By now we've all had a decent amount of time to recover from the news that Andrelton Simmons was traded to the Los Angeles Angels. I'm not going to re-hash or analyze that trade again here, as we have some incredibly in-depth coverage of the deal already in this space.
Instead, I figured we would go ahead and get on with our lives (it's hard I know, but we can do it) and take a look at what the shortstop position is going to look like in the coming years at Turner Field and SunTrust Park.
First and foremost, it seems pretty clear that Erick Aybar is going to be the guy holding down the fort during the 2016 season, and while "Braves Country" is virtually unanimous in acknowledging that Simmons is the superior talent, we might be a bit surprised with the production we get from Aybar. Check out the two players' production over the past two seasons:
Andrelton Simmons and Erick Aybar over the last two seasons via @FanGraphs pic.twitter.com/E2Fza6dYCh— TheFantasyFix.com (@TheFantasyFix) November 13, 2015
Closer than I would have expected, and while Aybar is certainly further along the age-curve than Simba is, it's not crazy to expect production similar to what we've seen of him in the past few seasons, even if his wOBA graph isn't really trending in the direction you want...
...And then you also note that over the past five years he's been worth -7 DRS, while Simmons has been worth 113 DRS in over 3,000 fewer innings played. So while, they've been around the same value over the past two seasons according to WAR, that value comes from entirely different places.
Regardless of what you think of Aybar's ability to replace Simmons, there is also the chance that he doesn't even last the entire season — or more dramatically, the chance that he doesn't play a single game with Atlanta. This has been a common sentiment on the inter webs:
Braves could have gotten Aybar, too, with the idea of flipping him for prospects.— Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot) November 12, 2015
That move, though, would seemingly go against everything that Braves General Manager John Coppolella has said about Aybar's role in the trade:
"You can make an argument that we are a team that could actually win more games with Aybar," Coppolella said. "[Aybar] was a huge part of this deal. This wasn't just some kind of prospect trade. This was a value-for-value trade that had two really good prospects in it."
Obviously Coppy wouldn't be broadcasting his intentions to immediately flip Aybar even if that was the case, but further evidence that that's not going to happen would seemingly be the fact that there aren't any obvious 2016 alternatives.
Daniel Castro would be the clear favorite if Aybar was dealt, but while he might be serviceable defensively, he is a .269/.317/.334 hitter through five minor league seasons and looked over-matched in the at-bats he got with the Braves in 2015. Pedro Ciriaco has the ability to play the position as well, and while he did have a successful stint with the Red Sox as an everyday shortstop back in 2012 (68 starts, .293/.315/.390 triple slash), that seems to be an outlier more than anything. Ciriaco is certainly best suited for a utility roll.
Which finally brings us to the Braves' No. 1 prospect — well, depending on where you slot Sean Newcomb — Ozhaino Albies.
Ozzie is a bit of a conundrum for Braves fans as a whole, as some like to buy into the hype he's received as a prospect (which is fine) and others are a bit more reserved and point to the fact that he is still just 18-years-old (also fine). I find myself in this latter camp, and fully expected Albies to take a more traditional route to the Major League level. He's only completed one full season in low-A ball after all. However, shortly after this trade, word came out that Albies could be in the Majors as soon as next season.
Yes, it's true:
Coppy: There’s a chance that Albies — SS of the future — could be up in 2016. #Braves— Cory McCartney (@coryjmccartney) November 13, 2015
While I don't buy into this for a second for numerous reasons (I don't think he'll be ready, I don't think the Braves would waste his service time next season when they aren't competing, etc.) we have to assume that it's at least a possibility right? While I'm certainly inclined to just chalk this up to front office talk — like when we heard about competing as soon as 2017 — others might buy in.
There's certainly reason to. Albies just crushed it in Rome, posting a .310/.368/.404 triple slash with 29 extra-base hits and 29 stolen bases in 98 games. After two years in the minors his career line is .328/.395/.417 and he gets great reviews across the board.
Baseball America had this in their scouting report of him last December:
A natural top-of-the-lineup batter who should hit for a high average, Albies has a quick swing with plus bat speed from both sides of the plate. He stays inside the ball and makes consistent contact with his superior hand-eye coordination, yet he’s strong enough to drive the ball from gap to gap. His strike-zone judgment is far beyond his years, and he keeps the ball out of the air in order to take advantage of his plus speed.
MLB.com said similar things and gives Albies three above-average tools (hit, run and arm):
Albies makes a lot of contact, thanks to his quick swing, excellent hand-eye coordination and innate feel for the barrel. He has a line-drive stroke and, while power will never be a part of his game, drives the gaps well. His above-average speed gives him all the tools to fit at the top of the order.
Our own writers, Eric and Garrett, are on-board the Albies train as well, ranking him the Braves top prospect back in July and writing the following:
He has an incredible feel for the barrel for such a young player and is one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues, period. He has a line drive approach from both sides of the plate, is willing to bunt for hits, and beats out ground balls. While he will never be a home run hitter due to his lack of size, he has shown good gap power and the ability to produce a high number of triple and doubles.
There's clearly a lot to like about Albies, but I keep getting pulled back to his age. He was one of the youngest players in pro ball back in 2014, and if his development in the minor leagues is accelerated he'll certainly be one of the youngest players at each step along the way.
Last season the youngest players in the Majors were Miguel Castro (Rockies) and Robert Osuna (Blue Jays), who were both 20-years-old before the season even began. If Albies were to crack the Majors at some point in 2016 — which Coppy said there is a chance of — he would be included in the likes of Mike Trout (2011), Bryce Harper (2012) and Jurickson Profar (2012) as 19-year-old MLB players.
Only elite-level prospects make it to the Majors at such a young age, and while Albies seems to be an extremely talented player, I'm not sure he is on that level. Call me a cynic if you want, but I don't expect to see Albies playing in the MLB for several years, and I can't imagine why the Braves would want to waste his service time during years when the team will seemingly be out of contention.
So who exactly is going to play shortstop once Aybar is out of town? I have no idea. Your guess is as good as mine. The simplest solution might just be to try and re-sign Aybar after 2016 ala A.J. Pierzynski. Given the wheel-and-deal nature of this Atlanta front office though, I wouldn't put bets on anything.