It has been nearly two years since the Atlanta Braves moved on from Andrelton Simmons. John Coppolella and company agreed to send the defensive wizard to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis and (the corpse of) Erick Aybar in November 2015 and, for a while, the deal looked... fine.
Now? Andrelton Simmons is a legitimate AL MVP candidate. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Here is Jonah Keri of Sports Illustrated on Simmons earlier this week:
It’s that defensive dominance that’s made Simmons a viable MVP candidate: Even though his offensive numbers lag well behind the likes of Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Trout, his glove might save 30 more runs than the average shortstop this season. In fact, we can raise the ante here. Simmons shouldn’t merely considered a darkhorse pick for Most Valuable Player this year. His Ozzie Smith-like defense should prompt us to take a closer look at his burgeoning career. Because it has been, and continues to be, pretty damn impressive.
The 27-year-old shortstop boasts a .301/.355/.457 slash line with 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 117 games (482 PA) this season. At first glance, one might assume a comically high BABIP or big-time luck based on his track record, but Simmons’ wRC+ of 122 looks to be legitimate when evaluating his peripherals.
As noted above, Simmons hasn’t exactly taken a step back defensively, either. FanGraphs pegs him for 23 DRS (defensive runs saved) and many metrics see Simmons as the best defensive player in baseball. That combination is, quite obviously, devastating.
In fact, Simmons sits tenth in MLB in fWAR (4.6) and second (!!!!!) in MLB in bWAR (6.3). Is he that good? Maybe not, but Simmons’ performance in 2017 has been utterly tremendous and he is a big reason why the Angels have managed to stick in the playoff race despite a lengthy absence from the best player on the planet in Mike Trout.
From a Braves perspective, this is fairly devastating. Simmons is earning only $8 million this season and he is locked up for three additional years at a total of $39 million. Even if we can assume that 2017 (at the plate, especially) is his absolute peak, Simmons will likely produce quite a bit of excess value over the next few seasons and he has already managed to do so since moving to L.A. before the 2016 campaign.
Yes, the Braves have two (very) intriguing shortstop prospects in Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies. That absolutely matters and it shouldn’t be overlooked. Still, Swanson wasn’t quite in the fold yet (a few weeks later) when the Simmons deal was consummated and it hasn’t exactly been a lights-out campaign for the former No. 1 overall pick.
As for the return in exchange for Simmons, it has been litigated in this space on numerous occasions. There is still time for Sean Newcomb (4.45 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 9.36 K/9, 5.06 BB/9 this season) to emerge considering his incredible arm talent and young age at 24. With that said, it is unlikely that Newcomb’s overall contribution will approach that of Simmons and the inclusion of Ellis (no longer in Atlanta) and Aybar (a full-fledged disaster) does nothing to tip the scales.
Braves fans have moved on to focusing on Swanson, Albies, Johan Camargo and whatever else is happening at shortstop. After nearly two years, that is probably the right approach. Still, the Andrelton Simmons trade looks worse and worse by the day and, if not for the Hector Olivera disaster and the plain existence of Swanson/Albies, there would probably be more consternation about the move at this point in the calendar.
As for Simmons himself, only a handful of players in all of baseball are operating in the same stratosphere for the 2017 season and it is fun to see an old friend succeed. We’ll wait to see if it is sustainable but, for now, it also hurts a little bit.