2015 Midseason Report
In each prior season of JLB competition, the midseason leader has written a report over the All Star Break that announces the All Star teams, details the first half, and makes predictions for the second half. This season, an ex-GM of a team that was in first place at the All Star Break wrote a report on July 27-28 that discussed the season to that point.
MVP: Todd Frazier (Centrevile)
After trading Kris Bryant to Great Falls for Corey Kluber, Centreville’s offseason plan revolved around resigning Adrian Beltre. Sterling GM Chris McDonald (who had Josh Donaldson as a Step 4), who most pundits expected to compete with Centreville for this year’s title, knew that Centreville was all-in on their popular franchise third baseman. Centreville had bid seven times on Beltre and was the leader at 2x7 when McDonald came in from nowhere to bid Beltre up to 2x8 in an effort to cost Centreville additional resources.
This move forced Centreville to change strategies on the fly. With Kluber in hand and excess starting pitching, Centreville targeted Todd Frazier from Reston, eventually sending Roundabouts GM Dan Hausman Stephen Strasburg for Frazier.
Grenades GM J.D. Moss, whose doubt of other team’s decisions is matched only by the doubt of his own, immediately took to gchat to criticize the trade. “I just think [Frazier]’s a guy who had one hot month and Strasburg is a top of the rotation stud,” Moss said. “I’m just shocked you couldn’t get more from Strasburg.”
McDonald thought the trade was very interesting, but also realized what it meant for him: "Cool trade! Guess I get Beltre,” McDonald wrote. “Whoops!”
Centreville signed Frazier to a four-year, $12m contract before the season, hoping that he could repeat his breakout season from 2014.
Instead, Frazier has taken his game to the next level. He is the #8 overall player, and he delighted Centreville fans by winning the Home Run Derby. It’s hard to think about where the Sixers would be right now with Adrian Beltre manning third base.
McDonald’s bid on Beltre set off a domino effect that changed the landscape of the league. The Beltre acquisition forced McDonald to trade Donaldson to Fairfax, where he has led the Firemen to a legitimate title chance in competition with Centreville. Meanwhile, preseason favorite Sterling sits in fourth place.
League GMs were stunned by Sterling’s bid on Beltre. “We thought it was a foolish decision at the time,” one GM told me. “Our scouts all thought he looked ready to fall off the table, and his medicals were concerning, especially for a guy his age.”
McDonald won the 2014 title, and Sterling is one of just two franchises with three JLB titles, but many think that the window is closing after an extend rebuild. “He’s turned a four-year rebuild into one title,” a competing GM said. “So many bad moves.”
Also Considered: Josh Donaldson (FFX), Mike Trout (MAN), Bryce Harper (STE)
Cy Young: Zack Greinke (Centreville) Centreville is sure doing a good job with these self-assigned midseason awards!
Bias aside, Greinke is a strong choice, as he’s the top ranked pitcher (#3 overall player) on a first place club. Top-end pitching ended up being cheaper than expected in offseason free agency, which allowed Centreville to sneak in and sign Greinke to a three-year, $28.2m contract that now looks well-below market value.
Greinke wasn’t the only bargain starting pitching signing in the offseason. Very little has gone right in Clifton of late, but GM Jon Lasken signed Max Scherzer to a four-year, $34m contract that looks just as inspired. Fairfax GM Mike Keenan’s signing of Johnny Cueto to the same four-year, $34m deal was one of a series of strong offseason moves that has Fairfax in contention.
The only poor signing in the top-end starting pitching market was Clifton inking Yu Darvish to a one-year, $13.5m deal, only to see him immediately get hurt and miss the season. While Clifton was not expected to contend this year, teams certainly understand Lasken taking advantage of a down market to sign Scherzer to a four-year deal that gives him an anchor to build future teams around.
But why pay the one-year premium for Darvish? What was the upside there, even if Darvish was healthy? Lasken was immediately criticized for the one-year term, but defended the signing by citing Darvish’s health issues. “I'm afraid of Darvish's elbow,” he told me. “But I can live with a one-year mistake.”
This logic floored opposing GMs. A non-contender signed a top-end pitcher to a one-year contract, paying an immense premium, because he was afraid of his health? “If his elbow scares you,” asked one GM, “Why are you signing him at all?”
