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A surprising and, frankly, puzzling deal for the Angels.
Let's get this out of the way: Simmons is a brilliant defender. He's probably the best shortstop glove in the majors; he combines a cannon arm with great instincts and a predilection for making the difficult plays look simple. Defensive metrics are notoriously unreliable, so it's anyone's guess whether Simmons is actually worth 20 or 30 or 40 or whatever runs—nonetheless, his glove is worth more than those handled by most shortstops, and he's likely to make an already-good Angels defense even better.
Still, there are some obvious drawbacks to this move, beginning with Simmons himself and extending to the trade's opportunity cost.
Simmons is two seasons into his seven-year, $58 million extension ($54 million of which remains unpaid). In the two years since inking that contract, he's descended from a league-average hitter overall to a below-average one for the position. He doesn't walk, he doesn't hit for power, and he's never flirted with hitting .280 over a full season, let alone .300. There are some hints that he could become a productive hitter—namely, he makes a lot of contact, has a grasp on the strike zone, and has cut into his pop-up rate—but there's no telling whether he'll put it all together and/or develop into more than a bottom-of-the-order hitter.
As such, Simmons has become even more dependent on his defense than he appeared to be two years ago. If he loses a step or two earlier than expected, then the back-end of this contract could become a burden—though obviously not an albatross, given the rising budgets across the league.
You can live with that risk in a vacuum, but the Angels don't have the benefit of a context-free environment. Billy Eppler's team has numerous holes that need filling: incumbent third baseman David Freese and catcher Chris Iannetta are free agents, and the Angels declined options on multiple outfielders, leaving them with a vacancy in left field. Add in their pitching needs, and the Angels were going to have to leverage what few prospects they had or spend a considerable amount of money to smooth all the wrinkles before they made this trade.
Instead Eppler and the Angels used their best trade chits and cut into their future budget room for . . . a two-win upgrade—a three-win upgrade? There's value in improving by three wins at any position—including the cascading effect that comes from upgrading on defense at a premium position—and Simmons should be a better player for longer than Aybar. But this move forces Eppler to nail some low-probability moves and/or Arte Moreno to get more charitable with his pocketbook. Maybe both parties rise to the occasion; for now we can only work within the confines of what has happened and what seems like reasonable expectations.
The bottom line then is that Simmons is a good player and great defender who will make the Angels better and more entertaining. You just wonder if Eppler might come to regret this deal for reasons that go beyond Simmons and the prospects' play. —R.J. Anderson
I know, I know. Simmons’ game is defense, and defense doesn’t translate to fantasy, and Simmons is moving to a terrible park for hitters, and you probably think that a severe blow to the head is the only reason anyone could possibly give Simmons the old up arrow. However, the play here is the assumption that Simmons is moving to a stronger lineup, won’t have to bat ahead of the pitcher, and will a few more opportunities to score some runs and drive in a few runs as well. It isn’t much of an endorsement, but even if what you see is what you get with Simmons and his bat, he still should move up slightly in fantasy in 2016. However, he is still a deep mixed player at best, and is probably best left for AL-only owners. —Mike Gianella
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Acquired SS-R Erick Aybar, LHP Sean Newcomb, RHP Chris Ellis, and cash from the Angels in exchange for SS-R Andrelton Simmons and C-R Jose Briceno. [11/12]
The Braves continued two trends with this move: 1) trading a player they had previously made a long-term commitment to (thereby freeing additional budget space as they prepare to move into their new ballpark); and 2) receiving a package headed by young pitchers in return.
Aybar is the lone piece of the payout with big-league experience. He's entering the final year of his contract (worth $8.5 million, of which the Braves will pay $6 million), and it's not a given that he'll spend all or any of 2016 in Atlanta. Wherever Aybar is come spring, his goal will remain the same: rebound from one of the worst offensive campaigns of his career. The leading cause behind his poor effort stemmed from a collapse in power production—his ISO was the seventh-lowest in the majors among qualified hitters. Aybar has never been one to walk, so he needs every bit of his limited extra-base juice to guard against a completely empty average.
Defensively, Aybar's value depends on your evaluative approach. The eye test has always been kinder to his glove than defensive metrics—Prospectus' FRAA, for instance, has graded him as being worth worse than -10 runs in each of the past three seasons. Whichever side you favor, there is one thing everyone can agree upon: Aybar is a durable player. He's topped 500 plate appearances in each of the past six seasons, and hasn't spent any time on the disabled list since 2013.
