Billy Eppler’s first move as Angels GM sent reverberations throughout the Halosphere, as the Angels shipped out their top two prospects, plus fan favorite Erick Aybar, in exchange for Andrelton Simmons.
For whatever reason, the trade was wrongly characterized by many fans as trading away a future Cy Young winner for a slick-fielding shortstop who doesn’t hit home runs, the ‘equivalent’ of a controllable Erick Aybar. I need not tell you that the above statement is wrong on so many levels, but it originated and gained traction nonetheless due to scouts’ Jon Lester-Sean Newcomb comps, which had existed even prior to him being drafted.
It continues to boggle my mind that there are fans who still hold this blatantly false viewpoint today — since the trade, Andrelton Simmons has discovered his feel to hit, hit for power, and run the bases on top of throwing and fielding while Newcomb has continued to struggle commanding his excellent stuff — which leads me to write this piece. What if...the Andrelton Simmons trade had never been made?
For starters, Erick Aybar would still be the starting shortstop for the 2016 season, continuing his precipitous dropoff for the second consecutive year.
Erick Aybar’s production, 2014-2016
Glossary: wRC+ is overall offensive production where 100 is average, UZR/150 is defensive production (UZR) where 0 is average per 150 games, fWAR is WAR by Fangraphs’ calculations
Clearly, not making this trade would lead to yet another black hole in the Angels lineup, this time at shortstop, simultaneously the most important defensive position and a position of scarcity. Imagine trying to contend with that many items on the offseason shopping list, but this time adding shortstop to the list? That was the alternative.
There are those who would argue this trade is bad because “it didn’t add to their win total”, but if one is not adding a cost-controlled young star at an up-the-middle position, what are they doing, really? The Angels were clearly not going to rebuild, so adding an all-worldly shortstop in his prime under five seasons of team control was the next best thing. After all, if he improved his bat incrementally he would be a 4-win player, every year. If somehow he were to achieve zen hitting status and achieve, say, 120 wRC+ on top of his defense, he would be a perennial MVP candidate, a 6-7 win player. Which, he is! Simmons is on pace for 6.4 fWAR. By Baseball-Reference’s calculations? He is on pace for 8.2 WAR. Andrelton Simmons, my friends, has achieved zen hitting status and it is not a fluke.
Sean Newcomb would still be in the Angels’ hands: to revisit the general sentiment from the time, this thread is quite apt.
Potential is highly important, but development is the second piece to that puzzle. Newcomb could never master his command issues, as he is walking 5.47 batters per nine in the major leagues, and that’s with a good pitch framer in Tyler Flowers. Sean Newcomb has never walked less than 4.50 per nine since his rookie year. For reference, among starting pitchers with above 50 innings pitched this season, Junior Guerra (MIL) and Alex Meyer (LAA) are the only two who have surrendered more free passes than Newcomb. For a pitcher to succeed with as many walks as Newcomb is issuing is unprecedented — the lack of control is damning. Of the top 20 on that list, 9 have a negative WAR this season.
There’s still time to turn it around, as the now-Braves starter is only 24, and he has succeeded with subpar control in the minor leagues his entire way. It’s not looking as rosy as it once was, and that ‘top of the rotation’ projection can be filed away until the day he figures out where the ball is going.
Chris Ellis has gone from ‘future back-end starter’ to could be a ‘solid middle relief piece’, per Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs.
As Simba has turned the corner at the plate to complement his wizardry in the field, Billy Eppler’s first move looks every bit like a fleecing, even if it did hurt [Eppler] to do it. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine the Angels without their lion king.