The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the team whose name continues to feel wrong, consummated a trade last night that sent all-world defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Angels, and brought back LHP Sean Newcomb and RHP Chris Ellis to Atlanta. Objectively, the deal sees Atlanta trade away the game’s best defensive shortstop, who is under contract for the next 5-years but may never hit, for two starting pitching prospects. It’s a “good baseball trade” for reasons that I will explain momentarily, but I am a Braves fan and I absolutely hate it.
First, a bit more about the deal. The Braves also got back Erick Aybar to essentially (for now) replace Simmons’ 2016 production at shortstop. The rumor is that Aybar will be shipped out soon to a team thinking it can compete in 2016. The Angels also got catching prospect Jose Bricieno, who is nothing more than a backup type.
For the Angels
The Angels just got a great defensive shortstop to contribute while they still have Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. They already have young pitching at the Major League level– in the form of Andrew Heaney, Garret Richards, and Hector Santiago– under control for the next few years. Now, they’ve improved at shortstop for the next couple of years in an effort to get Mike Trout into the playoffs to perform his magic there.
But this deal is not without risk. Simmons is owed $53 Million and is barely even a competent hitter. Plus, there’s these tweets that I sent out early yesterday when the rumors started flowing. There are serious reasons to worry about Simmons’ offensive profile.
Andrelton Simmons batting 8th in 2015: .795 OPS#Andrelton batting anywhere else: .606 OPS
— Off The Bench (@OTB_Baseball) November 12, 2015
#Andrelton career OPS batting 8th: 727
Andrelton career OPS batting 1-7,9: 640
His value is in defense but his offensive game buoyed by NL
— Off The Bench (@OTB_Baseball) November 12, 2015
The Angels have cleaned out their farm system and tied their own hands for successfully completing their roster. The window for them to compete is now. It’s been now for the last 3 years, but it just feels like the stakes have been raised a bit.
For the Braves
Most of what you’ve read about this trade points to Andrelton’s defensive wizardry– citing UZR this and Defensive Runs Saved that– and dWAR above all else. Sure, the Braves will miss those aspects of his game on the field. But, this trade is about so much more than just the wins and losses. It signals to Braves fans that the team does not intend to compete in 2016, and excitement for the 2017 squad heading into the new stadium will be centered on the young core that the Braves have assembled. It signals another lost spring, dreary summer, and October baseball spent rooting for a team because your great Aunt Helga liked them.
The 2016 Braves were never going to be good, but there were rumors that the squad was intending to build some momentum heading into 2017. Just last week, I figured the Braves had about $22 Million to go out and spend on a free agent, or two, of their liking. This trade makes both the momentum theory and the free agent acquisition theory seem less likely; less fun. We probably should have seem this coming, as young pitchers Mike Foltynewizc and Matt Wisler struggled mightily down the stretch. Those poor performances likely led to pessimism for their early season 2016 contributions. Without surprising early season success driven by young pitching, this team was never going to be good.
But let me put on my baseball analyst hat for just a moment: Patience. I feel the need to preach patience. The trade makes sense– oh, no, the hat wasn’t quite on right– the trade mostly makes sense. The Braves were not going to be good in 2016. As recent trends have proven, if you’re not going to be good, you’re better suited being really bad. And the Braves traded a guy with very serious issues at the plate (that have not gotten better in his 3.5 years in the Majors), who may have lost a step on defense, and is owed another $53 million. There is has always been the risk with Simmons that he just would never hit. The Braves have essentially traded a $53 Million risk for two very cheap risks.
The Braves added Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis to their already impressive group of young pitching prospects. Kolby Allard, Max Fried, Touki Toussaint, Lucas Sims and Jason Hursch are all former first round picks now pitching in the Braves Minor League system. They also have Tyrell Jenkins, who was their minor league pitcher of the year and has been ranked among the top 100 prospects. Throw in rookies from last year Mike Foltynewitz, Williams Perez, Matt Wisler, and Manny Bauelos, with Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller and the Braves have a full 14 pitchers who figure to compete for starts in the next three years. (14!)
The plan is obvious. As Yogi might have said: Young pitching is the currency in baseball that money can’t buy. The Braves will ultimately trade some of these young guys away for impact position players. They’ll continue to make bold moves and build around Freddie Freeman. This trade just makes it all the more likely that Braves fans will have to suffer in 2016.
Whenever these big deals go down, I get texts, or tweets, or someone provides their opinion at work. I find that these conversations tell me more than the real analysis. I mentioned to a friend that I won’t be feeling fuzzy about the Braves in 2016. He suggested that I drink every day. I mentioned to my girlfriend that the Braves traded away another of the fun players to watch. “Ugh,” was her response. I haven’t been in to work yet, but I’m guessing the sentiment will be the same.
The Braves will be good again. They’ll be really, really good if they continue to assemble this high end talent. They just won’t be good in 2016, but they probably weren’t going to be good anyway.
I just wish they had Mike Trout tonight instead of Sean Newcomb.