The Angels made a huge splash Thursday afternoon as they acquired the best defensive player in baseball, shortstop Andrelton Simmons. The Angels send a huge return to Atlanta in the process, sending longtime Angels shortstop Erick Aybar along with top pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. The Angels also received a decent prospect, Jose Briceno, who looks like a future AAAA catcher but could become a MLB backup.
At first glance, it’s a bit of a puzzling move since the Angels had an above average shortstop for 2016 and really were relying on Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis being big starters in the future rotation. While the Angels lacked their shortstop of the future, they had an option for 2016 with Aybar and keeping the pitching prospects would’ve been ideal. On the other side of this, the Angels really had no shortstop option after 2016. Had the Angels not worked out a deal with Erick Aybar before next offseason, you’d be looking at Taylor Featherston or an unproven Roberto Baldoquin taking over the everyday shortstop role in 2017. Enter Andrelton Simmons: The premier defensive infielder, and possibly player, in all of baseball.
Make no mistake about it: Andrelton Simmons is a real game changer in the field. In 4 big league seasons, Simmons has racked up 113 defensive runs saved(DRS) and has a 68.4 UZR(Ultimate Zone Rating), easily ranking as the best in all of baseball in that span. Simmons has elite first step movement, makes plays on the backhand and forehand, and possesses one of the most impressive arms of any infielder you’ll ever find. If you don’t believe me, check out this video:
While the defense is legendary, Simmons’ bat hasn’t progressed as originally thought. After posting a .289/.335/.416 line in his 49 game stint in 2012, his bat has really fallen back. His career line is now a rather bad .256/.304/.362 line , good for a 84 wRC+. The bat really fell in 2014 but he did pick it up last year, posting a .265/.321/.338 line. At 26 years old, there’s hope he can improve the bat a bit with a bit more power but his approach probably is what it is at this point: A guy who likes to swing a lot, not strike out and not walk much.
Jose Briceno doesn’t look like much at this point as a 23 year old who just hit .183/.215/.267 in High A ball. However, he hit .283/.336/.476 in 84 games in A ball in 2014. He doesn’t walk much but he does put the ball in play and has a little gap power. He’s not a great defender but has the tools to potentially be near average in the future. Briceno looks like a spare part but could be interesting down the road.
The Angels lose Erick Aybar, who has been a solid player, albeit a bit inconsistent, for many years. Aybar had a down year in 2015, posting a 1 WAR season but it’s fair to assume he’ll bounce back and be a 2-2.5 WAR player for the Braves in 2016. While replacing Aybar with Simmons is really nice, the real loss here is losing top prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis.
Sean Newcomb has legit, top of the rotation potential with a huge, durable frame and great stuff. At 6’5″ and 240 lbs, Newcomb is a terrifying southpaw who comes at you with a clean, easy delivery. His best pitch is his mid 90’s fastball that can reach up to 97 mph when needed. His curveball is a good pitch, coming in as a sharp, hard breaking ball that sits in the upper 70’s-low 80’s range. His slider is another plus pitch that’s a great weapon vs lefties and a useful one vs righties, sitting in the low-mid 80’s. He also features an above average change up as well but it’s curious to see if he uses it more going forward.
Chris Ellis doesn’t feature the upside of Newcomb but he could very well become a solid 4/5 starter in the bigs for years to come. At 6’4″ 195 lbs, Ellis has a nice frame and has a solid 3 pitch mix. His fastball is a plus pitch, one that sits in the low 90’s but can reach 95/96 and features a little sink to it. His curveball isn’t great but it’s about an average pitch and is definitely a MLB pitch. His real calling card, however, is his awesome change up. It’s well known that former GM Jerry Dipoto loved guys with great change ups and Ellis is no different. Ellis’ change up has some serious fading action and comes in around the 79-82 mph range. Ellis should succeed in the majors because of this pitch.
What to make of this?
Honestly? I’m a bit perplexed. While I love Andrelton Simmons and have always been a fan of the guy, it’s a really big risk for the Angels to make this type of trade in the situation they’re currently in. The Angels arguably had a bottom 3 worst farm system in baseball before the trade and it’s no doubt back to the worst one now. The issue here is the Angels’ system has been in a state of disarray since about the time Mike Trout graduated to the Majors in 2011. At some point, the team needs to let the system develop but with new General Manager Billy Eppler in charge, it’s clear he wanted to fix the MLB team before focusing on the farm system.
Simmons will be a welcomed addition to the Angels, make no mistake about it. He’s better than Aybar, he’s young and he’s under control for 5 years at a ridiculously cheap 53 million dollars. Simmons has been worth 2-4.5 WAR in each of his 1st 4 big league seasons so we’ll call him a 3 WAR player going forward. At around 10 million dollars per year, Simmons provides a ton of surplus value. It’s also important to remember that while Aybar wasn’t a hole in 2016, there was about to be a big one in 2017 and beyond and Simmons fixes that.
As much as I like Simmons, this is a pricey return for a guy who still hasn’t hit much in the majors. I’m not upset about losing Aybar(even though I love the guy) but losing Newcomb and Ellis hurts, a lot. Those 2 potentially represented future mid rotation or better starters in a rotation that needs quality now rather than quantity. Losing them hurts but the principle behind this hurts as well. At some point, the Angels need to hold onto their young, prized prospects so they can gain youthful players but also have guys who are cost controlled.
As of right now, I’ll give this trade a C grade. This isn’t your prototypical Angels trade of the past. We aren’t signing an over the hill 33 year old outfielder to a big deal. We’re getting the premier defensive player in baseball whose in his mid 20’s and is under control for a cheap cost for 5 years. If Simmons has any moderate improvement with the bat, the Angels have a 4 WAR player for 10 million dollars a year. That’s value, folks. The issue is losing 2 future top starters who may very well be pitching in the majors in 2016. The Angels have a rotation that has issues going into next year and sabotaging that depth really creates for a problem moving forward. I try to not get too emotionally invested in prospects but Sean Newcomb has legit 1/2 potential and Chris Ellis may be a valuable member in a MLB rotation. I’m absolutely stoked to have Andrelton “Simba” Simmons on board but this trade does leave me a little weary moving forward.