lunhow picks" if you want to call them that. All three stand to boost the Astros' chances in 2013, while also being low cost enough to not hurt payroll. If they reach their ceilings (and I believe very strongly in Raburn and Jurrjens at least), they are considerable trade chips later in the season. The deals are also pretty short and will not block top prospects.
The Oswalt signing was a no-brainer to boost attendance in Minute Maid Park, but we also thought he would be a very good pitcher this season, as his FIP last year was only 4.01 with the Rangers. Capps was to add a veteran presence to the bullpen and to replace the loss of Wright, Lopez, and Rodriguez.
Overall, of the prospects we added to the Astros' system, seven of them were listed on MLB.com's list of Top 20 prospects for each organization. In particular, we took advantage of KCTiger's knowledge of the Royals' farm system, as Ventura (#5), Montgomery (#6), Sulbaran (#8), Lamb (#9), and Hernandez (#18) were taken from a system generally considered to be one of the best and added to the Astros' already-improved system. Both of the Phillies' top prospects were from their Top 15, and Valle (#7) would be the top Catching prospect in the Astros' system.
Dealing with Other GM's
The interesting part of the process was negotiating with other GM's, not knowing if they were using you as leverage to work with somebody else. We spent a lot of time (most of Tuesday) talking with the Phillies about a deal for Norris headlined by pitcher Trevor May, only to have our shot-in-the-dark offer to the Royals almost instantly accepted later in the day.
Also on Tuesday, we were talking to both Co-GM's of the Diamondbacks separately and had two different deals accepted for Jeff Francoeur, only to have both pulled off the table when we tried to get the GM's together to pick which deal that they offered would be the one to go with. I was ticked. Luckily, I already had a handshake agreement with the Cubs in place and was able to fall back on that deal. Thanks to the Cubs GM for being very understanding and waiting on us to try to move Francoeur without cash considerations before accepting his offer.
Some GM's we were able to pull deals with (Wright, Blanks) only took a couple of emails - we both knew exactly what we wanted, and we both were being reasonable. Other trades, such as the one with Philly, were very amicable but took extended conversation to educate each other on the relative values of the players involved.
Every GM wanted to know if Jed Lowrie was available. He absolutely was available but we played it like we thought the Astros really will. We made it clear we wanted multiple top prospects back in the deal, and since we were working with fan bloggers, that was pretty much a non-starter in all cases. A few conversations went beyond the initial few emails, but we did not like the offers we were getting (they were not even close to how we valued Lowrie as an organization). Eventually, Shaun and I decided the best option would be to extend Lowrie to a team-friendly contract that would boost his future trade value while keeping his potent bat in the Astros' lineup for 2013 at least.
First I want to thank Chris for joining me. The commissioner of this league initially paired me with Baltimore, but they fell through, and I was given Houston. Now I'll admit...I'm much more of an AL expert than an NL expert, so the Astro's weren't a complete familiarity to me. (But that doesn't matter anymore because BY THE WAY WELCOME TO THE AL!!!) So I reached out to Chris for some help, and he was tremendous in doing so. I 100% could not have done this without his help.
This was a fun thing. I felt like a semi-GM at some points. Emailing other GM's, turning down trades, fist pumping when we made a good one. I legitimately thought the Houston fanbase would be happy with what their GM Duo has done.
I'm going to focus on one specific deal, because it's coming from my matter of expertise.
Chris told me flat out to put together a deal that would fleece the Royals. It took me probably all of 10 seconds to put together a package that I 100% KNEW Josh, the Royals GM, would turn down. I figured "okay...I'll offer him this and he'll say no and we'll go from there." After waiting a bit for him to get back to me, my eyes split open when he said "take Francouer and it's a deal."
Let me say this... If that trade happened in real life...I would forge my old Royals badge from when I worked there, stand out in front of the front offices at One Royal Way, and stab the very first person who walks through the door. I don't care if it's Dayton Moore or the guy who is in charge of picking what hot dogs Kauffman sells. By the way this very thought crossed my mind on Sunday night when news of the Class A Felony Robbery that the Rays just did to the Royals when we lost Wil Myers.
I think we completely fleeced the Royals in the Norris trade. We got Ventura, a highly highly regarded prospect among Royal fandom. He's a fire throwing #2 ceiling SP who still pretty dang young. Lot of questions about his frame, but I like him long term.
We get a reclamation process in Mike Montgomery. He was ranked as high as #2 on Royals prospect lists. I think he still has the tools, and as long as he isn't being led by Royals pitching coaches (undoubtedly the worst in the league), he can develop it. Just watch what the Tampa Bay Rays are about to do with him. I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be a #2-3 guy. (He was projected at one point to be a #1)
I love John Lamb. Probably more than anybody in the Royals system not named Myers or Zimmer. Power thrower. Great tools. Good command. Just everything. Guy has a ridiculous frame and could be a pro wrestler. Went through TJ surgery (as have 8 other Royals pitchers the past 2 years...), but still has a very high ceiling.
Hernandez is a nice throw in. He's still a baby, but has the tools to be an everyday guy. Doubt he'll ever be a star or above average, but could be good enough to start.
If this trade happened in real life, my interest in Astros baseball would increase 10 fold.
- I LOVE the Oswalt deal. I know Houston folk love him too.
- I think we did a decent job on Marcum. Realistically he probably doesn't sign in Houston, but with what we got him for, a year longer than expected, but for this simulation he was a great grab. An awesome piece to "appease" the fans during the turnover.
- I love the club option on Jurrjens.
I don't know what the Astros 2013 team projects win wise now, but I don't think we can expect anything above 75 wins. They're moving from a kinda weak division, to maybe the best division in the MLB. (I like the AL West over the East)
What this simulation does provide is a bright outlook for 2014/2015+. And I think that's what Chris and I were trying to do all along. Never did it cross our mind to spend on Greinke, or trade for Justin Upton or any big impact for 2013. With Singleton, Correa, Springer, Monty, Lamb, Ventura, Cosart, DeShields etc... this makes Houston baseball look great for the upcoming years, and I hope that they shine, unlike a certain team I enjoy.
Thanks to Chris for helping me with. Thanks to SBN for hosting it. And thanks TCB readers for reading. I really hope we made you guys proud, and glad that you trusted us with your team.
In all, I think Shaun and I met our goals completely. There is definitely risk involved with our choices of Raburn and Blanks to play outfield and DH, but for the cost we liked what we had. The rotation was completely revamped and stands to add a significant win total to the 2013 Astros while not blocking any of the best prospects in the long run. We loaded up on extremely high-ceiling prospects (boy were Royals fans at RoyalsReview p/o'ed about the Norris trade), and left our options open for future trades. The trades we did pull off led to some confusion in the bullpen, but the off-season isn't over yet, and plenty of veteran relievers are still available. Until the bullpen is filled (on somebody else's imaginary watch!) we intend to take a closer-by-committee approach.
The SB Nation Winter Meetings Simulation was great fun, and I hope that it will be done again next year - I would definitely want to participate again, and I encourage everybody to look through the comments threads of the various articles related to the event.
"New" Astros 25-man roster (payroll: $32,120,000, plus payouts to W. Rodriguez and the Cubs for Francoeur):
|C||Jason Castro||Carlos Corporan|
|SS||Jed Lowrie||Tyler Greene|
|LF||J.D. Martinez||Fernando Martinez|
|CF||Justin Maxwell||Brandon Barnes|
|RF||Ryan Raburn||Jimmy Paredes