COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Braves are almost certainly going to be involved in at least one major trade this offseason.
They will be looking for starting pitching, just like every other team on the planet, but more urgently will be looking for a starting catcher and an upgrade at second base due to the likely departure of Brian McCann and the rank incompetence of Dan Uggla.
As potential buyers, they will be asked about the availability of prospects currently working their way up the deep Atlanta farm system, and also will be asked about some established regular players like Chris Johnson and Evan Gattis.
The Braves have one player that every inquiring team will ask about, but he should be absolutely untouchable in any trade scenario: breakout shortstop Andrelton Simmons. His combination of skills, age and affordable contract make him one of the most prized assets for any franchise.
Once in a generation defensive shortstop
Simmons is lucky to be playing in an era where there is a deeper appreciation for how important defense is for run prevention and therefore winning games. His contributions to the game would otherwise be more difficult to understand.
It seems straightforward enough, doesn't it? To win baseball games, you need to score more runs than your opponent. Therefore, you should score as many runs as possible and prevent the other team from scoring. You prevent scoring with starting pitching and defense. But in a game that relies on numbers to craft narratives, and where the offensive side and the pitching side of the game are much easier to quantify, most discussions of "value" or arguments about the All-Star game or the MVP Award ignore defense.
Without the progress of advanced fielding metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved, two of the best approaches to quantifying defensive contribution to winning, Simmons' 2013 season would have gone under appreciated. His highlight-reel plays would have been fun to watch but otherwise quickly forgotten.
Thankfully, Simmons is recognized as the best defensive player in the National League and one of the most valuable all-around shortstops in baseball. I always forget that there's now such a thing as a Platinum Glove Award, but Simmons certainly deserved the honor for 2013. Depending on the metric you look at, Simmons might have had one of the best five defensive seasons ever. The Braves allowed many fewer runs and won several more ballgames purely by virtue of Simmons playing shortstop.
He's still so young
What's even more exciting right now about Simmons is the unexpected power potential he displayed at the plate on his way to an offensive season that was right around league average for a shortstop. With Simmons' prodigious glove, he would have still been valuable if he'd never taken his bat off his shoulder all season, so any contributions were just gravy. That he did more than just survive at the plate at this early point in his career means that he could potentially develop into a truly elite shortstop.
It's no guarantee, obviously. Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus had a similar scouting report after his phenomenal rookie campaign but has stalled in his offensive development. But if Simmons can develop a little more plate discipline, draw a few more walks and hit a few more line drives to complement his already displayed home run potential, he could be the best player in the National League.
He's still so cheap
It always feels callous to focus on a player's contract when evaluating his value. I'd love to only talk about how great of a player Simmons is and how he has the potential to get even better. But he still has two more years left on his rookie contract, followed by three arbitration years. Simmons' great contributions on the field have the potential to get even greater, particularly at the plate, and at least for a couple years the Braves don't have to worry about his contract. That's the kind of lightning strike that puts a team in position to win long-term.
The skill, youth and contract situation combine to make Andrelton Simmons a prized piece of the Atlanta Braves, and I'd be gobsmacked to see him moved for any reason at all. Hopefully, in the next year or two, we can start talking about what it will take to lock him up for a decade.
Patrick Richardson is a longtime follower of the Atlanta Braves who started playing t-ball right as Atlanta's record-setting run of division titles began. He is an amateur but enthusiastic sabermetrician.
- Sports & Recreation
- Atlanta Braves
- Andrelton Simmons