How Bleacher Report's MLB Experts Would Build an MLB Team for $100 Million

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2013

How Bleacher Report's MLB Experts Would Build an MLB Team for $100 Million

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to act as general manager for a Major League Baseball team?

    So did we, which is how we came up with this idea: To build a roster of talent for the 2014 season with a maximum budget of $100 million. 

    Bleacher Report's MLB lead writers (Jason Catania, Joe Giglio, Jason Martinez, Zachary Rymer, Adam Wells) came up with their own rosters for next season. There is some overlap between the rosters, but each of us tried to inject our personal preferences where we saw fit. 

    Liberties were taken to make the task a little easier, though there were also changes to the arbitration process we used that escalated a lot of player salaries beyond what they will actually make in 2014. 

    Instead of building an entire 25-man roster, our teams consist of 15 players built around eight position players, one designated hitter, a five-man pitching rotation and one reliever to be used in the closer role. 

    Even though some players on rosters aren't yet eligible for arbitration, for the purposes of this discussion, we have treated them like they are.

    In those cases, set totals were $5 million for non-arbitration players. The one outlier in that group, based on Bill Shaikin's report in the Los Angeles Times, is Mike Trout, who could set an arbitration record of $15 million when he becomes eligible. 

    For those players eligible for arbitration in 2014, we used the projected salaries listed by MLB Trade Rumors, which can be found here

    All players were eligible for consideration, though some were kept off for injury reasons, and others are simply too expensive at this stage of their career. 

    Now, with all the explanations taken care of, it's time to look at what the B/R crew came up with for the perfect $100 million team. 

     

    Note: All stats and projections courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Non-projected contract information is courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts

Jason Catania's Roster and Analysis

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    With Matt Carpenter and Mike Trout hitting in front of him, Andrew McCutchen's RBI total would skyrocket in Jason's lineup.
    With Matt Carpenter and Mike Trout hitting in front of him, Andrew McCutchen's RBI total would skyrocket in Jason's lineup.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Lineup (2014 Salary in Millions)

    1. Matt Carpenter, 2B$5 
    2. Mike Trout, CF$15
    3. Andrew McCutchen, LF $7.25
    4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B$1.1
    5. Bryce Harper, RF$2.15
    6. Evan Longoria, 3B$7.5
    7. Edwin Encarnacion, DH$9
    8. Salvador Perez, C$1.5
    9. Andrelton Simmons, SS$5

     

    Pitching Rotation (2014 Salary in Millions)

    No. 1 Starter: Clayton Kershaw, LHP $18.25
    No. 2 Starter: Yu Darvish, RHP $10
    No. 3 Starter: Chris Sale, LHP $3.5
    No. 4 Starter: Stephen Strasburg, RHP $3.9
    No. 5 Starter: Madison Bumgarner, LHP $3.95
    Closer: Trevor Rosenthal, RHP $5

    *NOTE: Regarding Rosenthal (which sounds like a good band name): I put him in at $5 million as a pre-arb player, although he most likely would come in under that. But since it fits and didn't alter my roster construction, I won't argue with the arbitrator.

    Total Value: $98.1 Million

    Team WAR Projection: 71.8 (Oliver), 66.8 (Steamer)

     

    Roster Construction Analysis

    The name of the game in this exercise is surplus value. In short, the goal is to find studs at super-low salaries for most roster spots, which then allows you to handle a few bigger contracts reserved for the best of the best. To that end, the only two players I spent more than $10 million on were Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, who just so happen to be the best player and best pitcher in the entire sport. Ka-ching!

    For my position players and lineup, I wanted those who excel (or at least show potential for improvement) on both sides of the ball. So while my one-through-nine is a fearsome bunch of bats, there's also loads of leather all over the diamond. That's important in this pitching-dominated era.

    In fact, only my second baseman, Matt Carpenter, might be considered less than a plus defender, while the rest of my infield is flush with guys with glue on their gloves, radar for their range and ammunition in their arms.

    As for the outfield, I defy any hitter to place a fly ball that will actually find ground between Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper. At the plate, I honed in on hitters who make contact often (and ideally, hard) and who have on-base skills. If there's one "weakness," it might be that my lineup is a little too right-handed heavy, but I think we'll survive.

