Ed. note: Click here to see Rob’s recaps of the other major trades from the Great Teardown.
This may have been most controversial deal during the rebuild, and was likely the most heartwrenching. Andrelton Simmons was a fan favorite, a GIF maker’s delight, and was the best defensive shortstop in baseball by a significant margin. He was under team control for the next 5 seasons, he was only 25, and with the team largely unsettled with position players, he was a stable commodity on the team. Nonetheless, the Braves traded him and Jose Briceno to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Chris Ellis, Sean Newcomb, Erick Aybar, and cash ($2.5M).
Who We Gave Up:
Andrelton Simmons – Simmons had won two Gold Gloves in his time in Atlanta (he inexplicably lost the 2015 award to Brandon Crawford, and the 2016 award to Francisco Lindor). His range knows no bounds, he’s extremely sure-handed, and his arm is electric and accurate. When he was drafted, a scout who thought he’d make an excellent pitcher enthused that he had “huge sh*t coming out of the pen,” but the Braves took him as a shortstop and the rest was history. He’s a human highlight reel, and you may enjoy the compilations here and here. Over the last 4 years, Andrelton leads baseball in Defensive Runs Saved with 131. The next guy has 61. He’s really good at playing shortstop.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Andrelton’s offense has never really developed. After late season duty in his rookie year that led people to think he could be a perennial All-Star (a .289/.335/.416 line in 186 PAs), he continued hope in his offense with a respectable first full season (.248/.296/.396). As was the case with many players on the 2013 Braves, the long ball was in play for Andrelton where he produced his to-date career high, 17 HRs. But he has not hit double-digit home runs again, and has not cracked an OPS over .700. In his first season with LAA, he did steal 10 bags, and his .690 OPS was the highest since his first full season. But with his salary increasing to $6M, $8M, $11M, $13M, and $15M, the Braves just couldn’t justify his future salary and needed to give the next team some years at a below market price to make the deal possible.
Jose Briceno – Briceno is a non-prospect catcher with no stick to speak of. Catchers tend to develop their offense late, but he has not shown an ability to hit upper minors pitching. He’s TBD, but he doesn’t look like he’ll be in the major leagues any time soon.
Who We Received:
Sean Newcomb – The centerpiece of the deal. Newcomb is a big lefty, standing 6’5” and weighing 255 lbs. He has a plus fastball, plus change up, an average change, and many have compared him to Jon Lester. Based on his size, mechanics, and stuff, the comp is valid. Newcomb has the strikeout numbers to be within striking distance of Atlanta, but walks have been his undoing. His BB/9 has never been below 4 since Rookie league, and in his second year at AA (he had 7 GS in 2015), he still has not mastered the strike zone (4.6 BB). He still strikes out over a batter an inning even as he gets into the upper levels, but if he does not fix his control issues, it will be very difficult for him to be a big league starter. He’s very important to the short- and long-term success of the Braves, and if he consistently avoids free passes, he can be an ace of a staff.
Chris Ellis – Another tall (6’5” as well), imposing starter. A less heralded prospect, Ellis possesses an average fastball but an above average change up. He’s also had his bouts in control, but like Newcomb, maintains a strong strike out rate. After a strong showing at AA (78.2 IP, 61 K, 1.131 WHIP, 2.75 ERA), Atlanta promoted him to AAA in hopes he’d continue his performance. Instead, he ran into more struggles than he’d had at any previous level, seeing his walk rate balloon (6.9 BB/9), his H/9 increase (9.0), and his ERA skyrocket to 6.52. Interestingly, his strike out rate improved to 8.6, so there is some reason for optimism in his progression. He’s had a few good outings in the AFL, so he’s still moving forward. He’s 24, however, and if he doesn’t make it to Atlanta before some of the higher-ceiling prospects are able to, then he could find himself stuck in AAA or traded.
Erick Aybar – The Braves thought they needed to take a shortstop back in the deal, so they received Aybar and $2.5M of his $8.5M salary. Aybar was 32, coming off a down year, but had performed well 3 of the previous 4 seasons before then. Aybar struggled to hit his weight out of the gate for Atlanta, but upon returning from a DL stint on 6/12, he pulled off a .289/.346/.396 line until he was pawned off on the Detroit Tigers. The Braves received Kade Scivicque, a 23-year-old catcher with some pop, and Mike Aviles and his $2M salary, who was later released. Scivicque has also been playing in the AFL, and could be an interesting piece down the road.
It’s hard to get excited about the return for Andrelton. Andrelton may not have ever been an offensive asset, but according to advanced stats, he saves you a lot more runs than he costs you. However, while in the cold light of day it may have made sense to trade Andrelton, the return seemed light. If Newcomb is able to harness his command, he can become an above average major league starter or even an ace. But he’ll be 24 next year, he hasn’t yet found his command, and if your aunt had balls, she’d be your uncle. It’s also possible that Ellis never makes a meaningful contribution to the parent club. Based on his salary, Aybar did not provide much value to Atlanta at all, even considering the return in his mid-season trade.