Could Andrelton Simmons Become Another Ozzie Smith?

I don’t agree with former MLB general manager and current ESPN commentator Jim Bowden on many topics. However, I was with him on most of the following tweet, shared Thursday night.

Andrelton Simmons best defensive player in Major Leagues, best defensive shortstop in game. 26yrs old with up-side, attitude and pop.”

Baseball’s silly season, also known as the off-season rumor mill, is clearly upon us. The first name player to actually change homes for 2016 is the Atlanta Braves’ former shortstop Simmons, who had been widely rumored to be on the block for only about 24 hours.

The 26-year-old went to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for three prospects, plus shortstop Erick Aybar and $2.5 million to cover part of Aybar’s salary. The prospects include the Halos’ top two minor league pitchers. In return, the Angels receive Simmons’ services for the next five seasons for an already-committed total of $53 million.

The primary reason I disagree with Bowden’s tweet is the final two words – “with pop”. While Simmons launched 17 long balls as a rookie in 2013, he has just 11 over the last two years combined. His slugging percentage in 2014 and 2015 was .331 and .338, respectively.

To help put that into context for Cardinals fans, Peter Bourjos slugged .333 this season with Tony Cruz coming in at .310.

In fact, rumors from Atlanta indicate a key reason that Simmons was being made available was that his offense was a growing concern – in that it would continue to head south while his annual salary was locked in to move north.

But Bowden’s other points about Simmons made me think about another two-time National League Gold Glover who was the best defender in the game at shortstop when dealt away by his original team. He was also the age of 26 after his fourth season, traded in a package that included another major leaguer at the same position.

Of course, I am talking about Ozzie Smith, part of a five-man trade between San Diego and St. Louis following the 1981 season that also included Garry Templeton. It was a deal that I readily admit angered me at the time.

Like Simmons, Smith’s already meager offense had been trending downward – to the point his final season’s line as a Padre was a paltry .222/.294/.256/.549 (OPS+ 62). That slugging mark of .256 remained Ozzie’s career low until his injury-wrecked age 40 season.

Granted it was the same game, but in another time, though it makes Simmons’ 2015 line of .265/.321/.338/.659 (OPS+ 86) look spectacular in comparison.

The key point, however, is that Smith was not done getting better offensively, after all. Over his first four full seasons, Smith had seemingly cemented his reputation as an all-glove, no-bat shortstop, but once he got to St. Louis and was encouraged to hit ground balls and use his natural quickness, his offense improved markedly.

In his 15 years as a Cardinal, Smith’s line was .272/.350/.344/.694 (OPS+ 93) – more than enough offense to complete his Hall of Fame resume.

It is far, far too early to say, but I can’t help but wonder if the Angels will one day feel as fortunate about acquiring Simmons as the Cards did to enjoy the services of “The Wizard” for so long.

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