Wow, just wow. There is no appropriate introduction for a ground-breaking, blockbuster trade like this. There were rumors the Angels were in the mix for Andrelton Simmons, but there was little indication they would make a move as shocking as this one.
In Eppler’s first major move as General Manager of the Halos, he gained a generationally talented shortstop but divided Angels fans that were already apprehensive of a new regime in the front office.
If anyone wants proof on how truly divisive this was among the Angels community, just take a look at the 966 comments on the initial announcement of the trade here.
Most Angels fans viewed the trade from two perspectives:
1) The Angels have once-again gutted truly promising prospects and a fan-favorite SS for a good glove-first player, essentially mortgaging the future to fill a hole that didn’t exist in the first place.
2) The Angels acquired a generationally gifted shortstop, both cost-controlled and team-controlled, one that makes the entire pitching staff and defense immediately and incredibly better. Even though they surrendered Newcomb, Ellis, and Aybar, Simmons is a player that completely justifies giving up top prospects (especially those in one of the weakest farm systems) and a fan favorite.
Most baseball writers seemed to side with the second view, as defensive metrics indicated that Simmons is the best defensive player in generations (and might actually be the best ever). Let’s take a look at how it all turned out.
Again, the official trade is as follows.
Angels trade Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis, Erick Aybar, and $2.5 million for Andrelton Simmons and Jose Briceno
Let’s start with what the Angels gave up.
|3.86 (3.19 FIP)
Newcomb, a top 100 prospect, is a rare hard-throwing college lefty with three plus pitches. Though he has electric stuff, he struggles with control, resulting in consistently high walk totals throughout the minors. The elements for an ace are still here, but it’s looking increasingly skeptical as Newcomb hasn’t lowered his walk totals despite a full year in AA with the Braves. All this adds up to increased risk and a significantly lower chance that he will reach his ceiling, or even his floor.
Once viewed as a potential frontline starter, evaluators now question whether he will reach his ceiling due to the risk of his control. But he also has less experience than most college starters, which means there could be more room for projection as he matures. And should he turn the corner, he could be in the Braves pitching staff as soon as 2017.
All in all, it’s difficult to project Newcomb because of the sheer array of possibilities but many baseball analysts now see him realistically as a middle of the rotation starter. The staff over at Talking Chop (our Braves sister site) put it best, saying “[Newcomb] has front of the rotation type ceiling although given his proximity to the majors, tempered expectations may be best here.”
Like Newcomb, Ellis was also a college starter drafted by the Angels in 2014. When he was with the Angels, he was projected to be a big-league starter. However, he also was unable to solve his command problems, posting high overall WHIP ([walks+hits]/innings pitched) totals in both 2015 and 2016. Ellis didn’t take well to starting at AAA this season, evidenced by a WHIP north of 1.50.
Most recently, the Braves traded Ellis to the Cardinals in the Jaime Garcia deal along with two other top 30 prospects, so that shows what they thought of his performance. Even though his peripherals look better than his ERA does, Ellis will likely have to move to long-relief for a shot to stick in the big leagues, as his control and command issues have gone unsolved as he moved up the minor leagues.
An Angels fan favorite for many years, one of the hardest parts of this trade was accepting that Aybar would no longer be in an Angels uniform. Aybar’s tenure since his first full season (2009) was nothing short of solid, his performance pegging him as an above average regular at shortstop. His WAR totals since then? 3.7, 1.1, 3.8, 3.7, 1.5, 4.2, and 0.9.
That being said, 2015 saw a huge decline in Aybar’s offensive and defensive production and 2016 turned out to be the year he fell off the proverbial cliff. Aybar was supposed to be the stopgap to Dansby Swanson or Ozzie Albies, but he played so bad (-1.2 WAR, .243/.303/.320, 65 wRC+ and 100 is average, -5 DRS, -5.4 UZR) that the Braves decided to call up Swanson to be the full-time shortstop, swallow the money, and cut Aybar.
Hindsight is 20/20, but Eppler had the foresight to fill a hole before it manifested itself on the big-league roster.
Simba got off to a slow start but had a strong June, July, and August to put together another tremendous defensive season (18 DRS, 15.4 UZR) and a stronger offensive one (91 wRC+, .281/.324/.366). One of the bright spots on the team, Simmons’ offensive game is still evolving, as he improved his contact this year by lowering his strikeout percentage ever-so slightly.
Simmons is so incredible on defense, but still relatively few recognize how special he truly is. Here’s a comparison to Ozzie Smith, regarded as the best defensive shortstop in the history of baseball.
Total defense, fielding and positional adjustment above average
Here’s another one.
Fielding runs above average (FRAA)
By all fielding metrics available (DRS and UZR weren’t available back then), Simmons is the better fielder - ever. Ozzie Smith has Simmons beat in WAR because of his superior baserunning, but Andrelton Simmons is actually the best fielding shortstop if he can continue to play and stay healthy.
A year has passed on Simmons’ contract, but his better offense provides the Angels hope he can continue to improve his overall play. Simmons has been everything the Angels hoped he would be (and more) when they traded for him last November.
Many people see Erick Aybar as the throw-in to this trade, but Briceno is the true throw-in because most forget he was even involved. Splitting time between high-A and AA this year, Briceno slashed .232/.273/.329 but his strength is his defense.
Taylor Blake Ward of Scout.com speaks highly of Briceno’s defensive abilities and asserts he could be a “backup Major League role at his floor”.
If his first year in the Angels' organization is any telling sign, the Halos scouting department did their work and picked up more than just an extra name, and someone who will have a larger impact at the Major League level.
If catching prospects were assessed strictly for their tools behind the plate, Briceno may be one of the most spoken of catching prospects in baseball...
In 714.1 innings, Briceno allowed just 14 passed balls, or one every 51.02 innings. No catcher across Minor League Baseball did what Briceno did in controlling the run game, throwing out 48.6% of runners, and 57.8% during his time in the Texas League.
Briceno sounds like the typical Angels defensive catcher, it is yet to be seen how his bat matures in the following seasons.
Overall Comments: Simmons gives the Angels a cost-controlled excellent defender (and a developing hitter) in a premium position for years to come. While Newcomb’s frontline ceiling is tantalizing and Ellis was viewed as a surefire starter, both of their stock is down because of their inability to command at higher levels of the minors. Both are risky, but even if Newcomb turns into a 3 WAR per year frontline starter, the Angels will still have had Simmons’ 3-4+ WAR for five years. This is better allocated for their team needs and gives them a significantly higher chance to contend in the Trout era and therefore, keeps Trout around longer.
The Angels definitely won this trade, but the extent to which they did depends on Newcomb’s progress and Simmons’ offensive development.