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Bizarro 2015 Mariners, Part 1: A Franchise Altering Proposal

One of the great perks of writing this blog is a preview copy of Out of the Park Baseball, now in its 16th edition. This is very much a plug for the baseball simulator because it is well-earned. OOTP 16 continues the upward trajectory of baseball's most robust simulation game. There is a learning curve because of all the options, but for a hardcore baseball geek, it is nirvana.

I downloaded my preview copy of OOTP 16 today and naturally chose to take Jack Zduriencik's post with the 2015 Mariners to simulate the 2015 season. What unfolded is epic enough to split into three posts.

The start screen for OOTP 16. Another huge addition this year: official MLB logos!
Obviously, the way this theoretical 2015 season unfolded is likely far from what will actually happen. That's why I am calling this series the bizarro 2015 Mariners. OOTP, I believe, is a very realistic simulator, but I am not a realistic impersonation of Jack Zduriencik. I have my own preferences and those show through as the season unfolds. I also may have taken advantage of a few unrealistic quirks in OOTP's AI, but who knows? Sometimes other teams make weird decisions.

I took over the Mariners on April 5, the night before the home opener. I was tempted to wheel and deal and begin to mold the team in my image. However, given that we were 24 hours from opening day, that did not seem realistic at all. So, I restrained myself and went into the season with the hand I was dealt.

OOTP 16 includes extremely up-to-date rosters, meaning I already had Chris Taylor on the DL with a broken wrist (plus a handful of minor-leaguers, such as Ji-Man Choi, injured just as in real life). Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Kevin Correia, Rafael Perez, and Joe Saunders had all accepted AAA assignments. Rule 5 pick David Rollins didn't make the team, so he wasn't in the organization at all. You would wonder such things if you are the type of person genuinely interested in the kind of simulation that OOTP provides. OOTP includes a Rule 5 draft in the offseason and tracks which players in your farm system are eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

Immediately a couple new features in OOTP 16 were obvious. I chose to play this simulation as "GM Only," meaning I would have owner demands to meet. This is not new to OOTP, but OOTP 16 includes a much more robust owner AI. Howard Lincoln (the game literally sends me an e-mail from Lincoln!) let me know that he expected a .500 season, but also included a 5-year goal to make the playoffs and an immediate goal to upgrade shortstop. The owner has always set an expectation for a record, but the long-term goal and meddling with roster specifics are new. I found Lincoln's request about shortstop awkward, given the presence of Brad Miller AND Chris Taylor (both of whom receive high marks in OOTP 16), but hey, it's Howard Lincoln. The fact that he wanted something more from shortstop felt very Mariners to me. I flippantly ignored his request.

The second new feature is how the GM interacts with the manager. OOTP 16 made a brilliant decision by adding detail and control to managers. The result is a more diverse set of manager traits AND a simpler game experience. In OOTP 15 I could micromanage the pitching staff, bench, and lineups, and if I forgot to do that when I made a roster move a hole would stay open for days, if not weeks. Now the manager controls those decisions, meaning I don't worry about them as the simulation unfolds. This feels much more lifelike and also made the whole season more enjoyable to simulate. It also led me to pay more attention to Lloyd McClendon's tendencies and what kind of a roster might work well under his leadership.

OOTP 16 labeled Lloyd McClendon's managerial style as "Unorthodox" with a "Controlling" personality. I was very curious to see what both would mean as the season unfolded. I haven't played OOTP 16 enough to give any real definitive answers, but I have some guesses with the oddities I saw. Ol' Lloyd certainly had some unexpected tricks up his sleeve...

...which began on opening day. McClendon decided to go with Danny Farquhar as closer and he moved Fernando Rodney to the 8th inning. I have absolutely no idea why he did this, but I kind of liked it. Fernando Rodney did not like it at all, and within a few weeks I had an e-mail from him grumbling about his role on the team.