Also Considered: Dallas Keuchel (FFX), Gerrit Cole (STE), Jake Arrieta (MAN)
Rookie of the Year: Jacob deGrom (Alexandria)
Alexandria currently sits in a disappointing sixth place, which makes it hard to picture where they’d be without deGrom. deGrom is currently the third ranked pitcher in JLB as a step one, and represents a tremendous job in homerism/scouting by Alleycats GM Joe Gittens, who selected him in the sixth round of the 2014 MLD.
deGrom was expected to contribute in 2015, and was a top 100 player according to most sources, but his ascension to true ace gives the Alleycats a formidable top two, with Chris Sale signed cheaply through 2017.
deGrom’s success has surprised even some within the organization. “We have deGrom?” asked Alexandria co-GM Ricky Mixon. “Is he a pitcher?”
Others in the league find deGrom’s performance less stunning. “It’s really not a surprise,” one GM noted. “White pitchers, Latin and Black hitters. That’s what the Alleycats do.”
Gittens’ affinity for the Mets may get him in trouble from time-to-time, but it’s responsible for much of the young talent in the organization. Jeurys Familia, also of the Mets, was a 2012 MLD pick by Alexandria.
While Gittens certainly is enjoying the success these two have had for both Alexandria and the Mets, it can be tough when you have all your eggs in one basket. When asked to comment on his brilliant selections of both players, Gittens replied: “Why did Familia blow deGrom's win on Sunday!?”
Also Considered: Gerrit Cole (STE), Jeurys Familia (ALE), Dellin Betances (STE)
2015 JLB All-Stars
Catcher: Stephen Vogt (Manassas)
Vogt was signed by Manassas as a step one in July of last season, and has exploded onto the scene this year as a step two. He’s currently the third rated catcher (Buster Posey, Herndon, and Russell Martin, Centreville), and is a big reason that Manassas is in the money.
With JLB owners bored of the continued dominance of Posey, Vogt was the only unanimous selection for this year’s team. If GMs were asked to vote now, they might have reached a different conclusion. Since the start of June, Vogt is hitting .230 with 3 HR, and he hasn’t even been a top 25 catcher in the last month. He has fallen out of the top 100 overall players, and now looks like an All-Star selection that we’ll laugh at in a year.
First Base: Paul Goldschmidt (Reston)
How does a consensus top five player before the season become an all-star starter? By being the #1 player in JLB. Goldschmidt leads JLB qualifiers in batting average and RBI, and already has 17 steals, one off his career-high. Goldschmidt is certainly the most successfully bid waiver claim in JLB history, as Reston GM Dan Hausman won the bidding in August of 2011 at $3.2m (Fairfax was second at $2.7m).
With just one year left on his contract in Reston, Goldschmidt could either be an incredibly attractive trade chip, or Hausman could opt to bring him back for his final season and attempt to build a stronger team around him.
Second Base: Dee Gordon (Alexandria)
Gordon ran away with the voting at second base, even though he’s ranked behind Brian Dozier (Reston) and Jason Kipnis (Centreville), and was ranked ahead of both in the preseason. In fairness to voters, Gordon has been on the disabled list since the second half begun, which has let Dozier and Kipnis gain on him.
Interestingly, Alexandria acquired Gordon along with Adrian Beltre in a 2014 deadline deal with Centreville for Kipnis and Devin Mesoraco. Mesoraco is out for the season, but Gordon and Kipnis have both blossomed with their new clubs. Even despite the missed time, Gordon’s 33 steals are second in JLB, and he’s hit an eye-opening .338 to help dominate two categories for Alexandria.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez (Herndon)
Some voters passed on voting for shortstop altogether, which is understandable given that no shortstop-eligible players rank in the overall top 50. While Ramirez is a lightning rod for criticism for his poor effort and defense in left field with Boston, his shortstop eligibility and offensive production mean he is still the #1 ranked shortstop in JLB.
Herndon has him signed for $11.2m per year for 2016 and 2017. With Ramirez’s only eligibility coming in the outfield next year, his value will certainly diminish.
Third Base: Todd Fraizer (Centreville) The midseason MVP will start at third base for the JLB All-Stars.
Outfield: A.J. Pollock (Arlington)
Pollock was originally drafted by Dan Fleeter in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft before the team moved to Alexandria. He came to Arlington last June, when the Alleycats sent the Arsenal two prospects (including Pollock), three picks, and $1m for Adam Jones and Elvis Andrus.
