I remember being 15 years old and standing on the ledge of the (now demolished) 520 ghost ramp in Montlake overlooking the water 50 feet below for what felt like half an hour, rocking back and forth. My friend Alaine had brought me there, talked me through it, and I knew she would be right behind me. She had made the leap dozens of times before. Some people live to act. At that moment all my body wanted to do was think. I knew it wouldn't kill me, despite the jackrabbit pace my heart was on. As far as thrill seeking goes, it doesn’t hold a candle to skydiving or free climbing, but the rush (and the fear) were enough for me. A modest leap can lead to as great a thrill as a thousand foot drop, and the Mariners will need to take a leap to compete for the playoffs the next few years. They should push through the fear.
They should trade for Andrelton Simmons.
This is a move I want the Mariners to make very badly. Longtime Brave and current Angels SS Andrelton Simmons is one of my favorite players. He was a recurring protagonist in SportsCenter highlights and Vines over the last half-decade. A Mariners SS who surpasses the defensive majesty of Brendan Ryan and lives well above the Mendoza Line would be a dream come true. It won’t be cheap, though, and the modus operandi of the Dipoto era has been “buy-low and build”. This move, though likely pricey, will deliver the Mariners a top-level player without any injury red flags and a contract delivering value through 2019.
Is Andrelton Simmons Good?
If you need to be sold on Simmons, I am packing heat in both holsters. He just turned 27, and is owed a contract that translates now to three years, $39 million. In five years in the MLB, he’s been a good starter or better every year. Since 2002, nobody has accrued more Defensive Runs Saved than Simmons (131), despite having played half or fewer innings than most of his competition. UZR/150 divides Ultimate Zone Rating by an “average” number of 150 defensive opportunities in a season to provide a rate number. This metric defines a “Gold Glove Caliber” season as a rating of 15 or better. “Simba” thinks that’s adorable.
Offensively, Simmons has a reputation for being a lightweight, and while he’s not Francisco Lindor, a 91 wRC+ last year sounds like sweet summer rain to me when paired with impeccable defense. That enchantment is buffeted when contrasted with the pit of despair that was the shortstop position this year for the M’s, which currently has not been addressed. Ketel Marte is young and still seems like a good bet to develop into an MLB player, but this version of the Mariners needs more sure bets, especially next year.
Simba has shown flashes of power in his career, but that seems gluttonous to expect. Still, Simmons’ willingness to embrace both traditional and stats-heavy approaches helped him improve his outcomes at the plate last year, which is encouraging to see from an elite player.
The initial cost is that making a trade within the division is gross. If you do not have the stomach for this, I can’t blame you. If you are bold enough to dive in with me, plug your nose and lets get messy.
Affording a good, healthy player in their prime on a reasonable deal is not cheap. It will cost more than trading for Zack Cozart, which has been discussed thoroughly, and if you prefer targeting a solid one year rental, even one who is 31 years old, has shaky knees, and may be related to Chief Keef, that’s reasonable. Why have the prey, though, when you could have the predator?
The rumors midseason were that Cozart would cost top pitching prospect Luiz Gohara and another mid-level Mariners prospect, with speculation that young reliever Dan Altavilla was the second piece. Let’s assume that that would roughly be the fair market value for a year and a half of Cozart. Simmons, fortunately, was recently actually traded, and we know the price was steep. Sean Newcomb was a Top-100 LHP prospect, ranked 1st in the Angels system, and his stock has only continued to rise as a Brave. RHP Chris Ellis struggled in AAA this year, but was the 2nd ranked prospect for the Angels and still has the potential to be a back of the rotation starter. Erick Aybar was expected to be passable for one year.
Acquiring Simmons was the first big move of Angels GM Billy Eppler’s tenure, however, and he might be loathe to be seen as cutting bait so soon. On the trade to get Simmons following an 85-77 season in 2015, Eppler was clear.
With the Angels going a disappointing 74-88 in 2016 and their pitching staff utterly disintegrating, they may be more amenable to a move. Their farm system lacks almost anything resembling upside, and they do not boast a single player in the Baseball America Top 100. If they want to find young talent that will have a shot at performing within the Trout Window, they’ll have to look at everything.
Trading Taijuan Walker is something that has been discussed as anything from unspeakable to a necessity in the past few years, but the 24 year old righty would likely be a good starting point. The mercurial prodigy has the potential to burn the Mariners thoroughly if he puts it all together, but with health and focus issues peppering his Mariners career so far, it’d be a gamble worth making. Last offseason we were debating a contract extension for him, while this year he put up just 0.6 WAR and had an FIP of 4.99. That 0.6 number, by the way, would be good enough to be the second best pitcher on the Angels who threw over 100 IP last year. The need is there, and Walker won’t be a free agent until 2021, which is judgment day for the Angels regardless.
I would also add veteran outfielder Seth Smith, who fits naturally in an Angels’ outfield with just two MLB hitters that is run by Mike Trout, who can make up for many of Seth’s defensive limitations. Simmons for Walker and Smith is a deal I feel extremely good about, but as our friend Mr. Eppler reminds us, “if you don’t have a feeling of hurt or of pain, it’s probably too good to be true.”
I can’t see the Angels making this type of swap without also acquiring A. A replacement SS, B. A young, cost-controlled MLB ready reliever, or C. Both. Ketel Marte could be an extra piece to help the Angels feel like they are building towards success in their Trout window. Altavilla might be who the Angels wish to apply as a salve to their 28th ranked bullpen. If just one was requested, or if the Mariners just sent a significant amount of cash, I would feel alright. If both were required, I would feel myself edging my toes back from the ledge slightly, another wave of poisonous fear shooting through my veins. Eppler would feel all is as it should be.
The Fit and Fallout
It is easy to insert Simmons’ production last year into the Mariners’ 2016 lineup and say “this would have been a playoff team,” but that is not how projecting the future works. I will say with confidence, however, that Simmons would be a spectacular fit, and his defensive luster would have the latent benefit of helping cushion the inevitable defensive decline of Robinson Canô, who will likely play his 2000th career game in 2017.
The holes elsewhere depend on the deal, and the team’s ability to fill them. Smith is a role player who can be replaced or improved on with the significant available funds the Mariners would still have. The trade would cost less than $4 million in added cap space in 2017, with his inclusion. With the SS position taken care of, and several utility players as backups, Marte would be expendable. The greatest concern is created in the pitching staff and depends on how much you expect Walker to contribute. If you think he’ll be around two to three wins better than whoever the Mariners can slot in as a starting pitcher, this trade will likely horrify you. If you think $25-30 million dollars and some creativity can narrow the gap between Taijuan’s best case scenario enough, though, then join me, and let’s make a deal.
Take the leap into the dark water below. You might find you love it or, like me, it may terrify you the whole way through. I guarantee, though, you’ll survive. When you shake off the seaweed and emerge from the murky depths, you’ll never feel more alive.