    Given that position players are more trustworthy and consistent in terms of performance and health, I thought it wise to build that portion of my wish-it-were-real roster first. That's why I spent nearly $10 million more on hitters than I did on pitchers—and it was only that close because, again, I went for a whopping $18.25 million to grab Kershaw.

    Speaking of the reigning NL Cy Young winner and his rotation mates, it should be pretty clear that I targeted young, strike-throwing strikeout artists. I also set up my five-man to alternate between left-handers (Kershaw, Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner) and right-handers (Yu Darvish and Stephen Strasburg) throughout, which isn't necessary but still neat.

    At the back end of my imaginary bullpen, I've pegged flame-throwing Trevor Rosenthal, who is a starter disguised as a closer, meaning he could throw more than one inning when needed and potentially pitch upward of 80-90 innings in a season—that's how you get value out of a dominant reliever.

    All in all, the oldest player on the roster is Edwin Encarnacion, my designated hitter, at 30 years of age, and no other player is north of 28. In fact, the average age of all 15 players is just 25.1 years old. That's another aspect I valued highly in this exercise: Younger usually means not only that the players are cheaper but also that their best is yet to come. That’s what I see for this $100 million super squad.

Joe Giglio's Roster and Analysis

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    Joe was the only one who took the spark plug that is Jose Reyes, but there are few table-setters in the game that are better.
    Joe was the only one who took the spark plug that is Jose Reyes, but there are few table-setters in the game that are better.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Lineup (2014 Salary in Millions)

    1. Jose Reyes, SS$16 
    2. Andrew McCutchen, CF$7.25 
    3. Mike Trout, LF $15
    4. Chris Davis, DH$10
    5. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B$1.1
    6. Evan Longoria, 3B$7.5
    7. Jay Bruce, RF$10.042
    8. Ben Zobrist, 2B$7.5
    9. Salvador Perez, C$1.5

     

    Pitching Rotation (2014 Salary in Millions)

    No. 1 Starter: Stephen Strasburg, RHP$3.9
    No. 2 Starter: Chris Sale, LHP $3.5
    No. 3 Starter: Madison Bumgarner, LHP $3.75
    No. 4 Starter: Doug Fister, RHP $6.9
    No. 5 Starter: Matt Moore, LHP $1
    Closer: Koji Uehara, RHP $5

    Total Value: $99.9 Million

    Team WAR Projection: 62.3 (Oliver), 62.8 (Steamer)

     

    Roster Construction Analysis

    In order to craft the best possible team for under $100 million, bargains are vital. This group is loaded with players under long-term deals that bought out pricey arbitration years. From Salvador Perez to Andrew McCutchen to Paul Goldschmidt, the backbone of this star-filled group was constructed by prescient executives who looked ahead to play the market correctly.

    Consistent offensive performance is hard to find in baseball right now. For as highly as WAR valued players like Andrelton Simmons and Josh Donaldson, this offense was designed to score runs in waves. Outside of Perez at catcher, every offensive player was selected due to a track record of success and the ability to produce runs. If healthy, this offense could reach 1,000 runs scored over a full season.

    The pitching staff lacks a Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander, but it's hard to imagine a better quintet of starters for less than $20 million in 2014. The value of Strasburg, Bumgarner and Sale, all No. 1-caliber starters, is evident. Fister, the highest paid pitcher on the staff, was worth $22.8 million by himself in 2013, per FanGraphs.

    In most cases, paying a closer more than 80 percent of a starting rotation would be insane. Considering Uehara's dominance in 2013 and the value throughout the rotation, allocating five percent of the salary cap to the Red Sox closer was a no-brainer.

    Due to future rising salaries for players like Reyes, Longoria and McCutchen, this team would only be able to stay under $100 million for the 2014 season, but 100-plus wins and a trip to October would make it money well spent.

