The 2016 SB Nation Offseason Simulation officially began Sunday, November 6 at 4 PM PST. This is an event that allows representatives from all 30 MLB team sites to get together (via the interwebs) and try to navigate a course through free agency and the trade market to build the next championship roster. Max Rieper of RoyalsReview organizes the Sim and tracks every move made by 30 madcap GMs; he also acts as the agent for players entering free agency, negotiating deals and leveraging teams against each other. Oakland was given a recommended budget of $95 million and rosters were set as they were the day after the World Series concluded. While there are no penalties (aside from possible mocking and general derision) for going over your recommended budget there is the expectation that no matter how crazy the approach at player acquisition you'll stay within the fiscal coloring lines. What follows is the result of dozens of conversations, nearly a hundred scouting reports on players in 29 rival organizations and the sheer chaos of events moving in a dozen different directions.
For better or for worse, these were the moves we made.
The A's extended arbitration offers to Danny Valencia ($5.3 MM) Khris Davis ($5 MM) Sonny Gray ($3.7 MM) Stephen Vogt ($3.7 MM) and Liam Hendriks ($1 MM). These figures were provided by MLBTraderumors and are considered a hard number for budget purposes. Yonder Alonso ($4.1 MM) was not tendered arbitration although this decision was delayed as long as possible in hopes of using him as a trade chip. When that failed he was allowed to become a free agent.
The GM email list went out Friday, November 4. Even though no transactions could be officially completed until Sunday this gave people the opportunity to start talking to each other and see what deals could be hammered out ahead of free agency. In many ways this is an ideal format, as free agency should be used to augment the roster and not build one from scratch. Unfortunately it looked like Oakland was going to have to do exactly that to fix the outfield. We felt that upgrading the line-up, in particular building a functional outfield, was the key to success for the 2017 A's. So of course our first trade was for a SS.
Trade #1: OAK sends P Brett Graves to DET for SS Dixon Machado
Graves, Oakland's 3rd round pick in the 2014 draft, has struggled as a SP since becoming an Athletics farmhand. He also possesses a power arm capable of mid-90's fastballs and that's a profile Detroit eats up. Dixon Machado has spent the bulk of the last two years proving his reputation as a glove-first player with limited offensive skills. He's shown a modest platoon advantage vs. LHP and looks the part of Joey Wendle's platoon partner. But after asking AN's own Jerry Brewer to take a look at Machado's swing (which earned a meh) and reading various scouting reports I'm convinced that if given a starting SS gig he'd hit enough to keep his manager happy and at the end of the year would have produced a 2 Win season. A few weeks back I was asked to identify a cheap, 2 Win SS that could be easily acquired to replace Marcus Semien; to those who asked I present Dixon Machado. He won't get the starting SS job in Oakland but he can platoon with Wendle and when he does get into the line-up he can take up SS, sliding Semien to 2B. I'd expect a Machado/Semien duo to provide a marked improvement for the infield defense, benefiting what is still a predominantly pitch-to-contact, ground ball starting rotation.
Trade #2: OAK sends P Raul Alcantara + SS Yairo Munoz to SD for CF Travis Jankowski + C Derek Norris
Let's start with the bad in Jankowski's game: he can't hit LHP, posting an 11 wRC+ and striking out nearly 27% of the time. He also has minimal power, with a career .320 Slugging in 479 big league PA. We think the good outweighs the bad. He hit 275/368/359, good for a 105 wRC+, against RHP in 2016. He can fly on the base paths and in the outfield with what some label as 70 Grade speed. He was credited with a +8 Defensive Runs Saved in 118 games played. Oakland needed a CF and we felt like he could play the Hell out of Center Field.
Derek Norris is a player familiar to most of AN but it should be noted that his game has evolved since being traded to San Diego. He's improved his play behind the plate, credited with +4 and +7 Defensive Runs saved the past two seasons. He also threw out 34% of base runners in 2015, a figure most who watched him in 2014 would have never thought possible. Norris has been the Padres primary Catcher the past two years and while we all have high hopes for Bruce Maxwell taking over that job in Oakland it is prudent to have a solid alternative in case the rookie struggles. Complications from knee surgery caused us to worry that Josh Phegley could be limited at the start of next year and if nothing else we expect Norris to provide a solid bat against LHP.
