Confessions of a GM: A simulation of the Indians' 2017 offseason

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The simulation ran by Royals Review ended today, and I feel I walked away with some insight on being a GM and also feel pretty good about my performance as the Tribe's front office in a (short offseason). Overall I want to start with my strategy for the simulation, then discuss how it progressed, and end with some thoughts on running a team (if only metaphorically).

Strengths, Needs, and Weaknesses:

Entering the simulation I determined our team needed improvements in three areas of our club:

The Outfield

With Michael Brantley hurt, Bradley Zimmer untested, and a gaggle of role players and AAAA prospects and non-prospects, we really lacked a defined outfield. I felt confident in Bradley Zimmer defensively and knew Brantley could handle left field if healthy, but coming off of ankle surgery and two injury-plagued seasons I knew I wanted at least one full-time starter to step into our outfield. Looking at our role players, I determined three players were useful: Greg Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Brandon Guyer; and a few more as expendable (Abraham Almonte & Tyler Naquin). If an upgrade presented itself here, I would strike but only after I solved the starters.

First Base

Carlos Santana is a godsend for us at first, and with him potentially leaving a massive hole emerged in our lineup and infield alignment. I could move Edwin Encarnacion to first but preferred him at DH. I also could exercise Brantley's option and move him to first base as well. At the end of the day, I felt most comfortable finding a way to retain Carlos Santana.

Relief Corps.

Andrew Miller and Cody Allen bring fire at the back end of our bullpen, but our conglomeration of relievers ahead of them were lacking. For all the consternation surrounding Bryan Shaw, he remains a sturdy relief option, and I felt with Nick Goody & Tyler Olson coming up I could use a solid middle reliever to ensure nobody was overused. However, relievers frequently represent fungible assets. I decided I could find a few relievers cheaply to augment the bullpen; since young relievers can fall off a cliff unexpectedly it becomes imperative to compile as many options as possible.

On the flip side of our needs, I also listed our assets. Overall I felt I had three areas I could reasonably draw from without damaging the team significantly and those were:

The Rotation

With five trusted Major League starters and several prospects, I felt reasonably confident I could trade either a low-end starter (Ryan Merritt, Rob Kaminsky) or a high end one (Trevor Bauer or Danny Salazar) to fill a need elsewhere. However, I also decided I would not trade Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco unless somebody threw an offer my way so compelling I could not refuse.


With Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez on the roster, with Francisco Mejia MLB side, I figured I could trade one catcher reasonably. My preference was Yan Gomes, as his contract is starting to become a burden on our payroll. Overall I felt any iteration of Yan Gomes/Roberto Perez/Francisco Mejia would result in an above average catching tandem for the club, allowing me to move at least one of them to address other needs.

Farm System

The previously mentioned Mejia was a blue chip prospect several GMs expressed interest in, but I also felt I had a full cupboard of prospects to attract other clubs. Further, with so many young players already under contract, I felt I could reasonably assume I would not need significant help from the farm system on the position player side, and my needs (outfield and first base) did not match up with my prospects as well as I would like.

Finally, I also considered my obstacles, and one major issue appeared: my payroll. While several good contracts dotted my roster, a few drags remained. Yan Gomes, Jason Kipnis & Edwin Encarnacion ate up a ton of my budget, leaving me with precious little money to work with on the free agent market, compared to my overall needs. I would probably need to move some money around in order to fit into my budget, which was set at $130M, but I also felt I could stretch since the Indians are in contention.

Strategy & Tactics:

My strategy then was to maximize the near term, overall I felt I needed to do three main things:

1. Acquire an All-Star caliber outfielder, preferably with 4+ WAR potential. This player should play a corner outfield spot, preferably right field

2. Either retain Carlos Santana or acquire a starting first baseman. I could also substitute a DH

3. Find one or more controllable relievers to augment the bullpen

To achieve this I decided I needed to use the following tactics:

1. Prioritize, and move quickly. I did not want to bog myself down with lengthy negotiations especially in a short simulation

2. Deal from depth. Namely my starting rotation, and potentially catchers

3. Stick with who I know. Retaining Carlos Santana would be easier than trying to find a different first baseman, for example

Before I began the sim I had listed several players I wanted to target. The first being my own free agents: Bryan Shaw, and Carlos Santana. I knew both would be highly coveted, but I also knew they fit my needs perfectly. Santana has turned himself into a good first baseman, allowing me to leave Edwin at DH. Shaw is also the kind of reliever I wanted, as he would be cheaper than a closer but durable enough to fill in if relievers like Goody & Olson step back from strong 2017 campaigns. The second target I had in mind was Marcell Ozuna. Marcell is a good outfielder and a great hitter. He's young, under team control beyond 2018, and costs less than other major outfield targets. I also knew Miami would be selling. I then targeted a few role players. Ichiro Suzuki was on my list of potential bench upgrades, but I figured I would strike opportunistically on my role player needs.

The Simulation

The sim started with several inquiries into my starting pitchers. Both the Cubs, the Marlins, and the Phillies expressed interest in Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. While I declined the offer of Schwarber from the Cubs, discussions with the Marlins on Salazar heated quickly. We moved from Stanton to Ozuna easily and quickly agreed to a short list of prospects to be included with Salazar for Ozuna. The final deal — Bradley, Cheng, and Salazar — was finalized by the end of the night, but I held off until I felt comfortable I could afford Ozuna, which meant moving some additional money.

