Every year, SB Nation holds a simulation of the MLB offseason. Thirty volunteers take the role of GM for their favorite MLB squad, are given directives from their “owner,” and set off to build the best possible team. This is my fourth consecutive year as the Yankees’ GM, and this year, my crack team in the front office featured Esteban Rivera, Peter Brody, and Madison Pavich.
Max Rieper of Royals Review oversees the sim, and his diligence and effort cannot be appreciated enough. It’s one of my favorite exercises of the whole offseason, and he deserves so much credit for pulling it off.
Here are the ground rules:
- We rewind to the end of the regular season. The assumption is that your GM has resigned and been replaced. The new GM is free to set their own organizational philosophy.
- We’re not concerned with the 40-man roster.
- Players with no-trade clauses cannot be traded (this includes players with 10-5 rights). Players with limited no-trade clauses can be traded.
- Minor leaguers can be traded, but must be specified. No Players to be Named Later. Cash may be dealt, but the amount must be specified.
- You are free to frontload or backload contracts, although player preferences are for contracts not to be backloaded. Anything ridiculous will not be accepted. You can offer player, club, mutual, and vesting options.
- Top offer will typically be taken, although there may be exceptions if a player has a preference on where he wants to play (big market over small market; older vet may want to play for a “winner.”)
- There is no negotiation of long-term deals for players that are not free agents — no contract extensions.
You all know the status of the Yankee roster: nine free agents, none larger than Aaron Judge. The recommended budget from “Hal Steinbrenner” was $257 million, which with players under contract and arb raises, gave me about $50 million in spending. The team has two mostly-dead contracts in Aaron Hicks and Josh Donaldson, and desperately needs to rebuild the lineup.
Decision No. 1: Exercise option on P Luis Severino, extend qualifying offers to OF Aaron Judge, 1B Anthony Rizzo, nontender INF Isiah Kiner-Falefa
I don’t think any of these moves are controversial. Severino looked dynamic in limited action, and the brain trust agreed that he’s due for a big season. QOs were the same as the real Yankees offered, no surprises there, and IKF was a mistake from the beginning. Oswald Peraza is ready to take over shortstop, there just isn’t room for a slap hitter at $7 million projected in arbitration.
As this sim developed, I became convinced that Anthony Rizzo should not be brought back. He would command between $18-20 million on the market, for multiple seasons, and I felt that the money in my budget could be better allocated to one of the infield free agents. Carlos Correa et al. just bring more value than any first baseman, and the plus to bringing Rizzo back is that he hedges the risk of three rookies on the infield — if one of those infielders is a sure-handed vet, that risk is reduced. Ergo, if Rizzo turned down the QO, we’d let him walk. He did, and we did (to the Rays at 2/$36MM).
Decision No. 2: Yankees trade Aaron Hicks, Luis Gil, and Everson Pereira to the Rockies for Sam Weatherly and Helcris Olivarez
The second move was freeing up just a little more money, to do all the things we wanted in this sim. I think this game only works if you actually try to be close to your recommended budget, so I knew I had to get rid of one of Donaldson or Hicks. As Peter mentioned (many times), Donaldson’s money comes off the books next year, so even though he’s more expensive, clearing Hicks’ deal might be easier and have more impact on future Yankee rosters.
I don’t really care about Luis Gil; he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery and who knows what he becomes? Pereira is a real prospect, and it hurts to give him up, but given my other plans for the roster and the success of Jasson Domínguez, the Yankees have a lot of outfielders. Pereira is a very nice piece, but he was expendable and he was what it took for the Rockies to take on the entirety of Hicks’ contract. The two prospects coming back were A-ball pitchers with good fastballs and plus sliders, but problem shoulders — exactly the type the Yankees have churned into MLB contributors. The money was the big play here, and we now had about $85 million in unallocated funds to work with.
Decision No. 3: Yankees trade Clarke Schmidt and Trey Sweeney to the Cubs for Ian Happ
Left field was a question mark for the Yankees. Masataka Yoshida was an option, as was Andrew Benintendi, but with outstanding free agent questions, I wanted something a little more controllable (AB ultimately went to the Reds at 6/$72MM). Happ is projected for $10.8 million in arbitration, is a damn sight better than Hicks at pretty much the same price, and lets us use Oswaldo Cabrera in a true utility role. The guy can play six positions, penciling him into left robs us of a lot of his value.
