This one hurts. Damn the baseball analysis for a minute… Andrelton Simmons was easily my favorite Atlanta Braves player still left on the team. I first saw him in Danville, Virginia, a month after he was drafted. At the time we weren’t sure whether he would be a pitcher or a shortstop. What first caught my eye, in the midst of a 100+ degree heat wave, was his arm… his cannon. On some throws to first I couldn’t tell what was higher, the temperature or the speed of his throw. At the plate he was a scrapper, but one that could put the bat on the ball with relative ease.
The next year I saw him at Lynchburg, that was the year he really burst onto the scene. Then the next year at Mississippi, right before he got called up. My comment to folks who wanted to know who he was and why I thought he was special was that “his defense was worth the price of admission.”
When he arrived in Atlanta that refrain was echoed throughout the Braves universe, and quickly replayed on the highlight reel every night. Watching him play was jaw dropping. What I had only seen flashes of in the minors was illuminated by slow motion replays in the majors that still boggle the mind. This was a pure kind of baseball where people go to the game to watch a guy play defense.
We may never again see a defensive player of his caliber step onto a field wearing a Braves uniform. That’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact.
I’m going to miss watching Andrelton Simmons play every game. I’m going to miss watching him play for my team. This trade pisses me off because it takes away this generational talent, this guy I watched grow up and rooted for every step of the way in professional baseball, and a guy who you could tell was having fun every time he stepped on the field.
So, anyway, loyalty be damned in baseball. It’s a business, don’t you know.
Speaking of, how did the Braves do on the business end of this trade? The Braves got left-handed pitching prospect Sean Newcomb, right-handed pitching prospect Chris Ellis, and warm body at shortstop Erick Aybar.
Newcomb is the prize here. He’s considered one of the top-20 prospects in the game, he was a first round pick in 2014, and he made huge strides this year, reaching double-A. He’s not a finished product yet, as his command and delivery apparently need work, but he projects as a top of the rotation workhorse — a strong bet to be a number-2 starter, with a shot at ace. He probably becomes the Braves top prospect, ahead of the guy I had at the top of my provisional (unreleased) 2016 prospect list, Kolby Allard.
In addition to nabbing Newcomb, who was the Angels top prospect, the Braves also picked up another pitcher, largely considered to be the Halo’s second-best prospect. Of course, in the barren wasteland of the Angels farm system, number-2 is not saying much. If you may recall, the Braves traded for the Angels number-2 prospect last year, Ricardo Sanchez — who ended up ranking in the mid-teens on many Braves prospect lists. At that time Newcomb was the number-1 prospect and Chris Ellis was number-4.
Ellis is a big-bodied power pitcher, and still largely considered a work in progress. He spent the second half of this season at double-A, and like Newcomb, needs to work on his control and repeating his delivery. He was a third-round pick in 2014, and currently projects as a mid-rotation starter. He’s a decent gamble on an arm with good upside, but he’s no sure thing, though he still probably has a floor of a late-innings reliever. I’d probably put him somewhere in the teens on the Braves prospect list.
Erick Aybar is the 10-year major league veteran who replaces Simmons. He’s in the final year of a five year contract that will pay him $8.5 million. Aybar is a below average defender at shortstop who will have a pretty good year with the bat every once in a while. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Braves dealt him before the season began, but if they don’t, it’s a near certainty that he’ll get traded mid-season.
If Aybar does stay around to start the season, he’s merely a bridge to the shortstop of the future, Ozhaino Albies. Ozzie ranked third on my provisional 2016 prospect list before this trade. He played 2015 at low-A Rome, and was slated to start next year at high-A Carolina, though with this trade the Braves may aggressively promote him to double-A, with an eye towards a mid-season call-up to Atlanta. The presence of Albies, and the esteem with which many in the Braves system hold him, is likely one of the big reasons the team felt comfortable trading Simmons. It would not surprise me to see him make a Furcal-like jump to the majors this season.
Atlanta also sent catcher Jose Briceno to the Angels. He was acquired last offseason from the Rockies in the David Hale trade. Briceno had an awful 2015 campaign at high-A Carolina, and fell off the prospect list entirely.
So now the “why.” Why did the Braves feel they needed to trade Simmons? From reports online it appears that they were talking about trading him since last offseason, and that they may not have acted fast enough on some offers before they were pulled. The front office was apparently not willing to let another strong offer expire, and so they jumped on the first big one that came their way this offseason.
The explanations for why the team would trade Simmons range from poor and inconsistent offense to an expected decline in defense with age. Atlanta clearly thinks that Simmons is likely to decline, while the Halos think otherwise. I’m inclined to agree with the Angles, as Simmons is only 26-years-old and should be entering the prime of his career. Besides, if the Braves were really worried about decline in players as they age, then why did they trade for 30-year-old rookie Hector Olivera this year?
The real explanation is probably that this is just part of the overall strip-down and rebuild of the team, and that Simmons was one of the guys they didn’t get to move last offseason. So in that vein, how did the Braves do in their return for Simmons? Where many of the trades last offseason focused a little more on quantity over quality, or sacrificed health for fragile quality, this trade emphasized a quality return. Newcomb is arguably the best prospect the Braves have received in any of their trades. While he’s probably still a year away from being ready, he’s a well-refined product who should be a good bet to anchor a rotation in a few years. Ellis is a bit more of a reach, but still a quality arm.
So does one elite prospect and one good prospect equal the best defensive shortstop in baseball? That question can only be answered by answering the question of whether or not you believe that Andrelton’s bat has any more in it than he’s shown. Simmons is in the middle of the pack as far as hitting among major league shortstops. I, for one, believe that he will get better, as he’s still maturing as a hitter and finding out what kind of hitter he should be.
From a business of baseball perspective, this was a decent trade for the Braves. Not great, maybe not even good, but decent. Like the Olivera trade, this is another trade with a lot of risk based on the acquisition of unproven talent in exchange for proven talent. From a public relations and fan perspective, this was a horrible trade for Atlanta, as they seemed to unnecessarily give away a fan favorite player.
And that erosion of fan support and loyalty to players may not be done yet, as sources I have close to the Braves tell me that the front office has already talked to other clubs about Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran.
It’s a Brave new world… make sure you buy a program so you’ll know who’s on the team this week.