Every year, Max over at Royals Review runs an offseason simulation, and 30 volunteer GMs take a shot at managing their team. Last year’s collapse down the stretch and flop in the wild card round left a bitter taste in Mets fans’ mouths, and there’s a lot of work to do on this roster. Still, there are strong pieces in place and we’ve got quite a budget to work with.
Max set our recommended budget at $276M, and I argued it should be a bit higher at around $300M a spending level I think is more than justified for Steve Cohen (he’ll likely need to spend at least that much to field a true contending roster in 2023). I’ll also note that high-end free agent prices get a little crazy in this context - take any top-end deal and the real life equivalent is probably about 60% of it. Viewed through that lens, the events of the sim make a bit more sense.
There’s a surprising amount of work to do on this roster even though it won 100 games last season. The rotation is nearly empty, the bullpen was a weakness and is now a wasteland, and the lineup could use some additional thump and depth. To top it off, the half-roster that the Mets come into the offseason with already costs more than $200M. Even with a $300M budget, that’s gonna be a bit of a tight fit.
In terms of departing free agent, my strategy was pretty clear. I aimed to retain Brandon Nimmo at nearly any reasonable cost, because CF alternatives were few and far between. Ditto Edwin Diaz, because one of my main goals was to build an elite bullpen. Chris Bassitt I was prepared to let walk, as I feel his innings are replaceable and the comp pick he’d deliver by signing elsewhere is valuable. And then there’s Jacob deGrom. To be blunt, I had little interest in paying him $40M+ annually given his recent injury history, making it all but certain he’d depart.
Otherwise, I was willing to push pretty close to all in for this season. I didn’t want to move Francisco Alvarez, but any other prospect could be traded. In particular, I wanted to cash out on some guys who I feel are at peak (or post-peak) value; Mark Vientos, Ronny Mauricio, Calvin Ziegler, and possibly Alex Ramirez. I was also more than willing to give up picks to sign free agents with QOs attached. Ultimately, the main aims were to rebuild the rotation, deepen the lineup a tad, and most importantly build an elite, easy-to-use bullpen that even Buck Showalter couldn’t mismanage.
Part 1: Goodbyes and Hellos
Procedural moves first, as always. Mychal Givens’ option was declined, but all three of Daniel Vogelbach, Carlos Carrasco, and John Curtiss were retained. QOs were made to deGrom, Bassitt, Nimmo, and Diaz, but not Taijuan Walker who also opted out of his contract. As for non-tenders, the only candidate was Dom Smith, who I began shopping almost immediately. Surprisingly, there was some interest, and I was able to extract an intriguing, optionable bullpen arm from San Diego for the first move of the offseason:
With that out of the way, I turned to the free agent market. My first move was a small one, inking the non-tendered Luke Weaver to a minor-league contract. Long a personal cheeseball of mine, I’ll gamble on finding something fixable and turning him into a viable reliever. I also shot out initial free agent bids Andrew Chafin and Edwin Diaz which, to my surprise, were quickly accepted. Chafin signed for 2 years and $15M, with an $8M third-year player option. Diaz, meanwhile, was brought back for 5 years and $90M. less than he signed for in reality. That’s some hefty cash to spend on relievers to be sure, but Diaz is as good a reliever as we’ve ever seen and the core piece to the elite bullpen I aimed to build.
I also cooked up a bit of a hair-brained scheme; using Brett Baty to acquire Zac Gallen from the Diamondbacks, then pivoting to sign Carlos Correa to fill third base long term. Initial conversations with Arizona were promising, and I entered a $300M bid on Correa. Unfortunately, his market was already topping $350M, a price I wasn’t willing to go to. This plan quickly died, Gallen was never traded, and Brett Baty remained in the organization.
No matter, on to other discussions. I found the Brewers were shockingly willing to move Brandon Woodruff and that they were shockingly very interested in Mark Vientos. I leapt at the opportunity here, acquiring a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for a trade package I consider to be very light:
This is probably the most unrealistic move I made in the sim, as I believe the actual price for Woodruff would be much much higher. Wonky things do happen in baseball though, and I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Day 1 of the sim closed with another big reliever addition, with Adam Ottavino coming back on a 3-year, $27M contract. This is the one contract I gave out where I think I overpaid, but it’s not a disaster and Ottavino was excellent last season. The high-quality bullpen plan was off to a good start.
Part 2: Some snacks while we wait
At the start of Day 2, I decided I had two primary targets - Brandon Nimmo and Carlos Rodon. Nimmo’s importance I’ve already discussed, and I remained convinced there was no viable alternative to him in center field for the Mets in 2023. As for Rodon, I had planned to allocate a large portion of my budget to Carlos Correa. I did not want to sign Trea Turner - I don’t think singing an aging, speed-based player with declining contact rates to a mega-deal made sense - and also knew I’d need to put forward an insane deal for Aaron Judge. deGrom had already signed with the Giants for a 2-year contract worth more than $100M. That left Rodon as the obvious way to spend my money.
Of course, the market was moving quite slowly on the top-end free agents, as bidding for Turner, Correa, and Judge continued behind the scene and held everything else up. In the meantime, I began working on smaller deals. Jeff Brigham, an intriguing old rookie from the Marlins, was signed to a 2-year, $4M deal to be the 8th guy out of the bullpen. Yu Chang was brought in on a minor league deal. Trevor Williams was brought back to reprise his role as a swing man on a 2-year, $8M deal. I filled Darin Ruf’s role with the better, younger Harold Ramirez on a 1-year, $2M deal, then dumped Ruf to the Rangers for an out-of-options reliever (an issue I’d resolve later):
After a couple of quiet hours pursuing some other deals that went nowhere (see below), I began to reconsider the third base situation on my roster. The Twins had elected to non-tender Giovanny Urshela after his career-best season. I also saw the very intriguing - and also very old and positionally limited - Matt Carpenter sitting untouched in free agency. A couple teams had inquired on the availability of Eduardo Escobar as well. Put this all together and I conceived a plan where the team would get younger and possibly better at third base, add an interesting platoon option with power off the bench, and possibly recoup some prospect capital. That was enough for me to strike, and I brought in Urshela on 2-year, $15M deal and Carpenter on a 1-year, $2M deal.
