It’s almost February. You’re the GM for the Montreal Youppi, the newest expansion team. You’re having a salad for lunch, no big deal, when you realize that you haven’t turned on your phone for several months. Happens. When you turn it on, the first thing that greets you is a reminder from your calendar.
Build a team.
Oh. Oh, no. Oh, man, you totally spaced on building a team. You also have 3,208 voicemails and texts from the new owner, but that can wait. Was there an expansion draft? Dammit, maybe, you can’t remember, but you probably missed it, and oh, man, oh, man, you’re so hosed.
Better get to work.
You have to build a team out of the remaining free agents. Trades can wait. You’re a biggish-market team with a billionaire owner who won’t stop calling for some reason, but that can wait. You can afford a biggish-market payroll of $150 million or so. What kind of team can you build?
It all starts with the field general.
C - Matt Wieters, $12 million
The trick isn’t figuring out the best player at each position. It’s figuring out what they’ll sign for now. Scott Boras represents Wieters. I can’t even fathom what he’ll settle for, either in length or dollar value.
MLB Trade Rumors set his value at three years, $39 million at the start of the offseason. But they also pegged Wilson Ramos for four years, $50 million. Even though Ramos’ injury makes him a unique case, that’s a sign that the market has dipped a bit for catchers. When you look at the catchers all 25 teams are planning to start, you don’t find a lot of obvious fits for contenders, and rebuilders would probably prefer to have a cheaper option with a better defensive reputation.
I’ll go two years and $24 million, then, with a player option. Welcome to the Youppie. Here, drizzle this on your french fries for some reason.
1B - Mike Napoli, $8 million
This is a million-dollar raise from his one-year Indians contract, which seems fair after a 1-WAR season. There are a lot of first base options, from Pedro Alvarez to Chris Carter, but Napoli is the only one with a chance to offer decent defense, last year’s miserable defensive stats be damned.
2B - Chase Utley, $8 million
He’s not playing at a Hall of Fame level anymore. He’s not playing at an All-Star level, either. But he’s still playing like an everyday player. Consider his WAR since 2011:
2011 - 3.8
2012 - 3.0
2013 - 3.6
2014 - 3.7
2015 - 0.4
2016 - 2.0
Without looking at his age, you have a guess as to which one is the outlier. But even when considering that he’ll be 38, there’s still a fair chance of one more good year.
SS - Stephen Drew, $3 million
Alexei Ramirez is 35 and was possibly baseball’s worst everyday player last year. Erick Aybar was a little better, but that’s damning with faint praise.
No, Drew is the best option of a bad lot. Even though he wouldn’t hold up over a full season and projects more as a utility player right now, I can’t think of a way to end this sentence that would support my point. He was pretty good in limited at-bats with the Nationals last year, though.
3B - Chris Coghlan, $4 million
Aha! Versatility! With Drew and Coghlan, you can mix and match and plug in your best prospects when they’re ready to debut. Which reminds you ...
Siri, remind me in the morning to get some prospects.
Coghlan thrived with the Cubs after a miserable showing in Oakland, and while his defense at third was shaky in a limited trial, I can’t think of a way to end this sentence that would support my point.
You should have paid attention at the start of the offseason, is my point.
LF - Angel Pagan, $4 million
He can’t play defense anymore, but he can hit just enough, and his legs looked fresher than they had a right to look last year.
CF - Austin Jackson, $3 million
Some of these players might actually get minor-league deals, which will make these projected salaries look ridiculous, but their agents can smell the fear and desperation on you, so Jackson gets a little more. He’s still under 30 for a week or so, and we’re not that far removed from when he was supposed to be a building block for different teams, right?
It’s gonna be a long season. Know that.
RF - Brandon Moss, $5 million
Sure, your outfield defense will be abominable, but you’ll have a shot at 150 dingers, and you can make up the difference with superlative pitching. Just ... skip the next section.