I had originally posted on the thread I was interested in moving a catcher, and despite the initial interest in pitching, we quickly moved to discussing catchers. The Cubs wanted Roberto Perez, and offered me Hector Rondon in exchange, but also requested prospects to go along with either Gomes or Perez. It became clear quickly a deal would be a struggle. I put several offers on the table, but when I asked for an additional prospect in return for Perez, was rebuffed. Rondon did not quite fit my needs, and his suggestion of Grimm did not match either. Others inquired about Perez, including Houston, San Francisco, and Arizona, but when I suggested Gomes everyone balked. Eventually, Atlanta offered a straight up Sam Freeman for Yan Gomes deal, and I swiftly agreed. Freeman was not quite the perfect match, but he saved me the Gomes contract and was controllable for a few years with options. After I traded Gomes, I agreed to the deal with Miami.

An interesting conversation I had was with Oakland on Khris Davis. We debated over a price and neared a deal with Shane Bieber being the centerpiece right before I finalized the deal with Marcell Ozuna. We continued to discuss a trade for Davis, while I debated upgrading left field. Overall at this point, I was fairly satisfied with my outfield situation: I felt Davis was an upgrade over Chisenhall offensively, but also didn't want to have to trade Chisenhall as a salary dump. I chose instead to keep the prospects and go with a Chisenhall/Guyer platoon in left field unless a better opportunity presented itself. However, discussions with Oakland did eventually materialize in a small deal on the second day.

Frankly, I did not receive many inquiries beyond those listed above. I requested information from Chicago on Jose Abreu, and prices were steep beyond his $18M salary via arbitration. Prices from the Mets on Yoenis Cespedes were even higher, with him asking for Jose Ramirez as a starting point. However, I swiftly made best offers to both Bryan Shaw and Carlos Santana on the free agent front; and my original offers largely stood by the end. Overall, I expect my offers for the sim were higher than what other GMs were willing to pay, and although I have not examined all the final deals I believe this simulation will pay free agents less money than their real-life counterparts.

By the morning I had traded for Marcell Ozuna, & Sam Freeman. I received a counteroffer from Bryan Shaw, requesting I match a $23.0M offer over three years, and I countered matching the $23.0M with an additional club option which brought Shaw back. I then confirmed a deal with Santana shortly afterward. With my main needs addressed, I felt comfortable considering other issues. Here I will say I made one internal mistake. The spreadsheet I was using had my payroll at just under $120M, and I felt I could aggressively consider needs beyond my original expectations. I made an offer to C.C. Sabathia to round out my rotation and he accepted. In reality, I had miswritten Ozuna's contract on my spreadsheet, and I was actually just under $130M: my proposed budget. As a result, my 2018 payroll now stood over $140M, and not $130M. To save a little payroll I designated Zach McAllister for assignment, which brought my final payroll number to $139M and change.

The remainder of the Sim was uneventful. I received requests from some on Carlos Carrasco but never got close to a deal. Cookie was part of my 2018 plans, and I did not feel comfortable dealing with him. Oakland came back and asked about Tyler Naquin, and after a brief haggle we agreed on a deal for Sam Moll, as further reliever depth. I also discussed trading for other bench pieces including with San Diego, Atlanta, and San Francisco but overall all went to naught.

The last interesting conversation I had on the sim was with Pittsburgh over Jason Kipnis. At this point, my roster was set, but Pittsburgh was in desperate need of a second baseman. We initially discussed a prospects-for-Kipnis trade, with the names returning including: Will Craig and Kevin Newman heading my way. At first, he asked for salary relief, which I declined and the final offer in front of me was a straight Craig & Newman for Kipnis. I considered this deal strongly but chose to decline. Kipnis was my starting second baseman on my board, and while I wanted to rid myself of the contract, I didn't feel confident in either Yandy Diaz, Gio Urshela or Erik Gonzalez to start any of them during the season. The free agent options weren't great, and overall I feel a bounce-back season is more likely than not. With Gold Glovers at short and third, I did not feel Kipnis' average defense required upgrading and left my roster intact.

Final Thoughts on Being a GM

Overall I feel my performance in the offseason was strong. The 2018 roster should perform better, on paper, than the 2017 iteration. I do feel I probably overpaid for Sabathia and Santana. However, I also felt determined to ensure I wound up with players I was comfortable with and who would at least retain the current team. The advantage of striking fast is ensuring you get the players you wanted, and I walked away with pretty much every major piece I listed as a target from the beginning, but it cost me more than it probably would have had I waited.

I will say I gained a newfound respect for GMs on other fronts. It is easy to forget others will value your assets far differently than you do your own. I found this out quickly with Yan Gomes. I expected people to value them similarly, especially from a performance standpoint. However, the consistent message from the GMs I interacted with is Gomes was not nearly as valuable as Roberto Perez. I will also say that attempting to drive a hard bargain is typically a poor strategy. New York's opening bid on Cespedes effectively ended a conversation before it began, although he did request I make a counteroffer (I never did). Houston also attempted to drive a deal for Mejia with Evan Gattis as the centerpiece...which I found laughable. Overall, fruitful conversation began with a more frank discussion of needs and desires.

Overall, I don't expect high marks from many on my performance this offseason and compared to many of my counterparts I believe I interacted less than most. I also struck far fewer deals this offseason than many. My reasoning was simple: I had needs, I addressed them and felt other deals increased risk more than I wanted. Overall I had a lot of fun considering how I would run the franchise if I led the team, but I also think the job is tougher than sometimes I expect.

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