Pollock seemed like a nice complimentary piece on the rebuilding Arlington club, but has exploded this year to become the 12th overall player and fourth rated outfielder. Pollock does a little bit of everything, as he’s hitting over .300, has 22 steals, and 11 HR. As a step 2, he could be the core of the next (first?) great Arlington teams.
Outfield: Bryce Harper (Sterling)
Harper made the transition from hyped player to elite player this year, taking the league by storm. He has cooled off recently, yet he’s still the fifth overall player in JLB. Much like the Nationals, the Starfish were fortunate to suck at the right time, and have had Harper since they picked him first overall in the 2010 amateur draft. Signed through 2018 at just $1.7m per year, it may not be long before Harper is dangled as trade bait to kick off the next four-year Starfish rebuild.
Outfield: J.D. Martinez (Manassas) Wait a second... Outfield: J.D. Martinez (Centreville)
Much has been written about Martinez. Manassas believed in him. They signed him to a deal that many thought was too pricey, but insisted he’d prove them right. They trade him for a mediocre pitcher. Martinez responded by homering in every game. He’s the tenth ranked player in JLB. And he’s done most of his damage in Centreville.
Manassas was right.
UTIL: Manny Machado (Falls Church)
Machado received the most total votes of any non-winner, and therefore gets the nod as the final position player to start. Machado has had a breakout year, and is now mentioned with Trout and Harper throughout MLB. His JLB profile fits just below those superstars, but he’s emerged as one of the four great third basemen in JLB (Donaldson, Frazier, and Arenando).
Machado was part of a blockbuster trade in late May that sent Machado, Jorge Soler (signed for $1.7m through 2020) and the third overall pick in the 2015 AM draft to Falls Church for step 1 speedster Billy Hamilton.
GMs league-wide agreed that the Foxes got the better end of that deal, with Keenan possibly trading the most valuable player in the deal and the high pick. But Fairfax found themselves in contention for the first time in years (a three-way tie for third in 2010 was their last appearance in the money), and Fairfax was strong in nine categories: everything but stolen bases. Hamilton, who scores a decent number of runs but is a near-zero in the other three categories, leads MLB in steals by a considerable margin.
Hamilton’s impact has been undeniable. On the morning of May 20th, the day the trade was made, Fairfax had six standings points in stolen bases. Today, they have seven, and are nine stolen bases behind the next closest competitor. If Fairfax wins the league by the margin of Hamilton’s steals, the trade will have been worth it. Otherwise, fans in Fairfax will be left to watch Machado is a Foxes uniform and wonder what could have been.
Starting Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (Fairfax)
Fairfax acquired Keuchel as a step 2 from Great Falls on May 15th for shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor. At the time, it looked like Grenades GM J.D. Moss was selling high on an above-average innings eater off to a hot start and getting an interesting young prospect in return.
Now it’s late-July, and Keuchel hasn’t slowed down. He’s the #5 overall pitcher, and along with Johnny Cueto, Matt Harvey, and Chris Archer, Keuchel is part of a dominant front-four that is controlled through at least 2018. Meanwhile, the rebuilding Grenades are left to wonder if they got enough value for their ace. While some prospect rankings love Lindor, other league GMs wonder if he’ll ever hit for enough power to become an impact player in JLB.
Position Player Reserves
Lorenzo Cain (Alexandria) Josh Donaldson (Fairfax) Brian Dozier (Reston) Brett Gardner (Springfield) Mike Trout (Manassas)
Cain has felt like a JLB fourth outfielder for years, but now he is playing every day and contributing as a solid five-category player.
The Donaldson trade was discussed above. While Anthony Rizzo has done well for himself in Sterling, there’s no doubt that the Donaldson trade was a huge coup for GM Mike Keenan.
Dozier (step 3 now) came to Reston last June as Great Falls continued to rebuild their roster. Dozier has established himself as an elite second baseman, while the Grenades got four interesting pieces that Moss hopes will turn into JLB contributors (Yordano Ventura, Christian Yelich, Mike Foltynewicz, and Reston’s first pick in the 2016 AM Draft).
Gardner tied with Donaldson for the most votes of a player not elected to start the game. His five- category contributions come mainly from hitting 315 foot home runs to right field at home, but he’s still brought great value to Springfield. With the Spacemen slipping out of the race and Gardner signed for just $1.6m in 2016, it will be interesting to see if they cash him in, or hold him for their first all-out compete season next year.
Trout makes the team because no matter what’s expected of him, he dominates. Top five players should always make the team, no matter how good they are.
