As the LA Angels prepare to build around Mike Trout for the long haul, their future with their underappreciated shortstop needs to be addressed.
Did you know Andrelton Simmons was a top 10 American League position player in WAR for 2018?
It’s true, the Curaçaoan shortstop finished 8th, with 6.2 Wins Above Replacement. The AL leader, Mookie Betts, had a 10.9 WAR campaign, edging out our own Mike Trout’s 10.2. While Simmons’ defensive wizardry continued, finishing second to Oakland’s Matt Chapman in Defensive WAR, it’s the steadily improved offense, once a glaring weakness in Simmons’ game, which has made him an overlooked star in Major League Baseball.
The career .269 hitter raised his batting average to .292, continuing improved offense since coming over from Atlanta before the 2016 season. By all measures, Simmons is a valuable piece, so, why aren’t we seeing red jerseys with a number 2 on the back scattered amongst our sea of 27s and 17s?
For starters, let’s get this out of the way: if you want to be a household name superstar, then you do not want to be a Los Angeles Angel. The benefits of being an Angel, are, to even an impartial observer, numerous: Southern California, the weather, the sand, the Sun, a large fan base, and the ability to play for a large market club in a relatively suburban area are all plusses. Playing with the best player in the game on what should be an improving club is something to consider, as well.
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But the Angels have the conundrum of not being LA’s team, yet identifying with Los Angeles over Anaheim. One would never call the Angels homeless, but when discussing the stars who own the glittering lights of Hollywood, once it gets to sports, the Angels simply do not come up. At least not near the top of the list. Angelenos who prefer to wear a hat with a certain shade of blue and an interlocking “LA” on it would deny the Angels are a LA team at all.
Then there’s the problem with the star power the LA Angels do have. Despite a lack of overall recognition in their market, the Halos have a clubhouse which includes the best player in the game, an international star who’s pioneered the return of the two-way player in Shohei Ohtani, and a sure-fire, if aging legend in Albert Pujols. It’s easy to be excellent at anything and get completely lost in the shuffle in Anaheim.
It’s also worth noting the majority of Simmons’ value is in his dazzling defense. As Andrelton Simmons makes the outstanding appear routine at shortstop, it can be easy to forget how valuable he is to the success of the team. While advanced statistics have increased the overall appreciation fans have for defense, a shortstop who puts up a .754 OPS is still going to have a hard time becoming an outright star in his market, regardless of the phenomenal quality of his defense.
Simply put, when the best all-around player is on the same field, anything his teammates do not stack up on will be that much more glaring. Though Simmons arguably played the best shortstop in the game last year, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine said so famously in the SportsCenter ad, chicks dig the long ball.
Now, it’s been established why more people don’t know or appreciate Andrelton Simmons at the level perhaps he should. Why this is important is because Simmons, a free agent after the 2020 season, expressed interest in the direction of the Angels and being a part of the future..
At 29 years old, Simmons is two years older than Trout, and 5 years older than Ohtani, meaning he definitely has a place for at least a few more years in Billy Eppler’s plans. Though Pujols’ contract doesn’t come off the books until after Simmons’ scheduled free agency, the Angels should have enough wiggle room to keep Simmons around longer than the current deal.
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While the Angels’ lack of on-field success and star-studded roster has kept Andrelton Simmons from the public’s eye, and outstanding defense, while occasionally allowing him to make that night’s highlights on TV, won’t get him to the All Star Game without some more pop in his bat, the case can be made the LA Angels have the single most underrated player in the game in their midst. Especially if Simmons’ bat continues to improve in his prime, the Angels can only hope to lock him into a longer deal sooner rather than later, while his interest in being a part of the team’s seemingly bright future is strong.