Jose Fernandez

BP Boston Unfiltered: The Big Dombrowski

Every year, fans and armchair GMs look at the work a front office does, and they say “I could do better.” It never fails.

Every year, Max Rieper of Royals Review at SB Nation runs a simulation of the offseason, asking 30 persons (and associated helpers) to play at being General Manager of all 30 MLB franchises. It’s an enjoyable exercise only tangentially related to reality, where bloggers of all stripes play-act as General Managers, negotiate trades and free agent deals with other real people, and attempt to re-shape an organization int heir own image.

(We also dialed it back to the start of the 2015 offseason, so no Craig Kimbrel trade took place in our alternate reality.)

Last year, I hired a team of brilliant minds from Beyond the Box Score to help me run the Shadow Red Sox. The strategy: attempt to emulate Ben Cherington and company’s massive braintrust, in order to turn around a franchise that went from first-to-worst in a down 2014. We traded for Giancarlo Stanton. We signed Kenta Maeda. We went wild.

Somehow, I was brought back to helm the Shadow Red Sox once again this season. But in the era of Dave Dombrowski, I knew I must play a bigger, better role. Like Dombrowski, expectations were high – my team’s handling of the Red Sox’ faux offseason in the previous year earned praise from most corners of the simulation. I was expected, like Dombrowski, to turn the team around from a bottom-of-the-East finish.

I promised myself that I would stick to a plan.

The plan was a simple one: I would fix the Red Sox using the primary resources at my disposal: the best farm system in baseball (suck it, BP Wrigleyville) and a bunch of cash. I would make the Red Sox relevant, competitive in 2016, but also able to change and adapt if the team did not see immediate success. I was assigned a budget of $204 million, which I think was higher than the real-world budget for the Sox, but not too far off.

Getting into specifics, my plan had a few key components:

  •      Trade for an ace
  •      Acquire an ace in free agency
  •      Fix the bullpen
  •      Upgrade in an outfield corner
  •      Rid the team of Pablo Sandoval’s contract

Sounds pretty simple, right?

My primary free agent targets were threefold, and they all had something in common: no qualifying offers. They were:

  •      David Price
  •      Yoenis Cespedes
  •      Ben Zobrist

As the simulation was about to start, I reached out to a number of teams for my “trade for an ace” strategy. Since trade talks take actual time, I knew I had to act fast. I reached out to the Indians (Kluber), Mets (pick a guy), Marlins (Fernandez) and Rays (Archer) for initial talks. The Indians weren’t all that excited about Kluber, but talks quickly shifted to Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar. They expressed interest in JBJ (actually, almost 10 teams contacted me about him) and Christian Vazquez.

Since I’ve been doing a lot of research on the Indians for an upcoming project, I had a few pet guys I wanted to add to any potential deal. I tried to ask for the moon, in my eyes, by including a top-end prospect as part of the deal as well. After all, I was willing to offer an immediate starter with upside, JBJ and Vazzy.

After a little back and forth, we worked out this deal:

Red Sox acquire Carlos Carrasco, Clint Frazier, Shawn Armstrong, Yandy Diaz, and Mike Clevinger from Cleveland for Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Vazquez, Henry Owens, Garin Cecchini, and Robbie Ross

I couldn’t believe that I got Frazier in this deal with the Indians’ braintrust: I think he’s a top-25 prospect. So, I had dealt away much of my MLB-ready depth, but I actually ADDED to the team’s prospect stock, acquired a No. 2 starter, nabbed a guy in Armstrong who could be a late-inning reliever, and got flyers on two guys that I think can be good major-leaguers. Great start, and the “best” trade of the offseason, in my view. Oh, and we’re way under the identified $200 million budget.

  •      Trade for an ace

(Oh, I exercised options on Ortiz and Buchholz, and non-tendered Cook, Ogando, and Varvaro. But that’s boring)

Elsewhere, chaos ensued. Miami took on loads of money to acquire Lucas Giolito and Trea Turner from Washington (lol). Pittsburgh started a complete teardown (we talked a little about a McCutchen trade).

Now it was time to cut costs.

Red Sox acquire Elniery Garcia from Philadelphia for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly

Allen Craig is making a lot of money, and I did NOT want to pay him. Giving up Joe Kelly was a small price to pay to make him go away, and I took on a prospect I do not feel strongly about. But with Owens and Kelly out of the picture, it was becoming more mission-critical to add another solid starter.

Unfortunately, the free agent market for starting pitching was … it wasn’t good, that’s for sure. We’ll get to more of that later, but no starter is worth more than $35 million per year.

I kept going back and forth with the Marlins about Jose Fernandez, and quickly found out just how much they valued Yoan Moncada. While I really like Moncada, I also really like Jose Fernandez. We worked out a deal focusing on Moncada and Andrew Benintendi, and yes, I know that’s a big package. Before finalizing the deal, I tried to swap out Clint Frazier for Benintendi. I prefer AB to CF, but the Marlins felt the reverse.

