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2021 SBNation MLB offseason simulation

Let’s try for that World Series in 2022

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Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Earlier in the offseason, just before the lockout went into effect, I participated in the annual SB Nation MLB Off-season Simulation run by Max Rieper over at our sister-site Royals Review. The exercise is intended to see what we can do as the GM for a few days working with 29 other GMs from across the SB Nation universe. In the past there have been some “secret missions” like “your ownership instructs you to get under the luxury tax threshold.” This year the only marching orders for the Red Sox were “expect to be among the big spenders.” That vague guideline was it.

Also, we didn’t need to worry about the 40-man roster. I assume if I’d collected 50 or 60 guys the commissioner would have started to take action, but being fuzzy around the edges of the simulation seemed to be allowed. These simulated Red Sox are not beholden to a specific budget amount, but also aren’t executing a plan of “sign every free agent available.”

My goal in taking over for Chaim Bloom was to finish this team. While every year sees both over and under performers, on the whole the 2021 Red Sox were, well, good. There were some streaks of good play and bad play but ultimately the team won the games necessary to make it into the Wild Card, ALDS, and ALCS. For a brief moment, it looked like they were about to embark on another amazing World Series run.

With pitching, especially consistent pitching, the biggest hurdle for the Sox last season the plan for 2022 had to start with imagining the rotation. Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, and Garret Whitlock could all be available to start but wouldn’t be locked in as the starting five. Given their brief major league experience and the budget and farm system available, adding some help for the transition of Houck, Whitlock or both onto a major league roster would be nice. So what’s on the menu? Extensions, trades, and free agents!

First things things first:

Red Sox decline the options on Garrett Richards, Christian Vázquez, and Martin Perez. Kyle Schwarber declines his option

There were a few easy roster decisions to make here. Martín Pérez, for all his energy and fun, just hasn’t really pitched well for any given length of time. The choice was $500,000 or $6 million. The same can be said for Garrett Richards. While he had a second life as a reliever the choice was $1.5 million or $10 million. Believe me: I was excited to see Richards signed last year and wanted him to thrive. His stay in the bullpen was just 26 innings, and while impressive at times, there was still a lot of work and not a lot of budget to play with when I looked at my wish list.

Kyle Schwarber? I really wanted to keep him but he turned down the qualifying offer (more on this later).

Christian Vazquez...well, he wasn’t really gone for long.

Red Sox sign Christian Vazquez to a two-year, $12 million deal

$12 million for two years of veteran help versus $7 million for one year keeps him in the organization. Maybe try to pass the torch in 2024. He’s not the offensive force he was a few years back and he really shouldn’t lead a team in stolen bases, but what can you do but keep him around?

Red Sox extend a Qualifying Offer to Eduardo Rodriguez

Keeping E-Rod was very important to the plan. It’s been a long road for him coming back from various injuries and then Covid in 2020. But his 2019 was superb. There were games in 2021 where it looked like that 6 bWAR player was back and putting his name into the Cy Young conversation.

Red Sox sign Eduardo Rodriguez to a three-year, $50 million deal

After some negotiations, I was able to keep Rodriguez in Boston. At 3/$50 he signed for about $16.7 million per year, basically the same rate as his real life deal with the Detroit Tigers, just two years shorter. Eddie, I would have gone five if you needed it! Well, one point for the virtual Sox.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Colorado Rockies Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Rockies trade Daniel Bard to the Red Sox for Durbin Feltman

Who’s the closer? Matt Barnes? Well, probably. But it could be Garrett Whitlock if he isn’t needed in the rotation. It felt like a fair price to swap the 48th ranked player on Sox Prospects to acquire a veteran who is also a former Boston pitcher! And what a story. A Bard reunion is just fun.

Red Sox sign Brock Holt to a minor-league deal

Bringing Brock Holt! \o/ back to the Boston system on a minor league deal was another no-brainer. His time in Milwaukee, Washington, and Texas wasn’t great but low-risk, medium-reward? A couple injuries around the field and suddenly a guy who Alex Cora can place basically anywhere on the field seemed like the most obvious move. Plus he’s a fan favorite. This may be the end of the road for Holt but in as pinch position versatility can’t be learned overnight.

Red Sox sign Joe Kelly to a two-year, $20 million deal

Let’s have another reunion! Joe Kelly was absolutely on fire last year. 2021 was his second best highest bWAR total (0.7) as a reliever. The walks disappeared (just 8.2%) and he kept racking up strikeouts (27.5%). The bullpen strategy is arms, arms, arms. With Whitlock and Houck possibly as swingmen or multi-inning firemen, adding a dedicated reliever again seemed prudent. This isn’t just Barnes insurance it’s also Bard insurance and rotation insurance as mentioned earlier.

