Earlier this week, various members of SB Nation virtually congregated for this year’s MLB offseason simulation.
Essentially, the simulation winds back the clock to the end of the regular season and begin the offseason from there.
The virtual GMs are then let loose for the next three days on the free agent and trade market as they then try to construct their rosters.
You can see the full rules over at Royals Review, but here are some of the key notes:
- There is no strict budget limit. Instead, there was a suggested payroll budget
- The sim doesn’t care for 40-man rosters to prevent any mid-sim DFAs and waivers
- Minor leaguers and cash considerations may be traded, but must be specified
- No extensions may be negotiated for players already under contract
- Arbitration salaries are taken from the 162-game extrapolation from MLBTradeRumors
Regarding the suggested budget mentioned in the first point, for the virtual Nationals this figure was set at $177 million.
That’s roughly the same as what the Nationals were set to carry into the 2020 season before it was shortened and salaries ended up pro-rated.
Probably a fair assessment of where the Nats will be in 2021. They could’ve added more payroll last offseason if they wanted, but this time around, budgets are largely expected to be slashed. Holding firm is about right.
Finally, it’s worth noting that often this simulation can get crazy with some wild trades and extortionate contracts that the players won’t get anywhere near in the real world.
After all, in a simulation, there are no ramifications and it’s not our money that’s being spent.
Now, onto what the simulated Nationals ended up doing in this sim.....
- Non-tendered Michael A. Taylor
- Decline options on Howie Kendrick, Adam Eaton, Eric Thames, Aníbal Sánchez
In line with what happened in the real world, I decided to decline all the pending options the Nationals had. The only real decision was for Howie Kendrick, who wouldn’t represent horrible value at $6.25 million, but it was money that could be better allocated elsewhere.
And technically, because the rosters were frozen at the end of the regular season, the virtual Nats still had Michael A. Taylor on the books.
So, after Andrew Stevenson’s promising end-of-season performance, it was simple enough to non-tender Taylor and save money.
With those first few decisions out of the way, it was time to start sinking my teeth into the process...
Trade: Acquired Josh Bell and Richard Rodríguez from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Mason Denaburg, Roismar Quintana, Reid Schaller, and Tres Barrera
Josh Bell is a player I had highlighted, circled, and in bold on my offseason wishlist coming into this simulation and I was happy to be able to wrap up a deal within a couple of hours.
Given how out-of-hand the free agent market can get in this simulation, filling arguably the Nats’ biggest need with a thumping bat to protect Juan Soto early on for a prospect package that didn’t need to touch the marquee prospects in the system was a big win.
Because of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ significant distance from contention, they were primarily after high-upside players who are a long way from the majors.
That made Mason Denaburg the ideal centerpiece of a deal as a former first-rounder whose stock has fallen with injuries. Finding a second main piece was slightly more interesting, and while I was hesitant to give up Roismar Quintana, he made the most sense.
In the final few exchanges, as the package was finalized, I was able to snag Richard Rodríguez too.
The right-hander is certainly no throw-in after posting a 2.70 ERA and 2.85 FIP thanks to a 13.11 K/9 and 1.93 BB/9 in 2020, allowing him to slot in as a useful middle reliever.
Signed: Josh Harrison to a one-year, $1 million deal and Sean Doolittle to a one-year, $2.5 million deal
After the Bell negotiations had concluded, I started delving into the free agent market.
There are some bigger fish who you’ll hear about later on in this piece, but the first free agent deals I was able to conclude involved bringing back a pair of fan favorites in Josh Harrison and Sean Doolittle to cheap one-year deals.
Harrison gets almost exactly the same deal as he signed with the real Nationals in late October, minus the incentives. Even in the virtual world, it still makes sense to bring back such a strong clubhouse presence who was solid at the plate in multiple positions.
Then for Doolittle, a low-risk, one-year deal makes a lot of sense for him this offseason.
After an elite 2018, Doolittle started that way in 2019 before some late struggles — even though it’s important to note he looked like his old self in the postseason — that carried over to 2020.
He did flash some progress after returning from the Injured List in 2020, but his season was ended prematurely with a right oblique strain.
This deal would give him a chance to prove he was on his way back to near-dominant form and if he can, earn one final payday in his career.
Trade: Acquired Mike Yastrzemski and Jordan Humphreys from the San Francisco Giants for Eddy Yean, Yasel Antuna, Tyler Dyson, and Pablo Aldnonis
In the search for talent to improve the Nationals’ lineup, there were plenty of outfield free agents under consideration.
George Springer, Marcell Ozuna, and Michael Brantley were all options, but their prices skyrocketed quickly, sending me back to the trade market.
After some scanning around and taking into account the plans of other teams, Mike Yastrzemski’s name kept popping up as a trade candidate from the San Francisco Giants.
While not a name that many people will consider a target, Yastrzemski could be a perfect fit.