Starting Pitcher Reserves
Chris Archer (Fairfax) Jake Arrieta (Manassas) Gerrit Cole (Sterling) Jacob deGrom (Alexandria) Zack Greinke (Centreville) Clayton Kershaw (Sterling) Max Scherzer (Clifton)
Archer came to Reston in May of 2013 when the Alleycats acquired Salvador Perez, and moved to Fairfax in a trade for Oscar Taveras before the 2014 offseason (Matt Moore and the 400 conditions of his games started went to Fairfax in that trade as well). Archer has been simply dominant this season, and helps lead one of the best rotations in the league.
Arrieta and a dinner for Mick were acquired from Arlington this offseason for Hunter Renfroe. If Arlington had held onto him awhile longer, they would have been able to market him as a JLB All-Star, which certainly would have driven up his price.
Cole gets overlooked in a Sterling rotation featuring Kershaw, Felix, and Bumgarner, but he’s been as good as any of them this season. Well, except for Kershaw. He hasn’t been as good as Kershaw. Kershaw is having a down year for him, and he’s still the fourth-ranked pitcher. He still gets to be on the team (see Trout, Mike).
Scherzer is wasting his immense talents on the Clams.
Dellin Betances (Sterling) Wade Davis (Centreville) Jeurys Familia (Alexandria)
Betances was a late MLD pick before the 2014 season for Sterling, and he’s been absolutely dominant ever since. Sterling was hoping to see him close this year with Robertson leaving for Chicago, but the Yankees have thus far turned to Andrew Miller (another worthy All-Star candidate). Despite only acquiring seven saves this season when Miller was hurt, Betances has been the #1 reliever in JLB.
The #2 reliever is another non-closer reliever, which is astonishing. While Davis can’t match Betances’ strikeout rates, his comical 0.42 ERA has helped drive his value.
Total All Stars
Centreville 4 Alexandria 4 Sterling 4 Manassas 3 Fairfax 3 Reston 2 Falls Church 1 Herndon 1 Clifton 1 Arlington 1 Springfield 1 Great Falls 0*
* I’m supposed to pick an All-Star from every team, but Great Falls is terrible. Plus, they sort of got Keuchel
Just about everything has gone right for the Sixers this season. The team’s big free agent signings were Zack Greinke (3x9.4) and Jacoby Ellsbury (2x8.4). They acquired Kluber, Freddie Freeman, and Jay Bruce for Kris Bryant, and added Frazier for Strasburg. Kipnis has been elite, and when outfield injuries struck, Centreville made the trade of the year, acquiring J.D. Martinez from Manassas for James Shields (well, unless the Frazier trade is the trade of the year). The rotation behind Kluber and Greinke has been strong as well, as Sonny Gray (acquired from Sterling for Starling Marte) is a top 25 pitcher.
New GMs Tom “The Premier League” Perez-Lopez and Paul “ie” Wagoner replaced the injured Mesoraco with Russell Martin, who has fit in nicely in the new clubhouse.
Centreville is considered the light favorite over Fairfax this year, and the only starter the team loses after this year is Jose Reyes ($10m). This team should be the 2016 favorite as well.
It’s hard to say enough about the job GM Mike Keenan has done of late. All three Fairfax all-stars came to the team in recent trades (Donaldson, Keuchel, and Archer), they added Cueto on a team-friendly deal. Fairfax features an elite rotation going forward, and while the offense is a little thin, Keenan has a strong farm system from which to deal.
One GM said that the much-criticized Hamilton trade is a remnant of a trade from a year ago, where Keenan traded Dee Gordon to Centreville for starter Martin Perez. “The Gordon trade last year is haunting him now,” the GM told me. “Perez was a zero, and the lack of stolen bases forced him to trade Machado for Hamilton. Now he’s still struggling in steals, and he gave up a superstar to try to fix it.”
Even that GM concedes that outside of the Hamilton deal, Keenan has had an incredible year. “Other than that, there’s no way around it; he’s done a great job.”
“I’m not sure if Fairfax can keep up with Centreville this year,” another GM told me, “But Keenan has exceeded expectations at every step this year. This is not your father’s Firemen.”
“The Manatees are in third place in spite of themselves,” said a competing GM. “Can you imagine this franchise if Elias hadn’t given them Trout?”
When interviewed about his team’s first-half performance, co-GM Mick McDonald couldn’t help but agree. “We’re stupid,” he told me.
