First, an introduction:
That player is still only 26 years old and the Angels now hold him in their possession until 2020, for less per year than they were paying Erick Aybar. Yes, the admiral is gone. As is Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. I know. Our starting shortstop and 95% of our farm. Or something. Judging from the announcement thread, we already know how the majority of us feel about losing those two guys. While things have calmed down a bit since the initial announcement, I am here to talk those last few holdouts off the ledge. And maybe, possibly, convince you that this trade might actually be a good thing.
I will assume that the majority of our readership is aware that Simmons is an elite-level glove. I do question whether we actually appreciate just how good he has been. By the numbers:
Whatever measure of defense you prefer, Simmons is a tremendous upgrade from what we already considered to be a solid defensive shortstop in Aybar. With his glove alone, Simmons has been more valuable than Aybar has been overall. We should also take notice that the 26 year-old Simmons' 86 OPS+ was slightly better than the 81 OPS+ the 31 year-old Aybar delivered.
Of course, this trade isn't about Aybar. It's about the kids going to Atlanta. No doubt, it stings to let Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis get away. Both have a good chance to become rotation stalwarts in the next few years. Emphasis on the word chance. Even if both were absolutely polished, can't-miss prospects (they're not), young pitchers always come with the caveat that their elbow can blow at any moment. And if everything breaks right and Newcomb turns into Jon Lester, as many here are predicting? He'll get roughly 24.5 WAR over his first six seasons, the only seasons the Angels would have been guaranteed to get out of him. That's a huge number, but so is the 17.2 WAR Simmons has accumulated over just four seasons. Going into his age 26-27 seasons, it looks likely that Andrelton will match Lester's first six years, at least measured by WAR.
Beyond the elite defense, there lies some hope that Simmons can improve with the bat as he enters his prime. In his first full season at age 23, he belted 17 HR while drawing 40 walks against just 55 strike outs, good enough for a 90 OPS+. This year he saw a little bump in his OBP (.321) while lowering his strikeouts. Beyond the incremental gains he has made in his walk and strikeout rates (categories in which he has matched or bested Erick Aybar over his three full seasons), he has managed to decrease his pop-up rate over that same time and we saw a significant increase in his line-drive rate last season. His glove got him to the majors while his bat was still behind. For what it's worth, he hit .299/.352/.397 across three minor league seasons. He'll never be a good hitter but with his strength and athleticism, there is hope that Dave Hanson can work with him and get that bat closer to league average during his prime years. Even with just incremental gains with the bat, we are looking at a player that could net us a 4-win floor at the start of each year.
Look, we will miss Aybar. We will cringe if Newcomb turns into the ace we thought he would and Ellis becomes his wingman. But a win is a win is a win and Andrelton Simmons contributes to winning at a rate no other Angel has the last few years, save for Mike Trout and maybe Kole Calhoun. Looking over the Angels' farm and next year's free agent crop, there is nary a shortstop to be found. This was not a clear need heading into this offseason, but Billy Eppler has taken the longview, knowing it would be an alarming one in the very near future. Sit back and enjoy, we just got this generation's "wizard".