This was the easiest move all sim, our roster lines up well with the Cubs. Giving up Schmidt robs us of some starting depth, but the problem with this club for the past couple years has been the offense, and Happ gives us that lefty in the three-hole we’ve all wanted, at half the price of someone like Rizzo.
Decision No. 4: Yankees sign Elieser Hernández to a 1-year, $3 million deal with a $5 million club option
With Schmidt out, we needed a swingman, and thanks to a non-tender by the Marlins in this simulation, we got one. This is entirely on Esteban’s shoulders — he loves Hernández’s fastball, his one true plus pitch. Elieser has had a lot of home run problems, surrendering 19 in 20 appearances last year. At three mil, you hope that Matt Blake can figure out the key to his repertoire, but even if you can’t, it’s essentially a one-year deal. If you don’t like it, blame Esteban.
Now, I know you’re wondering ... where are the big fish? What’s the big move?
I think it’s important to note that this sim has a structural problem. Trades are more or less reasonable, maybe slightly rich but not crazy. Free agency is crazy — it’s not our money, teams exceed budgets pretty frequently, and there’s a certain amount of “rats on cocaine” brain that engages when you get the text that an FA you want just got a higher offer. With that disclaimer, we begin the signing period.
Decision No. 5: Yankees sign Trea Turner to an 11-year, $420 million deal
There were five big infielders available this winter, and I wasn’t leaving without one of them. Trea is perfect — he probably needs to be moved out of the middle infield, but he hits, hits for power, has great speed. He’s the perfect leadoff hitter for this club, Did the bidding go mad? One hundred percent. Another GM remarked that this sim carries at least a $100 million premium, and that all contracts should be discounted by at least that much in real life.
However, we’re playing in the environment that we’re given. There was significant debate among my team whether we’d prefer Trea or Carlos Correa, who ended up getting 10/$400MM from Atlanta. At the time, Correa (via Max, the players’ agent) indicated he wouldn’t sign before Turner, and we decided to take the bird in the hand. I love Trea Turner and my staff agrees. Does he get $420 million in real life? No shot. Should the Yankees land him anyway? Definitely. We have our leadoff hitter, and a guy that can play three infield positions.
Now brace yourself, because we do get stupid.
Decision No. 6: Yankees sign Aaron Judge to a 10-year, $500 million deal
There are no typos.
Free agency gets stupid in this sim and it’s one of the things I’d like to work on for next year. My initial bid for Judge, hoping to head off any other competitors, was 7/$280MM. I think in the real world, he probably settles for $320 million, give or take a few mil. Instead, the Cardinals engaged in a bidding war:
I wasn’t leaving this sim without Judge, and if you think that I’m a stupid homer, you’re exactly correct. On true talent, he is the best player that this franchise has produced since Mickey goddamn Mantle, and frankly, if other teams wanted to get stupid with money, we’re the New York Yankees, we can get stupid.
In the real world, I don’t think Aaron Judge is worth $50 million a year. I am still convinced the Cardinals were trolling me. I do not care. Aaron Judge, the best player this team has produced in 70 years, will stay in pinstripes for his whole career. Yell at me in the comments. I do not care.
Decision #7: Yankees acquire P Alex Wood + $5 million from Giants for INF Gleyber Torres + Yoendrys Gomez
Right under the wire, we acquire some starting depth, and say farewell to the Yankee career of Gleyber Torres. With Volpe knocking on the door, Turner and Donaldson on the squad and Ozzy’s versatility, we have a lot of infielders. Gleyber’s projected for a three and a half win season next year, and I’m soft on that. He goes into ruts mechanically that sap him of any drive in his bat, and we just haven’t seen the near-MVP ceiling that was touted from him as a prospect. He is a high-floor player, but getting more expensive by the day.