Jay Moskowitz, the other half of the duo that proves that taking two GMs of lesser ability isn’t better than one of normal ability, was still taking the J.D. Martinez trade hard when interviewed recently. “I'm borderline suicidal over Martinez,” he told me. “He homers every day.”
Still, the Martinez trade clouds a lot of good things that have gone on in Manassas. Sure, they inherited Trout. And sure, Elias gave them Hosmer. And sure... okay... maybe that first GM was right.
But Jose Altuve was one of the great signings of the previous offseason, and their aggressive signing of Ryan Braun looks much better today than it did a year ago, as he is ranked #22 overall. They’ve struggled to solve the third base problem, as Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria have both been bad contracts, but they’ve succeeded in building a strong rotation, as Jose Fernandez is a stud, and the Jake Arrieta trade now looks like a steal. McDonald’s feverish Twitter usage has led to some good bullpen signings, and Andrew Miller was a bargain free agent deal.
Can the team hold onto third place, or even make a run at the money? Other GMs don’t seem to fear the Manatees. Joe Gittens, co-GM in Alexandria, told me that his team was still making a run at the money because of how vulnerable the Manatees were. “Our entire goal is to make up the 11 points between us and Manassass,” he said. “They have like two good players on their entire team and have outkicked their coverage.”
Another GM agreed with Gittens. “I don’t fear them at all,” he said. “They don’t know how to win down the stretch.”
Sterling came into the season as favorites or co-favorites, depending on who you ask, and are now looking up at a team assembled by Moskowitz and the lesser McDonald. Not exactly the year Sterling GM Chris McDonald envisioned.
The pitching has been as dominant as expected, as Sterling currently boasts four 12’s and a 55.5 point pitching staff. The Achilles heel in this team was their thin offense, and that’s been exposed in the season’s first four months. Harper and Marte have exceeded lofty expectations, and Rizzo has performed as hoped, but nobody else has generated any offense for the Starfish.
McDonald moved aggressively to upgrade the club, sending $8.3m, Dylan Bundy, and a first rounder to Clifton to acquire Miguel Cabrera in early June. Unfortunately for Sterling, he was hurt almost immediately, and McDonald has been scrambling since.
While you can’t fault McDonald for the bad luck incurred through Cabrera’s injury, some GMs said the team chemistry has been off ever since the defending champions signed Beltre and displaced Donaldson. “It just seems like the wrong mix of guys in that clubhouse,” a source told me. “There are lots of rumblings of discord.”
When asked if he wanted to defend his offseason before the report was published, McDonald conceded “That would be hard to do.” He lamented: “Basically, if I had played my cards right in the offseason, I'd have Votto/Donaldson/Bundy/11m, and Franco still in the minors.”
Is the window closing, as one GM said earlier in the report? McDonald will have to find a way to construct an offense around his elite staff. A competing GM points out the enormity of the task: “They have a lot of post-prime guys, so I don't see a ton of good value moving forward outside of Rizzo, Harper and maybe Springer.”
Perhaps McDonald will look to trade Felix Hernandez or Kershaw’s expiring contract and get the big bat that the Fish need. With so many points in pitching seemingly locked in, McDonald can afford to move an ace to a team in desperate need of a top-of-the-rotation stud.
Herndon’s third place finish in 2014 was their first time in the money since 2008. GM Danny White has never undertaken a full rebuild, and the Heroes have always been short on the elite-level talent required to win a title ever since the infamous “Sports Bar Sunday” in 2008. White’s excellent day-to-day skills managing his roster have allowed the Heroes to float near contention every year, but eventually fans might be clamoring for something more, and the talent on the roster just isn’t there.
3B Nolan Arenado (signed for just $9.2m through 2019) is a legitimate star, but the only other big names in Herndon – Giancarlo Stanton and Buster Posey – expire after 2016. With a thin rotation and a mostly empty farm system behind Corey Seager and Mookie Betts, some GMs feel like it’s time for White to throw in the towel on the current Heroes roster and build for the future.
Springfield – deep in prospects and notoriously desperate for a third base solution – could be the perfect fit for Arenado. “Arenado would bring back a fortune if they put him on the block,” one GM said. “And plenty of teams would line up for Posey and Stanton.”