Red Sox sign Oliver Drake to a two-year, $5 million deal and David Robertson to a minor-league deal

With the roster already in place, I put a lot of faith in the offense. Who better to keep filling out the ‘pen than Worcester native Oliver Drake? Drake missed 2021 with injuries but is a potential weapon at the back end of the pen. If he returns to form the two years of control can cover 2023 as well. This one is a bit of wishful thinking but once again, the plan for the ‘pen the strategy is more arms. And if he spends time on the 60-day IL hurt that frees up a 40-man spot.

David Robertson made a surprise return to the majors last year after pitching for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics of 2021 (of Anaheim). Agreeing to come to Boston on a minor league pact was a pure depth move. If he’s got a little left in the tank this is a team that can use it.

Red Sox sign Kyle Schwarber to a five-year, $80 million deal

Boom. This was the big one. Convincing Simulated Schwarber to remain in Boston finished the lineup. Across 2021 with Washington and Boston, Schwarber launched 32 home runs and slashed .266/.374/.554 in 113 games. The Sox traded for him while he was injured and only got 41 games out of the outfielder/DH/maybe first baseman but paired with J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers he gave the lineup increased depth and power.

2022 is the last season the aforementioned Martinez is under contract and Schwarber is primed to take over as the DH Big Papi-style in 2023. We’ve see his work at first base. Being king, it wasn’t always great. However, he was thrown into the fire and survived there. Rotating among the outfield - where he had to play in the National League - a little shared time with Bobby Dalbec at first base, and DH? It’s worth giving Alex Cora a headache once a week to figure out how the at bats will flow.

The Red Sox and Padres have agreed to send Jay Groome, Chris Murphy, & Thaddeus Ward to San Diego in exchange for Chris Paddack and Matt Strahm

While Schwarber was the big splash, this was my favorite move. Really, who doesn’t love a trade with a bunch of moving pieces? In Groome (8), Murphy (14), and Ward (20), I traded three relatively highly-ranked pitchers who were not among the very top prospects to bring Chris Paddack to town. Paddack carrys some ace potential and youth (turned 26 just a few weeks ago) to the rotation but also veteran experience compared to Whitlock and Houck.

In his last full, healthy season (2019) Paddack broke out as a rookie to throw 140 innings for 2.8 WAR while striking out 26.9% of batters against walking just 5.5%. While he is expected to make a full recovery from a UCL strain, with pitchers you never know. But the risk/reward was high.

Matt Strahm’s career has been erratic. He’s started and relieved. He’s had success and gotten crushed. He’s currently recovering from knee surgery. The upside isn’t nearly as high as with Paddack of course but every pitcher helps.

This trade completed my efforts and left the team with essentially this collection of position players, even if the positions themselves may be in a bit of flux day to day.

2022 Simulated Hitters

Position Player
Position Player
C Christian Vazquez
1B Kyle Schwarber
2B Enrique Hernandez
SS Xander Bogaerts
3B Rafael Devers
LF Hunter Renfroe
CF Jarren Duran
RF Alex Verdugo
DH J.D. Martinez
C Kevin Plawecki
IF Christian Arroyo
IF Bobby Dalbec
OF Jonathan Arauz
OF Franchy Cordero

As for the pitchers, that’s a pretty good rotation with Houck and Whitlock in the wings. Plus given the injuries to Sale, E-Rod, and Paddack it’s nice to go into the season potentially seven deep where you could consider any five at any time to make up the rotation. There’s still a lot of risk here, but the overall talent is high.

The same can be said of the bullpen. There’s a lot of pitchers who could mix up their roles. And if both Whitlock and Houck are needed in the rotation there will probably need to be work done mid-season to reinforce it.

2022 Sim Pitchers

Positon Player
Positon Player
SP Chris Sale
SP Nathan Eovaldi
SP Eduardo Rodriguez
SP Nick Pivetta
SP Chris Paddack
RP (CL) Matt Barnes
RP Hirokazu Sawamura
RP Joe Kelly
RP Oliver Drake
RP Daniel Bard
RP Josh Taylor
RP/SP Garret Whitlock
RP/SP Tanner Houck

All said this 2022 simulated Sox came in at $206 million in payroll with a total of $230 for purposes of the luxury tax. That luxury tax is from the expired CBA so it’s more of a guideline instead of a rule than ever before. That gives the Sox plenty of room to work with mid-season while still fielding a formidable team. And the top end of the farm system wasn’t touched with any of these moves.

It’s not the real roster but it was a fun few days playing the role of a front office exec. When the lockout ends, there are still moves for the real Red Sox to make. And if they do one that I did, let’s make it Kyle Schwarber.