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SB Nation Offseason Simulation: Phillies Edition

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Where I’m the GM and you can criticize my every move

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies-Press Conference Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, the writers for the 30 major league teams’ SB Nation sites get together (i.e. email each other) and simulate what the offseason would look like if we ran the teams. If you’re interested in the rules, you can click here to read up on it.

Each team is given a spreadsheet outlining the available players. We don’t worry too much about 40 man rosters, instead focusing on the 25 man team that will “compete” in 2017. Thanks to the creator of the sim spreadsheet, we are given two budgets to work with: one that would keep them in an appropriate spending range (the Rays aren’t going to have a $120 million budget), and one that goes right up to the luxury tax threshold. We are also shown each team’s contract situation until 2021, as well as possible options each team has for each year. It’s up to us to figure out what player has how much team control and for how long. So, if you wanted to trade Vince Velasquez, you’d have to be able to tell the inquiring team how much control he has remaining. Each pre-arbitration player was considered, at least by me, to have a salary of $520,000, since that was the major league minimum last year, while each arbitration salary was set at what MLBTR has guessed it will be for each player. We have to decide on options, qualifying offers, everything a major league general manager has to do in his own offseason. It’s quite daunting when you consider how little time you have to actually analyze not only your roster and salary situation, but also that of each of the 29 other teams as well.

It’s a really fun thing to get to do, and this year, I had the opportunity to run the Phillies. I took this very seriously, even referring to myself in the beginning set of emails as “MK”. I discontinued this rapidly when I realized that I was the only one descending to these levels of intensity.

So, how’d it go? Well, here’s the overall recap of how things went. Below, I’m going to explain why I did what I did running the Phillies.

The Strategy

Here is what I had the Phillies’ 25 man roster looking like heading into the offseason:

You can see that the projected WAR for each offensive player isn’t exactly “heartening”. For that matter, neither is bullpen. So that helped establish some clear goals. After giving it a few days preparation, I landed on three main objectives:

  1. Improve the offense any way possible, but really try to get an ultra-talented, under-long-term-control outfielder.
  2. Improve the bullpen by getting a lock down closer and a top flight late inning arm, preferably a left handed one.
  3. Keep as many top minor league assets as possible, but also use some if necessary in a trade.

It’s plainly obvious that the Phillies’ weakness last season was its outfield. Their 78 wRC+ as a group was last in baseball as an outfield, as was their .361 slugging percentage. Defensively, they weren’t horrible (they weren’t good either), but upgrading the outfield as a collective whole was a must for me. However, I really didn’t want to buy one with money. As we already know, there isn’t much in the way of free agency this year that would be worth the Phillies’ while as far as long term solutions go. Instead, I wanted to focus on those already under team control. I set my sights on three names: Starling Marte, Marcell Ozuna, and Jorge Soler.

After that, I wanted to upgrade the bullpen since it was so bad late last year, and outside of Neris and Gomez, wasn’t really that good the entire season. I didn’t want to go after the big guns (Chapman, Jensen, Melancon), so instead I focused on two names: Greg Holland and Mike Dunn. Holland was a target because the bounceback possibility he presents would be of greater value than anything the other three could give me, and he would come a lot cheaper. Dunn has been a pretty solid left hander out of the pen, capable of getting both left- and right-handed hitters out.

Finally, I wanted to keep all of my top prospects while using the others as trade bait. I was asked a lot about the team’s top prospects - names like J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, Mickey Moniak and Nick Williams, but held a steady hand in trade negotiations. I wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on the second half of the top ten, though, and in fact began trade discussions with them quite frequently. But those guys at the top are the building blocks of the next playoff caliber Phillies team. I had to keep them.

The Execution

First order of business was the arbitration salaries. Keeping Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis and Jeanmar Gomez were no-brainers, but I wanted to see if Cody Asche could bring me anything. As a matter of house keeping, we non-tendered Darin Ruf and Luis Garcia (ed. note: the sim was completed before the Howie Kendrick deal, but after the Pat Neshek deal). I also made the decision to not extend Jeremy Hellickson a qualifying offer, as I thought $17.2 million for a mid-rotation starter wasn’t exactly the way I wanted to spend my money. If I was going to spend that much money on a starter, I wanted an upgrade.

We moved a low level arm (Tyler Gilbert) for Neshek, making that trade line up with real life, which helps with our goal of solidifying the bullpen, then gave Andres Blanco a new deal (1 year/$4 million with an option at the same price for 2018) to shore up the bench. Since that tidied up a few loose ends, we moved on to our next item, which was Asche. This led to our first move:

Philadelphia trades Cody Asche to the Red Sox for Luis Alexander Basabe and Rusney Castillo

In this trade, we put on our Dodgers cap. For a few years now, the Dodgers have been basically buying prospects by assuming larger, unwanted contracts to tag along with the more desired addition to their own minor league talent pool. With the Phillies having millions of dollars in space, we decided to roll the dice on Castillo turning into something anything as long as we got Basabe. If you aren’t familiar with him, he is currently ranked 8th on MLB.com’s Red Sox top ten list. We were especially enamored with adding a prospect who has five tool potential at an up the middle position, and since we could do so by simply taking on money while simultaneously ridding ourselves of a player who wasn’t in our long term plans, we pulled the trigger. Does adding $46 million in sunken costs sting? Sure. But in our mind, there was a reason Castillo was offered this type of deal in the first place. We hoped that we could unlock that reason why. The best part of this trade is that we got something for Asche, who was then non-tendered by the Red Sox. That’s a win in our column.