Jason Martinez's Roster and Analysis

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    Given the exploding market for closers, Jason Martinez couldn't resist Aroldis Chapman at $4.6 million.
    Given the exploding market for closers, Jason Martinez couldn't resist Aroldis Chapman at $4.6 million.Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Lineup (2014 Salary in Millions)

    1. Starling Marte, LF $5 
    2. Ben Zobrist, 2B$7.5 
    3. Mike Trout, CF$15
    4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B$1.1
    5. Giancarlo Stanton, DH$4.8
    6. Yasiel Puig, RF$3.7
    7. Josh Donaldson, 3B$5
    8. Jonathan Lucroy, C$2
    9. Andrelton Simmons, SS$5

     

    Pitching Rotation (2014 Salary in Millions)

    No. 1 Starter: Clayton Kershaw, LHP $18.25
    No. 2 Starter: David Price, LHP $13.1
    No. 3 Starter: Stephen Strasburg, RHP $3.9
    No. 4 Starter: Chris Sale, LHP $3.5
    No. 5 Starter: Jose Fernandez, RHP $5
    Closer: Aroldis Chapman, LHP $4.6

    Total Value: $97.45 Million

    Team WAR Projection: 66.9 (Oliver), 62.4 (Steamer)

     

    Roster Construction Analysis

    With 20 percent of the team—center fielder Mike Trout and starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw and David Price—accounting for nearly half of the team's payroll, there was a need to find a good number of players with team-friendly salaries. 

    Catcher Jonathan Lucroy, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and starting pitcher Chris Sale, three of the rare big leaguers to sign long-term contracts early in their careers, have escalating salaries in their deals. In 2014, they'll combine to make $6.6 million. Those three bargains are the primary reason that this team could afford Kershaw, Price and Trout.

    Overall, the lineup is extremely right-handed heavy with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist the lone exception. Left-handed hitting candidates Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Davis and Carlos Gonzalez were all excluded for salary-cap reasons. 

    While they could have a tough time against the top right-handed pitchers, they can make up for it in other areas. The infield has two Gold Glove winners in Goldschmidt and Simmons, while the speedy outfield trio of Marte, Puig and Trout should cover a ton of ground behind a dominant pitching staff. 

Zachary Rymer's Roster and Analysis

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    Injuries have hampered his career arc, but Jason Heyward makes his first appearance on a roster as Zach Rymer's starting right fielder.
    Injuries have hampered his career arc, but Jason Heyward makes his first appearance on a roster as Zach Rymer's starting right fielder.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Lineup (2014 Salary in Millions)

    1. Matt Carpenter, 2B$5 
    2. Mike Trout, CF$15
    3. Bryce Harper, LF $2.15
    4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B$1.1
    5. Chris Davis, DH$10
    6. Buster Posey, C$11.28
    7. Evan Longoria, 3B$7.5
    8. Jason Heyward, RF$4.5
    9. Andrelton Simmons, SS$5

     

    Pitching Rotation (2014 Salary in Millions)

    No. 1 Starter: Max Scherzer, RHP $13.6
    No. 2 Starter: Chris Sale, LHP $3.5
    No. 3 Starter: Yu Darvish, RHP $10
    No. 4 Starter: Madison Bumgarner, LHP $3.95
    No. 5 Starter: Stephen Strasburg, RHP $3.9
    Closer: Mark Melancon, RHP $3

    Total Value: $99.48 Million

    Team WAR Projection: 70.2 (Oliver), 68.6 (Steamer)

     

    Roster Construction Analysis

    My first order of business was to just make sure Mike Trout was on my team. It would mean plugging in the $15 million arbitration salary that Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times floated as a possibility for Trout, but that’s a fair price to pay for baseball’s most dominant all-around player.

    My mission after adding Trout was to avoid committing as much as $15 million to any other player. Fortunately, a good chunk of my roster—Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Evan Longoria, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, et al—is set to be criminally underpaid in 2014. And while there’s just guessing going on with the arbitration projections, arbitration can and does underpay great young players.

    The end result was a starting lineup featuring loads of on-base and power potential, as well as strong defense at almost every position (Matt Carpenter is the only notable weak link). 

    Steamer’s projections have Trout and Posey as the two best players in MLB in 2014, and overall my lineup features four of the top 10 and eight of the top 40. The lone exception, go figure, is 50-homer man Chris Davis.

    As for my pitching staff, it features not only a reigning Cy Young winner in Max Scherzer but three of the top four pitchers for 2014 by Steamer’s projections in Yu Darvish, Sale and Scherzer. Stephen Strasburg, my No. 5 starter, is projected to post a higher fWAR than Clayton Kershaw.

    The weak link of my roster probably looks like Mark Melancon in the closer’s role, but don’t sleep on him. Only Koji Uehara and Greg Holland compiled more fWAR among relievers in 2013, and Melancon is projected to be one of the top relievers in 2014 as well. 

