Why did Braves trade Simmons for more pitching prospects?

It’s been a week-and-a-half since the Braves traded Andrelton Simmons to the Angels for shortstop Erick Aybar and two pitching prospects, but the discussion/furor/confusion/shock over the deal continues unabated around here in Braves Country. Many folks are waiting for the other shoe to drop, not convinced by general manager John Coppolella’s flat-out declaration last week that the Braves aren’t going to trade Freddie Freeman, the last lineup regular remaining from the 96-win 2013 NL East championship team.

There hasn't been much for Braves slugger Freddie Freeman to smile about since the season ended, as the team traded away defensively superb shortstop Andrelton Simmons and rumors have swirled about Freeman's future. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Nevermind that Freeman was slowed by a wrist injury in 2015 that had him out of the lineup when the season ended, the type of injury that would surely raise red flags among any interested teams, given the size of his remaining contract and the fact that wrist and hand injuries for hitters can be akin to elbow or shoulder woes for pitchers.

The anger and frustration over the Simmons trade -- the latest in a 12-month-long series of deals sending a whole lot more known players out than has been brought in -- has perhaps been stoked a bit by the fact that all of Atlanta’s football squads, college and pro, are having lackluster-or-worse seasons, giving local radio talk hosts a little more time than usual to actually discuss the Braves in November (but not so much time that they'd get around to more than cursory mentions of basketball). But even without that added baseball discussion, many and perhaps most Braves fans would be upset and/or frustrated. That's just where things stand right now.

Anyway, before we go any further into this second consecutive tumultuous Braves offseason, I thought I’d clean out the notepad (or voice recorder, in this case) by giving you the full explanation from Coppolella regarding why the Simmons trade was made, period, and why so early in the offseason, rather than waiting at least until the Dec. 7-10 Winter Meetings in Nashville to see if they could get a better return for Simmons.

Also, why didn’t the Braves wait to see if maybe they could get a young hitter back in a deal, rather than adding more pitching prospects – albeit two very good ones in hard-throwing left Sean Newcomb, 22, and Chris Ellis, 23 -- to an organization that now leads the world in pitching prospects but is still quite thin in high-ceilinged offensive talent near the major-league level?

So here are some more quotes from "Coppy" after the traded was finalized, mostly quotes that didn’t make it into the trade stories in full because of space limits.

When did this offer move ahead of some of the others?

“This was one that we had worked on for about three solid weeks. Teams had called on Simmons. Every single team that called, the first words out of our mouths were, we don’t want to trade Andrelton Simmons. And if trade him, we need to get exactly what we want. And as we worked through this, we were able to get to that point

“If there were some teams that felt like they could sweep in and the fact that Andrelton wasn’t hitting .300 or wasn’t hitting 40 homers or anything like that, that they could get him at any sort of lesser value, we just wanted to show that we really value this player, that we think he’s a really good player, and we wouldn’t have sold low on him or tried to trade him just to trade him.

“We probably talked to about 15 teams throughout the process. There were maybe three or four that really got serious. There may have been some that may have thought we just wanted to move Simmons because of money or because of, you know, a lack of offense. But we didn’t want to move Andrelton. Of the teams that really wanted to step forward and made really strong offers, we felt that this was the best of those offers.”

Why make the trade now instead of waiting, at least until the Winter Meetings, to drive up the price?

“Take a team like the Angels. They have needs at second base, third base, left field, bullpen. And we felt these were their two best prospects.  If we wanted to wait until the Winter Meetings, there’s a good chance that they are gone and that we don’t get this sort of opportunity again. And that’s just one example. If there’s a good deal….

“We had a shot to trade a player this past season for a guy who’s now ranked as a top-50 prospect in the game, and that player (whom the Braves were going to trade) ended up getting hurt. And by the time we tried to make the trade, that prospect had shot up the charts and they wouldn’t even talk about the player.

“We made a strong run last year with the Yankees at (pitcher) Luis Severino, and we didn’t get the deal done last year, and now he’s off-limits this year. I mean, if you feel like you have a chance to get special talent, you can’t shy away from it. You’ve got to really jump at it and take that plunge. We were not sure that we could get these sorts of players, this was such a good opportunity for us that we wanted to seize it once it was available to us.”

Could (top shortstop prospect) Ozzie Albies be in the majors at some point in 2017?

 “He has a chance. He’s got a lot of talent, you can’t rule out anything for him. At the same time I don’t want to put any (pressure) on him (saying), ‘You better be our starting shortstop by 2017.’ He’s a really good player. We feel he’s going to be a really good major league player. We’ll let him tell us  when he’s ready, and not try to set any timeframe to it. I mean, there’s a shot that he might be up at some point in 2016. If you look at Furcal, he was up out of high-A, so…. But yeah, I mean, he’s a big part of our future and we’re very happy that he’s part of the Braves organization.”

Was there a deal that included any financially controlled major league bat on the table, instead of pitching prospects?

“No, not of the teams that we talked to. I think it was teams that were more geared towards winning in the 2016 season, they would not want to give up parts of their team. And it’s also tough, you run that balancing act – do you value offense vs. defense, which one matters more? I think it’s hard when you have a big-upside bat; those guys don’t get traded.

