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:
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:
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.
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):
No real surprises here. Their top-10 actually comprises 9 of the 10 prospects that we have in our top-10. Talking Chop lists shortstop Nick Ahmed amongst the top-10, and does not list Spruill. Our top-10 here and here.
I still find it interesting that prospect folks are listing Bethancourt so high. I guess I soured on him this year, even though he does ooze tools.
An interesting oversight in the "Best Tools" section is the inclusion of Cory Harrilchak as having the best outfield arm. Unfortunately, Cory was released by the Braves during the year.
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R.J. Anderson and Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus give a very realistic recap of the Royals/Rays blockbuster deal: Baseball Prospectus | Transaction Analysis: The Shields/Myers Blockbuster
Secondly, and most importantly from a scouting standpoint, Myers doesn’t project to be a superstar, at least as far as I’m concerned. Again, highly skilled and one hell of a prospect, but the offensive tools aren’t so crazy that Myers was considered untouchable or a slam-dunk MVP candidate at the highest level. A realistic projection might peg him as a first-division talent or perhaps as an All-Star in his peak years.
Baseball America got six AL pro scouts' thoughts on the same trade: BaseballAmerica.com: Majors: Trade Central: Royals Deal Minor League POY, Others To Rays For Shields
Inside the game, the response is much more measured. In checking with six pro scouts, none saw the trade as one-sided, and all were convinced that the chorus of criticism of the Royals for making the deal is misplaced.
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs discusses the Dodgers and their latest signing, Zack Greinke: Dodgers Sign Zack Greinke, Spur Market | FanGraphs Baseball
The Angels might serve as a useful example, as it happens. The Dodgers, right now, are in line to open 2013 with the highest payroll ever, and it’s hard to imagine them stopping with the spending spree. But they do have limits, even if they haven’t reached them, and the free spending can’t continue forever. After acquiring Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson last offseason, this offseason the Angels have focused on the lower tiers. It’s going to be interesting to see if and when the Dodgers become more responsible.
Russell Carlton of Baseball Prospectus asks the question of whether or not closers age differently than other relievers: Baseball Prospectus | Baseball Therapy: Do Closers Age Differently Than Other Relievers?
Maybe we've got something else at work here. Closers are not chosen at random. In fact, they are chosen specifically because they are good pitchers. Leaving aside the usual arguments about the inefficiency of the modern closer role, managers do usually try to pick their best reliever for the job, ideally one who's not going to fall apart very quickly. Maybe these results are an indicator that managers are simply good at picking that guy out. They are baseball subject matter experts, after all. We know that for hitters, there are different developmental trajectories, with hitters who debut earlier peaking later. Perhaps there is a similar effect for relievers. The good ones get to be closers, and they also follow a nicer career trajectory.
Scott Spratt of the Hardball Times discusses the Red Sox and the issue of positional flexibility: The price of positional flexibility--THT
The Red Sox wanted a culture change. If the new manager and the lack of long-term contracts are evidence of their new course, I would speculate that Victorino and Napoli are evidence, as well. Neither player is a likely All-Star, but each is versatile. Might these signings allow Boston the position flexibility it will need to cover for potential injuries? If 2012 was an indication, such flexibility would serve the team well.
Out of all of the things that could best represent the Colorado Rockies' 2012 season, nothing quite beats the performance of the team's veteran starters over the course of the season.
The Rockies, perhaps foolishly, counted on Jeremy Guthrie and Jamie Moyer, and later, Jeff Francis and Jonathan Sanchez, to give the team a large chunk of innings at an average level of production. What the team got, instead, was 268 2/3 innings of horribly-pitched baseball; the four starters combined to post a 6.03 ERA.
Okay -- horrible might be too harsh of a word for one of these guys. Jeff Francis had pretty damn good peripherals during his few months with the team, and ended up leading the Rockies in innings pitched. He walked just 1.8 batters per nine innings while posting 6.1 strikeouts per nine. In addition, he led all Rockies starters in wins with six. So, I guess there is a reason why he'll be back, and it certainly wasn't a bad move for the Rox to re-sign him.