In his two major league seasons, Baby Yaz has a .281/.357/.535 slash line with 31 home runs and a 135 wRC+. Yeah, that’s pretty darn good and will likely see him get MVP votes in 2020.
Sure, there’s a chance he turns into a pumpkin. He broke into the majors at 28-years-old after several so-so seasons in the Baltimore Orioles’ system. In general though, his Statcast peripherals back up his performance, with excellent hard-hit rates as well as his expected stats not far above their actual corresponding statistics.
With those peripherals along with the contractual control for two pre-arbitration years and three years of arbitration, I was prepared to pay a high price.
While the Nats’ brass rates Eddy Yean highly, you have to give something to get something in this kind of deal. As far as headliners go though, Yean is someone I can stomach, then it was just a matter of bringing up the rest of the package with other high-upside, but far-away players that the Giants liked, while we got a low-end prospect to go with Yastrzemski.
Signed: Garrett Richards to a two-year, $14 million deal
Honestly, coming into this simulation, I would’ve been content to just sit tight in the rotation.
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin will still be one of the best trios in the majors. Then rolling with Joe Ross and either Erick Fedde or Austin Voth in the fourth and fifth spots wouldn’t be the end of the world if it was possible to invest heavily in the lineup.
Unfortunately, the free agent market for hitters didn’t turn out fruitful for the virtual Nats, which left some money in the budget to go out and upgrade at starting pitcher.
My initial target was Corey Kluber, who we’ll come onto later on in this review. When that didn’t fall my way, I moved onto Garrett Richards to fill that fourth spot in the rotation.
Following Tommy John surgery in 2018, Richards signed a two-year deal with the San Diego Padres that offseason. Then after a brief comeback effort in 2019, this year was the season that he was set to be unleashed a little more a year further on from that surgery.
In the shortened season, Richards posted a 4.03 ERA and 4.28 FIP in 14 appearances while striking out 46 and walking 17.
Impressively, his velocity didn’t drop that much, something that can be a concern coming off of Tommy John surgery. In his two seasons prior to the injury, his average fastball velocity was 95.8mph and 95.9mph, yet it 2019 and 2020 in was 85.1mph and 85.2mph.
That makes him an excellent high-upside signing. If he can stay healthy and perform as he did with the Angels when on the mound and not in the trainer’s room, he would be a bargain.
Signed: Hunter Renfroe to a one-year, $5 million deal
With a bench relatively light on power — Yan Gomes, Starlin Castro, Andrew Stevenson, and the re-signed Harrison — I earmarked my final bench spot for a player with some thump in their bat.
It could’ve been an infielder or outfielder given the versatility of Harrison, so out of the low-priced free agents remaining, Hunter Renfroe was the one that ended up making the most sense.
Many will look at his career .228 batting average and scream internally. But despite this, he still owns a wRC+ of 102 in his career indicates he’s still a slightly above-average big league hitter, a figure propped up by his raw power, as his career .257 ISO is 14th in the major leagues since Renfroe debuted in the major leagues in 2016.
Perhaps most importantly in the role we virtually brought him in for. As a pinch hitter in his major league career, Renfroe boasts an impressive .293/.383/.707 slash line and 182 wRC+.
Maybe $5 million is slightly on the high side, but given that even with this contract he would remain under team control in arbitration for two more seasons after this, it could also be a worthwhile long-term investment too if he overperforms expectations a bit in 2020.
Trade: Acquired Max Stassi from the San Francisco Giants for James Bourque
Because of how things shook out, the catcher merry-go-round had been moving without me while I was pursuing Realmuto — again, more on that a bit later. That left me scrambling a little at the end to find a backup catcher to Yan Gomes.
With an hour to go, I was able to swing a quick deal for Max Stassi from the Giants — who acquired him from the Angels earlier on in the simulation — for reliever, James Bourque.
Stassi can be a solid backup in a 1-2 punch with Gomes. He was a slightly above-average glove behind the plate and came on well with the bat last year, posting a solid .886 OPS.
All in all, this was a bit of a panic move and a result of cramming an offseason into three days.
Minor league signings with an invite to Spring Training
- Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
- Adam Morgan, LHP
- Alex Claudio, LHP
- Chris Owings, Util
- Jed Lowrie, INF
- Welington Castillo, C
- Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
Over the course of the simulation, there were several minor league signings racked up.
I won’t dive into these too much, but lets at least acknowledge that we brought back both Ryan Zimmerman and Jordan Zimmermann! In reality, maybe the former gets a cheap major league deal, but for this, it was easiest to bring him back on a minors pact. Then with Zimmermann, it could be a chance to come back and at least be a serviceable back-end rotation option after a disastrous time in Detroit.
Aside from those two, the others that stand out are a couple of left-handed relievers in Adam Morgan and Alex Claudio.
They could have a strong chance to crack the virtual club out of Spring Training and pip one of the current relievers on the roster who has options to a bullpen spot.