Adam Wells' Roster and Analysis

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    Buster Posey projects to be an MVP candidate again in 2014, so why wouldn't Adam Wells want him to start at catcher?
    Buster Posey projects to be an MVP candidate again in 2014, so why wouldn't Adam Wells want him to start at catcher?Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Lineup (2014 Salary in Millions)

    1. Mike Trout, LF $15 
    2. Andrew McCutchen, CF$7.25 
    3. Buster Posey, C$11.278
    4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B$1.1
    5. Giancarlo Stanton, DH$4.8
    6. Evan Longoria, 3B$7.5
    7. Jay Bruce, RF$10.042
    8. Jason Kipnis, 2B$5
    9. Andrelton Simmons, SS$5

     

    Pitching Rotation (2014 Salary in Millions)

    No. 1 Starter: Yu Darvish, RHP $10
    No. 2 Starter: Chris Sale, LHP $3.5
    No. 3 Starter: Stephen Strasburg, RHP $3.9
    No. 4 Starter: Doug Fister, RHP $6.9
    No. 5 Starter: Jeff Samardzija, RHP $4.9
    Closer: Jake McGee, LHP $1.2

    Total Value: $97.37 million

    Team WAR Projection: 69.9 (Oliver), 68.6 (Steamer)

     

    Roster Construction Analysis

    There were two things I knew I wanted to do with this team. First, building it from the inside out. By that, I mean getting all the up-the-middle talent possible without bankrupting myself.

    Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive player on the planet. Even though I do give up some value with him on offense because the bat isn’t very good, a true 80-grade shortstop who can hit 15-20 homers is a star. Jason Kipnis is the weakest link in the group, but Oliver projections still have him as a four fWAR player in 2014.

    The second thing I wanted to do was get Mike Trout on the team, which seems to be a common thread in this exercise. He’s the most dominant and dynamic player in the sport, doesn’t turn 23 until next August and is still a huge bargain at $15 million because of the value he adds in all facets of the game.

    A lineup also needs to have some thump in the middle, which is why I was willing to sacrifice some average for the huge power that Jay Bruce and Giancarlo Stanton provide. Evan Longoria is no slouch in that department, with Steamer projecting him to pop 30 homers in 2014. Paul Goldschmidt has turned into a superstar and is still a great bargain with a salary just over $1 million next year.

    The pitching staff actually turned out to be much easier than I assumed, thanks in large part to a very reasonable salary for Yu Darvish, who has the best pure stuff in the sport, and the bargain-basement prices for Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg and the underrated Doug Fister.

    With those four pitchers in place, I wanted to go off the board for a No. 5 starter. Jeff Samardzija is a pitcher advanced metrics love because he misses so many bats (394 in 388.1 innings since 2012). Consistency has never been an asset for him, as he still walks too many hitters, but if the "Shark" pitches closer to his 2013 xFIP (3.45) with more than one strikeout per inning, I can live with that.

    As for the closer, the only thought that went through my mind was getting a cheap, underrated reliever. Jake McGee, who has the stuff to pitch in high-leverage spots, is a 27-year-old lefty with a fastball that averaged 96.3 mph in 2013 and has been effective getting out righties (.590 OPS against) and lefties (.632 OPS) in his career.

Final Thoughts

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    One of the great things about baseball is how much room there is for debate. Various websites offer projections for what players will do, and it is virtually impossible to find two that are identical. 

    You can see that in the fWAR projections we used to determine the best roster heading into the 2014 season. Jason Catania would come out on top using the Oliver system, fielding a team worth a total of 71.8 wins above replacement. 

    However, using the Steamer projection system, Mr. Catania (66.8) would finish third behind Zachary Rymer and Adam Wells (both at 68.6). 

    What is concrete is Joe Giglio and Jason Martinez's standing as the worst teams in the league, though Giglio might have the greatest upside in the starting rotation if Matt Moore hits.

    Martinez boasts three players making nine figures, which limited some of his spending, but he also bet on Starling Marte to outperform the modest 3.0-3.6 fWAR projections. Marte was worth 4.6 fWAR in 2013, so it's not out of the question. 

    In the end, while we can discuss which roster looks best right now, none of it will matter once the games start. Join in the conversation about our rosters, or offer your own suggestions in the comments section. 

     

    If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.