It's that expectation that makes Norris a $4 million gamble. His bat fell apart in 2016, posting a 186/255/328 batting line in 458 PA. A career 292/368/479 hitter vs. southpaws prior to 2016, Norris struggled against all pitching last year. He only managed a .233 BABIP against LHP (career mark of .346 prior to 2016) and we are banking on that rebounding towards his career norms. If that happens we've added a 2 Win player to our roster for next to nothing in prospect cost. Having a solid back-up plan was important to us, as we were having movement on another front...
Trade #3: OAK sends IF/OF Danny Valencia to NYM for SS Luis Guillorme + P Chris Flexen
One of the recurring questions on AN regards the potential trade value (if any) for Danny Valencia. In the Sim, at least, we received a fair amount of interest. Our goal wasn't to maximize the value we could get out of Valencia; we shopped him until we found a fair deal. Guillorme isn't the best SS in the Mets system but he might be the best defender of all of them. He has no power but has shown enough ability to control the strike zone (43 BB vs. 63 K in 441 AB in High-A ball) and could end up having a big league future. Flexen is a 22 year old RHSP who can usually throw strikes with three average pitches and will likely compete for a spot in AA Midland's rotation next season. Guillorme and Flexen are clearly not high-end prospects but they're a bit more than scrubs and are certainly better than simply letting Valencia walk as a non-tender free agent. (Mets Prospects)
Trade #4: OAK sends C Stephen Vogt + P Logan Shore to ATL for OF Mallex Smith + P Max Povse
We shopped Vogt to a few teams with Atlanta showing the most interest. An initial inquiry into Ender Incairte went nowhere fast but the Braves were amenable to including Smith in a deal. Smith is even faster than Jankowski but he doesn't have as good instincts, making the (former) Padre the better defender in CF. While Smith appears redundant he's a LH bat who hit 395/365/453 with a 120 wRC+ against RHP. Adding him also gives us a back-up plan if Jankowski struggles. Most importantly though the idea of him and Jankowski roaming in LF and CF led us to coin the phrase Fly Ball Death Field; these additions led us to focus our arms search towards fly ball pitchers. Their speed plus the Coliseum's huge outfield expanse should help make anyone pitching for the Green and Gold look better than they are. Especially when combined with our new RF...
Trade #5: OAK sends P Daniel Mengden + P Dylan Covey + P Max Povse to MIA for OF Marcell Ozuna
I'd like to assure everyone that after speaking with Miami's GM Mengden's new team appreciates the 80 Grade mustache they're receiving. While we were talking to Atlanta about Smith we ran concurrent talks with Miami for Ozuna. We wanted to add some power to the line up and preferred a bat we wouldn't have to platoon. Defensive metrics have recently graded Ozuna as below-average in CF but in just over 700 career innings played as a corner OF he's earned +12 Defensive Runs Saved. Arbitration eligible for the first time Ozuna is set to earn $4.5 MM and won't be a free agent until after the 2019 season.
Trade #6: OAK sends P Dillon Overton + P Daniel Coulombe to HOU for P Mike Fiers
The Fly Ball Death Field works best for fly ball pitchers, which is a fair description of Mike Fiers. The owner of a career 38.5% Fly Ball percentage (FB%) and a 2.64 BB/9 rate, if Fiers can keep his walk rate low he's going to eat a lot of innings for Oakland. He comes with a $4.3 MM price tag and three years of team control and has made 30 starts in each of the last two seasons.
Analysis of pre-Sim maneuvers:
At this point the Oakland Brain Trust was feeling pretty good about our situation. We had started the Sim approximately $30 million under budget and had been able to build our Fly Ball Death Field, add a SP to the rotation and add a potential starting caliber (if necessary) C to the line-up at a fiscal cost of less than $4 million. We had taken a hard hit to our upper-minor league pitching depth but had Frankie Montas, Daniel Gossett and Heath Fillmyer in reserve. We had also managed to hold on to all 4 of our top 100 prospects (Barreto, Puk, Holmes, Chapman). Early discussions about a potential Fire Sale had been set aside as the roster seemed poised to make a run in 2017. We wanted more pitching depth, both for the rotation and in the bullpen. We wanted to add a RH bat to the OF with a bit more ability than Smolinski (who can be optioned to AAA). Khris Davis would serve as our primary DH. And we'd look for opportunities to unload Jed Lowrie and John Axford... because we're A's fans and their departures would make A's fans happy.