Also, the rotation is very thin. Alex Wood significantly outpaced his topline ERA last year, and is projected for a 3.62 FIP and 2.2 fWAR in 2023, which plays really well from a fifth starter. Critically, we also now move Domingo Germán into the bullpen. He will, of course, end up in the rotation for bits of 2023 — someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to be ineffective — but having him in the swingman is an important piece to the roster.
Could I have just kept Clarke Schmidt, maybe, although getting Ian Happ becomes more complicated in doing that. Wood and Happ project for 5.0 fWAR compared to Schmidt and Gleyber’s 4.2, so it’s a slight upgrade, and we dealt from strenght — lots of infielders still in play on this roster.
Decision #8: Yankees sign INF Chris Owings + INF Ehire Adrianza to minor league deals
There’s no such thing as a bad minor league deal. A little bit of infield depth with a possible MLB bench role while the club figures out Donaldson and Volpe isn’t a bad incentive for two veterans come spring.
Then there were the moves that didn’t happen. I tried hard to move Donaldson’s contract, but was consistently asked for Cabrera and to cover Donaldson’s 2024 buyout. Both conditions were too much, one alone I could entertain, but not both. This is a really bad deal the Yankees found themselves in, and they’re lucky he’s only under contract for one more season.
I wanted to add a bona fide starter in free agency. Justin Verlander got 4/$117MM from the Astros, and I was wholly uninterested in guaranteeing him four years. Carlos Rodón got 8/$240MM from the Mets, while Jacob deGrom went to the Giants for 2/$110MM. Neither deal appealed to me. I tried hard to get Pablo López out of Miami, but we couldn’t make a deal work. Such is life.
Other notable free agent signings: Xander Bogaerts got 10/$416MM from the Phillies, Dansby Swanson 8/$251MM from St. Louis, Joey Gallo 2/$34MM from Boston, and Jameson Taillon 4/$56MM from Baltimore. None of those deals are appealing to me, sound off in the comments if I’m wrong.
Post-sim, the Yankees’ Opening Day roster looks like this:
Trea Turner, 2B
Aaron Judge, RF
Ian Happ, LF
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
DJ LeMahieu, 1B
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Oswald Peraza, SS
Harrison Bader, CF
Jose Trevino, C
Anthony Volpe starts the year in Triple-A as we figure out which position he’s best suited for — the Yankees have him on a throwing program to try and make third an option as well, but he may be best for second. We have time to work that out. Donaldson has a month or so to rebound from his 2022, and if he can’t, he’ll get DFA’d and Volpe slides into that roster spot.
Bench: Oswaldo Cabrera, Kyle Higashioka, Tim Locastro, vet piece.
Ozzy can play everywhere, and that’s his value. I’m skeptical on his bat, but 105-110 wRC+ at six positions gives everyone a day off when they need it. Higgy is a perfectly fine backup catcher, Lo handles the outfield and the winner of a spring training competition from the minor leagues takes the last bench spot. I don’t think I want Volpe up unless he’s starting every single day.
This is perhaps the Achilles’ heel of the team. After a few seasons where the rotation was set and the lineup was the problem, the rotation is still set but fairly thin. Any injury or ineffectiveness is a real concern. The club is betting a lot on Cortes repeating his success from 2022, Sevy staying healthy, and Montas being worth the price we paid at the deadline. I wish we had Luis Castillo right now.
I’m not particularly worried about the bullpen. The Yankees have shown, year after year, that they can plug in various hard throwing arms into the relief corps and get good results. Saving $32 million from Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman, and not pursuing any expensive relievers, allowed us to make the impact moves on offense that will make the big difference for this club.
All told, the Opening Day payroll for this team is $270 million. Our recommended budget was $257 million, so I don’t feel too bad about exceeding our budget by 5 percent, and I would fling myself prostrate before Hal Steinbrenner and ask his forgiveness. For all those who say “What, do you want the team to spend $300 million every year??” I posit this sim. Turner and Judge, combined, command about $20 million more in AAV than they will in real life. You can field a great team — and this is a great team — without spending $300 million, you just need to be bold enough.
So that’s my work. What do you think? Baking in that free agency in this sim is super rich, what would you do different? Would you rather let Judge walk?