Next came the hard part - upgrading the offense. We set our sights on Marte, but eventually the Pirates, who we thought were going to be rebuilding in the sim, decided to switch gears and go for it all. We offered Williams, Dylan Cozens, Ben Lively and Andrew Knapp, but that still was not enough to get it done. So, we went after Ozuna. Again, nothing. We thought we had him for Alec Asher, Lively and Thomas Eshelman. Didn’t happen, so we moved to Soler. The price tag for him was a little too steep for us to part with, so after all the trade discussion, we ended up with nothing. There were a few other deals discussed. Roman Quinn for Sean Doolittle was close, as was a Doolittle/Sonny Gray package that would have seen Quinn and Cozens on the move. There was even the possibility of adding Logan Forsythe as a super utility bat, but in the end, we just didn’t see a match with other teams that would have helped achieve our first objective without severely hindering our last one.

That moved us to the relief pitching market.

Reaching out to Holland early helped us try and match any deal he was offered. We held off on an offer before seeing him throw, which proved wise, as inital offers were in the neighborhood of $50-60 million guaranteed prior to his workout. We also started talking to Mike Dunn and even gave him an offer of 3 years/$21 million. Perhaps it came in too late, as he accepted one from Atlanta for less than what we had offered, which was odd, so we pivoted to back to Holland. We made an offer that we thought was fair considering he barely hit 90 in his workout (1 year/$9 million with lots of incentives and a team option for $13 million), yet that ended up being too small, as Holland eventually settled with the Tampa Bay Rays for 3 years/$21 million. Just a little too rich for us. In the end, we just decided that the bullpen upgrades would have to come from within, as well as a few minor league deals we gave out (Aaron Loup, Eric O’Flaherty, and Ryan Vogelsong). With the minor league arms we have coming, this seemed a better use of resources than anything else.

Then we waited.

As my co-GM (and co-writer) Matt Winkelman put it to me in an email, “You are experiencing what the Phillies actual offseason is like.” There really doesn’t seem to be a lot of room to improve the team without saddling it with long-term albatross contracts. For example, in the sim, Jose Bautista went to the Giants on a 4 year/$65 million deal. Why would the Phillies do that for a 36 year old outfielder when they aren’t close to winning? Do we panic and make that type of move just to satisfy our theoretical fanbase? It just doesn’t make sense. If we were going to spend money, it would have to be on someone who would help not just this team in the present, but also one in the future that is closer to contending.

So, we made the leap into our final addition.

Phillies sign outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a 4 year/$110 million contract

This was the big one. It was obvious as I watched the moves come in (again, click on the link above to see the results) that teams are overvaluing bullpens. Here are a few deals of note:

Giants get Kenley Jensen for 6 years/$140 million
Cubs get Aroldis Chapman for 6 years/$114 million and Mark Melancon for 4 years/$70 million
Rays get Holland

With teams spending that much money on relievers, it depressed the hitters’ market, so we pounced on Cespedes in the final two hours of the simulation.

Now, I know, I know - the draft pick. In this scenario, the team loses its second round pick without getting compensation for Hellickson signing somewhere else. It’s probably not the wisest thing, but I liken it to the Nationals splurging on Jayson Werth in 2011. Signing Cespedes sends a signal to the league and, to a lesser extent, the fanbase, that the team is willing to spend on a player who will help soon. Might he be diminished in a few years? Yes. But at only four years, it’s a choice we were willing to make.

So, where does that leave the roster? Here is a new sheet, complete with payroll and WAR projections for 2017:

While on paper it only shows a modest upgrade of 4 wins, there is reason for optimism. You can see that the Steamer projection system is very pessimistic that Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera can sustain their performance. Since much of their improvement last year was based on high walk rates, there is hope that a potential dropoff might not be as steep.

Steamer is very bullish on the rotation, particularly Nola. If he is able to come back next season and deliver 4.1 fWAR, the front office would be ecstatic. Same with Velasquez and his 3.2 fWAR projection. It only shows a “meh” bullpen, but again, based on the going rates of relievers in the simulation, I feel better knowing that my coffers won’t be strained by aged relievers in a few years.

Rounding out the roster, I’ll let the kids battle it out for the last two bench spots and the final bullpen position. Seems like a good way to spend a spring training.

Overall, I like the team now, and in the future. There is a lot of money to spend, either through extensions or free agency. There was no one signed or traded for that will block a more talented youngster. There is still flexibility to sign someone bigger, but for now, there was no need to do so. Figuring in the natural improvement of younger players, it seems that this roster would reasonable be expected to win 74-78 games, improvement but still not quite playoff worthy.

How do you think I did? What would you have done differently, if anything? Let me know and I’ll try and answer any questions/comments you have.