Red Sox acquire Jose Fernandez from Miami for Yoan Moncada, Clint Frazier, Michael Chavis, Austin Rei, and Nick Longhi

Ah, now we’re Dombrowski-ing. Two potential top-25 prospects, plus Chavis, plus two other pieces, but suddenly I have my coveted True Ace. And he’s cheap! This is where I start to get greedy, imagining a rotation of Fernandez, Price, Carrasco, Eduardo, and Buchholz. I crack my knuckles. I get to work.

I find out that David Price is in line for a huge deal, one that would eventually be worth $259 million dollars. That’s $37 million per year over seven years.

I slowly back out of the negotiation room.

  •      Trade for an ace
  •      Sign an ace in free agency
  •      Trade for another ace, I guess

I kept in on several free agent pitchers: Zack Greinke would eventually price himself out of my range (more on that in a minute), and I wasn’t high enough on Zimmermann or Cueto to make a major offer there. But, the rotation I now had (Fernandez, Carrasco, Ed, Buchholz, Porcello) would work just fine. I actually, despite talking with others on trades (what can I get for Porcello and cash) and inquiring on mid-level free agents (Marco Estrada!), eventually chose to roll with this rotation. We had six starters (we kept Miley also!), which will be great after Buchholz’s elbow eventually detonates.

New plan: spend loads of money on free agent outfielders. Maybe two. A big upgrade on Rusney Castillo, and a replacement for JBJ. Oh, and maybe I can engage the Marlins on Giancarlo Stanton? Maybe Jason Heyward AND Cespedes?

In the meantime, I started fielding some calls on relievers, and trying to find a taker for Panda. Oh! If I was going to move Sandoval, I’d need a third baseman, right? I considered pushing Hanley over to third, but also was completely willing to roll with Yandy Diaz there to start the season. Then again, that’s not very Dombrowski. Maybe I should ask in on some Pablo replacements?

Red Sox sign Brian Matusz to a two-year, $8 million contract

Bullpen is fixed!

Or … at least we have a lefty. I was very surprised to see him non-tendered, but hey, this gave me another idea. “Can I destroy the rest of the AL East? Can I damage my rivals while making myself stronger.” The answer, eventually, would be a decisive “maybe.”

Red Sox acquire Scott Lieser from Milwaukee for Pablo Sandoval and Javier Guerra

Before you judge me too harshly, keep in mind that at this point, I really thought I could acquire two premium outfielders, or maybe still make a run at Greinke. To do that, I wanted to make sure that I not only had salary space, but that a long, expensive contract could come off the books. That meant ditching Pablo. And the best way to do that, was to package him with a prospect people actually wanted. Guerra’s mostly blocked, but I still would’ve rather dealt him for value … but I consider this selling him for the remainder of Pablo’s contract, or about $75 million.

Red Sox acquire Danny Farquhar from Seattle for Devin Marrero

This is not a value trade. This is an attempt to get another relief arm that could be good, in exchange for a guy who probably has no real role on the team. It was either back to the minors, or lose him in Rule 5. We’ve still got Holt, and we’d get a replacement that I think has a little more upside later.

Red Sox sign Tommy Hunter to a two-year, $10 million contract

In hindsight, I’m afraid I overpaid here. I’m desperate to add live arms to the bullpen, but also to give the team depth and different looks. Hunter’s bad luck on HR in Chicago didn’t faze me, but for this money, I’d hope you could get a .7-win reliever. Not sure that’s Hunter. But he’s an improvement over, say, Alexi Ogando.

We still need an outfielder, and I’ve been sufficiently scared off my top choices. Jason Heyward would eventually get 11 years and over $300 million. Cespedes would get $200 million as well. Alex Gordon took a discount to stay in Kansas City.

Red Sox sign Chris Davis to a five-year, $115 million contract

Meet your new right fielder. If there’s one hallmark of my two-year tenure as Fake Red Sox GM, it’s that you should never be beholden to traditional position restraints … especially when you have a guy who has proven competence outside his normal realm. Davis has been successful enough as a right fielder in Baltimore, that I’m comfortable leaving him there until 2017, in which time Hanley can shift to DH, and Davis can reclaim first base.

… did I mention that Hanley’s getting every opportunity at first base? I gave serious consideration about moving him back to third, just in case the team can’t acquire a decent third baseman – or maybe even trying Davis there for an extended look. Maybe I should go get a third baseman.

Red Sox sign Joakim Soria to a three-year, $33 million contract

Eleven million per season is a lot, and I don’t care how good you are. But despite offering a decent amount for Aroldis Chapman, I really didn’t have any good leads on closers, and closers are typically pretty great relievers. I feel a lot less comfortable giving up prospects for closers than I do money, but this one could sting in year three.

This actually completes the team’s revamped bullpen. I expect it to look something like this on Opening Day:

CL: Joakim Soria
SU: Koji Uehara
SU: Junichi Tazawa
MR: Brian Matusz
MR: Tommy Hunter
MR: Danny Farquhar
MR: Jean Machi
MR: Shawn Armstrong
LR: Wade Miley

It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than what we were working with in 2015, and I think a lot of the guys like Layne, Aro, etc. can work in the minors, and you can play a game of “who’s doing well now” versus “oh crap, we have no one good.” No Craig Kimbrel, though … that’s kind of a bummer.

