Coming to Terms with the Simmons Trade

The Braves that my generation grew up with are nothing more than a distant memory. Since their miraculous run to the 1991 World Series, the Braves have had the luxury of retooling their roster around superstars such as John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones. Their unprecedented success spanning from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s culminated in an MLB record fourteen straight division titles, five World Series appearances, and a Commissioner’s Trophy in 1995. Even in the years following the end of their streak of division dominance, the Braves have flirted with the postseason due to a predominantly veteran roster bolstered by free agents and budding stars like Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel. However, after 79-83 campaign in 2014 when they once again failed to meet the lofty standard set by their predecessors, Frank Wren’s tenure as the Braves’ General Manager reached the end of the road. As the Braves transitioned from Wren to a brain trust consisting of John Hart and John Coppolella, the organization transitioned into full rebuilding mode. By Opening Day of the 2015 season, fan favorites Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Heyward, and Kimbrel donned different uniforms. The losses were excruciating, but they yielded several highly-touted prospects and draft picks. As expected, the 2015 season was one to forget. The 69-95 record says it all, and for yet another season, the main attraction for fans attending a Braves game wasn’t the team’s postseason prospects, rather the phenomenal play of a once-in-a-generation defensive talent, Andrelton Simmons. The 26 year old Curaçaoan shortstop signed a 7 year $58 million deal in 2014 and figured to be a part of the Braves’ future plans – that is until earlier this month when he was shipped off to the Los Angeles Angels. While the timing of the trade was unexpected, the departure of Simmons wasn’t. Instead of grabbing pitchforks and storming Turner Field, fans need to view the trade from the Braves’ perspective and appreciate the franchise’s commitment to the future.

First and foremost, the rebuilding process isn’t a cakewalk. It requires patience and tough roster decisions. It is all about selling high on known commodities, like Simmons, for prospects and draft picks in an attempt to build from the bottom up. Frank Wren’s win-now mentality valued free agents and known commodities at the expense of the team’s farm system. The lack of impact prospects coming up the pipeline paired with the regrettable free agent signings of BJ Upton and Dan Uggla left the Braves in a state of mediocrity. John Hart and John Coppolella look to reverse this trend, as they have made nearly every move with the well-being of the farm system in mind. The motivation behind the Simmons trade was the acquisition of the Angels’ top two prospects, Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Newcomb, the star prospect of the trade, is a 22 year old left-handed pitcher who can make an impact as soon as 2016. The former 2014 first round pick is rated as the 19th best overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, and has posted a stellar 2.38 ERA with 168 strikeouts thus far in the minor leagues. His 2014 draft counterpart, Chris Ellis, is a right-handed pitcher and a third round selection out of Ole Miss, who also has the potential to crack the starting rotation in the coming years. Newcomb and Ellis will join the likes of Tyrell Jenkins, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Lucas Sims, and Kolby Allard in the Braves’ crowded stockpile of arms. In addition to the pitching prospects, the Braves also acquired shortstop Erick Aybar. Though he is 31 years old, Aybar is a former gold glove winner himself, and he sports a better career batting average than Simmons. However, the veteran shortstop has only one year remaining on his contract and will likely be packaged in another deal this offseason. Fans also need to understand the financial motivation behind the trade. While a $58 million contract for a top-tier defensive shortstop like Simmons is reasonable, the contract was heavily back-loaded. In the first two years of the deal, he made a total of $5 million, however, he is slated to earn $39 million in the final three. As a mid-market franchise, the Braves do not have the financial flexibility of major-market franchises like the Yankees or Dodgers, so it is important that they be prudent with their money even without a salary cap.

There is no use in crying over spilled milk, or in baseball for that matter. The sooner fans come to terms with the absence of #19, the better. Although the future of the Braves’ offense continues to look bleak, the offseason is far from over. Building a contender by 2017 sounds a little premature in light of recent events, but the Braves have a plan in place and they are sticking to it. The front office has the audacity to make bold decisions in hopes for another World Series Championship, and for that, they should be appreciated.

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