Still, most GMs just don’t see rebuilding in White’s DNA. “I just don’t think he’ll ever rebuild,” one told me. Another could see a partial rebuilding, with Herndon moving Stanton and Posey to try to build around a core of Arenado, Seager, and Betts. “It might be worth moving Stanton for a ton this off- season to build up the farm even more,” he said, “And then trying to buy him back in free agency.”
Alexandria tied for the league lead with four all-stars, but hasn’t been able to put together a consistent push towards the money. The biggest culprit looks to be their starting staff, which is very thin behind deGrom and Sale.
The Alleycats offense is strong enough to compete, as they boast five players in the top 32, but pitching remains the issue. With nearly $20m in dead money coming off the books between David Wright and Adam Wainwright, the Alleycats will look to add to their pitching depth through free agency next year. But can they do something about it for 2015?
When asked if Alexandria should look to add a pitcher, one GM that was ahead of the Alleycats in the standings said they should sit tight, but he did sound a little sarcastic. “Absolutely not,” he told me. “Speaking objectively, their pitching is perfect and they should stay the course.”
Other, more serious, GMs pointed out that the market for adding starting pitchers was thin, because the non-competitive teams either didn’t have good starting pitching, or wanted to keep the controllable pitching it did have. If Gittens called Sterling and offered Nelson Cruz (expiring) for Kershaw, what else might he need to include to get the deal across the finish line?
GM Dan Hausman, the most successful GM in league history, continues to rework his roster in search of a contender. Coming off of his fifth league title in 2013 and a second place finish last year, he had high hopes to contend in 2015, but his roster has largely underperformed.
Goldschmidt ranks #1 overall, and Dozier has been a great find for Hausman at second base. In a rare example of a player improving after they left Manassas, Charlie Blackmon has looked great so far in a Reston uniform, and could be a core piece going forward. And on the mound, David Price has been his normal self.
The problem is that there isn’t a ton of talent behind the stars in Reston, and their window of control over their best players is fading. Goldschmidt and Price can both walk from great contracts after 2016, and the Roundabouts system is thin behind star pitching prospects Marcus Stroman and Lucas Giolito.
Rebuilding isn’t something Hausman likes to consider. When asked if he’d consider trading some players in an effort to get back in the money in 2016, Hausman was stunned. “Get back? I still have a shot this year with easily the third best team!”
Others can’t see him ever rebuilding, no matter the challenges ahead. “Dan probably should rebuild,” one GM said, “But Dan is Dan. His team is competitive when you least expect it.”
Another shared the sentiment. “I think yes, but if anyone gets the benefit of the doubt, it's Hausman,” he told me. “I'd be surprised if he doesn't eventually move some of his expiring guys for future assets, since finishing in the money this year looks like an uphill battle at this point.”
Hausman understands the skepticism of his team, but thinks that better days are ahead. “It has been a disappointing season, but I have a good squad and would expect things to go better next year,” he said. “I don't lose anything from a top offense that has added talent throughout the season, and I only lose Jansen on an under-preforming pitching staff. I have cash, Stroman, and Karns to help there.”
The ever-enthusiastic Spacemen are trying to figure out where they stand in the JLB pecking order. They’ve ambitiously and successfully rebuilt their organization since they inherited the Robots in shambles before the 2013 season. After two seasons at the bottom of the standings, the Spacemen got off to a hot start, and started thinking they might be able to move their compete schedule up by a year.
“We were in third place a month ago,” co-GM Courtney Moore told me, sighing. “That was pretty fleeting.”
Their optimism caused them to agonize – both privately and publicly – over whether they should have promoted star prospects Carlos Correa and Joc Pederson, who would have been big upgrades for their offense. They ultimately decided to leave both players in the minors, but not before undergoing many sleepless nights.
They also inquired with other teams about some additions before the All Star Break, which really amused one GM who insisted to remain anonymous. “LOL @ the Spacemen for trying to be buyers before the All Star Break,” the anonymous co-GM told me. “Why would a 77 point team trade assets to a 65 point team?!”
With reality setting in after Springfield’s recent tumble, thoughts turn towards next year. Does Springfield have the right combination of core players, cash, prospects, and intelligence to turn the 2016 Spacemen into contenders?
One current competitor thinks they do. When asked to rank the rebuilding team’s outlooks for next year, the GM told me “I order them as Spacemen, Foxes, Clams, and Grenades. They have so much cash and enough assets to pick up key pieces if anyone dumps.”
