It is far too early to know how Atlanta made out by trading star shortstop
By Terence Moore
ATLANTA -- OK, I'll confess: I'm the world's biggest Andrelton Simmons fan. He's peerless at shortstop with his glove and his arm, and he's wonderful around the clubhouse and everywhere else. Simmons' offense needs work, but when you've spent the past three years with 94 defensive runs saved and the next-closest guys at your position are at 30, who cares about your bat?
If I'm the Braves, I would've kept Simmons forever.
That said, the combination of "Simmons, forever and the Braves" ended Thursday, after five years. They traded the game's top defensive player -- regardless of position -- to the Angels for veteran infielder Erick Aybar and pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. They also put Minor League catcher Jose Briceno in the deal, and the Angels relinquished $2.5 million for the difference between the salaries of Aybar and Simmons.
All that those in Braves Country care about is that their 26-year-old rising superstar is gone, along with his two National League Gold Glove Awards. And I understand their frustration. Simmons received the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award earlier this week. That was after voters for the Fielding Bible Award made him their unanimous choice last month for the third consecutive season.
As for hitting, Simmons isn't awful. He finished 13 points above his previous career average this year at .265, which was more like .365 when you consider he boosted Atlanta's scoring differential against opponents with his glove. No player in baseball history joins Simmons with three consecutive years owning a Defensive WAR number of 3.5 or higher.
So, the howling continues among the choppers and the chanters who hug the Braves tightly, but you know what? History says the three men (John Coppolella, John Hart and John Schuerholz) who comprise Atlanta's brain trust could become prophetic with their Simmons trade.
Two words: Joe Morgan.
Actually, here are several more ... Cesar Geronimo, Jack Billingham, Denis Menke and Ed Armbrister.
"What did they do to my Big Red Machine?" I thought after the 1971 season, when the Reds had the audacity to trade fan favorites Lee May and Tommy Helms to the Astros for those people. Just like that, the right side of the infield that helped power the Reds into the World Series the previous year was off to Houston. I had sort of heard of Morgan, but the others were basically folks only known to their close relatives and friends.
That was until that collection joined holdovers Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez to grab back-to-back World Series championships and lead the Reds to more victories than anybody during the 1970s.
Geronimo became a perennial Gold Glove Award winner in center field. Armbrister was among the game's clutch pinch-hitters. Menke allowed Perez to switch from third base to his natural position of first. Until Madison Bumgarner came along, Billingham had owned the best ERA in the history of the World Series (0.36 ERA in 25 1/3 innings to Bumgarner's 0.25 ERA in 36 innings).
Oh, and Morgan is a Hall of Famer.
If you want a recent example of what can happen along these lines, let's go straight to the top: The Royals. They've won the past two American League pennants, including a victory in this year's World Series, and they've done all of this with shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielder Lorenzo Cain.
Escobar and Cain? Didn't they produce yawns around Kansas City after the Royals did the unfathomable in December 2010, when they dealt away homegrown ace pitcher Zack Greinke and his 2009 Cy Young Award trophy -- along with all of his potential at 27 -- to the Brewers for a bunch of unknown prospects. So, you know where I'm going. Now everybody knows Escobar and Cain, and not just around the land of barbecue.
Escobar finished the postseason for the Royals with four doubles and three triples and a homer among his 23 hits in 70 at-bats (.329). He also won the AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award after he ripped the Blue Jays at the plate with a .478 batting average. Escobar won a Gold Glove Award at shortstop this season and made the AL All-Star team.
Then there is Cain, the ALCS MVP in 2014, when he hit .533 against the Orioles with a slew of great plays in the field. Cain just continued what he began earlier that postseason against the Angels, and he foreshadowed his brilliant defensive show to come during the Royals' loss to the Giants in seven games in the 2014 World Series. This isn't to say Cain was a no-show this October after he reached his first All-Star Game and posted a solid regular season (.307 batting average, 16 home runs, 101 runs scored, 72 RBIs). He helped the Royals clinch a World Series title over the Mets in Game 5 with three RBIs.
Speaking of the Mets, their Greinke was R.A. Dickey, with a few differences here and there. Dickey was a seasoned pro of 38 when he was traded by the Mets to the Blue Jays after he won the NL Cy Young Award in 2012. And, unlike Greinke, Dickey didn't begin his career with the same team that shipped him away after grabbing such a huge honor.
The Mets were Dickey's fifth team. Even so, that didn't ease the headshaking among some around the Big Apple after Dickey left in a deal that included Noah Syndergaard -- you know, among the group of hard-slinging pitchers who pushed the Mets into the 2015 World Series. Syndergaard hits 100 mph so often on radar guns that his nickname is Thor.
Which brings us back to the Braves and their prospects.
Newcomb, who is now Atlanta's top prospect, also throws hard. He isn't the next Thor, since he hovers near the mid-90s in velocity, but Newcomb still is an imposing left-hander on the mound at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. No wonder he has fanned 186 batters in 150 1/3 innings during his Minor League career. At 22, Newcomb figures to be around a while. So does Ellis, a 23-year-old right hander who is noted more as a location pitcher. However, the Braves had a couple of guys like that named Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine who eventually reached Cooperstown.
I'm not saying either Newcomb or Ellis is Hall of Fame bound.
I'm saying, who knows?
I didn't know about Morgan.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.