The start of the Billy Eppler-era has begun with a commitment to defense. The club acquired Andrelton Simmons Thursday night, quite possibly the best defender we’ve seen in the last few decades. In the process, they sent to the Atlanta Braves SS Erick Aybar, LHP Sean Newcomb, RHP Chris Ellis, and $2.5M (the Angels also received C Jose Briceno along with Simmons).
The overall point of this deal: to lock up the shortstop position long-term, while making the club slightly better in 2016.
Simmons is under contract until after the 2020 season, where as Aybar is a free agent after the 2016 season. The $2.5M the Angels sent over in the deal is to offset 2016 salaries, as Aybar was set to make $8.5M, and Simmons was at $6M.
Aybar is coming off of his worst year since 2010, as he posted a 80 wRC+ and a big drop in his defensive rating by both DRS and UZR. It would not be surprising if the rebuilding Braves just flip Aybar over to another team that is looking for a starter at short for additional prospects.
Though Simmons hit roughly the same as Aybar (82 wRC+), he was rated as 2 wins better by both Fangraphs’ and Baseball-Refernce’s WAR because by UZR (+17) and DRS (+25), he was the best defensive shortstop in baseball. His contract is back-loaded, which fits right in with the rest of the guaranteed contracts on the Angels:
Because of the rising cost of players, and the high floor that his defense sets, it seems doubtful that any year of this contract is not at least a solid value for the club. With defense being a skill that declines early on, you can worry that it starts to not look as good at the end, but Simmons is starting out on such an extreme he has some wiggle room.
The real key to this deal for the Angels might be how Simmons can develop as a hitter with them. As of right now, he’s a contact-only guy, meaning he’ll put the ball in play but with no walks or power, and thus far he has not hit the ball with enough authority to create a high BABIP to increase his batting average. Any improvement could take Simmons from an above-average regular to a star.
With Newcomb and Ellis gone, the farm system is extremely thin, and will rank last on almost every farm system rankings. Newcomb, the Angels top prospect, had an outstanding year in 2015, and looks ready to get his first taste of the majors sometime later in 2016. With Newcomb, the key to his overall development will be his ability to throw strikes. His walk-rate across three levels in 2015 was 13%, a rate that would lead the majors. The positives though are quite obvious, as he has a near-perfect frame for a starter, he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his arm, and he could end up with a 55-or-better grade on his fastball, slider, and change.
Ellis, the team’s #7 prospect for us coming into the 2015 season, is more of a solid back-end starter but still a good piece to have on the farm. He should be ready to contribute in the majors in 2016, and can flash a plus-change.
Jose Briceno, the other player the Angels received, is on the tipping point of being a prospect or not coming into 2016. At 23, he’ll need to start hitting again, as he just posted a .482 OPS in High-A.
The loss of Newcomb and Ellis hurts the team’s overall pitching depth, but the rotation was the one place where the team could exploit its current depth for solutions else where, as the team will likely be looking at these options for the opening day rotation right now:
In sacrificing a massive chunk of the farm, the team locks up a key position for six years, a generally far better option than doing so for short-term options. In giving up on part of their future, the Angels have actually invested in it.