But these plans wouldn't cost a lot of money. The market was flooded with corner outfield bats but after our trades it made no sense to pursue them. The available starting pitchers weren't worth investing in. Maybe go big on one of the marquee closers? We had options, now it was time to execute.
So, of course, we engineered another trade,
Trade #7: OAK sends P Cody Stull to DET for P Anibal Sanchez + P Joe Jimenez + $6 MM
This deal was actually designed to get rid of Axford and the $5.5 MM remaining on his contract; Detroit chose to send over more cash than was actually owed to Axford in order to avoid having him on their roster.
Just... stop and think about that for a minute.
The cash is split up over the 2017 ($4 MM) and 2018 ($2 MM) seasons because Sanchez is owed $16 MM in 2017 and has a team option for $16 MM in 2018 that has a $5 MM buy-out. He also had a really rough season last year and the Tigers were desperate to move him. Joe Jimenez is one of the top RP prospects in baseball and is going to have a chance to contribute as early as Opening Day. He has a 70 Grade fastball, a 60 Grade slider and struck out 78 in 53.2 IP while only giving up 17 walks. But is a top RP prospect reason enough to take on Sanchez's contract?
Of course not.
Fly Ball Death Field.
In the second half of 2016 Anibal Sanchez managed a 8.15 K/9 to go with a 1.78 BB/9, good for a 4.57 K/BB. He also had a FB% just over 41%. We think Sanchez is an ideal candidate to have a big rebound season if we bring him to Oakland and that is worth a 1 year/$12 MM investment from us. Jimenez is just a most exquisite cherry on top. (Tigers Prospects)
Trade #8: OAK sends 1B/OF Mark Canha + P Sklyar Szynski + "3B" Renato Nunez to CLE for OF Greg Allen + OF Tyler Naquin
This trade really wasn't supposed to happen. We reached out to Cleveland about another player (not Jose Ramirez) in an effort to add a position versatile bat to our 25 man roster. We even entertained hopes that this player (not Jose Ramirez) could take over at 3B in place of Jed Lowrie while we waited for Matt Chapman to finish his development. Once Chapman was ready this player (not Jose Ramirez) had already demonstrated the ability to play multiple positions in the field (seriously, it's not Jose Ramirez) and could be used in a platoon with Mallex Smith. We also asked about OF Greg Allen because he was high on the Oakland Brain Trust wish list and if one of Smith/Jankowski flopped we needed/wanted another long term option available within the organization.
Only Yandy Diaz wasn't available at this time and Cleveland was looking to add RH power to their organization, so they proposed to send Naquin and Allen our way. We know there's no way Naquin can sustain a .411 BABIP even in a platoon situation but he's a guy we've liked for a couple years now as someone with the wheels for CF (even though DRS disagrees with the scouting reports to the tune of -17 runs) and the arm for RF and based on his minor league performance we think the 30.7% K-rate will go down. We didn't need another MLB-ready outfielder but this was a great deal in front of us. Sobriety was questioned... theirs... ours... the details don't really matter. What mattered is we accepted the offer and would figure out what to do with our sudden position depth later. (Tribe Prospects)
Signed P Brett Anderson for 1 year/$2 MM guaranteed plus incentives. $500K for each 30/35/40/45/50/55 appearances. $750K for each 60/65 appearances.
Signed 2B Chase Utley for 1 year/$4 MM guaranteed plus incentives. $500K each 300/400 PA. $1 MM at 500 PA.
Minor league contracts signed by C Martin Maldonado, 2B Tyler Ladendorf, P Jacob Turner, P Tommy Milone, P Luis Garcia, and P Charlie Furbush.
We really wanted to add a second LHP to our bullpen but missed out on the better available options in free agency. We know Anderson is a great pitcher when he can stay healthy... maybe converting him into a relief pitcher will help him stay in one piece. This is something of a long shot but with only $2 million guaranteed the team still has cash reserves in case a more reliable pitcher becomes available during the season.