Springfield has a young core of Jose Abreu at first base, Carlos Correa at shortstop, and Pederson, Justin Upton, and their All-Star representative Brett Gardner in the outfield (Gardner is a free agent after 2016). Their young Cardinals starters – Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha – look ready to fill out a rotation, but they need an ace to slot on top.
With plenty of cap room, plenty of cash, and a lack of patience setting in, look for Springfield to be extremely stressed out next January. They’ll have a carefully made budget that details how much they’re willing to spend on each player, and as the player is bid up past that number, they are going to be a real joy to talk to.
Can it work? Some GMs think the Spacemen are a team to be feared next year. “I actually think if they got one of the frontline starters and another bat they might be able to have a shot next year,” one GM told me. “Being able to toss Correa and Pederson into what they've already got is nice, plus they have a nice farm to trade from.”
Another GM was even more succinct when asked if the Spacemen were a threat in 2016. “Yes,” he told me. “Their team is very good.”
One less optimistic league GM shuddered at the idea of the Spacemen pushing their chips in too early. “I was alive for the Challenge disaster,” he told me, “And the Spacemen going all-in in 2016 would be the biggest disaster in the history of space exploration.”
Falls Church Foxes
The Foxes rebuild was accelerated when GM Carlton Davis was able to turn one-dimensional speedster Billy Hamilton into Manny Machado (signed through 2018 for just $5.1m) and Jorge Soler (signed through 2020).
The Foxes made just one splash in the free agent market, as Davis signed Joey Votto to a three-year, $15.9m deal in the offseason. Davis has been handsomely rewarded, as Votto seems to have regained his form as a Top 50 player.
Between Machado and Votto, the Foxes have filled two positions cheaply for 2016-17, and they already had Anthony Rendon (2B) and Xander Bogaerts (SS) signed cheaply up the middle. They also have plenty of a deep farm system from which to trade, plenty of cash, and a few interesting names like Soler, Matt Kemp, and Shelby Miller. Will this be enough for the Foxes to make the leap into the money in 2016?
One GM thought it would be too hard for them to build a pitching staff that can compete with the elite rotations in Fairfax and Centreville. “They are delusional if they think they can vault into contention next year unless they find five starting pitchers this off-season,” he told me.
While that GM is probably right that 2016 is a bit ambitious, JLB is a league in which it’s hard to go worst to first in one year, and Davis has shown that he knows how to rebuild a struggling organization. The Foxes came in last in 2006 and 2007, made some additions and came in sixth in 2008, and won back-to- back titles in 2009 and 2010. Look for Davis to continue to make modest additions next season and finish in the middle of the back, and be a threat to the money in 2017.
As noted earlier, the Clams may have had the best and worst free agent signings of the offseason, adding Max Scherzer and flushing $13.1m down the drain for Yu Darvish in a mistaken thought they could compete in 2015.
The most exciting thing about 2016 is Clams GM Jon Lasken in free agency. Clifton enters 2016 with Scherzer, an expiring Carlos Gomez, and not much else besides a strong belief the Clams can finish in the money. “Scherzer and Gomez are as good as any two players in the league. I have plenty of other good players, and about $50 million in cap space.” When I pressed him that Evan Gattis, D.J. LeMahieu, Gregory Polanco, and Denard Span aren’t “plenty of other good players,” Lasken responded: “Right, but I have $50 million in cap space.” With Lasken running low on cash most years, he’s been left to bargain shop in free agency. With the safety off his free agent gun, this year is going to be amazing.
Unsurprisingly, most GMs don’t see eye-to-eye with Lasken’s optimism. One laughed and said, “He thought he could compete this year.”
“I don’t see it at all,” another told me. “I thought he might willing to sell high on Scherzer since he has like two other good players, but he is convinced he can compete.”
Another was more blunt when asked if the Clams could compete: “Fuck no! Unless finishing ahead of the Arsenal is still considered a championship.”
Lasken’s “win every year” strategy hasn’t ever let him build a team that could actually win, but in fairness to the Clams, they have three fourth place finishes and a third place finish in the last six years, putting them in the money four times. Maybe he’ll be able to piece together a team that can compete for the backend money spots again next year as well.
The Arsenal are in the midst of their first pseudo-rebuild since co-GMs Brian Greenhalgh and Justin Warren took over before the 2008 season. Like many successful organizations in leagues that require strict budgets, the Arsenal pride themselves on shtick overbidding of free agents, often while drunk on New Year’s Eve. As a result, they have Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano signed for over $13m per season through 2018 (Cano is 2019). Due in large part to this all-in mindset, they haven’t finished in the top-half of the standings since their fourth-place finish in 2011.