Jaime Moyer deserves a few nice things to be said about him, as well. One thing that speaks to how poor the Rockies' rotation was heading into the season is that Moyer was, far and away, the team's best pitcher for the first month of the season. In fact, he had a very respectable 3.14 ERA in 28 2/3 innings in April for a Rockies team that was treading water at 11-11.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there for the 50-year-old lefty. Moyer's ERA in May was 8.64, and he was designated for assignment by the Rockies on June 4.
Jeremy Guthrie came to the Rockies prior to the season in a deal that sent Jason Hammel, who had been one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball in 2009 and 2010, and Matt Lindstrom to the Baltimore Orioles. It's unclear if Dan O'Dowd intended on Guthrie being the savior of the Rockies rotation as some suggest, but regardless of what the expectations were for the 33-year-old righty, he fell miserably short of them.
Guthrie was simply not able to get out of his own head while with the Rockies. He was a decent road pitcher, posting a 3.73 ERA in 49 innings. However, Guthrie was an unmitigated disaster at Coors Field. In 41 2/3 innings, he allowed an eye-popping 44 earned runs, good for an ERA of 9.50. Upon exiting in the third inning of what would be his final start as a Rockie on July 18 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Guthrie mockingly tipped his cap to booing fans. That marked the end of his disastrous tenure in Denver, as Guthrie was shipped to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Jonathan Sanchez two days later.
Of course, Guthrie went on to have a terrific second half of the season with the Royals, finishing 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA. Meanwhile, Sanchez made three starts with the Rockies, totaling 11 innings, and put up a 9.53 ERA before landing on the disabled list for the remainder of the season. Leave it to Dan O'Dowd to be the only guy who continually gets fleeced by Royals GM Dayton Moore in trades.
It's not hard to put a grade on the performance, as a whole, of the Rockies' veteran starters in 2012. The kind of numbers listed above are deserving of a huge, bold-red, F.
In fact, the only pitcher of the four who deserves a grade better than failing would be Francis. Due to his solid peripherals and innings-eating tendencies, the 31-year-old southpaw gets a C on his 2012 report cardP
Fergie Jenkins 2005 Topps Pristine ‘The Legendary Years’ Uncirculated Refractor It is amazing how all of this came about. Months back, I did not know that this card even existed. And today, with this addition, I have three of them! … Continue reading →
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Dear Santa,I know I?m a bit old to be writing you, but what the hell, right? You totally screwed all Braves fans on that ?infield fly rule? incident back in September. So I figure you owe me as well…[...]
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James Shields is now a Royal. He easily moves in as the top starting pitcher on the staff. Here is a quick and dirty breakdown of him.
Drafted in the 16th round in 2000
2014: $13M with $1M Buyout
As a whole, Shields is a good pitcher. He strikes out quite a few batters and walks just a few. Over the past 4 years, he is 4th in IP, 39th in ERA (3.85), 19th in WAR (15) in the majors (min 500 IP). Most of his value is from being durable good pitcher.
Looking at his splits, a couple of notes.
1. He seems to be able to handle both right and left-handed hitters equally (career numbers).
vs. LHH: 3.87 FIP, .291 BABIP
vs RHH: 3.81 FIIP, .305 BABIP
2. He really struggled on the road
Home: 3.33 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 22% K%, 5% BB%, 0.9 HR/9, .296 BABIP
Away: 4.53 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 19% K%, 6% BB%, 1.4 HR/9, .299 BABIP
His real problem is the number of HR he gives up on the road. Shields' results are better at home and he should see similar stats pitching half the time at K with the chance of fewer strikes.
Park factors (100 is league average, more than 100 means the stat is more common at the stadium. Data from statcorner.com)
HR (LH/RH): 87/90
The HR factor will be the same, but James will likely see a drop in strikeouts.
In 2012, he threw 6 different pitches
Pitch, Average Speed, % Used
4- seam Fastball: 92 MPH, 21%
2-Seam Fastball: 92 MPH, 13%
Cut Fastball: 88 MPH, 6%
Slider: 86 MPH, 15%
Curveball: 78 MPH, 18%
Change Up: 83 MPH, 28%
His change is considered to be his best/out pitch.
Here is how he uses each pitch depending on the count:
The only time he really ever uses his fastball is when he is behind in the count.
He has been pretty consistent in his speed with a ~1 MPH increase over the past season.
