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2020-21 Free Agent Matchmaker: Andrelton Simmons

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Andrelton Simmons is one of the very best defenders of all time, regardless of position. He’s on a short list with guys like Ozzie Smith, Mark Belanger and fellow Curaçaoan Andruw Jones as one of the best baseballers to ever flash the leather. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), one of the most popular metrics used to evaluate defense today, originated in 2002. Since the beginning of the 2002 season, Simmons’s 191 DRS mark ranks second behind Adrian Beltre’s 202. This is remarkable by itself. What pushes this comparison past “remarkable” and into “ludicrous” is that Adrian Beltre clocked over 10,000 more innings at third than Simmons has at short. Simmons is sure to pass Beltre in the next season or three, and he’s only 31! By DRS, Simmons is the best fielder since the turn of the millennium by a mile. And hey, now he’s Free Agent Andrelton Simmons! Thanks to his frequently subpar offense and a recent string of injuries, Simmons is a severely underrated player who could be one of the big bargains of the 2020-21 offseason. Which teams should take an interest in Simmons and his magic glove?

Clubs With Obvious Needs

Simmons is the incumbent shortstop in Anaheim, and bringing him back makes sense for an Angels club that needs all the help it can get, depth-wise. The roster calculus here is simple- it’s more like roster arithmetic. David Fletcher resumes his role as a swiss army man who can at least fake it at short if Simmons finds himself on the IL. Former Athletic Franklin Barreto is also present on Anaheim’s roster, but a 47 OPS+ in 237 career plate appearances isn’t going to light anyone’s hair on fire. Chucking him into a starting role right off the bat seems like a bad idea, but a smaller bench role could let him focus on finding his bat in a relatively low-pressure environment.

The Phillies got pretty great production from shortstop Didi Gregorius in 2020, but Sir Didi’s a free agent and Philly has glaring, extensively documented holes to fill elsewhere on its roster. If the Phillies want to conserve a few bucks to throw at more relievers who will totally implode at Citizen’s Bank Park, going after Andrelton Simmons to fill the void at short would be a smart move.

Finally, Cincinnati‘s primary shortstop in 2020 was Freddy Galvis. The former Phillie, Padre and Blue Jay turned in a whateverish season split between short and the keystone in 2020, but he’s a free agent and there are no internal options at short for GM Nick Krall to play with. Backup shortstop José García put up an execrable .400 OPS in 68 PA, and Kyle Farmer isn’t exactly Andrelton Simmons with the leather. The Reds really have nowhere to go but up in terms of their shortstop production, although Didi Gregorius might be a better option considering Cincinnati’s anemic offense. Simmons makes sense, but there are better options out there for the Reds.

Baltimore Orioles

Image courtesy of Rich Schultz and Getty Images.

Prior to the 2020 season, the Orioles signed defensive specialist José Iglesias to fill in at shortstop following an ugly 2019 campaign from Rule 5 guy Richie Martin. Thanks to a series of injuries, Iglesias only spent 24 of his 39 games at short in 2020. His defense was unspectacular in a small sample size (0.5 UZR, -2 DRS in 168 innings at short), but his unbelievable .373/.400/.556 slash line made him one of 2020’s best hitters, just like everyone predicted. 

Beyond Iglesias, Baltimore deployed Andrew Velazquez and Pat Valaika as its primary shortstops. Despite an unplayably bad 39 wRC+, Velazquez’s excellent defense around the infield (including 3 DRS in just 171 innings at short) dragged him to a 0.2 rWAR mark on the season. Valaika hit reasonably well in his limited ABs, but advanced defensive metrics hated him at shortstop. He’s certainly more useful to the O’s as a utility guy, which was his primary role in 2020.

