Last night, I was fighting my way through a kidney stone, fully medicated, and thought I hallucinated that the Braves sent Andrelton Simmons to the Angels. This morning, I woke up feeling much better, both because the stone was gone and it turns out that I was, in fact, in my right mind. The question is, were the Braves?
Simmons is a human highlight reel. He's perhaps the best defensive shortstop, and maybe the best defensive player, in the game, in spite of not winning the Gold Glove this year. He is still only 26, and will be under contract for the Angels through 2020. He's not a good hitter, but given that National League shortstops hit just .255/.305/.381 as a group last year, his .265/.321/.338 batting line is actually perfectly acceptable. At his peak, he's probably worth between four wins.
That's a very good player, and certainly one who was going to be worth $53 million over the next five years, but not an untouchable one when we consider that defensive value generally wanes with age. So if the Braves thought that dealing him would make them better in the long run, it's a defensible move.
But that's just the problem. It's not at all clear that the Braves have done that.
Erick Aybar, the shortstop the Angels sent to the Braves along with two pitching prospects and $3 million, isn't actually a bad player. His offense took a dive in 2015, but Aybar has hit .273/.308/.366 for the past three years while primarily playing in pitchers' parks. His 92 OPS+ is better than Simmons's 85. Aybar also has defensive chops. A former Gold Glove winner, he has lost a step in the field and will suffer in comparison to Simmons, but he could still be a league-average defender at age 32. Still, Aybar is only under contract for this year, and the Braves don't have a ready replacement in their system.
Sean Newcomb, the best of the two prospects going to Atlanta, has a big left arm and an ace's pedigree. He has also walked almost five batters per nine innings in his minor league career. He will have to refine his command significantly to translate his minor league success into big league stardom. Chris Ellis, the other starter, has the upside of a mid-rotation starter, but has struggled since being drafted in 2014.
Given that the Braves were (rightfully) asking for a king's ransom for Simmons from their division rivals, this return is somewhat disappointing. I mean, if Newcomb develops as expected, they'll wind up looking fantastic in three years. But that's still a fairly big if, far too little for Braves fans to hang their hats on. If Newcomb falters, the next few years could feel like trying to pass a kidney stone. It's an IOU that they have to hope will be redeemed once the team moves out of Atlanta and into its new ballpark in Cobb County. And that seems pretty paltry for a player who could have been a rock to rebuild around.