“No, there wasn’t any big young bat on the market. There wasn’t (Kyle) Schwarber, there wasn’t anybody like that out there.”

On Newcomb and Ellis:

“We always have our scouts in all of our trade talks, and I’ll run through each one. Ellis was a guy that they thought, 6-4 kid, third-round pick 2014 out of Ole Miss, a big, strong arm, 89-94 with a  really good slider. We felt like he could pitch in a rotation. Just a really great kid, too.

“Newcomb is a guy you keep hearing on him (comparisons) to Jon Lester. You hear a little bit David Price. And look, I’m not throwing out those comps to say he will end up being that; I’m not putting that on any kid. But he’s been 93-96 (fastball velocity), he’s been up to 99, he’s a 6-5, 240-pound lefty. He was the (15th) pick in the (2014) draft, he’s from a small school (University of Hartford), the same way. There were a lot of things our guys liked. There are obiously areas which he could improve, but there are some things that… we think he can pitch at the very top of a rotation.

“I talked earlier about Severino earlier. If you want to get an ace-type guy, you better try while they’re still in the minor leagues. Otherwise, once they’re up here like Severino is now, you won’t ever get a shot at them.”

There’s a perception that all the Braves got back was prospects in this deal, so how do they get better in ’16?

“No. I would just say this: You can make an argument that we are actually a team that can win more games with Aybar. Aybar is a career .276 hitter; Simmons has never hit .276 in a full season. Aybar’s a switch-hitter, 18 months back an All-Star, he can hit 1 or 2 for you – I mean, Aybar’s a really good player. I think we traded defense for offense in this trade. The fact that we got two huge-upside arms is great, but as far as for 2016, I don’t think that’s a big step back for this Braves team. I think where it will hurt is more 2017, 2018, if Aybar ends up as a free-agent player. Maybe we can sign him long term; I think we need to find out more about him, he needs to find out more about us. But at the end of it, he’s a really good player. He was a huge part of this deal. This wasn’t just some kind of prospect trade. This was a value-for-value trade that had some really good prospects in it.”

“We can’t have a year like we had last year. That’s why we had to get back major league value. Since we made the trade two or three hours back, we have gotten three calls on Aybar  already, from teams that want to trade for him.  He’s a really good hitter, somebody that can play short. Somebody that our staff really liked and our scouts really liked. He’s a good player. So we’re very happy to have Aybar.”

You haven’t gotten hitters back in these trades; do you believe you can use young pitchers to acquire hittters eventually?

“Absolutely. I think you can look at prospects as being a kind of currency, and we just got two really good ones. Look, I hope that they end up here with us. Maybe they help us trade for someone else, maybe they are the guys that go. But I think we’ve shown that we are open to anything, that we are not afraid.”

That said, did you ever fear doing t his Simmons deal, making this your first official trade as GM?

“It would have been easy just to not make this trade. It would have been easy to say, you know what, let me hold. Simmons is a fan favorite, he makes great plays. I want us to get better. I want us to not lose 97 games. I want us to have good young players filling our talent pipe year-in and year-out.

“I am not afraid. Look, fans won’t like this trade because they all love Simmons. I love Simmons, too. He’s fun to watch play. But we need more talent, we need to get better, and this trade helps that happen.”

“If you want to start it out as it worked out that way for me, I’m fine with that baptism by fire.”

• Of note: Sixteen organizations have reached the World Series since the Braves last went in 1999. The Giants, Cardinals and Yankees have gone four times apiece in that span, and the Red Sox three times.

Here’s the full list of teams that have been to a World Series since the Braves were swept by the Yankees in ‘99.

Yankees (2000, 2001, 2003, 2009); Mets (2000, 2015), Diamondbacks (2001); Angels (2002); Giants (2002, 2010, 2012, 2014); Marlins (2003); Red Sox (2004, 2007, 2013); Cardinals (2004, 2006, 2011, 2013); White Sox (2005); Astros (2005); Tigers (2006, 2012); Rockies (2007); Phillies (2008, 2009); Rays (2008); Rangers (2010, 2011), and Royals (2014, 2015).

• On the 20th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's classic "The Ghost of Tom Joad" album, let's close with this searing live version of the title cut, with Bruce joined by guitar virtuoso Tom Morello.

"THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD" by Bruce Springsteen


Men walkin' 'long the railroad tracks

Goin' someplace there's no goin' back

Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the ridge

Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge

Shelter line stretchin' 'round the corner

Welcome to the new world order

Families sleepin' in their cars in the Southwest

No home, no job, no peace, no rest

The highway is alive tonight

But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes

I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light

Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad

He pulls a prayer book out of his sleeping bag

Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag

Waitin' for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last

In a cardboard box 'neath the underpass

Got a one-way ticket to the promised land

You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand

Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock

Bathin' in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight

Where it's headed everybody knows

I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light

Waitin' on the ghost of Tom Joad

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy

Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries

Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air

Look for me Mom I'll be there

Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand

Or decent job or a helpin' hand

Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free

Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."

Well the highway is alive tonight

But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes

I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light

With the ghost of old Tom Joad

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About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than a decade.