Pondering an Andrelton Simmons/Yasiel Puig Swap

Last night, Jonah Keri got the baseball world buzzing with a series of tweets.

While we’ve seen a few deals struck already, Andrelton Simmons going west would be qualify as a pretty significant move, and so immediately, other reporters started checking in to see who the unidentified NL West club could be.

No one from the Arizona side of things weighed in, but with Nick Ahmed, the team already has an elite glove/no bat shortstop, so there probably isn’t any real reason for them to make a move for a guy like Simmons, especially given their needs in the rotation. So, that basically leaves the Dodgers, and this morning, Joel Sherman confirmed that LA is one of several teams talking to the Braves about their shortstop. And while plenty of teams could use a player of Simmons caliber, the Dodgers are probably the team in the best position to make a deal work.

There’s no question that if the Braves trade Simmons, they’re going to do so because they believe they got a terrific return. With only Ian Desmond available as an upgrade for most teams in free agency, and Simmons under control through 2020, the Braves have the leverage here, and that’s likely why they’re exploring what the market would bring them in exchange. Sherman tweeted this morning that the Mets inquired on Simmons this morning, likely after seeing the reports of his availability, and were told the asking price was either Jacob deGrom or Matt Harvey, so it’s clear that the Braves new GM John Coppolella is trying to see if he can put together a blockbuster that brings a high-end talent back in return. And of course, the Mets aren’t going to trade one of their aces to a division rival, and like most teams with a player of that caliber, they’re going to be inclined to just keep their own stars.

But the Dodgers, beyond having shown that they put a premium on defensive value and aren’t afraid to make big moves, also happen to have the kind of player that might make a deal work for both sides. For the better part of a year, there has been internal rumblings within the game that the Dodgers would consider moving Yasiel Puig in the right deal, and over the summer, those rumors turned into predictions that the Dodgers were going to trade their right fielder this winter. And so, with Simmons now available for a high-end talent, let’s ponder the possibility of an Yasiel Puig/Andrelton Simmons swap.

For the Dodgers, the deal could serve as the first part of a two-move series that could see the team significantly bolster their taem’s position for 2016. As noted, there aren’t many middle infielders out there in free agency this year, with Ben Zobrist and Howie Kendrick offering the best options at second base, but they are 34 and 32 years old respectively, and next year will be Zobrist’s age-35 season. With both reportedly looking for four year deals, the Dodgers could prefer to avoid that kind of commitment, and pair a younger player with Corey Seager as their double play tandem.

Seager’s versatility to bounce between infield positions could even allow them to work in Jose Peraza, who they acquired from the Braves in July, where signing a veteran like Kendrick would potentially block Peraza’s path to the big leagues. If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi love roster flexibility, and bringing in an elite glove like Simmons to play short would give them plenty of options for how to assemble their infield going forward. Signing Zobrist would give them similar flexibility, but again, he’ll be 35 in May, so the question of how long he’ll be able to field multiple positions at a high level is a fair one.

And while trading Puig for Simmons would be something of a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul move from the standpoint of the team’s young talent, this is actually a pretty great winter to be shopping for a corner outfielder. Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, and Alex Gordon all project as above average players next year, and Heyward and Upton are young enough to where the team wouldn’t be getting significantly older in the outfield in order to avoid having to go old in the middle infield. Heyward, specifically, could be a perfect fit for the Dodgers, who have the financial capability to do a long-term deal with a player whose value is highly tied up in his defense, knowing they can afford to find offense at other positions. With an expected price tag of $200 million, Heyward isn’t going to be cheap, but as Craig Edwards wrote on Friday, there’s an upside opportunity here, as the market historically hasn’t paid for defensive value in the same way it pays for offensive value.

Trading Puig for Simmons, then signing Heyward, would make the Dodgers better at both shortstop and right field, and would give the team a young core of elite defenders around which to build. Over the last year, Friedman and Zaidi have prioritized stockpiling young talent, and this is the kind of youth-oriented off-season that might fit well with their plans to build an athletic, flexible roster that can contend for years to come, rather than using their unlimited payroll to add aging players at the end of their careers and hoping they have enough left in the tank to keep the team pushing forward. And, with Gordon and Cespedes available as free agents as well, the plan wouldn’t have to be Heyward-or-bust, as they could spend a little less money and still get a very good defender (with real offensive abilities) to replace Puig if Heyward signed elsewhere.

So, from LA’s perspective, there appears to be merit to the idea, and trading for Simmons would provide a path forward that doesn’t exist by simply spending money on the current free agent crop. But this type of deal also makes a ton of sense for the Braves.

While Simmons is an excellent player, trading him now is actually a pretty reasonable move for a win-now team, given that defense peaks early; as Tom Tango noted in that post, the “defensive peak for a shortstop is between the ages of 22 and 24.” Simmons is 26, and while he remains probably the best defensive player in baseball right now, it isn’t clear that his offense is going to improve as quickly as his fielding is going to decline. His power has been going in reverse the last couple of years, and last year, he become far more ground ball oriented, which isn’t a great thing for a guy who isn’t actually all that fast.

Based on his elite glove and questionable offensive upside, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that Simmons is as good now as he’s ever going to be, which is not the kind of player a rebuilding team should be hanging onto. Yes, he’s young enough to still be part of their core when the Braves are trying to win again, but he might just be a solid average player by then, rather than the +3 to +4 win player he’s been previously. Turning his potentially diminishing value into a guy like Puig, whose stock is unquestionably low at the moment, is the kind of move that could allow the Braves to trade present value for future value while still putting a Major League team on the field in 2016.

Given the Braves television contract situation, they’re not likely to be in a position to sign a young hitter like Puig any time soon, and the only way they’re going to land a middle-of-the-order slugger is to trade for one. Understandably, most teams with high-end offensive talents aren’t making those guys available, and Puig represents perhaps the one case in baseball this winter where Atlanta could feasibly land a young hitter with All-Star upside. If the team was willing to deal with Puig’s personality and bet on a return to health, Simmons into Puig could be the kind of upside play that would have the potential to work out quite well for Atlanta.

In terms of trade value, I had Puig at #28 on my mid-season trade value list, with Simmons checking in at #30. The long-term ZIPS forecasts provided by Dan Szymborski at that time had Puig projected for +18.0 WAR from 2016-2019, with Simmons projected for +17.5 WAR over the next five seasons. Simmons has the extra year of team control and locked in salaries, while Puig has the higher expected on-field value when both are healthy. Puig’s trade value is lower than most other players of his caliber, though, given his reputation as a difficult clubhouse presence, and the health risks that are attached to him after a series of injury issues over the last year.

I doubt we see Puig and Simmons traded in a one-for-one, but as the basis of a deal that sets up the Dodgers to make a run at one of the big free agent outfielders this winter, while providing some additional longer-term upside for the Braves as they look for the future, there may be a deal here that works for both teams. And if the Dodgers are as motivated to move Puig as has been rumored, dangling Simmons doesn’t seem so crazy after all.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Brad Miller
7 years ago

Found another shortstop to replace me with now that I’ve been traded, eh?!