That wasn't Lloyd's only pitching staff surprise. J.A. Happ opened up the season in the starting rotation, and had a couple solid starts to begin the season, but out of nowhere McClendon demoted him to mop-up duties in the bullpen and lifted Roenis Elias (who he had kept as the second lefty in the bullpen) into Happ's vacant spot. Again, I liked the move, but as GM I was staring at $13.3 million of disgruntled human beings in the bullpen. It was time to find some trading partners.

I found J.A. Happ a home in Oakland on April 28, trading him along with INF Shawn O'Malley for RHP Jesse Chavez and OF Sam Fuld. I was pretty proud of the move for a few reasons. Chavez could take over Happ's mop-up duties and serve as an emergency starter in a pinch. He was also $4 million cheaper and had a few years of team control, whereas Happ is a free agent at the end of the season. Furthermore, Sam Fuld provided something the real Mariners desperately need - a capable backup center fielder. I sent Fuld to AAA, but could rest a little easier at night if something happened to Austin Jackson.

The Mariners had a decent April, hovering a little above .500 and hanging within a game or two of first place the whole time. The whole AL West got off to a luke warm start. May treated the Mariners well though, thanks to a seven-game winning streak that provided a little distance between them and the Angels at the top of the standings.

The waiver wire heated up in May too. LHP Neal Cotts hit the wire and he looked like the perfect second lefty for my bullpen, so I put a claim in on him and got him. The Padres also decided to put RHP Brandon Morrow on waivers and I put a claim in on him too. I viewed him as a Fernando Rodney replacement. Both Cotts and Morrow joined the M's on May 7. Three days later I sent Fernando Rodney and OF Gabby Guerrero to the Cubs for C David Ross, 3B Jenner Emetrio, and OF Jae-Hoon Ha.

I immediately installed Ross as the starting catcher and demoted Mike Zunino to Tacoma to figure out his swing. He was struggling to hit .100 with a sub .500 OPS. It was brutal. Ha is a classic fourth outfielder, capable of playing respectable defense at all three outfield positions with a middling bat. He provided more center field depth, which seemed needed because both Guti and Sam Fuld were hurt in the minors at the time. Emetrio, while listed as a third basemen, had a blend of defensive skills that suggested a future in the outfield, even possibly in center field. Can you tell yet that I was on a hunt for some center fielders? I wasn't in love with losing Gabby, but getting Emetrio back made the deal worth it in my mind.

McClendon agreed with me that Ross was the starting catcher. However, Ol' Lloyd had different plans for Brandon Morrow. He went into the rotation and Roenis Elias became a third lefty in the bullpen. I threw my hands up and waited for Morrow to break down...

...sort of. I kept dumpster diving on the waiver wire. The Rays put RHP Ernesto Frieri on waivers and I claimed him too. He joined the Mariners on May 13. Frieri became the third new arm to join the Mariners in a week. I already had the best rotation and fewest runs allowed in the American League, but free talent is free talent as far as I'm concerned.

Somehow the roster churn convinced McClendon that Dominic Leone should be closer instead of Danny Farquhar, even though Farquhar was doing fine. Lloyd was basically going with a closer-by-committee. Whatever. I didn't really care because all the bullpen arms were roughly the same skill level.

Then came a supernova of a trade proposal from the Arizona Diamondbacks: They offered me 1B Paul Goldschmidt for 2B Robinson Cano and OF Alex Jackson.

Wow.

The Mariners were in first place at this point, and Chris Taylor was about a week away from being healthy. LoMo was shockingly effective, actually leading the Mariners in hitting with an average unsustainably north of .300, and Robbie Cano was giving Mike Trout a run for the best WAR total in the AL. However, Paul Goldschmidt was threatening for the lead in all the triple crown categories in the NL, and that's right about where his true talent level exists. Goldschmidt is also quite a bit younger than Cano, quite a bit cheaper too, and under control for almost as long as Cano.

Would you pull the trigger? I'll tell you what I did in Part 2.