Living in Sim: What if Derek Jeter never broke up the Marlins?

Yahoo Sports

With baseball on indefinite hiatus, we here at Yahoo Sports MLB decided to have a little fun. We can’t watch real baseball on TV, but we can still play it … with a twist. We’ve decided to run some experiments using “MLB The Show 20” to simulate some unique baseball scenarios. This concept is lovingly inspired by Jon Bois’ Breaking Madden series. We’re calling our version “Living in Sim.”

Miami Marlins fans cried out with joy when a Derek Jeter-fronted ownership group purchased the team in 2017. Not only were the Marlins hiring a perennial winner, but the team was also getting one of the greatest players of his era. On top of that, Jeter’s purchase meant Jeffrey Loria was out. Surely, anybody would be better than that guy.

Jeter immediately put that theory to the test by doing his best imitation of Loria, engaging in a massive fire sale. Marcell Ozuna? Gone. Giancarlo Stanton? Gone. Christian Yelich? Also gone. The new boss suddenly looked a lot like the old one.

Just like that, whatever promise the Marlins had for the near future evaporated. While the rebuild is producing in some strong prospects, it will be years before the Marlins are competitive again. 

(Yahoo illustration/Paul Rosales)
(Yahoo illustration/Paul Rosales)

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if Jeter suddenly had second thoughts and completely reversed course prior to the 2020 season? What if he traded to get back every single player he traded away during the fire sale in an attempt to see what could have been?

Knowing that would never happen in real life — am I talking about the Marlins taking on payroll or the Brewers actually trading Christian Yelich? — I took it upon myself to make it so. Using “MLB The Show 20,” I re-assembled the zombie Marlins in 2020, simulated the season and tried to right Jeter’s wrong.

The task: Deal for every Marlins player Derek Jeter traded away and dominate

Within the first minute of this experiment, I have second thoughts. Since “MLB The Show 20” operates with realistic budgets, I’m not sure the Marlins can actually bring back every player Jeter traded. On top of that, I don’t even know if the Marlins have the pieces to make trades other teams in “The Show” will accept. 

With that in mind, I make the list. Here’s the list of players I have to put back on the 2020 Marlins.

• Christian Yelich
• Giancarlo Stanton
J.T. Realmuto
• Marcell Ozuna
Dee Gordon
Cameron Maybin
Nick Wittgren
• Brad Ziegler
• Justin Bour
• Tom Koehler
• Kyle Barraclough
• Brian Schales 
Dillon Peters

Upon first glance, that’s a crapload (baseball term) of talent. If I can pull this off, I suspect the Marlins to be an easy playoff team. With all those players added to the lineup, this team has World Series aspirations. 

Forgetting all my earlier concerns, I optimistically trudge ahead with budgets and fair trades enabled.

The plan: Start making creative trades with budgets enabled

The budgets-enabled plan lasts two trades before I realize I’ve made a huge mistake. I actually manage to acquire both Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, but fail to realize that Marcell Ozuna is the most important player in this experience. At $18 million, Ozuna makes more than both Yelich and Stanton. This is weird, because, at $26 million, Stanton actually makes more in real life. In “The Show,” Stanton only makes $15.9 million. I have no idea why.

It’s a similar issue to the one I faced in my Yankees experiment, only much, much worse. After trading away a few high-salary players for Stanton and Yelich, I don’t have the money to make the Ozuna deal work. Armed with the knowledge that Ozuna is the focal point of this experiment, I restart the season and try again.

The second attempt goes better. I manage to deal for Ozuna first. I unload Jonathan Villar ($8.2M), Corey Dickerson ($8.8M) and Sean Rodriguez ($5.8M) in the deal. With my payroll looking better, I’m able to bring in Stanton and Yelich (along with Cameron Maybin, Dillon Peters and Brian Schales). I make sure to unload as much salary as possible in those deals so I have the budget necessary to get this team back together.

And then the whole thing gets derailed again.

I can’t trade for J.T. Realmuto. It’s not a budget thing, it’s an issue of the players on the Marlins. There’s no trade I can create that the Phillies will accept for Realmuto. This isn’t an impasse where I can restart and try again, either. In order to acquire Realmuto, Stanton and Yelich, I have to give up every one of the Marlins’ prospects. The team simply doesn’t have enough of them to make all those deals work. I tried literally every combination possible for Realmuto with my remaining players (you can trade a maximum of three players in a single trade in “The Show”), and the Phillies wouldn’t take it. 

I now have two options: I can quit, or I can start breaking reality.

The revised plan: Reassemble the Marlins by any means necessary

I am not a quitter. I am determined to see this stupid project through to completion for the content. I start the season once again, but this time I disable budgets and fair trades. I’ve already seen that sticking to those rules isn’t going to work.

This is not realistic, but I’ve come up with a way to justify it in my head. If Jeter actually did this, he would know the Marlins couldn’t operate on a shoestring budget. Payroll would have to increase and Jeter would know it. The team’s budget is just a number. It can’t hurt me.

In an attempt to make this experiment more realistic, I try to reverse every trade Jeter made since he took over the team. If the zombie Marlins are going to win games, I don’t want them doing it with the guys they never should have acquired in those trades. 

As an example, I deal Jorge Alfaro and Sixto Sanchez back to the Phillies for Realmuto. This will give me the closest team possible to what the Marlins would look like if they never engaged in their most recent fire sale.

There are some issues with this plan, too. Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers aren’t in “The Show,” so I have to deal a no-name prospect pitcher and hitter for Stanton. It’s the type of homer trade you might see from a random fan on Twitter, but “The Show” no longer cares about that since fair trades are disabled. 