DH - Chris Carter, $8 million
The Brewers couldn’t trade him when he was projected to make this salary, but without a younger player going back, this seems fair. Now you have dingers. Lots of dingers. DON’T LOOK AT THE OTHER STUFF lots and lots of dingers.
SP - Jason Hammel, $10 million
SP - Doug Fister, $8 million
SP - Colby Lewis, $8 million
SP - Jorge De La Rosa, $8 million
SP - Henderson Alvarez, $5 million (with incentives)
Say, that doesn’t look half-bad. It sure doesn’t look half-good, but there’s at least some measure of upside, and your rotation should be better than San Diego’s. I especially like the Alvarez gamble, as the hard thrower had some luck in the minors last year when he was healthy, which wasn’t very often.
The odds of getting a combined 800 innings out of these five would be minuscule, but for the price of a few years of Josh Reddick, you have a rotation for a year! I guess that didn’t need an exclamation point.
Who keeps their phone off for three months, anyway?
Someone very, very lucky and relaxed, I guess. I’ll stop with the questions.
Greg Holland , $6 million (with incentives) dammit, Rockies
RP - Joe Blanton - $5 million
RP - Sergio Romo, $4 million
RP - Boone Logan - $4 million
RP - Jerry Blevins - $5 million
RP - David Hernandez, $3 million
RP - Luke Hochevar - $2 million (with incentives)
RP - Travis Wood, $4 million
No, you’re not going to contend. But you can at least bolster the bullpen and make a gaggle of deadline deals to build up the minor-league depth. There’s still a chance to make lemonade from the lemons that you’ve swallowed whole and passed at great discomfort. This isn’t just a decent bullpen. It’s pretty good, if unpredictable.
Total for this team so far: $119 million, with four roster spots left. Success! In a very broad, very general, very limited sense. You can fill out the bench now, and you don’t have to be shy about the big-ticket items.
Bench - Kelly Johnson, $4 million
Bench - Peter Bourjos, $2 million
Bench - Erick Aybar, $1 million
Bench - Hank Conger, $2 million
You might have wanted to squeeze Alvarez on there, but it’s hard with a roster that already has a do-not-field-under-any-circumstances DH. You need a guy like Johnson who can fake several positions, as well as a backup center fielder, just in case. After a backup catcher and shortstop, there just isn’t enough room for an all-or-nothing slugger.
So this is your 25-man roster, Montreal, along with WAR projections from FanGraphs. (Note that most of these totals are based on part-time playing projections.)
C - Matt Wieters, 2 WAR
1B - Mike Napoli, 1
2B - Chase Utley, 1
SS - Stephen Drew, (no projections given)
3B - Chris Coghlan, .5
LF - Angel Pagan, .5
CF - Austin Jackson, 1
RF - Brandon Moss, .5
Bench - Kelly Johnson, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Bench - Peter Bourjos, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Bench - Erick Aybar, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Bench - Hank Conger, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
SP - Jason Hammel, 2 WAR
SP - Doug Fister, 1
SP - Colby Lewis, 1
SP - Jorge De La Rosa, 1
SP - Henderson Alvarez, (no projections given)
RP - Joe Blanton, .5
RP - Sergio Romo, 1
RP - Boone Logan, .2
RP - Jerry Blevins, (no projections given)
RP - David Hernandez, (no projections given)
RP - Luke Hochevar, .1
RP - Travis Wood, .1
Let’s just check this against the full team projections at FanGraphs, and ... huh, this would be roughly the worst team in baseball, or at least tied with the Padres. I suppose we should have seen that coming.
The good news is that you were actually fired two months ago, so you don’t have to present this embarrassing and complex plan to your owner. The bad news is that you were fired, which would explain all of the bounced checks. Live and learn!
There are some good bargains to be found out there. Just not enough to fill a 25-man roster. That they came close to the Padres is something of an accomplishment, even if that’s the first time those words have ever been strung together in the history of the English language.
Either way, congratulations on your team, Montreal! This alternate reality would have had a lot of dingers, and it would have been really fun, except for all the losing.