Braves demote Newcomb, and I still miss Andrelton Simmons

Los Angeles Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons takes to flight in pursuit of a line drive back in 2017. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Los Angeles Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons takes to flight in pursuit of a line drive back in 2017. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Credit: Elaine Thompson

Credit: Elaine Thompson

The fellow much discussed by the Braves on Monday night was Sean Newcomb, optioned back to the team’s research-and-development division in Gwinnett County after an ugly outing in Philadelphia.

And, yet, all I heard in my head was Andrelton Simmons.

For nearly five years, that name – that unique, lyrical name – has been lodged in one of the folds in my brain where I store regrets, resentments and remorse. It’s crowded in there, but Simmons still owns a little corner.

That happens when favorite players get traded. Doesn’t help either when the trade takes on the look of grand larceny.

Thought I might be ready to fully move on from that November day in 2015 when the Braves traded Simmons, an artist at shortstop and a treasure for anyone who appreciated the ballet of infield defense. Thought that as he plied his trade in another league on Los Angeles’ second team, the Angels, distance and time would lessen the loss. Thought that by now the key player for which he was traded – Newcomb, the pitching prospect – would be established in the Braves rotation and the universe would find a balance.

Instead, there I was after Newcomb’s loss looking through old accounts of the trade that sent Simmons West. It was painful, like a fellow going over old divorce papers for a little light bedtime reading.

It was another regime – the two Johns, Hart and Coppolella – that swung the deal. In full it was Simmons and one Jose Briceno for shortstop Erick Aybar, pitcher Chris Ellis and Newcomb. Aybar was a stopgap who needed to make way for Dansby Swanson. Ellis was summarily traded. So, the deal from the Braves’ perspective would largely be judged on Newcomb’s progress. And when last seen, he was giving up eight runs in 1 1/3 innings to the Phillies, pushing his ERA after four starts to 11.20. Not the way to stick in a short season.

Said Coppolella back in 2015:

“We feel there is an argument to be made that we may be better in 2016 with Erick Aybar because he’s one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball with a career .276 batting average.” (Aybar hit .242 in 97 games for the Braves that year. By comparison, Simmons hit .281 in 124 games).

“We also feel that both Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis have a chance to impact our club at the major league level in 2016. So, they should also help us have a better season with a potential huge payoff in future years.” (Ellis has yet to play in the majors, and Newcomb is somebody’s reliever still in the making).

So, whenever Newcomb went through one of his frequent short outings it was like tearing open a wound all over again. Reliable scar tissue is hard to come by in trades like this.

It’s not as if the Braves have a hole at shortstop now, not like they opted to just go without one. Swanson still holds more offensive potential than Simmons – but it does bear notice that their career numbers at this stage are not so different (Swanson .246 average, .705 OPS; Simmons .268 and .695). And in the field, it is not even fair to compare Swanson with Simmons, twice a Gold Glover at the premier defensive position in Atlanta and twice again in L.A.

Nor is it the case that Simmons has been without blemish in L.A. He is coming back from an ankle injury now and was limited to 103 games last season because of the same kind of issue. He’s coming off his worst offensive season yet in Los Angeles. He’s 30 now, playing out his escalating Braves contract that in full would have paid him $15 million this year.

But even if his best is behind him – and not conceding that here – but even if, there remains the lingering regret of what we didn’t get to see here in four-plus seasons.

Defensive numbers become him, but I don’t fully trust them in his case. He is the kind of player that must be seen to be enjoyed. He’d routinely, viscerally satisfy, running down hard-hit ground balls all over the left side, whirling like a dust devil on the clay and strong-arming a throw to first. The fan had no choice but to laugh out loud and make like a bobblehead with broken spring, shaking in disbelief.

All I know is that Sean Newcomb got rocked, and Andrelton Simmons still doesn’t play here.

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