Out of the Park is a baseball simulator, and a giant of the genre. You can simulate this year, create an entirely fictional league, or run a past season as the GM of any team. As tempting as making a fictional league and reporting on it sounded (I still may do this some day though), I wanted to try something out using a real team.
A past year especially would be interesting-could I take a great team in history to a championship? And since I’m a big fan of teams without World Series victories yet, how about taking one of them. I thought about using the Mariners or Expos, but eventually settled on the Houston Astros. I have some ties to the team, most notably being that I have lived in Houston, so I have a soft spot for them.
I looked back through their history, eventually settling on their 2001 team. 2001 marked their fourth-best year ever, behind 1998, 1999, and 1986. The team overall won 93 games, leaving some room for improvement, and the overall season is the most notable one of those four in my memory (2001 is the first season that I remember very well, to be honest). The lineup featured stars like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Lance Berkman, and longtime ace Roy Oswalt made his debut. Also, I won’t be interfering with a Cardinals postseason run.
So, if I were to improve the team, where would I start? Well, going by OPS+, six of the eight starters were above average hitters. Julio Lugo (76, although he split time with Jose Vizcaino, 69) and Brad Ausmus (57) were the exceptions. Three of the five starters were above average in ERA+, so Scott Elarton and Dave Milicki will probably be the first two to go. The bullpen should be fine, with Billy Wagner and Octavio Dotel finishing games. So, to the game!
I start at January 1, 2001. I immediately head to free agents and waivers to see what’s available. The late start means most players have been taken, but Craig Counsell is still available. A quick trip to Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference seems to say that Counsell was more valuable, plus he was on the actual champs that year, the Diamondbacks. He hit better (82) fielded better by most metrics. I’ll claim him, which will hopefully leave me Lugo as a back-up if the claim goes through. I need to sign a double-A manager, so I do that then end the day.
I begin shopping for catchers the next day and stumble upon a crazy idea-Jason Kendall. I must have been flashing back to my days in Pittsburgh, but turn of the millennium Jason Kendall was one of a kind (although his 2001 was a down-year for him). The Pirates agree to instantly agree if I give them Richard Hidalgo. I’d take that in a heartbeat. But I get greedy-can I get them to throw in Brian Giles? Yes, actually, but they’ll need more. I offer current starting left fielder Moises Alou. Both Hidalgo and Alou were good, but going from them to the younger Giles and Kendall is too good to pass up.
The Pirates want a little more-I look down their list demands. One is a prospect-a lot of the minor league players are randomly generated to fill a roster. This one is a high-ceiling first baseman named Gerald ‘Bad Company’ Woodward (the nickname is included on his player page). I look at his numbers closer-he’s a 23-year old in single A. Hidalgo, Alou, and a 23-year old first baseman for Brian Giles and Jason Kendall? I’ll take that.
Can I get even more? Bronson Arroyo is still a prospect, and I was looking for pitching help. What are their demands for him? All I need to get an automatic trade is 36-year old middle reliever Michael Jackson. That ends up being the tipping point. The final deal:
Astros get: Kendall, B. Giles, Arroyo
Pirates get: Hidalgo, M. Alou, Woodward, M. Jackson
I get emails-fans take the loss of Hidalgo and Alou hard, but the return of both Giles and Kendall makes up for it. I feel bad about adding to the Pirates run of bad decisions, but to be fair, it’s not like they did any better in real life.
That leaves me now with holes in center field and short stop still. No word on Craig Counsell yet. With Kendall in tow, one of my two catchers (Brad Ausmus or Tony Eusebio) is expendable. I start shopping around for a center fielder and maybe a spare pitcher. I eventually stumble upon the Blue Jays-they’re willing to listen on Jose Cruz, Jr. for Brad Ausmus. Plus, think of the public relations-Jose Cruz’s son coming home to Houston!
