I recently got a copy of OOTP 15 and I've become addicted to it the past few weeks while playing with it. I will eventually do a whole theoretically realigned 32-team MLB, but for now I wanted some reason to get excited for the 2014 Mariners after they found a way to crush all the goodwill their promising start generated.
Good news! I found it. I present to you at least one theoretical version of how this season could go:
I took over as GM in late March, right as the Mariners broke camp. I chose to make no moves and instead let the season play out and react as it developed. OOTP loads with very recent rosters - so recent that I, just like the real Mariners, had to survive without Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma for the first month.
Roenis Elias and Brandon Maurer did a commendable job in their surprising rotation roles. In fact, Elias was an amazing revelation. He floated among the AL ERA leaders all season and made the All Star team. He was so good that I opted to send Walker to Tacoma to see if he was healthy, and he didn't pitch much in Seattle until August and September.
The season got off to a very good start. The Mariners not only hung tough with their thin pitching staff, they thrived. They ended the month atop the AL West challenging for the best record in baseball.
A couple moves presented themselves by the end of the month. Milwaukee offered Khris Davis, who intrigued me. I was able to get him for Ty Kelly and Ian Miller, and assigned him to AAA. No MLB players involved in the minor deal.
Billy Beane and the A's shocked me with an offer to acquire Yoenis Cespedes for Fernando Rodney and DJ Peterson. I haggled and ended up including Willie Bloomquist (who let me know he was disgruntled because he wasn't starting) and also getting both Eric Sogard and Evan Scribner.
I was excited heading into May. I thought Cespedes was the kind of electric bat that could jump start the offense, just as 'Kuma and Taijuan Walker got healthy. And we were already the best in the West.
Then the Mariners happened. May was an utter disaster. The team lost 18 of 20 games in one prolonged stretch, dropping well below .500 and out of playoff contention. The only thing keeping hope alive was a mediocre AL West - nobody looked all that good. The leader of the division at times had a losing record.
I focused on the draft, especially acquiring premium talent and a bunch of young flame-throwers for my pitching staff. Meanwhile, the Mariners recovered from their crushing May and showed signs of hanging tough in the pennant race. Moreover, as I looked at the team's production, I realized the pitching staff was quite good and the offense quite bad. Nobody seemed capable of .500 ball either. I decided to let the team keep playing and contemplated acquiring a hitter or two.
The Mariners scratched and clawed their way back to .500, mostly on the strength of a pitching staff that went from good to spectacular. The bullpen emerged as an especially strong unit filled with filth from the 6th inning on, punctuated by Lord Farquhar in the ninth inning. The team still wasn't scoring much, but it was hitting dingers and playing excellent defense. The team was now a few games out of first place and seemed capable of the .500 ball it looked like it would take to stay in the AL West pennant race.
By the end of July the race was intense. The Mariners, Angels, Rangers, and occasionally A's, all bandied around the top spot with .500 records. I started sniffing around the trade market instead of waiting for others to reach out to me.
My first deal was with the Braves. Corey Hart wanted an extension, but he had already hit the DL twice this season - after over year off with the knee injuries. He got hot in June and sported an OPS well north of .800 going into the All-Star break, a 100-point improvement from where he stood at the end of May. I decided to shop him around, figuring his trade value would never get better.
I found a taker in Atlanta and rolled the dice. For Hart and Chris Young I acquired a slumping Evan Gattis and starting pitcher Gavin Floyd, who had only pitched in a few games thanks to injuries. I installed Gattis as the DH and Floyd in the back end of my rotation. Gattis seemed like a better long-term bet than Hart to me, even though he looked like a downgrade this season. Floyd was the guy I really wanted - he would become a free agent at the end of the season, but I didn't care. My first four starters (Felix, 'Kuma, Elias, and Erasmo Ramirez) were all great, but the fifth spot had become an open sore. Nobody could pitch with an ERA under 6.00 out of that slot, Taijuan Walker included. I figured Floyd could be a stabilizing presence, though that depended on good health the rest of the way.
Next the Diamondbacks came calling with an unexpected offer for their star closer, Addison Reed. I bit, sending Yoervis Medina and three minor leaguers (Endy Chavez, Khris Davis, and Joe DeCarlo) to get him. Medina had faded, and I figured in a tight AL West race a lethal bullpen would be a real advantage. Plus, Reed would be under team control for three years. He still built towards the future. I wasn't interested in mortgaging the future for this mediocre team, though acquiring some talent was a priority. I was also willing to deal more of my prospects now that I knew I had some higher end talent from the 2014 draft on the way.
