Atlanta Braves Trade Sure Thing In Simmons to Play the Lottery with Young Pitching


Atlanta Braves fans, we thought it was over. We thought the plethora of trades from last offseason would not happen again. We thought that could begin to remain attached to our favorite players once again. Man, we were so wrong.

On Thursday night, President of Baseball Operations John Hart and General Manager John Coppolella showed Braves Country that they were going All-In on the Atlanta Braves rebuild, trading the best defensive shortstop in the game and fan favorite Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels for SS Erick Aybar, and top pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. For many Atlanta Braves fans that became increasingly fed up with the plethora of trades initiated by the front-office last season, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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Last offseason, the trade of Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins was a tough pill to swallow, but was necessary in order to net some value from Heyward’s expiring contract. The same idea applied to the trade of Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres. Though El Oso Blanco was another fan favorite, his shoddy defense and penchant for injury made it clear that Evan Gattis should  DH in the American League, which brought over more prospects in return. Finally, the trade of Craig Kimbrel (perhaps the most difficult of all of the Atlanta Braves trades last offseason for fans) is justifiable in that shedding the albatross contract of Melvin Upton Jr. afforded the club with much-needed financial flexibility. 

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Throughout the 2015 regular season, the Johns in the Atlanta Braves front office continued accumulating valuable young pitching prospects. While some of the trades were absolute heists (Phil Gosselin for Touki Toussaint), others seemed that they were trading major league talent for just the sake of making a trade (Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson for John Gant and Rob Whalen). The trade that sent talented southpaw starter Alex Wood and top prospect Jose Peraza (along with some of the Braves best relievers in Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan) to the Dodgers for 30-year-old prospect Hector Olivera and the now out for the 2015 season Paco Rodriguez.

All of these trades are justifiable by the Atlanta Braves front office, but the trade of Andrelton Simmons is still different from these past transactions. In every rebuild, there are players that a team holds onto and builds around. With the Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro remained with the team. In Kansas City, Alex Gordon remained while the team began to build a contender. With the NL Champion New York Mets, they built around David Wright and Lucas Duda, while also signing bats like Curtis Granderson. With the Atlanta Braves, it no longer seems as if this is just a simple rebuild; but rather, scorched earth.

Jul 18, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels 2014 first round draft pick Sean Newcomb (right) poses with center fielder Mike Trout before the game against the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen other professional teams do this, like the Philadelphia 76ers. While the line of thinking makes sense in a closed enivronment, in practice, it’s much more difficult to implement with effective results.

Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman were the last holdovers from the Atlanta Braves team that won the 2013 NL East Crown and appeared in the postseason. Simmons was by far the best defensive shortstop in baseball, and probably the best defensive player in the game. Even though his pedestrian offense frustrated many, he compensated by flashing his leather night in and night out. Simmons is a player you build a team around, and with the influx of so many young arms and prospects now in the Braves system, wouldn’t have made more sense to keep the 26-year-old SS who was under team control for the next 5 years with a team friendly contract of $53 million left? Erick Aybar is comparable offensively, but he’s not a cornerstone player.

I know the Atlanta Braves rationale is that netting the Angels #1 and #2 prospects in the deal was an offer that was too good to refuse, and the with the rise of Ozhaino Albies in the minors (a top 2 prospect in the organization), Erick Aybar is a good stop gap until Albies is ready, and Sean Holcomb has the potential to become an ace in the rotation. This line of thinking is not crazy, but rather misguided.

Jul 12, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; World Team infielder Ozhaino Albies hits during batting practice before the All Star Futures Game with the U.S. Team at Great American Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Prospects are not sure thing, no matter how highly touted. Though Ozzie Albies is well-regarded, there is no guarantee that he will ever pan out in the way the Atlanta Braves expect (Christian Bethancourt, anyone?). There is no guarantee that either Sean Holcomb or Chris Ellis will ever make it to the show, and if they do, there is no guarantee that they will turn into the next Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey or Jake Arrieta. The Atlanta Braves traded away a sure thing in order to play the lottery; and while playing the lottery has the potential to yield immeasurable wealth, it rarely does.

Sean Newcomb immediately becomes the Atlanta Braves #1 prospect in their now fertile farm system. The guy projects as a stud in the rotation, and has the body type to fulfill those lofty expectations. He has an above average fastball, and at 6’5” is an imposing presence on the mound. He projects as a #1 or #2 in the rotation, but has control issues. If you have control issues, the future is not certain, and he’s still a long way from the title of future ace.

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With all these pitching prospects, one has to think that the Braves are getting ready for something big. I mean, they can’t hold on to all of these prospects. There are only 5 spots in the starting rotation (unless the front-office wants to innovate and start using a 9-10 man rotation).

Max Fried, Tyrell Jenkins, Touki Toussaint, Lucas Sims, Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, John Gant, Manny Banuelos, Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, Ryan Weber, Williams Perez, Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis now make up what is arguably one of the greatest treasure troves of pitching prospects assembled by a team in recent memory. The Atlanta Braves must have something up their sleeves, right? With Shelby Miller as probably the only member of the rotation that is untouchable, could we see Julio Teheran moved for more young pitching? What about Freddie Freeman? Simmons was supposedly untouchable, but now he’s gone.

While all this young pitching is all well and good, and probably some of the best currency in baseball right now, will the Atlanta Braves’ front-office actually start bartering for an impact bat? I certainly hope so, and you have to think that is the endgame right now. Players like Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and others all play for teams that are in dire need of starting pitching. Could the Atlanta Braves trade one or two of these prospects for a player like that? Who knows at this point.

Next: Atlanta Braves Trade Andrelton Simmons to Angels

This is what I know: the Atlanta Braves traded a cornerstone player in Andrelton Simmons (a sure thing) to play the lottery with more pitching prospects. If Sean Newcomb turns into the next Clayton Kershaw, I’ll eat my words; but until the team does something to address the glaring need for bats in the minor league system, I remain skeptical. I understand the plan (I really do), but think that the team needs to build around some players they already have, and not tempt fate with trading them away. With the Winter Meetings right around the corner, I hope we begin to see signs that the club intends to fulfill their promise of fielding a competitive team when the Atlanta Braves move to SunTrust Park in 2017.