Welcome to the my installment of our arm-chair GM series. As a reminder, here are the basic guidelines: For the luxury tax payroll, we are using the number calculated by Cot’s contracts, which is about $142.3 million for next season.
The luxury tax threshold, which owner Arte Moreno has indicated as the spending limit in years past, is $197 million for 2018, leaving us with almost $55 million to play with. We then knocked that number down to $45 million to ensure that there is enough payroll flexibility to make mid-season acquisitions possible.
For trades, we vow to keep them as realistic as possible. A popular tactic among baseball fans on the internet is simply offering a bunch of players you don’t like in exchange for some you do. That’s not how trades actually work, so that’s off limits.
And lastly, if we are acquiring an arbitration-eligible player, we are using MLB TR’s arbitration projections to calculate the player’s effect on the payroll, as the final arbitration numbers are not yet in.
Bottom line is that we need 3/4s of an infield, some stability on the pitching staff, and some bench pieces. I, as Billy Eppler, have about $45 million in AAV to spend, a few trade chips I’d rather not spend, and a solid core of Trout, Simmons, and Upton.
Step One: First Base
The reason this comes first is that the drop off from the best available talent to the next is the steepest. We need to swoop in and get our man: Carlos Santana.
He’s a switch hitter with a career wRC+ of 123 and a career OBP of .365. He would be a huge addition to a middle of an order already featuring Trout and Upton.
Take a look at the following numbers: 107, 107, 109. Those are the career wRC+ numbers for CJ Cron, Yonder Alonso, and Logan Morrison, respectively. The latter two are boosted by career high home run years in 2017 when MLB as a whole hit more home runs than ever before.
MLBTR has Santana pegged for 3 years and $45 million. I’ll add a year and $20 million because I think that estimate is light. Contract: 4 years, $65 million, $16.25 AAV. I set the market and let my competitors scramble for the remaining players.
CJ Cron traded to Tampa Bay Rays for Jesus Sucre. Net savings approximately $1 million,.
We need a backup catcher and the Rays need a first baseman. Both players are in their arbitration years so the money isn’t exorbitant either way. DFA Juan Gaterol, AAV savings $500k.
(Caveat: I could also trade Cron anywhere in baseball for some lottery ticket prospects and sign a Hundley, Rivera, or Ianetta type backup for about Cron’s projected salary. Really, just about any reasonable deal involving Cron would be cash flow neutral.)
Step Two: Bullpen
I also want to reward a guy who did a great job for us last year and sign Yusmeiro Petit for 2 years and $8 million, AAV hit of $4 million.
DFA Blake Wood, save $2.2 million
Sign Bryan Shaw: 3 years, $21 million, AAV $7 million
I don’t really want to spend this amount of money, but I want one more reliable late inning option. Currently, Cam Bedrosian, Keynan Middleton, and Blake Parker are back there. None have been a model of consistency. We put Shaw in the high leverage situations and play the hot hand with the other three.
Step 3: “Buy” a second baseman.
The Phillies have a second baseman they don’t really need in Cesar Hernandez. The 27 year old has a career .357 on base percentage, club control remaining, and figures to be entering his prime.
The Phillies also have one of the top rated farm systems and position player prospects galore. What they don’t have is young, MLB ready pitching.
Trade Parker Bridwell and Jake Jewell to Philly for Cesar Hernandez. Net Cost of roughly $4 million for 2017.
Why Bridwell? He had great numbers last year, at 25 years old he’s likely entering his prime, and he will make MLB minimum. He’s exactly the guy I don’t want to give up. But I’m on a 3 year plan here and need Hernandez for all three. Jewell is a nice throw in.
Sign CC Sabathia for 2 years and $24 million. AAV of $12 million per year.
Before I get creamed here, take a look at this excellent Fangraphs piece showing how CC has reinvented himself as a pitcher as his fastball has lost a touch. Also, take a look at these numbers:
Sabathia 2017: 148.2 IP, 120 Ks, 122 ERA+, 49.9% Ground Ball Rate
Bridwell 2017: 121 IP, 73 Ks, 116 ERA+, 38% Ground Ball Rate.
Yes, I’m giving away upside in Bridwell. But the contributions between these two were more similar last year than one would believe. Add an elite infield defense behind Sabathia and those ground balls will turn into outs. Put him in the AL West, and his home run rate drops.
I’m all for getting younger, but this move makes sense.
Step 4: Raise the Floor
Here’s where my post really gets difficult. Once I’ve added a middle of the order bat, a cornerstone, and shored up the bullpen I’m down to needing a platoon partner at third base and a 4th outfielder. At this point, there are so many players I could plug into those spots, I would wait for the game of musical chairs to play out so I can find a great value.
I like the idea of a guy who can play multiple positions, so Yangervis Solarte or Cory Spanenberg would be great to have. They are rather redundant on San Diego’s roster and since Solarte will get paid $4.125 million this year while Spanenberg gets $500k, Solarte is the one most likely to be dealt for a reasonable return, say Eduardo Paredes and a lottery ticket.
I still need a 4th outfielder and he needs to be able to cover center field so Trout can take at least a day off a month. So I bring back Eric Young Jr. on a 1 year, $2 million deal.
Total AAV hit: $6.125 million.
Wait For Minor League Deals to Present Themselves
Every year somebody see their market crater. This year, I have a hunch some speedy guys like Jarrod Dyson might not be appreciated in the power boom, but I had to keep my post within the rules.
Anybody with a calculator can see that I’ve added $45.625 million to the total payroll. I might need to DFA a guy or save a little more in the Cron swap, but I’m right about on the cutoff of $45 million.
What we have is a solid lineup and some multi position depth on the bench. Plus, we keep our position player prospects in the fold.
I’d imagine a couple of lineups. When facing a righty:
- Hernandez 2B
- Trout CF
- Upton LF
- Santana 1B
- Pujols DH
- Calhoun RF
- Simmons SS
- Valbuena/Solarte 3B
- Maldonado C
When facing a lefty, Solarte would definitely play third. He could also give Hernandez the occasional day off.
Our bench would consist of Solarte/Valbuena, Cowart, Sucre, and Eric Young Jr. Lots of defense but little in the way of offensive pop, save Valbuena. But, this group can cover every position on the field, so we have at least passable depth around the diamond.
Not going to remind anyone of the Braves teams of the 1990s, but all guys capable of getting through a lineup a couple of times and turning it over to long relievers Petit and Ramirez.
My one inning bullpen guys have strikeout capabilities in Parker and Middleton, the steadying impact of Shaw, and the hope that a healthy Bedrosian is a good one.
My biggest goal was to create a team with at least one more high impact bat, which I’ve done in Santana, fix the black hole at second base, and hope that a more complete lineup will give our pitching staff some runs. But, knowing the staff is likely to turn in quite a few short nights, I wanted some flexibility in the bullpen and at least one arm that should be dependable.
I’ve done all of that while keeping most of our best young talent, leaving room for mid season acquisitions, and raising the floor of the team. Let’s face it, if Arte is going to go after a Machado/Harper/Kershaw type, there’s really nothing to be done about the luxury tax next year. I have to prepare for this year.
But, if this year shows continued improvement, I’m more likely to get that really shiny toy next year.