It took two restarts, but we got there. (Image via Yahoo Sports)
It took two restarts, but we got there. (Image via Yahoo Sports)

Eventually, I get there. The 2020 zombie Marlins have been assembled … well, mostly. Justin Bour, Tom Koehler and Brad Ziegler aren’t in the game (by virtue of signing in Japan or retiring), so I have to soldier on without them.

The season begins: World Series, here I come

When the 2020 season begins, here’s how the Marlins stack up:

The Marlins lineup looks strong. (Image from "MLB The Show 20" via Yahoo Sports)
The Marlins lineup looks strong. (Image from "MLB The Show 20" via Yahoo Sports)
The Marlins' pitching could use work. (Image from "MLB The Show 20" via Yahoo Sports)
The Marlins' pitching could use work. (Image from "MLB The Show 20" via Yahoo Sports)

Prior to all those trades, the Marlins ranked as the 25th-best team in “MLB The Show 20.” Following those trades, the Marlins only rank 16th. The new Marlins rank second in contact, 13th in power and fifth in speed. The team’s pitching — ranked 25th — is dragging down its ranking.

I expected better, so I write this off as the game’s algorithm being off. The offense should carry the pitching. It’s worrisome that the game decided Dillion Peters — who has a 58 rating — should be the Marlins’ fifth starter over better options, but I figure this is the computer trying to be realistic. Better options are in the minors due to real-life options. It’s either that or “The Show” is so realistic it knows the Marlins will make horrible decisions like this.

Finally — after multiple restarts and many hours wasted — the season can begin. I should be wondering what I’m doing with my life, but instead I’m energized by the prospect of the 2020 zombie Marlins winning the World Series. I envision a single tear rolling down Derek Jeter’s face when he reads this article and realizes what could have been. The thought nourishes me.

I simulate through April and am immediately perplexed. The Marlins are just 13-18. The offense is about average, but the pitching is weighing the team down. It doesn’t help that the Marlins have already blown nine saves. Oddly, this is encouraging. Reverse a few of those blown chances, and the Marlins should be contenders. I’m sure things will be better in May.

Surprise, they aren’t. The team sits at 25-34 after May. I decide to investigate what’s gone wrong. The offense is mostly performing as expected. Realmuto is batting just .246, but everyone else has been strong, though the team ranks 26th in home runs. Pitching is the issue. Pablo Lopez and Dillon Peters have ERAs over 6. Adam Conley and Nick Wittgren are equally as bad.

I’ve tried to stay hands off during the season, but it’s time for me to intervene. In an attempt to get things turned around, I optimize the Marlins’ roster. If there are better players in the minors, I call them up to replace lesser options. This is the best possible team the Marlins can field. Dillon Peters is no longer in the rotation. Surely, this will be the thing that turns the season around.

That optimization makes the Marlins the 13th-best team in baseball according to “The Show.” The pitching is still bad, but that’s a team that can contend.

Those moves pay off in June. The Marlins go 15-12 in the month. At one point, they rip off a 6-game winning streak, lose one game, and then embark on a seven-game winning streak. The Marlins are now 40-46. This is the team I expected from the start.

Midseason: The dream dies

And then July comes. The Marlins’ luck ends immediately. By the All-Star break, the Marlins are 42-54 and in last place. The team trades Caleb Smith for Jose Alvarado for reasons I can’t explain. If starting pitching is the priority, why is the team trading for a reliever? 

I don’t have time to investigate this because I’m too sad. When the trade deadline passes, the Marlins are 48-63. 

The dream is dead. The World Series aspirations were unfounded. My belief that the playoffs were possible has aged worse than Dontrelle Willis.

I try to survey what went wrong. While the offense has been fine, it hasn’t been exceptional. The Marlins rank just 17th in runs scored and 25th in home runs. I should have resurrected the dinger sculpture. The pitching remains awful. Every player called up to optimize the roster has performed miserably. Wittgren, who has good stats in the game, somehow has a 5.17 ERA. The staff ranks 19th in ERA, 27th in walks allowed and 27th in strikeouts.

The only way this was going to work was with an offense that raked. Despite Brian Anderson, Dee Gordon, Ozuna, Realmuto, Stanton, Villar and Yelich in the lineup, the zombie Marlins couldn’t do it. 

The team finishes the season 71-91, in last place in the National League East. I now envision Derek Jeter reading this and laughing at me. It absolutely sucks.

The season ends: What did we learn? 

Baseball is bulls--- and only exists to make you miserable.

But since that isn’t a satisfying conclusion, we’re left with this: Having a strong core isn’t enough to push a team to contention. Had the Marlins stayed together, the team would have had a formidable offense. That much can’t be doubted.

But the pitching would have been an issue. If the Marlins had tried to contend with Stanton, Yelich and co., they would have needed to invest in pitching. Precious prospects would have to be traded, or talent would have to be purchased on the free agent market.

Either way, the Marlins would have had to make a much larger commitment to winning. The fire-sale strategy can work, the Marlins had proved that before, but it requires so much luck. Nearly everything has to go right for a team to develop players like Ozuna, Stanton and Yelich, but that alone isn’t enough. The team would have to go in even further to field a winning team. Throughout the organization’s history, it has never shown a willingness to do that. 

Marlins fans will have to hope Jeter reverses that trend the next time they develop a legitimate core. Maybe he will do that and give Marlins fans the sustained success they’ve always desired, but Jeter’s actions suggest Miami fans are in for more of the same, even if the team’s latest rebuild produces some stars.

Previously in this series

We simulate the 2020 MLB season
What if the Yankees had the Pirates’ payroll?

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