This is a project where 30 people got together to act as the GMs of the 30 MLB teams with the idea of conducting the offseason in one week. This is what happened in this simulation, not a prediction of what will happen in real life.
By Julian McCarthy
I’m back! For those of you who don’t know, I wrote for Mets360 from July of 2013 until December of 2015, but I ultimately had to quit because my senior year of High School hit me like a stack of bricks. But it’s great to be back, even just for one article. After getting the Nationals and Braves in my prior two years, the Rays were the first team that had serious payroll constraints (71 million). I started with several major holes across the roster, including; catcher, first base, designated hitter, the bullpen, and team depth. After three trades and a few free-agency signings, every major hole seems to be filled for the present-not to mention a few good pieces for the future. I believe that the moves I made will set this team as a dark horse wild-card contender in 2017, but be serious players for the AL East in 2018.
If you want to see what I started with, feel free to check out the Rays depth chart here: http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/team/depth_chart/?c_id=tb
(Just keep in mind that Alexi Ramirez is a free-agent)
When the project started, there were a few decisions that I had to make. Who would be available for trade? Who would be untouchable? And most importantly, who would I target? I decided that Evan Longoria would be the only player I deemed “untouchable.” For players heading to the trade block; Logan Forsythe, Corey Dickerson, and Chris Archer were guys that were expected to leave Tampa Bay.
The first thing on my agenda was to find a catcher. This team hasn’t had a franchise catcher since the days of Toby Hall and Dioner Navarro in the early 2000’s. Plus, Curt Casali and Luke Maile? Give me a break. There are few teams with a catching surplus, but the Cubs came to mind. My original target was Kyle Schwarber as a 1B/DH/C hybrid that would work perfectly in the AL East. After negotiating, I got my second target in Wilson Contreras. This is the final trade:
Cubs receive: Chris Archer
Rays receive: Wilson Contreras and Carl Edwards
These are two cheap players with enormous upsides that come from a winning culture. Contreras is more than capable defensively behind the plate, while carrying a very solid bat for a catcher- making him the first main-stay behind the plate in Tampa in team history. Beyond this, Edwards is a former 48th round pick that appeared in numerous top 100 prospects lists as recently as pre-2015. He doesn’t have the stamina to be a starting pitcher, but he throws hard enough to thrive in the late innings. Edwards is an excellent option for the bullpen, and is a breakout candidate for 2017.
The next thing on my agenda was to trade outfielder Corey Dickerson. I felt that he was a hole in the lineup that’s making 3.4 million. Unsurprisingly, not many people were intrigued by a guy who just produced a .293 OBP. Nevertheless, the next hole to fill was a first baseman or DH-type player. I’m aware that Casey Gillaspie and Jake Bauers are slated to make their debut in 2017, but it’s always good to have someone just in case. Also, I chose not to keep Logan Morrison because I prefer my first baseman to have a soul. My initial targets were Matt Adams and C.J. Cron. Adams had a bit of a down-season last year, but Cron broke out in 2017 with a solid .792 OPS. The Cardinals weren’t interested, but the Angels were interested in the discussion. Ultimately, I was willing to overpay for Cron due to his low salary and high production- not to mention I needed to rid myself of Dickerson. After negotiating, I might have overpaid for the incoming 27-year old:
Angels receive: Brent Honeywell, Jaime Schultz, Corey Dickerson
Rays receive: C.J. Cron
How could you trade away a top pitching prospect? Schultz too? How can you write when your IQ is in the single-digits? Calm down and listen to my reasoning. Schultz is heading into his age-26 season with severe control issues (career 5.3 BB/9, 4.7 in 2016) and is more suited for the bullpen anyways. Sure, his strikeouts are nice but Rays farm system has enough pitching prospects to survive the hit. Why did I trade Honeywell? For one, I don’t think he’ll pan out. Is that enough to trade MLB.com’s #10 rated right-handed pitching prospect? No. But keep reading and you’ll find out why I was open to trading him.
Overall, I found my starting first baseman in this trade. He’s not great, but he’s cheap and productive. Isn’t that the Tampa way?
While the above trade was being finalized, I was simultaneously discussing this one. I reached out to several teams to trade Forsythe while he still has a ton of value. My plan was to give Tim Beckham one final chance to start in the big leagues, because why not? For a while, no one was willing to give up a ton for Forsythe. But then the Nationals came along. Eager to free themselves of the Ryan Zimmerman contract, they were all ears to any deals. This trade ultimately gave me an opportunity to create a brighter future, all while filling a hole in the present. Here’s the blockbuster:
Nationals receive: Logan Forsythe (7 million split 50-50 in 2017)
Rays receive: Jose Lobaton, Erick Fedde, Reynaldo Lopez, and Ryan Zimmerman
Zimmerman financial terms:
2017 (14 million split 50-50)
2018 (14 million split 50-50)
2019 (18 million; 10 million Nationals, 8 million Rays)
2020 (2 million buyout or full 18 million paid by Nationals)
In this deal, I acquired MLB.com’s #8 right-handed pitching prospect and MLB.com’s #75 overall prospect. Both are expected to contribute in 2017. Beyond this, I brought Lobaton back to Tampa to serve as a back-up catcher.
Ultimately, the financials weren’t necessary to clarify for a one-year project. However, considering the Rays financial woes in the past, present, and future it seemed reasonable to discuss. In terms of Zimmerman as a player, he is not even close to the player he once was at the plate or in the field. That being said, Zimmerman showed he’s got at least something left in the tank, as evidenced by his .921 OPS in the NLDS, plus he can’t hurt the team defensively if he’s the designated hitter. He’s not the healthiest guy, and he’s not the most productive. But he doesn’t have to be. The pressure won’t be on him to perform in Tampa as it was in Washington, as this isn’t a playoff team in 2017.
