Just when you thought there was nobody left for the Braves to dump, John Hart and his little sidekick, John Coppolella, looked down the roster and found Andrelton Simmons. He should have been easy to spot. He was one of the few players left whose name wasn’t written with a black Sharpee on white tape above his locker last season.
It’s a new offseason.
This is a new offseason, isn’t it?
Because it’s already feeling like a year ago, when Hart and Coppolella – the ruling scrub brush and bleach bucket in the Braves’ front office – sought to wipe clean every reminder of the previous team and the previous regime. Among the jettisoned: Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis and B.J. Upton.
Next on the launching pad: Simmons. He has won two Gold Gloves in his three full seasons at shortstop. He's now a member of Los Angeles Angels. Simmons probably didn’t hit as well as the front office had hoped, but when you’re possibly the best defensive player in baseball and you play for a team that neither hit nor pitched particularly well in 2015, defense is kind of important, isn’t it? Especially at shortstop?
In return, the Braves get a 31-year-old shortstop, Erick Aybar, who hit .270 last season. That's exactly .005 points higher than Simmons batted.
The Braves also get two pitchers, Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis, who are – wait for it – prospects.
Excuse me. GREAT PROSPECTS.
They're all GREAT PROSPECTS.
Excited? Please be excited. The Braves have so many tickets to sell.
Newcome is 22 years old, Ellis is 23. So the good news is they’re old enough to drive.
The early reviews aren't positive. Here's an excerpt of a trade story from the Washington Post:
But Simmons, as long as he continued to play elite defense, seemed affordable: $6 million in 2016, increasing annually to $8 million, $11 million, $13 million and finally that $15 million in 2020. With revenues and salaries increasing every year – and with the Braves set to move into a new suburban ballpark in 2017, $15 million could well seem like a bargain for a linchpin shortstop.
Isn’t that the kind of player the Braves are going to try to find once they are ready to win again (presuming that they will be)? (Only slightly related: What the heck were the Braves doing signing Nick Markakis last offseason?)
So the gold, for the Braves, must lie in the pitching prospects. And the concern about Newcomb is obvious: In 150-1/3 professional innings, he has 82 walks. (Even in college, at the University of Hartford, he walked 75 in 165 innings.)
One scout’s evaluation: “Newcomb will always be a high-pitch-count starter who will end up in the pen because he doesn’t throw quality strikes even though he can touch 96 [mph] and he’s left-handed.”
For the record, again, I have nothing against prospects. Player development is the lifeblood of any major league organization.
But Hart and Coppolella just traded one of few known commodities in their everyday lineup, and probably their second most important player behind Freddie Freeman (who might want to hold off if he was thinking of buying a new house, at least in Atlanta). Maybe Newcomb and Ellis develop and provide the Braves with some needed starting pitching down the road. Or maybe they don’t. Or maybe it’s a really long road, which would fit into everything else Hart and Coppolella have done since taking over.
Last season, Hart did a wonderful job spinning the media and the public before the season on his intent to walk “parallel roads” and build the Braves for both the present and future. But when you deal Andrelton Simmons from an already starved lineup, there is no road on the left to the immediate future. It’s all on the right, far into the future.