SBN Mock Winter Meetings Simulation: Running The Rockies

Meet the face of the Sim Rockies' pitching staff - Jared Wickerham

Imagine a world in which the Rockies aggressively acquired pitching at the Winter Meetings...

As many of you know, I spent the last week as part of a grand experiment over at Royals Retro called the SB Nation Winter Meetings Simulation. In this grand experiment, 30 GMs were culled from blogs across the SBN platform to create a mock Winter Meetings that allowed us to try our hands running our favorite team from Monday through Friday of this past week. I thought that it would be fun...and it was, but more than that, it was incredibly addictive.

Here were the ground rules:

  • We rewind to the end of the regular season.
  • The assumption is your GM has resigned and been replaced. The new GM is free to set their own organizational philosophy. However, they must still adhere to the team budget
  • We're not concerned with the 40 man roster.
  • Players with no-trade clauses cannot be traded (this includes players with 10-5 rights). Players with limited no-trade clauses can be traded, but I reserve the right to veto it if I think the player would not accept the trade.
  • Minor leaguers can be traded, but must be specified. No Players to be named Later. Cash may be dealt, but the amount must be specified.
  • Free agent contracts are negotiated with me. Free agent contracts cannot be frontloaded or backloaded. Club options, player options, and mutual options may be offered.
  • Top offer will typically be taken, although there may be exceptions if a player has a preference on where he wants to play (NY over Pittsburgh; older vet may want to play for a "winner.")

This meant that none of the moves Dan O'Dowd and Co had made to this point were actually consummated. In other words, the Rockies had their full complement of bullpen arms (e.g. Roenicke, Putnam, Reynolds, White). I therefore had these goals going into the simulation.

  1. Add quality ML starting pitching (league average or better) via whatever channel I could. When's the last time the Rockies have been able to do that?
  2. Unload salary and marginal players if possible to pay for said starting pitchers with a $85 million Opening Day payroll as my limit (roughly what Colorado ended up spending last year).
  3. Improve the overall talent level of the team if possible by getting rid of marginal players that my mock manager would have been tempted to give 500 plate appearances to at the cost of winning.
  4. Try not to completely mortgage the future for the present, but actually use some high-level prospects as trade chips, something O'Dowd is loath to do.
  5. Build a contender in one week.

As I saw it, my most valuable assets were my starting outfielders -- there were a lot of the Mock GMs that said they wanted starting OF help, and that was an area my Rockies actually had some strength in. With such a gaping hole where the starting rotation should be, trading OF for SP became my guiding principle in this endeavor and influenced most of my trade proposals.

For the sake of my sanity, here's how building the Colorado Aberles went in chronological order:

Before the Sim Officially Started

In the days leading up to the official simulation, the Nationals GM approached me about a Dexter Fowler trade, offering Alex Meyer (the prospect traded for Denard Span). As Meyer looked a little bit too much like Alex White to me, I demurred and instead tried to acquire Jordan Zimmermann, which he rightly turned down.

I also proposed a Fowler for Chris Nelson deal to the Phillies for Vance Worley and Jesse Biddle, which was also declined. Given what I was able to get for Fowler later in the week, I'm glad it was.

I was also given a list of options to pick up or decline by the first day...leading to the Rockies' first mock transaction:

Non-Tender INF Jonathan Herrera

Herrera's barely worth league minimum and his presence was taking up a roster spot that I gave to Josh Roenicke instead.

Monday

The Tigers GM posted that one of my pitching targets, Rick Porcello, was available and that he was looking to acquire ML contributors. A couple of emails later and I had my first trade...

Trade OF Michael Cuddyer and INF Jordan Pacheco for RHP Rick Porcello

This move worked out for me in just about every conceivable way. Colorado acquired a league average pitcher with 3 years of team control remaining in Porcello (with GB tendencies to boot) while at the same time dumping salary from a position of strength (Cuddyer) and a marginal talent (Pacheco) that opened up more playing time for DJ LeMahieu/Nolan Arenado. If I had stopped the sim right there, I would have already improved the Rockies much more than the real FO will this off-season.

Perhaps feeling a little too confident at that point, the Rockies made a few more offers, including a trade mirroring real life with a Ryan Wheeler for Matt Reynolds swap that didn't work as well as a failed pitch for Justin Masterson. Lots of other craziness happened too, but you can check the transactions thread if you're curious.

Then came the reason that I'm not the Rockies' real GM -- I fell in love with Brandon McCarthy. He was the guy I targeted at the beginning of this exercise and I definitely saw more of the positive (Chicks dig the ground ball! Hot wife!) than the negative (Shoulder injuries! Juan Nicasio syndrome!). Given his status as somewhat of an internet darling, it was apparent that several of my fellow GMs felt the same way.

I knew that to lure a FA starter to Colorado, I'd need to overpay a little bit, but I had saved roughly $6 million on the Cuddyer deal so I was feeling flush with cash. In any case, my initial offer to McCarthy was a 3 year deal for $36 million, which was enough to make me the leader in the clubhouse for his services heading into...

Tuesday

I'm feeling pretty good about the chances of signing McCarthy when I go off to work Tuesday morning. Keep in mind that at work I have no access to baseball sites or Gmail except through my phone. So I'm checking my phone every 2 minutes or so to see what has changed with this sim...and the price for McCarthy keeps going up.

The initial contract of 3/36 becomes 3/39, then 3/42, then somebody offers 3/48 for him. A $16 million AAV was considerably more than I was willing to pay, so I added a year to the contract at a lower AAV (4/55, or $13.75 million per year), which finally gets the deal done.