I’d end up exploring a few more moves (Marco Estrada, now that I broke the seal and signed someone with a QO, trading for AJ Ramos, selling Rick Porcello low), but this finalized the pitching staff, more or less.

But this isn’t a Big Dombrowski. We need to convert prospect depth into high-end talent – even more than we already have – to make this a Big Dombrowski. And, ideally, we should crush a rival in the process.

Red Sox acquire Evan Longoria from Tampa Bay for Rafael Devers, Manny Margot, Rusney Castillo, Brian Johnson, and $30 million

There we go. I can certainly see how some people would see this as an overpay, but I still believe in Longoria being a near-elite player on a friendly contract, so I was willing to deal several players who are quite good for him. I’m lower on Castillo and Johnson than most, but I really, really value Devers – I think he could eventually be a star.

That having been said, this is a Dombrowski move. Get someone from a Florida team, who can help you win now. Plus, Longoria is a right-handed bat, meaning that the Sox are now really well-balanced with the additions of both Davis and Longo. It’s a steep price to pay, but the team is very close to having the best lineup in the AL. Eat it, Toronto.

We still have some money left over, right? And with Castillo gone, we definitely need a new outfielder, again. Ben Zobrist could work as a play, but he priced himself very high, going to San Diego for five years and over $20 million per season. Can’t quite compete with that.

Hm. Toronto.

Red Sox acquire Ben Revere from Toronto for Matt Barnes

Barnes still has life in his arm, but Revere is quietly a pretty decent offensive option in left. He’s like a poor-man’s Brett Gardner, now that Gardner’s defense has slipped to normal-human levels. He’s left-handed, which gives the team options. I don’t love him, but I like him. But … the Yankees just boosted their payroll to nearly $300 million by signing Justin Upton and Zack Greinke. I wonder if …

Red Sox acquire Brett Gardner from New York for Ben Revere and Wendell Rijo

Nice. That was unexpected. This means I converted Matt Barnes and Wendell Rijo into Brett Gardner, which I’m pretty sure was the biggest leap out of reality for this team in the entire simulation. I mean … seriously?

But that finalizes my starting lineup, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it is top-3 in baseball, with a fair chance at No. 1.

  1.     Mookie Betts, CF
  2.     Chris Davis, RF
  3.     Evan Longoria, 3B
  4.     David Ortiz, DH
  5.     Hanley Ramirez, 1B
  6.     Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  7.     Brett Gardner, LF
  8.     Xander Bogaerts, SS
  9.     Blake Swihart, C

Time to fill out the roster with our depth choices and backups.

Red Sox sign Shane Victorino to a one-year, $2 million contract

Red Sox sign Ruben Tejada to a two-year, $4 million contract

Red Sox sign Jeff Francoeur and Rene Rivera to minor-league contracts

That should do it. Since Brock Holt is going to be the first backup for, in essence, every position but first base (love you, Travis Shaw), we had to include another infielder, and at least one outfielder. Tejada still has some upside, and can certainly handle short. Shane is as much a nostalgia piece as anything, but I know he can survive in Boston’s outfield. Could’ve used a right-handed hitter on the bench, though. That’s Francoeur’s role, even though he’s not very good. Rivera is catching depth, in case Hanigan or Swihart gets nicked up, plus he can teach framing.

So that’s it. My tentative start-the-season 25-man roster is:

Catcher: Blake Swihart, Ryan Hanigan

Infield: Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Evan Longoria, Brock Holt, Ruben Tejada

Outfield: Chris Davis, Mookie Betts, Brett Gardner, Shane Victorino

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz

Starting Pitchers: Jose Fernandez, Carlos Carrasco, Eduardo Rodriguez, Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley

Relief Pitchers: Joakim Soria, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Shawn Armstrong, Danny Farquhar

… and that leaves Shaw as the first man up when there’s an injury in ST, with Jean Machi as the first pitcher into the bullpen.

Let’s review the plan.

  •      Trade for an ace
  •      Acquire an ace in free agency
  •      Fix the bullpen
  •      Upgrade in an outfield corner
  •      Rid the team of Pablo Sandoval’s contract

Mostly successful, I think. Trading for an ace, that definitely happened. Say what you want, but adding Davis (even if he’s awful defensively) and Gardner is a win over JBJ and Castillo. And Sandoval is long gone. The bullpen could still be a disaster – there’s no dominant arm like a Kimbrel or Chapman, but it looks to carry some upside and more stability over 2015.

The team certainly added impact, immediate talent, but they are also guys who should continue to be productive over the next three-to-five years. Since the free agent market next season looks so bad, striking now to acquire bigger names seemed like the right choice. And don’t forget … about 70% of top prospects don’t pan out, so even dealing ones as good as Moncada and Devers could end up a long-term win, as well as a short-term one.

So. What do you think? Does this do Dave proud, or did I blow it by dealing some of the team’s best prospects?

USA Today Sports Images/Steve Mitchell

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