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SB Nation Off Season Simulation 2020: Day 1

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American League Championship Series Game 7: Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

This year I am honored with taking control of the Tampa Bay Rays off season in the SB Nation Off Season Simulation after playing an advisory role last season — You can check out last year’s results here, You can follow along in the official thread of transactions at Royal Review for this year’s activity.

The simulation began last night at 5:00 PM, and got off to a quick start with many discussions taking place. Some very ambitious and some much less so.

Team Options

By 7:00 PM I had to submit the decisions on team options. The Rays had team options on Charlie Morton and Mike Zunino. I chose to follow what the real life Rays did and decline both options.

There are plenty of equivalent options to Zunino available on the market so trying to aim higher and settling for a reunion seems like the best route.

However with the Morton decision I knew this was a decision I would very likely regret at the end of the sim. I’m unsure how his decision process would differ from real life, but I expected he’d take the most money — wherever that is — even if in the real world proximity to Bradenton is important to him.

I was planning to place a bid on Morton regardless but expected that he would get a much larger deal because that’s what always happens. Everybody is suppose to stay within reasonable budgets for the team they control, but that isn’t how things usually end up as teams end up with inflated payrolls in a simulation where the short term is everyone’s priority. The payrolls definitely won’t reflect the economic reality of 2020 or the uncertainty surrounding 2021 at present.

I placed a strong offer for Morton with deferred money to reflect a real life scenario but he was one of the first free agents off the board signing with the New York Yankees for 2/$40MM. This is worst case scenario for the fake Rays as they lost a player they could really use to the strongest division rival.

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Three Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Trade #1 - Catcher

My biggest focus was on the vacancy at catcher caused by the declining of Zunino’s team option. I still have Michael Perez on the roster as an emergency that the real Rays chose not to employ, but in the end will likely DFA him once I acquire a better tandem.

The state of catchers outside of JT Realmuto is pretty weak. They all have their flaws and I was flooded with a ton of mediocre to poor offers by teams looking to unload unwanted catchers. The lone exception came from the Minnesota Twins who wanted to give Ryan Jeffers a full time role in 2021 making 2019 breakout catcher Mitch Garver available.

Garver hit an unreal .273/.365/.630 and put up a 155 wRC+ over 359 in 2019. He mashed 31 homers. The 29.0% HR/FB rate was expected to fall and thus the .357 ISO, but he had a miserable 2020 at the plate. Hitting only .167/.247/.264 and putting up a 41 wRC+.

I’m taking a shot that he can at least match his 2018 line of .268/.335/.414 line and 103 wRC+. That’s still a great line for a catcher.

Defensively his numbers are all over the place. In 2018 he put up a -17 DRS lead by -9.2 framing runs. However in 2019 and 2020 that improved to +4 DRS and -0.1 framing runs. So he looks like an improving catcher defensively

In the end I made a big bet and acquired my number one catcher trading LHP Josh Fleming, RHP Joe Ryan, and 2B Esteban Quiroz for C Mitch Garver.

Garver has three years of arbitration remaining and is expected $1.8-$1.9MM his first time through arbitration this winter. That gives the Rays a controllable catcher at a price that comes within any budget they have.

Trading two depth starters and losing Morton makes me slightly worried about pitching depth, but I do plan to acquire a Morton replacement during this project.

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins - Game Two Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Non-tender Deadline

Next came the non-tender deadline. I chose to non-tender RHP Chaz Roe and OF Hunter Renfroe.

Chaz Roe is expected to get $2.3-2.6MM in arbitration. This isn’t an exorbitant sum, but when he likely has been passed by multiple relievers and might not be higher than fifth in the bullpen pecking order this seems like a spot that the Rays can save a few bucks and use the roster spot on a Minor League Free Agent signing. The real Rays designated Roe for assignment and he became a free agent, so this move mirrors the real Rays decision.

Hunter Renfroe had a disappointing 2020 season. He hit .156/.252/.393 and put up a 76 wRC+. Despite a .141 BABIP that cratered his batting average he did provide the power (.238 ISO) expected, but with roster sizes expected to be limited to 26 players at least one of the Rays outfielders were going to have to be moved. He’s the guy who loses playing time to Randy Arozarena’s breakout, so this is the cut I chose to make.

Trade #2 - Utility Player

Besides looking for a veteran Major League pitcher my other focus was looking for a role player who ideally batted right handed and hit left handers well. Also would like for him to be able to backup shortstop to give Willy Adames a day off when needed.

After going through a few options I found the perfect positional fit in a deal with the Detroit Tigers. Niko Goodrum has played 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF, and RF during his time with the Tigers. It’s small samples everywhere. He’s been bad at second base and left field, but at the same time has been very good at shortstop. So I don’t know what to really expect defensively outside of him being athletic enough to be able to fill in wherever he’s needed.

At the plate his .234/.307/.407 line and 90 wRC+ over 1161 is perfectly fine out of a bench player that can fill in wherever is needed. He has stolen 31 bases and has provided an additional 9.8 runs on the bases.

Goodrum’s best production has came against left handed pitchers with a .323/.383/.480 line and 131 wRC+ over 282 plate appearances. This is a small sample, but he keeps the power while striking out significantly less so there likely is some significant split.

Despite being a switch hitter it looks like he is more productive as a right handed batter which fits what I was looking for.

The Rays traded RHP Brent Honeywell, Jr. to the Tigers for 1B/2B/SS/3B/LF/CF/RF Niko Goodrum.

Honeywell Jr. once upon a time ago was one of the top pitching prospects in the game. However a string of unfortunate injuries combined with 2020 have seen him not be able to throw in a game for three full seasons.

This is a deal that could look either great for the Tigers in a year if Honeywell comes back and is able to pitch anywhere close to what was expected three years ago, or he could be a guy who never throws a pitch in the Major Leagues. The Tigers are in a position that they should be taking these types of risks.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

Much went as expected. There are a lot of balls up in the air and a lot of conversations that ultimately lead to nowhere.

Outside of the expected outcome in the sim for Morton I like what I was able to accomplish on day one. There wasn’t a lot of work to do on the roster, but am looking to make a big addition if I can.

I have budget room to make a sizeable addition as the roster right now only comes in around $57MM. I’m going to try to stay in the $75MM range and am looking to trade Kevin Kiermaier if there’s a way I can spend that money more effectively in the context of this roster, but will keep him if I can’t.

Right now the pitching depth is where I would be most concerned, but should add at least one arm that slots in the middle of the rotation by the end of this exercise.