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SB Nation MLB offseason simulation 2021: The greatest defensive infield of all time

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The full narrative of a hypothetical Met offseason.

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

Every year, Max over at Royals Review runs an offseason simulation, and 30 volunteer GMs take a shot at managing their team. After an optimistic situation last season, the air around the team is certainly a bit more dour at the moment, particularly since the team still doesn’t have a head of baseball ops. At the same time, there are still good pieces on this roster and some reasonable paths to improvement.

There were no official budgets set this year, with participants trusted to police themselves in terms of realism. I made the (perhaps optimistic) assumption that the Mets intend to spend well past the tax this season, and set my budget at $250M in luxury tax dollars. Hopefully that reflects a level the actual team is willing to get to.

Game Plan

Because of the situation around the Kumar Rocker pick - which I detailed here - signing any free agent who received a QO will cost the Mets a 1st round pick. I made the decision going into this exercise that I would forego any free agent with a QO attached. Note that this is only because I am confident the rest of the free agent class has more than adequate options to fill the Mets needs; had I felt the team’s best option was a QO free agent, I would’ve pursued a more all-in attitude instead.

Second, I regarded most of the organization’s prospect capital as expendable. After the top-end names, this is a bad farm system, but in my eyes that’s a reason to be more aggressive, not less. If the farm is to be revamped it will be from new acquisitions and development driven by an improved pipeline, not clinging to what meager assets and flawed processes are currently in place and hoping things improved. Brett Baty and Francisco Alvarez were the only names I regarded as unmovable, with my personal fondness for Matthew Allan and Khalil Lee also making them unlikely to be traded.

Finally, we need to establish our main goals. The Mets need to add at least two starting pitchers and relief help, and realistically need at least one outfielder and replacements at 2B and 3B. My goal was to build enough high quality depth that all three of Jeff McNeil, David Peterson, and Tylor Megill started the season either on the bench or in the minors. I also aimed to finally move Dom Smith off the roster.

Part 1: Damn Yankees

First off, the procedural moves. Kevin Pillar’s option was declined and he opted out, incurring a $1.4M buyout. Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard both received QOs, and surprisingly, both declined. I had expected Syndergaard to accept, but the moderators of the sim felt he could do better on the open market. Robert Gsellman, Jose Peraza, Jose Martinez, and Trevor Williams were all non-tendered, with the rest of the arbitration or pre-arb players on the roster being brought back.

With those procedural moves out of the way, I shot off an initial round of free agent bids: 5 years, $100M for Kris Bryant; 4 years, $64M for Javier Baez; 1 year, $5M for Corey Knebel; and 2 yrs, $10M w/ a 3rd year option for Seiya Suzuki. None of these panned out, as the price tags on Bryant, Knebel, and Suzuki quickly climbed and Baez elected to wait out the SS market a bit. This prompted a turn to Mark Canha, who I was able to quickly sign to a three year, $30M deal. This was one of the steals of the sim in my opinion, and I happily slotted him into the Michael Conforto-sized hole in right. After a couple of extra bids on Chris Taylor, Jon Gray, and Raisel Igelsias, I turned to trade talks.

There were two primary conversations avenues pursued on the first night - Ketel Marte and Matt Chapman. The A’s were happy with a package led by Mark Vientos but wanted J.T. Ginn as a second piece, a price I wasn’t willing to pay just yet. For Marte, however, I was willing to go quite far, and an offer with Mauricio and J.D. Davis kept growing and growing. Before long, Ginn, Carlos Cortes, Alexander Ramirez, and a couple other minor league fliers were also involved - a steep price, but one I was willing to pay for one of the most valuable players in baseball.

Unfortunately, the Yankees felt similarly, and they ultimately had the better farm. Marte headed to the Bronx for a package headlined by Oswald Peraza, Luis Medina, and Luke Voit. In retrospect, I should’ve upped the anti to include Baty, but I still feel the Yankees might’ve come out on top. Either way, a very disappointing end to the first evening of the sim.