Part 3: Landing my white whale(s)
With the bench (over)filled and some depth signings taken care of, my attention shifted back to Nimmo and Rodon. I made one more minor signing in the early evening as the bidding escalated, bringing in Wade Miley on a 1-year, $3.5M deal to be my fifth starter after plans to trade for a cheaper alternative fell through (see below). Otherwise, all attention was on the top of the market, and some dominoes finally began to fall. First, Carlos Correa signed with the Braves for $400M. Then Trea Turner went to the Yankees for $420M. The Yankees weren’t done either, bringing back Aaron Judge for $500M. My earlier supposition about not wanting to get involved here turned out to be justified.
That left my two primary targets as the best free agents remaining, and bidding escalated quickly. No matter, I had budgeted adequality and had room to land them both; Rodon signed for 8 years and $240M, and Nimmo returned to the Mets for 8 years and $200M. Scale this by the correction factor for big deals I mentioned at the top and both seem quite reasonable, particularly next to the money other teams were putting out for premium free agents.
With the rotation set and the lineup filled, my attention turned back to trades. I was indeed able to turn Eduardo Escobar into a prospect I like, pulling off this deal with the Twins:
Anthony Prato is a very Twins prospect, an unheralded, undersized utility player without much thump who appeared at six different spots in 2022. But he [points at Jonah Hill] gets on base, and isn’t too far away from being major-league ready. Nowlin might be a non-prospect, but he posted some gaudy strikeout rates last year in Single- and High-A, making him a fun gamble if nothing else.
I still wanted to find one more elite reliever too, and began targeting Erik Swanson of the Mariners. Somehow, a three-team trade came together quickly, and I wound up landing a guy with a lot of team control and some of the best pitch traits in baseball for a prospect package I was very willing to part with (the last time we traded for a high-end reliever from Seattle and Jarred Kelenic was involved in the deal, it worked out pretty well):
Much of Day 2 was very frustrating and I was disappointed with the team as of the early afternoon. Things really came together quickly, however, and by the end of the day I had a squad I was very happy with.
Part 4: Finishing touches
Now to polish the edges a bit. I started by adding some more depth on minor league deals, bringing in Ben Gamel, Vince Velasquez, and fan favorite Tommy Hunter to fill out the Syracuse roster. I also started aggressively hunting for a taker for James McCann’s contract, my lone outstanding problem spot. Talks with the Royals, A’s, Nationals, and Pirates went nowhere, but I did finally find someone willing to absorb some money in the Twins:
I was ready to call things there, but the A’s began shopping A.J. Puk at the last minute. My bullpen needed another lefty and I’m a longtime fan of Puk, though the initial ask was Blade Tidwell. That wasn’t someone I was willing to move, but we found a compromise and settled on this package headlined by Calvin Ziegler:
Now that really should have been the end of things but it wasn’t either, since Seattle came asking about Stephen Nogosek. Nogosek is intriguing but out of options, and I wasn’t eager to guarantee him a bullpen spot. The Mariners also have good outfield depth and a rising prospect I’m a big fan off in Cade Marlowe. This deal came together at the eleventh hour and nicely balances the minor league depth of the roster:
Here’s the final roster (italics indicate 40-man roster status):
And the balance sheet:
It’s difficult not to be satisfied with a team that costs $300M, but I am close to ecstatic with how this roster turned out. The rotation is arguably better than it was last year even with the departure of deGrom and Bassitt, and the lineup has a much improved bench and catching situation. The bullpen should be elite, insofar as you can ever predict anything about bullpens. As for the cost, the prospects moved were mostly non-essential pieces, with the top-6 names on the farm (Alvarez, Baty, Parada, Williams, Ramirez, Tidwell) all staying put. Most of the players I acquired have multiple years of team control, an important element as this roster has a lot of long term money already locked up and some other names approaching the end of arbitration.
There were some other ideas that didn’t go anywhere:
- German Marquez - I pursued Marquez early as a back-end pitching acquisition, but talks stalled out when I wasn’t willing to move Tidwell.
- Joe Jimenez - One of my big targets coming into the offseason, Detroit set a ludicrous price on their rental reliever, asking at times for Tomas Nido. Brett Baty, or both Ronny Mauricio and Calvin Ziegler. Ultimately, I elected to keep my top-end talent and turned my movable prospects into better relievers with more control.
- Brady Singer and Scott Barlow - The Royals and I got pretty far discussing a big package deal for both Singer and Barlow, on that would have involved Mauricio, Ziegler, and Alex Ramirez. Ultimately the Cardinals swooped in by dangling Nolan Gorman, an alternative I can’t fault the Royals for accepting. These talks breaking down prompted the pivot to Miley as a 5th starter option.
- Hunter Harvey and Victor Arano - The Nationals and I had a long of back and forth about relief options, and I tried numerous times to pickup one or both of these names and shed McCann in the process. Nothing ever worked out and I think I wound up with better pitchers anyway, but these were some fun talks.
In total, the roster has been improved, the prospect capital was not too hefty, only one QO free agent was signed, and we’ll be getting a couple comp picks back. Not bad work for an offseason.
Grade the GM’s performance:
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How many games does this team win?
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