James has never been on the DL in his career. Ever. Don't get your hopes up too high as there is some concerns that he may have some possible injury issues. In 2012, he saw his Zone% drop to 45%. The 2012 value was the first time his Zone% has ever dropped below 50%. From some previous research, I found that pitchers that had their Zone% below 47% had a 50% of ending up on the DL during the season.
Shields saw his Zone% drop more and more as the season went on. He seemed to have more and more issues get the ball over the plate
Besides, being less and less able to throw strikes, his Injury Index, which looks at the ability of a pitcher to consistently throw strikes late in game, was high throughout the season. (1 = high chance of being injured, 0 = low chance of being injured)
The main cause for the high factor was an inability to maintain a consistent release point. Here is his release points from the 4th inning and on from his last 2012 game.
His release point varied by over 2 feet at the end of the game.
Historically, Shields has been a consistent workhorse who get most of his value by striking a decent number of batters and limiting walks. He has had some problems pitching on the road, but the K will play close to his previous park. Finally, his best trait, his health, may finally be deteriorating and he looks to be a possible injury risk.
I've always heard that one should read very little into Winter League stats. The competition can vary greatly from Major League caliber to low minor league caliber, so an observer just looking at stats has no idea if the player is crushing the Big League guys or the the young kids (or the retired Latino veterans who come back and play for their hometown teams).
But even with all those warnings I watch Winter League stats like a hawk. It's probably because as a baseball fan that's the only baseball being played this time of year, and so it's the only thing feeding my need for baseball. And this winter there are a lot of big-time up-and-coming Braves players toiling away in the Caribbean.
The biggest splash has likely been made by Evan Gattis, who apparently got the name Oso Blanco, or White Bear, from his Venezuelan League teammates. He started out on fire, cooled off some, and has settled into a good rhythm. In 42 games played he has 9 home runs, a .278 batting average, a decent .338 on-base percentage, and has controlled his strikeouts with just 25.
Why should we care about Gattis and his performance? Because until the Braves get a left fielder, Gattis might be a serious candidate for at least some starts in left. As far as power hitting prospects in the Braves system go, right now, he's it. And if his Winter League stats are indication, he might be ready.
The other Winter League surprise is third baseman Juan Francisco. He's playing in the Dominican, and like Gattis, is putting up impressive power numbers. In 29 games Juan has belted 7 home runs and has a .315 batting average, though he has struck out 31 times. He's even hitting left-handers well, though it's a small sample size (another problem with Winter League stats).
Between Francisco and Gattis the Braves could form a potentially potent lefty-righty platoon, that would be made possible by Martin Prado shuffling from left field -- when Francisco plays third -- to third base -- when Gattis plays left. If one of those players emerged as more of an everyday player, then Fredi Gonzalez could go with the "hot hand."
While that may not be an ideal scenario for the Braves, or fans hopeful for a big-time everyday left fielder, that scenario would allow the Braves to develop two players with significant power potential -- and keep in mind, they would likely be hitting in the eighth spot in the lineup.
One hope that Juan Francisco can become more of an everyday player is his renewed physical conditioning. Juan will always be a bigger guy -- he has thick and powerful legs -- but he doesn't have to be a player with a gut and man-tits (see picture above). One of the big criticisms of Juan last year had to do with his weight, and how fans and pundits perceived that it affected his agility at third base and his swing in the batters box.
The following is a picture taken in the Dominican a few days ago, showing a somewhat slimmer Francisco (along with Fredi Gonzalez and catching prospect Christian Bethancourt):
He probably could stand to lose some more weight, but as far as the process of losing weight over the course of the off-season is going, he should be well on his way to being much trimmer when spring training begins in just over two months from now. That should help to silence some of the critics of his weight, but it will also help us see him for what he really is -- of that we'll find out.
Of course, weight on a player is not always a detriment. Pablo Sandoval on the Giants is a guy to point to as being successful while carrying excess weight -- and he is actually only a year older than Juan Francisco.
However the whole debate about playing weight turns out there is promise in the Winter League performance of Francisco. And promise in the performance of Evan Gattis. Both players are 26 years old, and both have taken their own detours on the path to becoming everyday Major Leaguers. This season should show us what the Braves have in these players, and whether or not they can be useful Major League players.
I'll take a look at some of the promising Winter League pitching performances tomorrow.
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