Over the last month, the Atlanta Braves have shown an uncanny amount of faith in their young, ascending talents. That faith—previously showered upon Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel—has garnered 24-year-old Andrelton Simmons a seven-year contract.
The details, reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, will guarantee $58 million to Simmons over the next seven seasons. Those terms are a potential boon to Atlanta's bottom line due to Simmons' outrageous defense and upside with the bat.
If you've watched the Atlanta Braves over the last two seasons, it's likely that you've noticed Simmons at shortstop.
Upon completing the agreement, Braves general manager Frank Wren referred to Simmons as one of the best in the sport, per Carroll Rogers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We feel that Andrelton is one of the premier shortstops in the game today and we are happy that we were able to agree on this multi-year contract,” Wren said.
Baseball's best defensive player—by a wide margin—has become a difference-making force at a crucial up-the-middle position in Atlanta. Simply calling Simmons a great fielding shortstop undersells his ability in the field.
Last season, Baseball Info Solutions tallied 41 defensive runs saved for Simmons. That figure is the highest total recorded in a season since BIS began tracking play-by-play for defenders during the 2003 campaign, per Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
As with any new metric, especially when it measures defense, fans and talent evaluators can come across as skeptical. Simmons' record-breaking defensive season wasn't just born in numbers; it passed the eye test. On a nightly basis, Simmons took away hits with outstanding range and displayed one of baseball's strongest throwing arms.
Due to his defensive value, Simmons was worth $23.3 million in 2013, per Fangraphs' value calculations.
If the sure-handed infielder didn't show any improvement at the plate over the next few years, a case could be made that his glove alone is worth far more than the $58 million Atlanta will allot for him over the next seven seasons.
Yet, that bat, despite a below-average career OPS+ of 90, already has put Simmons in a rare class of young shortstops.
Over the last 20 seasons (1994-2013), only five shortstops posted 20-plus home runs and at least a 9.0 bWAR through their respective age-23 seasons. As you might imagine, Simmons was one of that quintet. The others: Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Elvis Andrus.
Outside of Ramirez—likely headed for a huge payday before the 2015 season begins—Simmons joins a list of $100 million shortstops.
Furthermore, the power Simmons has shown in 206 games in the majors puts him in select company among other standout defenders at the position.
Dating back throughout the annals of baseball history, only six shortstops have had individual seasons of 15-plus home runs and a 3.5 dWAR rating. The ability to hit for power at shortstop is uncommon, but the ability to hit for power and play game-changing defense is very seldom.
The six shortstops to achieve those campaigns: Simmons, Ron Hansen, Troy Tulowitzki, Alex Gonzalez, Cal Ripken Jr. and Ernie Banks.
Of that group, Ripken, Tulowitzki and Banks are the standard. Hansen and Gonzalez, while not poor players during their respective careers, represent the career arc for Simmons if his on-base percentage and offensive game don't evolve.
Due to outstanding defense and emerging power, Simmons is a good investment for Atlanta. Yet, it's his upside, specifically the offense displayed during the second half of the 2013 season, that should have Braves fans ecstatic over the potential of this contract.
After posting a replacement-level OPS (.630) in the first half of the season, Simmons' bat emerged down the stretch for Atlanta. From the moment the Braves arrived back after the 2013 All-Star Break, Simmons posted an OPS of .789, helping the team run away with the NL East.
If that OPS is a precursor of things to come, the Braves are on the cusp of having the best all-around shortstop in baseball. Last season, only three everyday shortstops posted OPS marks higher than .789 over the full season: Tulowitzki, Jhonny Peralta and Jed Lowrie.
In order to put that type of offense in perspective with Simmons' already great defense, we can look at the oWAR (offensive WAR) marks for those three standout hitters.
Due to excellent OPS marks, Tulowitzki, Peralta and Lowrie were worth 4.7, 3.2 and 4.3 oWAR, respectively. Those numbers average out to about four-win hitter, strictly from offense.
If Simmons' bat can replicate his second-half production and value, the sky is the limit. Or, if you prefer to use numbers, the combination between ascending bat and last year's defensive value (5.4 dWAR) could eventually make the Braves' $58 million man one of the most valuable shortstops ever.
Since 1901, only 16 individual seasons have been recorded in which a shortstop posted a 9.0 or better WAR. From Rodriguez to Ripken to Robin Yount to Honus Wagner, the list (subscription required) is littered with some of the best players baseball has ever seen.
Amazingly, Simmons' potential could net Atlanta a season or two like that before this contract ends.
Over the next seven years, through once-in-a-generation defense and potentially top-tier offense, the Braves are likely to receive an outstanding return on this investment.
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Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Arbitration numbers and projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors. Roster projections courtesy of MLB Depth Charts.