Sign FA RHP Brandon McCarthy to a 4 year, $55 million deal

Given what a number of other pitchers went for in this sim (Greinke got 6/175, Sanchez 6/90, Jackson 5/60), that's relatively market value...but it was a LOT more than he got in real life (2/15.5). Part of this was my willingness to overlook the negatives because I let sentiment get in the way. Part of it is that I think real baseball GMs are undervaluing McCarthy's contributions. Here was my official rationale for McCarthy:

  1. Good free agent pitchers aren't going to come to Coors Field if they have other options unless they're getting paid a premium. That's why the real GM never signs any of them.
  2. McCarthy is entering his prime as a pitcher and this deal takes him through that prime.
  3. With the offensive environment the Rockies play in, they just need competent pitching, not elite.
  4. He's a strike thrower (and in recent years, a decent groundball rate too), and throwing strikes in Coors is more important than in any other park in baseball (a walk is more likely to lead to a run).
  5. I'm still well under last year's payroll, given that there's no Guthrie, Scutaro, or Cuddyer
  6. I think the price of a marginal win in the FA market is closer to $7 million over the life of the deal (in this fake market, probably higher), so really I see McCarthy only really needing to be a league average player over the contract's life to come out ahead. And I think he will do that for my fake team despite losing some time to injury.

But that's way too much ink about him. After this move, I was thinking that the starting rotation was pretty much set, but that didn't stop me from making a proposal to the Mets for Jon Niese involving Tyler Colvin, Rafael Betancourt, and Tim Wheeler -- which was heavily considered but ultimately declined.

I also proposed the same Wilton Lopez trade that happened in real life, but that too was shot down. Maybe O'Dowd is making some good trades if these fake GMs won't do them.

Wednesday

The Braves GM contacted me early in the morning about either Dexter Fowler or Charlie Blackmon. I wasn't inclined to trade Fowler at that point given that the pitching was pretty improved by my earlier moves, but I asked for him to give me a list of players that were available...and it was his response that changed my mind. Namely, that Kris Medlen was available.

Now, I happen to think that Kris Medlen is the bee's knees. He's a great control pitcher with three years of team control left who just put up a 2.42 FIP season with a stellar GB rate. NEIFI rated him as a 4.31 win pitcher next year alone (Fowler is a 2 win player)...and I think he's a legitimate ace. Which is why I leapt at the opportunity to get him for the package I did.

Trade OF Dexter Fowler and RHP Chad Bettis for RHP Kris Medlen

Losing Fowler really hurts the offense of my Sim Rockies, while Bettis was probably the top pitching prospect in the system with ROY eligibility left, but I got the best player (by far IMO) in this deal and created a heck of a starting rotation in the process.

With both Fowler and Cuddyer gone, the Sim Rockies were suddenly in need of an outfielder, so I made an offer to Andres Torres...who if nothing else will play well defensively for the Rockies while their prospects develop.

Sign OF Andres Torres to a 2 year, $5 million deal

Thursday

The sim became something of a dead zone on Thursday, but the Rockies managed to bolster their relief depth with a minor league signing of Japanese reliever Yoshinori Tateyama.

Sign RHP Yoshinora Tateyama to a minor league deal

Friday

On Friday morning, a flurry of deals started to occur, both with free agents and trades. The Brewers GM offered up Carlos Gomez to me and we were able to come to an agreement shortly before the end of the simulation.

Trade LHP Edwar Cabrera and RHP Rob Scahill for OF Carlos Gomez

In this scenario, Gomez becomes the new starting center-fielder, with Torres and Colvin splitting time (and Colvin spelling Helton at 1B). Gomez only has one year of team control, but he's a league average player thanks to his speed and defense. With this new pitching staff, I wanted to put together a great outfield defense if possible. Giving up Cabrera and Scahill was made tolerable by the new pitching I'd acquired.

Wrap-up

Here's Colorado's 25 man roster after the simulation, with projected payroll numbers (including arbitration estimates):

Position Player Salary
SP1 Medlen $4,900,000
SP2 McCarthy $13,750,000
SP3 Chacin $2,300,000
SP4 De La Rosa $11,000,000
SP5 Porcello $4,000,000
CL Betancourt $4,250,000
SU Belisle $4,100,000
LHP Brothers $480,000
RHP Escalona $480,000
LHP Outman $900,000
RHP Ottavino $480,000
RHP Roenicke $480,000
C Rosario $480,000
1B Helton $5,000,000
2B Rutledge $480,000
SS Tulowitzki $10,000,000
3B LeMahieu $480,000
LF Gonzalez $7,500,000
CF Gomez $2,750,000
RF Colvin $1,350,000
C-Bench Hernandez $3,200,000
INF-B Nelson $480,000
INF-B Culberson $480,000
OF-B Torres $2,500,000
OF-B Young $480,000
Total $82,300,000

That leaves a AAA starting rotation of Pomeranz, Nicasio, Chatwood, Friedrich, and White for pitching depth. It's a team with less offense than the 2012 team but with vastly improved pitching...and that pitching is basically signed through 2014 as well. The defense should also be improved with the additions of Gomez and Torres. Nelson and LeMahieu would fight for the 3B job in this scenario, with Arenado being given a long look in Spring Training.

The team might not be the favorite to win the NL West, but I think it's got a much better chance than our current squad does. Tell me what you think! What would you have done differently?

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