Phase 2: Sixty-four million shades of Gray

Things on day two started off better. Having slept on it and after taking stock of the 3B market, where Kris Bryant bids were topping $200M, I relented and agreed to trade Vientos and Ginn to Oakland in exchange for Matt Chapman and Devin Foyle, an intriguing (though non-elite) outfield prospect. I had concerns about Chapman’s rising strikeout rate, but it’s possible some further time removed from a 2019 hip injury could help his bat bounce back a bit. Moreover, the thought of putting together possibly the best defensive infield ever with Chapman and Francisco Lindor was extremely appealing.

Next, I was able to close the deal on the first major pitching acquisition of the year, inking Jon Gray to a 4 year, $64M deal. This was a touch pricey, but I was willing to pay a premium for a pitcher who I’ve long been a fan of and who had no draft pick compensation attached. I think there’s real potential for some post-Coors tweaks that turn him into a legitimate #2 starter, and even if that doesn’t come to pass he’s a solid #3 option.

Meanwhile, I had re-engaged with the Diamondbacks on trade talks, this time around Zac Gallen. Ronny Mauricio was again the headliner, with Alexander Ramirez, Carlos Cortes, and several others involved. This process played out more slowly, as the Mariners, Braves, and myself got into a slow bidding war over the course of the day. However, I was banking on adding Zac Gallen’s extremely cheap and very high quality innings, perhaps foolishly given the uncertainty around any potential trade.

While those negotiations were going on, I addressed the bullpen. Joely Rodriguez was one of my prime targets after he was puzzlingly let go by the Yankees, and after a brief bidding war (again with the Braves) I inked him to a three year, $15M contract. Next was Raisel Iglesias, who did not receive a qualifying offer from the Angels (though he did receive one in reality). Too often overlooked as one of the best relievers in baseball, I was willing to overpay to upgrade the back of the bullpen, and Iglesias ultimately signed a three year, $36M deal. I also checked in on Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup, but they signed elsewhere and I was pleased with the additions of Rodriguez and Iglesias regardless.

Still waiting on Gallen, I turned to the other corner outfield spot, where I was determined to prevent Dom Smith or Jeff McNeil from entering the season with a starting job. Avisail Garcia was my primary target, as an overlooked solid contributor on both sides of the ball who consistently posts exit velocities that are best described as goofy. Unfortunately, things got a bit too expensive, as I was still budgeting money for Baez and any other finishing moves to the roster. Pivots to Tommy Pham and Andrew McCutchen resulted in similar situations, and a quick check on Chris Taylor revealed an absolutely insane market approaching $100M. It seemed corner outfield would remain a problem for the time being.

Nevertheless, I was able to close out this phase of the simulation on a high note, landing Gallen from the Diamondbacks:

Truthfully, I think this is the least realistic move I made, as I’d anticipate the Diamondbacks would have a significantly higher price for a borderline top-end starter who still isn’t arbitration eligible. Needless to say I was very happy to find this sort of deal to round out the rotation.

Phase 3: The Grand Finally, as it were

With Baez still waiting out the market and most of the outfield options I had considered signing elsewhere, I elected to focus on moves around the margins. I tossed a small offer Clint Frazier’s way to see if he’d take a part time gig as a post-hype prospect, then pivoted to other priorities. It was about this time that the Astros approached me about trading for Jason Castro with a very low asking price. Finding a way to dump James McCann’s contract hadn’t been something I’d considered, but Castro was an upgrade, was available cheaply, and fit perfectly as a platoon partner for Tomas Nido.

So began a search for a taker on McCann. My general plan was to package him along with Dom Smith in exchange for some sort of cheap, usable reliever. Discussions were had with the Orioles and Athletics, but ultimately I landed on this deal with the Rangers:

Martin wasn’t someone I was initially interested in as a low-strikeout guy with unimpressive stuff. Dig a little deeper and he actually has some intriguing characteristics, however, most notably an impressive abilities to miss barrels. Had this sim been stretched over a longer time frame, I’d have dug deeper into various other aspects of his profile (i.e. angle of attack, pitch usage and shape, extension, potential release point alterations, etc.), but he seemed an intriguing enough option as a second left-handed reliever. I also didn’t consider Dom or Dominguez much of a price to pay while getting off of McCann’s contract.

That deal opened up the door to acquire Castro, as mentioned previously:

Honestly, this felt like an almost free deal to me. Newton has shown no real ability to hit, while Garcia was acquired for cash as an organizational OF depth piece last season. These two moves together felt like a very nice and unexpected upgrade to both the 2021 catching situation and the long term balance sheet.