Chase Utley will be 38 next year and our hope (that we made clear to him and his agent) is that he can serve as a veteran presence on the bench, able to make spot starts as needed. Last season he managed he played in 138 games and had 565 PA, producing a 2 Win season per fWAR. Utley is a luxury insurance option in case Wendle can't handle the job at 2B and he's shown the ability to cover the infield corners as well.
The minor league deals are to help re-stock our AAA depth. Martin Maldonado hit 8 HR in 253 PA while throwing out 40% of the base runners who tested him last year, he's a nice piece to have in case Phegley has trouble making it back next year. Ladendorf has shown position versatility when healthy and an extra RH bat in the system wouldn't hurt.
Trade #9: OAK sends 1B John Nogowski + P Dustin Driver to HOU for P Tony Sipp + $4 MM
Just when you thought the trades were done!
The Oakland Brain Trust had pretty much closed up shop when Houston pitched a last minute trade idea. It seems they had decided to gamble and offered Qualifying Offers (QO) to C Jason Castro and 3B Luis Valbuena in hopes of landing a couple draft picks. Both players accepted their QOs, putting Houston roughly $30 million over their allotted budget. Again, there's no penalty for spending past the recommended budget but there is the pride involved of trying to play the game with the same real world constraints as an actual GM. So Houston was trying to find anyone willing to take on the remaining 2 years/$12 million on Tony Sipp's contract.
I could articulate a dozen reasons as to why I shouldn't have made this deal (and this one is all on me, the rest of the Brain Trust had called it a night) but the simple fact is Tony Sipp is left-handed and can throw a 90 MPH fastball. He's had success as recently as 2015 and the A's gave up nothing of consequence to acquire him. It's a $6 million gamble to see if he can reclaim his former effectiveness and irregardless of the outcome the Houston will cover $4 million of the money owed him in 2018.
Final Payroll: $84,840,000
|C Bruce Maxwell $520,000||SP Sonny Gray $3,700,000|
|C Derek Norris $4,000,000||SP Sean Manaea $520,000|
|1B Ryon Healy $520,000||SP Mike Fiers $4,300,000|
|2B Joey Wendle $520,000||SP Kendall Graveman $520,000|
|3B Jed Lowrie $6,500,000||SP Anibal Sanchez $12,000,000|
|SS Marcus Semien $520,000||CL Ryan Madson $7,500.000|
|IF Chase Utley $4,000,000||RP Sean Doolittle $2,600,000|
|IF Dixon Machado $520,000||RP Liam Hendriks $1,000,000|
|LF Tyler Naquin $520,000||RP Brett Anderson $2,000,000|
|CF Travis Jankowski $520,000||RP Ryan Dull $520,000|
|RF Marcell Ozuna $4,500,000||RP Andrew Triggs $520,000|
|DH Khris Davis $5,000,000||RP Tony Sipp $6,000,000|
|OF Jake Smolinski $520,000||RP John Axford $5,500,000|
It's nice having an outfield again, especially one with the potential to be great on the defensive side and above-average on offense. Our catching situation looks a lot better, with a viable alternative (Norris) in case Maxwell struggles or Phegley needs more time to get his knee healthy. The infield shuffles Healy to 1B and Lowrie to 3B, which will hopefully buy us a better defensive alignment. Dixon Machado could boost the defense significantly if Oakland would slide him into SS and move Semien to 2B when facing a LHSP. But really we're waiting on Chapman and Barreto before we can expect to see a significant upgrade in the infield.
Once again we're very dependent on Sonny Gray; as he goes so goes the season. Our efforts to upgrade the rotation via trade fell short and we expected the free agent market to run hotter than it did. Rich Hill signed for 3 years/$72 MM with the Cubs but Nova (1+1/$13 MM guaranteed plus a 2018 club option) and Hellickson (4 years/$45 MM) signed reasonable deals.
Spring Training will decide who gets the last spot in the bullpen. The hope would be everyone pitches great and the team can trade away the extra contract. The plan is for Triggs to serve as the long man/swing starter from the bullpen, meaning Anderson, Sipp and Axford are fighting over two spots. It's possible all three could make the bullpen if Triggs struggles in his swing role. Triggs, Dull and Doolittle are the only relief pitchers with minor league options remaining.
Edit: My wife brought to my attention that an Honorable Mention was due... to my wife. For her NOT going into labor right at the start of the Sim like she did last year. Thank you for that consideration, beautiful.