The trade deadline
I finally admitted to myself that the offense lacked star power, though Robby Cano and Kyle Seager were pretty good. In particular, I became quite concerned with Yoenis Cespedes. He was supposed to a star, and his most valuable tool turned out to be his glove. However, the tools were still there. I went looking for someone out of the pennant race that might be interested in him long-term.
I found my taker in the Padres, where I swung a major trade. I gave up Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Smoak, Evan Scribner, and Brandon Maurer to get 1B Yonder Alonso, SP Andrew Cashner, INF Alexi Amarista, and pitching prospect Adys Portillo. Alonso immediately became my starting first basemen and promised to be the ideal fit for my lineup. I had dingers but I didn't have anyone getting on base. Alonso's marginal power for a first baseman with tremendous OBP ability slotted nicely at the top of the lineup. Meanwhile, Gavin Floyd immediately became irrelevant as I added Andrew Cashner in the fifth slot, and long-term as a third horse to add to King Felix and Taijuan Walker. I stashed Amarista in AAA.
Finally, I got greedy. I wanted an elite defensive center fielder to patrol Safeco Fielde and get Michael Saunders in a corner outfield spot. This would only help the pitching staff even more and take advantage of the ballpark. I dialed up the Brewers and offered Abe Almonte, Chris Taylor, and James Paxton for Carlos Gomez and pitcher Tyler Thornburg. They accepted the offer. I stashed Thornburg in AAA as rotation depth (which is where Paxton was anyway) and installed Carlos Gomez out in center field.
After all the wheeling and dealing, here is where the roster stood:
- DH: Evan Gattis/Logan Morrison
- C: Mike Zunino
- 1B: Yonder Alonso
- 2B: Robinson Cano
- SS: Brad Miller
- 3B: Kyle Seager
- LF: Dustin Ackley/Logan Morrison
- CF: Carlos Gomez
- RF: Michael Saunders/Logan Morrison
- Felix Hernandez
- Hisashi Iwakuma
- Roenis Elias
- Erasmo Ramirez
- Andrew Cashner
- Addison Reed (closer)
- Charlie Furbush (setup)
- Danny Farquhar (setup)
- Tom Wilhemsen
- Stephen Pryor
- Joe Beimel
- Gavin Floyd
The team caught fire, and nobody else in the west could get much beyond a .500 record. The M's AL West lead ballooned to 6 games, the biggest lead in any division race.
Then injuries hit swiftly and violently. Brad Miller, Dustin Ackley, Carlos Gomez, Logan Morrison, and Addison Reed all went down for extended times. Miller and Gomez were lost for the rest of the regular season. Reed wouldn't even be back for the postseason. Ackley, LoMo, and Miller would all come back in the final few weeks of the season. There wasn't much I could do but cross my fingers. How bad would the team fade? Would a 6 game lead be enough?
I won't lie, it helped that the West was so mediocre, but other guys stepped up too. The Mariners maintained a 6-7 game lead in the AL West as Nick Franklin figured out how to hit a little bit in Miller's place, and Mike Zunino went from fledgling hacker to legitimate slugger. He was worth about 0.5 WAR at the all star break, but ended up with 4.5 WAR on the season. He carried the offense to the finish line, along with Yonder Alonso who might have been the best hitter in all of baseball after the trade deadline.
My version of the 2014 Mariners won the AL West with an 89-73 record, mostly thanks to a three-week hot stretch right after the trade deadline. However, you couldn't help but wonder what could happen in the postseason. That hot stretch coincided with the one stretch where everyone was healthy after some major acquisitions, and most everyone would be back for the postseason.
The Mariners faced the Royals, winners of the AL Central with a 90-72 record. On paper it was an even matchup, but the Mariners were a much different team at that point than the one that went 89-73 over the full season. They swept Kansas City 3-0 to move on to the ALCS, where they faced the Tampa Bay Rays.
Michael Saunders got hurt again, though whether that mattered or not is debatable. The Rays built a 3-0 lead in the series before finishing off the Mariners in game 5. They went on to lose the 2014 World Series to the Dodgers in 7 games.
* * *
The season was an unquestioned success that reignited Seattle's interest in baseball. Over 3.4 million people went to Safeco Field. The future looks bright too. The team has only three free agents - Gavin Floyd, John Buck, and Joe Beimel, all rather replaceable parts of the puzzle. It's easy to dream big on the roster going into 2015. The OOTP in-game AI says I have no weaknesses on the roster, and my star power between Cano, Carlos Gomez, Mike Zunino, King Felix, and steps forwards by Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, Taijuan Walker, and Yonder Alonso, makes for an interesting team to dream on.
Of course, this was only a simulation. Who knows if real franchises would agree to the deals I swung. It's fun to dream though...