As usual, we added an interesting slate of minor league free agents as well. Dylan Moore is perhaps the most exciting (and least realistic, to be sure) option of the bunch, but all of Andrew Knapp, Delino Deshields, and Wade Leblanc serve a useful role at Triple-A with an outside shot of seeing major league time at some point. I also checked in on Taylor Rogers and Tanner Scott, but found no traction on either front.

Phase 4: No one expects the Texan acquisition

At this stage, I expected things to be largely wrapped up - I’d filled the rotation, upgraded the bullpen, and improved the lineup and defense (pending the signing of Javier Baez), though Jeff McNeil was still a presumptive starter. All I planned on doing was sharking around for a useful outfield depth piece and perhaps another reliever while the rest of the sim played out.

Instead, Noah Syndergaard reached out to say he’d take a two year, $26M deal to return to Queens. This was a shock - I had considered him gone after adding both Gray and Gallen, but this price point was too good to resist. Unfortunately, I’d need to move someone to make room, both in terms of roster space and financially. A flurry of hurried trade talks followed as I looked for a taker on Carlos Carrasco. None of the deals being offered made much sense, however, and I began to worry I’d not find a good way to squeeze Thor back onto the team.

Then the Angels made a post saying they were looking for bullpen help. Edwin Diaz was someone I was willing to move given his high price tag and pending free agency in 2023, and Los Angeles / Anaheim was interested. They also seemed willing to move Jo Adell, a player I’ve coveted for years. That led to this deal:

Similar to the Gallen deal, I don’t think this would happen in reality, but then again who really knows. As is, I view Adell as a serviceable corner outfielder already with potential star upside, and we snagged him for a reliever we didn’t need and a bench player that was easily replaceable. Also, if you’re wondering, yes I was straight up trolling by acquiring Alexander Ramirez, 18-year-old J2 OF prospect, after trading away Alexander Ramirez, 18-year-old J2 OF prospect.

With cap space opened up, Syndergaard was brought back on the two year, $26M deal he had been interested in. I also added Brad Miller on a one year, $3M deal to fill J.D. Davis’s spot on the bench. That just left Baez, whose market was now topping $100M. Had it been earlier in the sim, I’d have pivoted, because I truly don’t believe Baez is worth that money. At this point, however, other 2B options were thin, and I had the space below my $250M budget. Therefore I caved and gave Javier Baez a seven year, $126M deal to close out the sim. Call it a tax paid to keep Francisco Lindor happy or something.

Conclusion

Here’s our final roster:

And the balance sheet:

Ultimately, I am extremely happy with this team. The rotation should be great and has the depth to withstand a couple injuries. Similarly, the lineup should be above average offensively everywhere except catcher, where we have two elite defenders in a time share. The one hole is probably right handed power off the bench (and I did go looking for such a piece late), but that’s something that should be fairly easily remedied should it become necessary. One more high end reliever might also be necessary, but that’s easy enough to acquire at the deadline.

As for the farm, yeah it’s been gutted. At the same time, I don’t think there was actually that much lost. Mauricio, Vientos, Ginn, and Ramirez are all real prospects to at least some degree, but the rest are fairly replaceable, or at least they should be. Most of the talent we pulled back in return is also controllable for at least two seasons, so there will be ample time to both capitalize and possibly re-flip these players to backfill the pipeline. All of this was accomplished while holding on to the elite names and my personal favorites in the system. Plus we managed to not incur any QO penalties and have an extra pick coming in thanks to Michael Conforto.

Poll

Grade the GM’s performance:

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    A
    (65 votes)
  • 46%
    B
    (154 votes)
  • 19%
    C
    (65 votes)
  • 7%
    D
    (24 votes)
  • 6%
    F
    (23 votes)
331 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many games does this team win?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    100+
    (7 votes)
  • 28%
    93-99
    (90 votes)
  • 50%
    85-92
    (158 votes)
  • 13%
    77-84
    (42 votes)
  • 4%
    <76
    (14 votes)
311 votes total Vote Now

Big thanks as always to Max Rieper at Royals Review for running the sim. You can check out the full transaction log and recap here.