Slowly but surely, the Arsenal are showing signs of turning it around. Warren has always had a keen eye for talent, and he’s now applying that to some of their rebuilding trades. They flipped Adam Jones last year and acquired A.J. Pollock, their most promising core piece. They moved Arrieta earlier this year (too early, in hindsight), Cody Allen, and showed great spending restraint in free agency, which has allowed them to start saving cash for the first time in years.
Can Arlington continue to stay patient while they build a sustainably good team? “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA,” replied the first GM I spoke to. “They’re rebuilding?” asked another.
Some GMs who have dealt with the Arsenal find their management structure confusing to deal with. “I offered Justin $200k for Alex Rios,” Heroes GM Danny White told me. “Alex Rios. He’s 36 and he’s terrible. Justin told me he can’t trade him without talking to Brian, who is in Scotland. So I had to sign Chris Coghlan.”
Greenhalgh, while certainly a big personality, rejects the notion that he’s an overbearing co-owner. “Justin said that?! Alex Rios? Alex Rios sucks! He doesn’t have to check with me! How did we not trade Alex Rios?!”
When pressed about his relationship with Warren, Greenhalgh admitted that there’s only been one time he insisted on something from his co-owner. “I told him not to let Luke Scott expire in free agency a few years. I’d be out of touch for a few days and the only thing I wanted was for him to keep Luke Scott alive. And that fucker let him expire!”
Arlington is in a tricky position where they don’t have a team that can even remotely compete, but don’t like participating in fantasy leagues that require rebuilding. “I'm not sure the end game for the Arsenal,” one GM lamented, “But I don't know what other options they have. There's no quick fix there.”
Does this mean the Arsenal will try to add pieces to contend next year, willing to root for a team that will hopefully finish ninth? Will Greenhalgh, who says that “prospects are stupid” take a step back and let Warren run the day-to-day until the team is stocked for its next run? Or will the Arsenal just get bored and quit the league?
Nobody knows for sure, but one GM said we’d all have a good sense of the future of Arlington at a very specific time: “New Year’s Eve 2015.”
Great Falls Grenades
The once-proud Grenades won back-to-back titles in 2011-12, and were in the money each of the four seasons between 2010-13, but so much winning often churns through prospects, low-cost arb players, and cash, the key drivers of JLB success.
GM J.D. Moss has aggressively sought to rebuild his organization, and is off to a fast start. He traded Kluber to Centreville for a package that was led by Kris Bryant, who won’t even be a step 1 until next year, but is already talented enough to be a JLB force. He moved SS Jean Segura to Fairfax just before he began to collapse, and got good young prospects in J.P. Crawford and Clint Frazier. The only trade that looks bad is Keuchel’s, where he sold-low in dealing the ace to Fairfax for Lindor.
As of now, the Grenades have 13 standings points, which is challenging for an all-time low. “I try to avoid looking at the standings page because it’s so depressing,” Moss told me. “The year has not gone great.” Fans in Great Falls will stay patient given the franchise’s long run of success, but some are wondering what the plan is going forward.
But the pressure from the fans might be the least of his concerns. “Another year or two not in the money,” an opposing GM said, “And he and Becca might start to get anxious about the money.”
Their highest-rated player is Teixeiria, who Moss acquired as a salary dump and is making too much money to fit into another team’s salary cap. Josh Reddick, signed to an affordable two-year deal, is the only other Grenade in the top 100. What’s the next step?
“Great Falls has a few nice young pieces but I have no idea how it turns into a contender,” one GM told me.
The biggest asset Moss has going for him is cash. Only the Foxes have more money, and with Moss likely to sit out another year of free agency, he should be absurdly rich as we enter the 2017 free agent bidding. But is Moss capable of being the big fish in free agency? One GM isn’t so sure. “The Grenades are going to have a ton of money to spend and will hate every incremental bid on every player for two straight months. The cash available is a blessing, but his penny-pinching ways are his curse. Moss will pull out all of his hair by Valentine's Day.”
For now, Moss will do what he does best: Small, incremental moves that slowly improve his club’s position. How he’s able to eventually turn that into a contender is anybody’s guess. At least Moss sounds confident. “It’s so hard to rebuild, even with a good system,” he said. “Carlton and I have loaded systems and will fail.”