Minnesota Gets a Gold Glove of a Deal in Andrelton Simmons

Everybody Signs an Infielder Tuesday concluded with the Twins reaching agreement with Andrelton Simmons on a one-year contract worth $10.5 million. Originally a Brave until a 2015 trade for Erick Aybar and prospects sent him to the West Coast, Simmons hit .297/.346/.356 over 30 games for the Angels in 2020. Unless something incredibly bizarre happens, he will become Minnesota’s starting shortstop, prevent a bunch of runs, and assist the Twins in their quest to win their first playoff game in forever.

Let’s start with the least fun part of this article: the grumpy caveat. Back in May of 2019, Simmons injured his left ankle trying to beat out a grounder and, after a misstep, was unable to put weight on it. It landed him on the injured list for a month, and he missed another month later in the season with an injury to the other side of the same ankle. In the first week of 2020, he did it again, spraining his ankle in a July game against the Athletics, costing him nearly half of the abbreviated 2020 season. Leg and foot injuries are no laughing matter for a middle infielder: There have been plenty of aging second basemen and shortstops who had their careers dramatically waylaid by such injuries. Jose Offerman is the first example that comes to mind; when his legs started being an issue, he went from a .391 OBP second baseman to out of baseball in a blink of an eye.

Simmons hasn’t been fully healthy in two years, and a player with his skill set is more reliant on having healthy feet and legs than a plodding slugger at first base or DH. But $10.5 million is practically peanuts, and the Angels are getting even more of a discount than the associated risk entails. Over 2017 and ’18, he hit .285/.333/.419 to go with his typical sterling defense, enough to combine for over 10 WAR. The Twins may not get that player, but they’re also not paying for that player; if you pay 2018 Andrelton Simmons on merit, $10.5 million would be long gone before you even get to the All-Star break.

Commentators love comparing every defensive whiz that comes along to Ozzie Smith, but Simmons is the only one for whom you can say that with a straight face. There’s a great data-based argument to be made that Smith is the best defensive shortstop of all-time, but that well-earned reputation has come with the side effect that history has underrated his offensive contributions. He didn’t really hit until the trade that sent him to the Cardinals, but once he did, he was typically a better-than-average shortstop offensively; a no-hit shortstop doesn’t put up a wRC+ above 100 in seven different seasons. Simmons from 2013 to ’18 met that Ozzie ideal: an all-world defensive shortstop who hit a lot better (wRC+ of 91) than people thought. He would need to do this for another 8–10 years to be Smith, but that the comparison isn’t laughable is an impressive feat.

And that all-world defense has been pretty darn all-world. Whether by UZR or DRS, Simmons has destroyed the competition.

Top Defensive Shortstops by DRS, 2002-2020
Andrelton Simmons 191 113.1
Adam Everett 119 77.0
Jack Wilson 116 43.7
Brendan Ryan 101 53.8
Troy Tulowitzki 94 41.4
J.J. Hardy 84 94.5
Clint Barmes 81 27.7
Brandon Crawford 80 45.5
Nick Ahmed 80 13.7
Cesar Izturis 64 48.8
Rafael Furcal 52 -20.2
Jimmy Rollins 50 48.4
Omar Vizquel 48 50.8
John McDonald 48 20.8
Zack Cozart 47 34.2
Francisco Lindor 46 54.0
Addison Russell 45 20.4
Trevor Story 45 11.8
Alex Gonzalez 42 40.3
Carlos Correa 42 -15.1

Defensive measures have their issues simply because by their very nature, you need to estimate events that didn’t happen rather than just count the events that did. But Simmons is so dominant in both measures that there’s nobody in the same fog as him. How he compares to Smith here is a bit trickier, as there’s always going to be a great deal of uncertainty about defense before we had significant, systematic tracking of defensive performance. Sean Smith’s Total Zone is a worthy estimate; it has Ozzie at +117 runs through the 1986 season, but that comes with some natural conservatism that will dampen things at the extremes. We have zone rating starting in 1987, and I get an estimate of +134 for Smith over the last decade of his career, tops in baseball (ahead of Cal Ripken Jr. at +127) and a mighty impressive showing for a defensive stat that starts counting at age 32.

Simmons may not have seemed the natural fit for a team like the Twins, who already had a perfectly competent shortstop, but the free agent market is not like a well-stocked marketplace. Great players are always available, but not great players of every type that fit every need. You can’t just ask George Springer’s agent if he has a third base version of Springer available; these are people with a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses. And then you have to get the player to agree to come to your city. So when you can close a deal with a player who can be a difference-maker, in most situations, you get the talent on the roster and then you use your creativity as to how best to deploy utilize it.

As to how the Twins plan to reshuffle their lineup, I’m less taken by that particular decision. Jorge Polanco is the veteran with the guaranteed contract, but at the end of the day, I think Luis Arraez is simply the better player. Batting average is rightfully not looked at as important the way it was 50 years ago, but it’s notable to me that literally all the projection systems housed here project Arraez as the favorite to lead the AL in that stat. When was the last time you heard of a player in that position losing their full-time job? Sure, the Twins could still find 500 at-bats for him, but given that he’s only played in the majors in chunks of seasons, I’d rather have him with a stable position as he continues to get established in the league.

Bringing back Nelson Cruz would also be terrific, and given that the Twins have a below-average payroll — some $80 million below the luxury tax threshold even after signing Simmons — this signing ought not be used as an excuse to not close one with Cruz.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL Central
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Minnesota Twins 91 71 .562 50.4% 30.1% 80.5% 8.8%
Chicago White Sox 91 71 .562 48.4% 31.2% 79.5% 8.6%
Cleveland Indians 76 86 15 .469 1.1% 4.6% 5.7% 0.3%
Kansas City Royals 72 90 19 .444 0.1% 0.8% 0.9% 0.0%
Detroit Tigers 68 94 23 .420 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0%

From a pure standpoint of wins, adding Simmons doesn’t alter the divisional projections the same way that the Mets acquiring Francisco Lindor or the Padres acquiring every available starting pitcher in the world did. But it looks to be a very close race, and in this case, that new shortstop makes Minnesota the current AL Central favorites by the smallest of margins. Winning ought to be what it’s all about, and the Twins have a better chance of writing their tale of postseason redemption than they did 24 hours ago. Who can complain about that?

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Cave Dameron
Cave Dameron

Thank you Dan, very cool!