If the Orioles want to use José Iglesias primarily at DH, it would leave them with a significant logjam at that spot– especially if 2021 Comeback Player of the Year Trey Mancini plays up to his 2019 form. The O’s could try to sell high on Renato Núñez, who was their full-time DH in 2019 and split time between that position and first base in 2020. Núñez put up a career-high 119 wRC+ (career wRC+ mark: 101) in 2020, partially thanks to a solid isolated slugging mark of .236. He can hit for power, but his abilities are limited beyond that. They could also cut Chris Davis and eat the remainder of his contract, which has to be a tempting option after his wretched 2020 campaign (here’s a link to Davis’s FanGraphs page. WARNING: If exposed to Chris Davis’s 2020 statistics for a prolonged period without recommended protective equipment, seek immediate medical help or contact a local Poison Control Center).

It would require some roster manipulation, but as long as Baltimore’s management team wants to put the best product possible on the field at Camden Yards, Andrelton Simmons makes sense as a target. Baltimore had a shot to crash the 2020 postseason party, and a Simmons signing could help them make another accidental run at a Wild Card berth.

Oakland Athletics

Image courtesy of Chris Victorio and the S.F. Examiner.

The A’s making a bid for Andrelton Simmons is contingent on two things: presumptive new GM David Forst not re-signing 2019 breakout star Marcus Semien (probable) and A’s ownership spending money on a free agent (virtually unheard-of). Even though Semien is almost certainly going to be underpaid in free agency, whatever contract he secures is probably going to be too rich for Oakland’s liking.

Oakland’s incumbent shortstop candidates are pretty grim. Semien played 53 games at short in 2020, leaving the other seven games to Vimael Machin and Nate Orf, who sound like players from an Out of the Park sim running out its thirty-seventh season. Fun fact- Matt Chapman notched a game there as well. Oakland used to have a shortstop of the future in the aforementioned Franklin Barreto, who peaked at Oakland’s number-two prospect overall prior to 2018 (by FanGraphs), However, Barreto didn’t produce with the A’s and got flipped to Anaheim straight-up for Tommy La Stella.

Unlike Baltimore, Oakland wouldn’t have to do any advanced roster calculus in order to figure out how Simmons would slot into their lineup. Assuming Marcus Semien walks (again, probable), Simmons would take his place as the new everyday shortstop. It’s unlikely that the A’s will fork over the cash for any serious major-league free agents this coming winter, especially in what figures to be an especially frigid offseason, but it’s a possible deal that’s almost certain to make the contending A’s better.

The Longshots at Short

Next offseason’s crop of free agent shortstops is set to be truly legendary, with Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez all set to hit the open market following the 2021 season. Any team that deals one of these players before 2021 (the Indians and Rockies especially) might be on the lookout for a cheap fill-in. In-house or waiver-wire replacements are certainly more likely (especially since both franchises have made noise about slashing payrolls in 2021), but Simmons could make sense as a relatively cheap veteran stopgap.

One very weird, very unlikely sleeper pick could be the Tampa Bay Rays, who already have a talented all-around starter at short in Willy Adames. Adames has spent time at third base in the minors and second base in the majors and the minors, and the Rays might be inclined to sign Simmons and deploy Adames as a swiss army knife-type around the infield. Again, this is laughably unlikely: the Rays might be the single MLB club that’s even thriftier than the A’s, and Willy Adames has star potential at short. The daydream of Andrelton Simmons in a Rays uniform is an intriguing daydream, however. Tampa hosts one of the most defensively talented squads in MLB, and Simba is the best defensive infielder this side of Ozzie Smith and Mark Belanger. It’s not exactly a match made in heaven, but it’s fun to think about.

The free agent market has been brutal for MLB’s free agent middle class in recent years. Despite his generational defensive ability, durability concerns and meh-level offense place Andrelton Simmons squarely in MLB’s middle tier of free agents. There are other free agent shortstops out there- Marcus Semien is more durable, and Didi Gregorius is a more complete player- but one of history’s greatest gloves is available for cheap. MLB teams should take notice.

MLBTR ranked Simmons 17th on their list of the top MLB free agents heading into 2021. Check out their analysis here.

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