Evaluating the Simmons Trade

Back on November 12, the Braves sent Andrelton Simmons and Jose Briceno to the Angels for Erick Aybar, Sean Newcomb, and Chris Ellis. At the time, I was decidedly meh and unsure about the whole deal. On the one hand, Simmons is an elite defensive player signed to a team friendly contract, and I would have liked to get more Major League ready talent out of the deal. On the other hand, there are serious questions about Simmons ability to hit which could make the back end of his contract ugly, Sean Newcomb appeared to be a legitimate top prospect, and it was potentially too early in the off-season to know if this was going to lead into other deals or not. On The Twitter I described my feelings as such:

We’re now well into Spring Training, and it seems clear that this wasn’t some sort of set-up for a later trade, which means it’s now time to look back and try to evaluate how good or bad the Braves did here.

Let’s start by looking at Simba. Andrelton is entering the third year of his seven year, $58MM contract. The next five years will see him getting paid $6MM, $8MM, $11MM, $13MM, $15MM through 2020. Trying to get an idea of how valuable he’ll be over that time is a little tricky.

Following the trade, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs posted an article looking at how players similar to Simmons aged, and decided that Dan Szymborski’s five years ZIPS projection for him would be appropriate. That projection broke down as 3.6 WAR in ’16, 3.8 in ’17, 3.4 in ’18, 3.4 in ’19, and 3.3 in ’20. If we assume one marginal win to be worth $8MM this year and that salary inflation will be roughly 4% per year through 2020, this works out to be $98MM in surplus value over the rest of his contract.

Those projections, though, are assuming that the current WAR framework appropriately values defense, and that Simmons bat is more likely to perform as it did in ’15 rather than how it did in ’14. For that reason, let’s consider this the high end of what he’ll be worth over the next few years. If instead we think that WAR slightly over-values defense, as evidenced by teams continuing to pay less for it on the free market and by a recent blog post from MGL, and that 2014 was a better indicator of his true hitting talent, his five year projection could look more like 2.7, 2.7, 2.5, 2.3, and 2.0 WAR. This would work out to being around $50MM in surplus value over the rest of his contract.

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So now that we have the high end ($100MM) and the low end ($50MM) of what Simba is likely to be worth, let’s see what we got in return. We’ll start with Erick Aybar, since his is the most straightforward. Aybar is only signed through this year, during which he is owed $8.5MM and is projected to be worth around 1.5 WAR, which works out to only $3.5MM in surplus value. We can essentially just call that a wash, and consider him a fairly priced bridge to Dansby Swanson and/or Ozhaino Albies.

That leaves us with just Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. I wrote about both of these guys for our 2016 Prospect List, so go back over that if you want to read their profiles. The important thing we need for this analysis is a reasonable grade on their future value. In this year’s Hardball Times Baseball Annual, Jeff Zimmerman detailed a method of translating a prospect’s future value grade into an estimate of his surplus value in WAR. The method involves determining the amount of value players with a given future value grade produce through the years they are under team control, then subtracting how much they are typically paid during their arbitration years. Zimmerman provided the surplus value in WAR, and this WAR value can then be converted to a dollar value using the given year’s $/WAR rate. In order for this trade to be good for the Braves, we need the cumulative surplus value of both Newcomb and Ellis to be greater than the surplus value of Simba’s contract. Unfortunately, it’s not even close.

Sean Newcomb is roughly a 60 grade guy in terms of future value, and Chris Ellis is around a 45 to 50 grade guy. According to Jeff’s numbers and our $/WAR conversion factor, this works out to $24MM to $30MM in combined surplus value, which is barely halfway to the low end of what we projected Simmon’s surplus value to be.

Any attempt to evaluate trades like this require a ton of assumptions and estimates with huge error bars. It’s by no means an exact science. But when even the lower estimate of a trade’s value makes it look like a 25 million dollar overpay, it’s hard to call it a good deal. I want to think the Braves knew what they were doing here, but the evidence for that just isn’t there. I’ll leave you with this direct quote from my dear friend Rabble Rouser, as I promised I’d credit him in this post:

Stephen came up with the idea for this blog shortly after graduating from Tech. Realizing that life is ephemeral, he decided to put (metaphorical) pen to paper and catalogue his thoughts. His thoughts are series of numbers and spreadsheets, casually categorized as “research,” and said research is usually conducted on the margins of what is both relevant and socially acceptable.

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