I look over their pitching to see if I can make it bigger, and that’s when I see Chris Carpenter. He hasn’t reached his full potential yet, but 2001 was a breakout year of sorts. Hopefully the game uses something similar for this 2001 (or 2001A, if you’re into Back to the Future terminology). The Blue Jays are a little hesitant to trade both of them, but they’ll listen to offers. They give me a list of four players to make it automatically work. I’ll need the first three, Berkman, Wade Miller, and Roy Oswalt. The fourth one is a prospect, 20-year old single A center fielder named Robert Sewell. Trading prospects is rough, but I think I can stomach it for Carpenter and Cruz. The final deal:
Astros get: Cruz Jr., Carpenter
Blue Jays get: Ausmus, prospect Sewell
Fans love the acquisition of native-son Cruz. Another plus (not that the fans know this yet) is that this keeps Carpenter away from the later dominant Cardinals teams (at least, for the time being). I’m not sure how I feel about this trade now.
I look over the roster again and realize that Vinny Castilla, who posted a 101 OPS+ for the Astros, is not on the roster. Apparently, they claimed him later in the year when the Rays dropped him. That means I should hunt for a third baseman, since there’s no guarantee he’ll be available again. Bill Spiers and Chris Truby are the co-incumbents, and there really doesn’t appear to be any readily-made improvement on my roster. I do have six starters thanks to all my wheeling and dealing, so I’ll leave Arroyo as the sixth starter/swing man for now.
So, after a long few days of trades, I go through a few more days. My claim of Craig Counsell finally goes through on January 4th. This leaves me with the interesting position of four first basemen, thanks to Counsell being listed as a third baseman as well (he’s also a second baseman, so I guess it’s kind of a utility spot). The other three players were the aforementioned Truby and Spiers and Charlie Hayes. Spiers has 10/5 rights and refuses a trade and Truby is the youngest, so Hayes is the expendable one now. I try and package him and fifth starter Kent Bottenfield for a solid back end starter, eventually settling on Jeff Suppan. I need some budgetary room, so I throw in backup outfielder Daryle Ward. I’ll need another backup outfielder, but that’s less of a concern to me.
Astros get: Suppan
Royals get: Bottenfield, Ward, Hayes
Shoot, that’s another 2004 Cardinal. Who knows how this will affect the time stream? Also, as mentioned, I need a new backup outfielder. A quick browse of the wavier wire turns up Scott Podsednik and John Barnes. I offer both minor league contracts, with the intent of using one of them since I’m a little short on minor league outfielders to call up.* Podsednik accepts after a few days, and I add him to the roster. This is about two years before his big break with the Brewers, but for a fourth/fifth outfielder (I also have Orlando Merced), he’s not a bad option. I should be able to find someone else on the waiver wires, worst case scenario.
It’s still only January 13th, but I’ve been very busy. I’ll update on how the season goes as I reach it, but for now, my moves have gone thusly:
C: Brad Ausmus->Jason Kendall
RF: Moises Alou->Brian Giles
CF: Richard Hidalgo->Jose Cruz, Jr.
SP: Kent Bottenfield->Jeff Suppan
SP: Scott Elarton (demoted to bullpen)->Chris Carpenter
Bench/Bullpen: Claimed Craig Counsell
Signed Scott Podsednik
Signed John Barnes
Traded away Michael Jackson, Charlie Hayes, Daryle Ward
Prospects: Acquired Bronson Arroyo
Traded away Robert Sewell, Gerald Woodward
I’m really excited to run this team in the next few days. Right now, 2001A looking like as such:
Jose Cruz, Jr.-CF
Set-up: Octavio Dotel
Now I’m really excited to see this team in action. Especially that middle of the lineup; can you imagine a middle of the order of Berkman/Bagwell/Giles? Just using their real world 2001 numbers, they posted OPS+s of 161, 140, and 150, respectively.
In short, it appears I am quite the wheeler-and-dealer; we’ll see if it pays off later. Also, check out Out of the Park Baseball 14!