The nearly moves
The J.T. Realmuto saga
Along with Bell, J.T. Realmuto was one of the targets I had earmarked from the start to get in on the bidding early before my fallback choice at catcher fell by the wayside.
That plan went down the drain quickly as the simulated Houston Astros snapped up James McCann for $30 million over four years. It was more than I was considering for the former Chicago White Sox backstop, but it was a steep drop to the next best free agent catcher.
So, with most of my eggs in the Realmuto basket, I came in with a six-year, $130 million offer, beating the previous $120 million offer over six years. The length wasn’t great, but with a lower AAV, it definitely worth getting in on the bidding at that point.
About 18 hours later, the counter-offer came in and negotiations heated up very quickly.
In the end, my final offer was a slightly backloaded six-year, $170 million contract. However, the Philadelphia Phillies then topped that at $172 million for the same term and secured the deal.
Yes, I do realize that my final offer is way way above what Realmuto will likely receive this offseason. But, given the inflation in this simulation, my logic was to try and compare where that bid to others in the simulation, and I couldn’t justify giving Realmuto a bigger contract than George Springer who had just received a $170 million deal about an hour earlier.
With a realistic price, I still expect the real Nationals to be heavy in the Realmuto bidding this offseason as a perfect complement to their expensive pitching staff. In this simulation though, it just wasn’t to be for my virtual squad.
Starlin Castro trade?
It was a little interesting that I made it through the simulation without trading a single player on the major league roster. That said, Starlin Castro was pretty close to being traded away.
With Luis García and Carter Kieboom looking like the future second and third basemen, Castro is somewhat expendable and I had a deal lined up to send him to the Arizona Diamondbacks for J.B. Bukauskas and Jhosmer Alvarez to help clear some salary.
Unfortunately, that deal was contingent on them trading Madison Bumgarner. They weren’t able to so it fell through while no other Castro suitor came close to that prospect package.
Corey Kluber negotiations
After missing out on Realmuto, it left me with some funds to play with to fill some other needs, in particular, investing in another strong starting rotation option.
Eventually, Richards was the choice, but not after a hard negotiation over Corey Kluber.
Interestingly, nobody had bid on Kluber as the second day started. So, my first offer of a lowly one-year, $6 million deal with a $10 million team option was a fine start to the bidding.
The rest of the virtual league did come into the market in due course though, but where I started to tread carefully was when there were two guaranteed years in the deal, making me a bit more nervous signing a 34-year-old and his injury troubles over the last two seasons.
I tried to keep some favorability in the deal by holding onto a team option for a third year, but I withdrew from the bidding once the Milwaukee Brewers submitted a winning bid of $21 million over two years. At that point, I didn’t feel as though it was worth the risk.
Around the rest of the virtual league
As I’ve touched on a few times, often, this simulation can get a little out of hand. Contracts get rather inflated, mind-blowing trades occur, and virtual GMs can go against the grain of what is actually expected of what will happen to the team they’re controlling this winter.
The big names followed that pattern, though not as much as usual. As mentioned above, Realmuto got $172 million over six seasons from the Philadelphia Phillies, George Springer got a touch less at $170 million for six seasons from the Cleveland Indians, and Trevor Bauer received a mammoth six-year, $215 million deal from the San Diego Padres.
Some of the other bats I was monitoring for large deals.
Marcell Ozuna got a cool four-year, $100 million deal from the Miami Marlins. Joc Pederson was highly-sought after and got $42 million for three years from the Toronto Blue Jays. And Michael Brantley returned to the Houston Astros for $50 million over three virtual years.
And, as usual, the simulation was not short of huge trades.
Most notably, the Indians traded away Francisco Lindor — something that has already been touted as likely in real life — along with Logan Allen to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Gavin Lux, Josiah Gray, Chris Taylor, and Bobby Miller. Quite the haul for one year of Lindor.
Kris Bryant, someone I didn’t really check in on, got an absolute haul too from the Seattle Mariners in Julio Rodríguez, Emerson Hancock, and George Kirby. Then in the biggest shocker of the sim, the Padres traded away young ace Chris Paddack with Javy Guerra — no, not that Nats’ Javy Guerra — to the Rays for Vidal Bruján, Shane Baz, and Josh Lowe.
Again, you can find all the other moves that happened over at Royals Review if you’re curious.
So, how does the picture look for the virtually assembled Nationals? Below a screenshot of my “big board” of sorts, including payroll/luxury tax calculations, a vague outline of how the 26-man active roster would look, and a prospect list based on FanGraphs and MLB.com.
Another quick note, for the purposes of the simulation, pre-arbitration players were set at $563,500 contracts. In reality, they may earn slightly more than that, but when dealing in hundreds of millions, the difference in that is negligible, so I kept it as that for pre-arb guys.
How do you think I did? What moves did you like? What could’ve been done better? How realistic do you think this roster is for the real Nationals? Let us know in the comments...