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Simulating the 2022 Yankee offseason

The Yankees come up short on the biggest targets, but still improved the on-field product.

IBM laptop computer, 1987-1988. Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

For the second straight year, I was asked to participate in SB Nation’s simulation of the MLB offseason. The sim is run by Max Rieper at Royals Review, who acts as the agent for the full free agent class. A GM from each team is free to bid on FAs, negotiate trades with other teams, and the like. In a departure from last year, teams were briefed on their 2022 payroll, but not given specific directives or goals for the offseason — more on that in a bit — and instead encouraged to be as realistic as possible.

For the Yankees, I enlisted the help of Jake Devin, Peter Brody, and Dan Kelly as my assistant GMs and head of player development, and we came up with a strategy that I think reasonably mirrors what the IRL Yankees will do this winter: Get a real No. 2 starter, get a real shortstop, and stay as close to $250 million in payroll as possible. That last one might be controversial — it’s a sim, who cares what money gets spent — but as much as I’d like the Yankees to just go out and spend $400 mil on payroll, they’re not going to. $250 million is likely going to be higher than the CBT threshold anyway, and I thought it was a realistic budget for a spend-happy Yankees.

Transaction 1: Yankees decline the options on OF Brett Gardner, P Joely Rodríguez, P Darren O’Day

This stuff was pretty simple. I don’t see a role for any of these guys in 2022, especially given the Yankees’ ability to generate top-flight relievers in-house. The fact that the Yankees mirrored these moves themselves (albeit while bringing Rodríguez back on a separate deal) makes me think that I’m at least on the right track.

Transaction 2: Yankees trade P Zack Britton, INF Alexander Vargas, C Antonio Gomez, and OF Fidel Montero to the Cubs for P Jose Miguel Gonzalez

Getting Britton’s literal dead contract off our books was a priority if we wanted to stay around $250 million in payroll. Vargas was the main piece headed to Chicago, although Antonio Gomez is an interesting catching prospect. The big takeaway is that Britton’s $13 million salary is gone, teeing us up for the next move.

Transaction 3: Yankees trade INF Oswald Peraza, INF Trey Sweeney, INF Oswaldo Cabrera, 1B Luke Voit, and P Matt Sauer to the Diamondbacks for INF/OF Ketel Marte

I believe that in terms of players involved, this is the biggest trade of the sim. Marte’s value is sky-high — he’s a reliable 120-or-better wRC+ hitter who can play 3-4 positions, and is under control for one more season, plus two club options at $10 and $12 million. The intent was to use Marte all over the field; we know the Yankees like to rest guys, so allowing everyone a day off once a week while penciling Marte all around makes a lot of sense. He’s a switch-hitter who over the past three seasons strikes out about as much as DJ LeMahieu or Anthony Rizzo, bringing that desired “balance” to the lineup.

Transaction 4: Yankees trade P Luis Gil, P Clarke Schmidt, and P Yoendrys Gómez to the Padres for P Yu Darvish

All of the free agent starters have their warts. Marcus Stroman is good but probably not an ace, Robbie Ray has had one good season, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Verlander are coming off lost years, and all of them will likely cost more per season than Yu Darvish, who carries a $21.5 million CBT hit the next two seasons.

Darvish is, I think, a classic case of a guy with a super-high ceiling asked to be an ace, when his floor is low enough that he probably shouldn’t be at the top of a strong rotation. Slotting him in behind Gerrit Cole gives the Yankees arguably the most dominant 1-2 in the AL, and the big loss is Luis Gil, a pitcher who shone at times in 2021 but is still a work in progress.

Poor Clarke Schmidt. This is the second straight year I’ve traded him for a No. 2.

Transaction 5: Non-tendered OF Clint Frazier

This one broke my heart. Frazier is exactly the kind of player who fans should fall in love with, and has shown, in spurts, the kind of upside that made him such a highly-ranked prospect. Unfortunately, I’m very worried about his health, and felt that the best move for him professionally was to give him as much time as possible to recover, without the pressure of making it back to the bigs. Ergo, I extended an MiLB offer to Frazier, get healthy with the Yankee rehab team, and there was a path back to the majors.

The Baltimore Orioles seemed to think he could still produce in 2022, tabling a one-year, $3 million offer that Red Thunder accepted.

All of this set the team up with a payroll of $218,500,000 for 2022, with one big move left on my list — sign one of the premier shortstops available. And here’s where everything goes south.

One of the reasons why I liked having a hard budget last season is that it forced teams to actually be creative and more realistic with free agent offers. Bidding wars with no real budgets get out of control, and the perfect example was the LA Angels inking Corey Seager to a 10-year, $355 million deal, then following it up with an Anthony Rendon trade and signing Kris Bryant for 6/$210M. The Detroit Tigers nabbed Carlos Correa for 10/$375M, the Jays gave Marcus Semien 6/$155M, Seattle signed Trevor Story for 7/$194M (!!!!) and the Mets brought Javy Báez back at 6/$126M.

I am extremely skeptical that any of those deals actually happen in real life. Maybe Correa could get that high — extending a five-percent inflation rate to the Manny Machado contract, the 2022 equivalent would be 10/$347M — and I actually do think teams like the Tigers and Mariners would be involved in bidding this winter, but not at these prices. Everyone got drunk.

And maybe this is a failure on my part as a GM. I’m not playing as Brian Cashman, I’m playing as me, someone who generally wants the Yankees to be more aggressive and flex their muscles, but the winning bids for Correa and Seager would have been at least $380 and $360 million respectively. I have no appetite for Story at $30 million a season. I just don’t think the Yankee brain trust would go in on deals like that, and given that my team and I were trying to run this sim as close to real life as possible, I made final offers at $360M and $340M to Correa and Seager, and bowed out. I truly don’t think the top two shortstops will land $730 million this offseason, I think this sim market was hot by about $50 or so million on those two, and well over $100 million on the shortstop class as a group.

The pitching market was a little more rational:

Robbie Ray - 5/$112M from the Cardinals

Marcus Stroman - 5/$120M from the Twins

Justin Verlander - 2/$52M from the Cardinals

Kevin Gausman - 5/$90M from Colorado

Clayton Kershaw - 3/$70M from the Dodgers

Max Scherzer - 2/$76M from the Giants

Zack Greinke - 2/$24M from the Dodgers

Noah Syndergaard - 2/$26M from the Mets

If these are the actual winning bids IRL, the Yankees should be all over Ray, Stroman, Verlander and Scherzer in my opinion, potentially knocking on Thor’s door as well. Given that the rotation was a strength coming into the offseason, and Darvish was acquired before the bidding really heated up on the starters market, I was content to make competitive bids but happy to walk away knowing the rotation is still top-notch.

For those curious, Anthony Rizzo and Brett Gardner both signed with the Rays, for 3/$33M and 1/$2M, respectively.

There’s your Opening Day roster for the Yankees. Marte slides in at short, where he can play effectively, if not as well as say, Story or Correa. I imagine him batting second in between LeMahieu and Aaron Judge.

Overall, I’m fine with the roster but not in love with it. I think that it’s at least as good as the 2021 roster in terms of true talent and projections, and the trick, just like last year, is hitting those projections. Unquestionably, the biggest disappointment is not landing one of the big shortstops, but like I said, I have a hard time imagining that the real Yankees would fork over $360 mil for either Correa or Seager. If I’m wrong, I’ll happily admit to it.

Thanks again to Max at Royals Review, I can’t imagine how much work goes into this kind of stuff.