Financially, paying him 22 million over the next three years might hurt the organization when it comes to retaining young arms. However, acquiring two 2nd/3rd starters was worth the risk. Plus, I got my starting DH and a backup catcher!
After the three trades, I still had a couple holes that I needed to fill. The main hole was a corner outfield spot. After trading Dickerson, only Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. are patrolling the spacious Tropicana Field. Kiermaier is an excellent center fielder to build around, and I am willing to give Souza one more chance to prove his worth in the league. Plus, Franklin has shown he can patrol left field and Duffy is a human switch-army knife.
The infield was pretty much set. Cron, Beckham, Brad Miller, and Longoria were penciled in as the starters while Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin are legitimate options off the bench that few will scoff at. Overall I was looking at a corner outfield spot, as well as a bench spot up for grabs.
Ironically, the pitching staff seemed a bit thin. In the rotation; Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Blake Snell, Alex Cobb, and Matt Andriese are a sub-par group. The top three can turn in average-to-above-average results while Cobb could quite possibly return to his 2013-14 form. Andriese is the one that probably won’t make it to July. However, with all the uncertainty in the majors there are seven young starters in either AA or AAA that are probable to make their Rays debut in 2017:
1. Reynaldo Lopez
2. Erick Feede
3. Jacob Faria
4. Chih-Wei Hu
5. Ryne Stanek
6. Taylor Guerreieri
7. Hunter Wood
It’s obviously unrealistic to predict all of these guys panning out, but it’s also unreasonable to assume none of them will. Some of them have top-end potential, but most will be mid-rotation arms at best. Because of the depth, in combination with the payroll constraints, there was no chance that I’d head to the free agent market to fix the rotation.
In terms of the bullpen, the Rays have a couple legitimate options in the late innings- something that’s useless for a non-playoff team. Alex Colome proved in 2016 that he can close games at an elite rate. Brad Boxberger had a down year, but he has a track record of a high strikeout rate. Beyond those two were Danny Farquhar, Xavier Cedeno, and Erasmo Ramirez. Farquhar and Ramirez are good middle and long-relief options, but are clear trade-bait in July. Cedeno is a lefty that could be the wildcard of the group. When a team isn’t slated to make the playoffs, it’s customary to go dumpster-diving for bullpen help, that will, in return, be dealt to contending teams at the deadline. I didn’t feel the Rays needed that much help, so I was conservative in my pursuit of relief pitchers.
Free agency came and went and here’s what I ended up with:
OF/DH: Carlos Beltran (8 million)
I don’t expect Beltran to start every day in right field, or even at DH. However, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll mentor the kids, all while producing at a reasonable rate. I plan to give Franklin and Duffy the opportunity to get consistent at-bats by proving they can play the outfield.
OF: Jon Jay (2.1 million)
Jay is simply a solid depth signing, and he’s always been a favorite of mine.
J.P. Howell: (1 Million)
I reunited Howell with the team that he sprinted away from. He’s not awful, and he can still retire lefties.
J.J. Hoover (Non-roster Invitee)
Hoover deserves another shot to prove he can lock down a bullpen role again.
These are highly unrealistic, as Beltran would never sign with a team not in contention. Plus, Jon Jay will certainly receive a contract worth more than 2.1 million. Not to mention J.P. will probably never want to come back to Tampa Bay. But the human side was eliminated, and the largest bid won.
Here’s how I would assemble the Opening Day 25:
CF- Kevin Kiermaier (2.1 Million)
SS- Brad Miller (3.8 Million)
3B- Evan Longoria (13 Million)
1B- C.J. Cron (.51 Million)
RF- Carlos Beltran (8 Million)
DH- Ryan Zimmerman (7 (14) Million)
C- Wilson Contreras (.51 Million)
LF- Steven Souza Jr. (.51 Million)
2B- Tim Beckham (.51 Million)
OF- Jon Jay (2.1 Million
UTIL- Nick Franklin (.51 Million)
IF- Matt Duffy (.51 Million)
C- Jose Lobaton (2.1 Million)
SP1: Jake Odorizzi (4.6 Million)
SP2: Blake Snell (.51 Million)
SP3: Drew Smyly (6.9 Million)
SP4: Alex Cobb (4 Million)
SP5: Matt Andreise (.51 Million)
CL: Alex Colome (.51 Million)
SU: Brad Boxberger (1.5 Million)
SU: Carl Edwards (.51 Million)
MR: Danny Farquhar (1.1 Million)
MR: Xavier Cedeno (1.2 Million)
LOOGY: J.P. Howell (1 Million)
LR: Erasmo Ramirez (3.5 Million)
Again, I don’t see this as a playoff roster. In fact, it would be smart to be sellers at the deadline- especially their “expensive” starting pitchers and parts of the bullpen. When three teams make the playoffs in your division, and the other one is the Yankees, it doesn’t look good for the next season. Still, I could see this team winning anywhere from 75-85 games and staring at single-digits in games back of a wild-card berth come the final week.
So long Mets360! This is the goodbye I didn’t get to say last December. You gave my High School self a lot of stress to write at a high level, and it’s safe to say that it prepared me well for college. 113 articles in 124 weeks, and I wouldn’t take it back for the world. I might have dropped following the Mets religiously in favor of the league itself, but our blood is blue for a reason. God Bless and, to a lesser extent, Let’s Go Mets!