Because Aybar will play next season at 32, there's a good chance his most-productive days are over. Best case: he returns to his league-average form and brings back something interesting via trade; worst-case: he's released by July. —R.J. Anderson
Sean Newcomb, LHP
In the Angels’ system there was Newcomb, followed by enough ellipses to measure out a Giancarlo Stanton home run, followed by everyone else. The 2014 first-rounder was one of the most impressive present arms to come through the California League this year, and his ceiling may just be the highest. His body looks like the factory model of a frontline starter, with a thick, sturdy frame that’s easy to envision hanging 200-plus innings on. Mechanically there’s plenty of room for projecting a step or two forward with his presently-fringy command, as the arm is free and easy and he utilizes his weight well to get downhill. The control remains rough around the edges right now mostly related to issues with his lower half: stiffness in his takeaway and inconsistent tempo through the leg kick. He’ll rush himself and land firm when he gets out of rhythm, leading to a wandering release point and balls leaking up and out to the arm side. It’s a big body that’ll take time for him to learn how to corral consistently, and he’s a cold weather kid who didn’t get quite as many pre-draft reps as most top prep arms. The overall physicality, plus arm speed, and already-advanced consistency in his upper half all warrant optimism that he’ll figure it out, however.
Newcomb works off a fastball that already shows plus utility; he can run and cut it effectively throughout the 90-94 mph velocity band, and he can run a straighter four-seam version up to 96 with late life and rise at the top of the zone. The velocity and variety of movement give the pitch a firm baseline, and command gains to the glove side can push the pitch into borderline double-plus range.
He made significant progress tightening up his curveball this season, which had a tendency to roll into an early break at the dawn of his Cal League career. The pitch shows serious depth with two-plane movement at its best, and projects as a plus complement to the fastball. His change isn’t all that far behind either, working well off his fastball plane with solid velocity separation and some fade to the arm side. He shows feel with the pitch to project an above-average utility with the requisite consistency that should come through repetition.
One thing he struggled with mightily in his time at Inland Empire was controlling the running game. He was consistently 1.4 to 1.5 home, and when he tried to push his tempo it came at great sacrifice to his command. His pickoff move was poor, and he proved an easy mark for base-stealers to time.
Other than that there’s an awful lot to like with this profile, and the Braves just secured themselves one of the top two or three left-handers currently in the minor leagues. Newcomb’s ceiling is that of Role 7, no. 2 starter, with a lofty floor in the middle of a rotation if the command doesn’t fully actualize.
Chris Ellis, RHP
A third-rounder out of Ole Miss in 2014, Ellis checks a lot of the boxes you want to see out of a mid-rotation starter. He’s a tall drink of water with some serious length in his limbs, though he bulked up some in the past year to offset concerns about durability, and he can reasonably command three pitches that all flash above-average characteristics. The wind-up is long and slower in tempo, with some bumps along the way to his hand break. He’ll struggle to maintain fluidity in his momentum transfer to the back side, and his stride is relatively short. The motion lacks some deception as a result, and he’ll lose pitches up in the zone too often for comfort.
The fastball works in the low-90s, occasionally dancing up to 94, and he can manipulate it with cutting and sinking action. The change works well out of his high-three-quarter slot, darting down in the zone with good plane and occasionally sharp fade. The slider is a below-average pitch at present, and while there’s above-average bite he’s inconsistent enough in snapping it off to where it’s tough to project more than a fringe utility.
Ellis succeeded in the oftentimes challenging environs of the California League during the first half, though he hit a wall after a mid-season promotion to Double-A. Questions remain as to whether the converted reliever can handle a full starter’s workload, but the fastball-changeup combination gives him a nice baseline toward a big league future. If the slider progresses and he proves capable of maintaining his stuff for a full season, there’s a solid fourth-starter profile here. —Wilson Karaman
This rating assumes that Aybar doesn’t get traded again this winter to a better situation. The same principles that apply to Simmons apply in the other direction with Aybar. He is moving to a weaker lineup, and even if Freddie Freeman remains in Atlanta and produces at optimal-Freddie Freeman levels, Aybar will lose a good deal of RBI/run scoring opportunities with the Braves. Moving to the NL East probably doesn’t make much of a difference; even though Aybar will have to face the Mets and Nationals staffs on a regular basis, he will get to face the non-Jose Fernandez Marlins’ starters and the Phillies rotation on a regular basis as well. Aybar is a deep mixed/NL-only play. In deep mixed he still ranks ahead of Simmons because of the steals, but they are a little closer together now than they were before the trade. —Mike Gianella