The AL West was busy on Thursday, as three teams made significant moves.
Angels acquire Simmons
The Angels stole the headlines by trading for shortstop Andrelton Simmons from the Braves. In exchange, Atlanta received top pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis, as well as veteran shortstop Erick Aybar. The Angels also received minor league catcher Jose Briceno.
Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in the world no matter what the Gold Glove voters say. He's off the charts on both DRS and UZR, and his defense alone makes him an above-average player. He doesn't hit much -- his OPS+ marks the last three years have been 90, 75, and 86 -- but even that has been enough to average nearly 5 bWAR (or more than 3 fWAR) since 2013. If you're not into numbers, then here's just the first video I clicked on from the first page of YouTube results:
There are more like that. Some involve big throws, others have crazy jumps or diving stops, and still others involve odd contortions of his body. He might be as good as Ozzie Smith.
So, this was a win-now move for the win-now Angels, sending prospects for a star, but it was also a long-term move. Simmons just turned 26 in September and is signed for the next five years at a total of $53 million -- that's below-market for his peak years, in other words. He's going to be around for a while, he's going to be in his 20s most of that time, and he's going to help the Angels win some games. Aybar is still a solid everyday guy, but he'll be 32 next year and 2016 is his last season before free agency; this is a slight improvement for 2016, and an item checked off next winter's to-do list.
On the other hand, there are criticisms you could make of this deal. The Angels gave up the top two prospects of an already weak farm system, and one of them (Newcomb) is ranked No. 19 in the entire minors. In other words, they cashed in their two best trade chips to address a position that didn't need to be addressed yet. Meanwhile, they have holes to fill at catcher, third base, and left field, not to mention a shaky rotation and a bullpen that failed to replicate its 2014 success. The best ERA+ among the six primary starters was rookie Andrew Heaney at 107 (in a half-season), while the relievers tied for ninth in MLB with 21 blown saves.
You have to imagine the Halos will turn to free agency to fill as many of those needs as possible. Baseball-Reference currently estimates their payroll $158 million, counting their commitments and arbitration estimates (and filling in the rest around the minimum), and I don't know how much more salary they're willing to add. It's gonna be interesting to see how new GM Billy Eppler fills out the rest of the roster.
Instant reaction: Mixed. It's a good deal in theory, but it's not one the 2016 Angels needed to make and I don't think it's the best way to improve them next year. It's not completely short-sighted, because they were going to need to get a new shortstop soon anyway and now they have a great one long-term, but there were more pressing needs for the upcoming year and this is a team that can't afford to waste a single season -- Albert Pujols keeps getting older, and Mike Trout won't keep churning out 9 WAR like clockwork forever. And as an A's fan I just can't help but be happy that Aybar is gone, because he had long been a pesky presence in Anaheim.
The offseason has only just begun, though. If Eppler fills all the other gaps in the roster via free agency or some other shrewd maneuvering, then this could turn out to be the win that it feels like it should be. It's an odd start to the winter, and I'm not a fan of the move yet, but it could still turn out great.
Rasmus accepts qualifying offer from Astros
Outfielder Colby Rasmus has reportedly accepted the qualifying offer from Houston, meaning he will play for the Astros next year on a one-year, $15.8 million deal. That makes Rasmus the first player to ever accept the QO -- there were 34 such offers in the first three years of the system, and all 34 were rejected. A total of 20 free agents received QOs this year, and it's possible Rasmus could set the example for a few others to accept.
Rasmus played for the Astros last year and hit .238/.314/.475 (113 OPS+) with 25 homers and slightly above-average defense in LF, good for around 2-3 WAR (2.6 bWAR, 2.8 fWAR). He also caught fire in the postseason, going 7-for-17 with seven walks (1.760 OPS) and homering four times in six games, including once in the Wild Card Game victory over the Yankees.
Instant reaction: Good move by the Astros. Rasmus was a productive player in the regular season and a hero in the playoffs. I think he could have gotten a three-year deal, even with the draft pick compensation attached to him, and instead the Astros get his age-29 season with no long-term commitment. It's a bit expensive, but they're loaded with cost-controlled stars around the diamond so a bit of extra money this year likely isn't a problem. From Rasmus' perspective, this is probably the highest 2016 salary he would have found anywhere, and he has a chance to double down on his 2015 success and look for an even better multi-year deal next winter. For both sides, there's continuity as they extend a relationship that worked for everyone last year.
Mariners acquire Benoit
The Mariners made their second trade of the offseason, acquiring reliever Joaquin Benoit from the Padres. In exchange, San Diego received two minor leaguers (RHP Enyel De Los Santos, infielder Nelson Ward).
This isn't as big of a move as Simmons or Rasmus, but Benoit is still a legit reliever. He posted a 2.38 ERA last year with a strikeout per inning in 67 games, and since 2010 he's got a 2.35 ERA (168 ERA+) in 388 games (379 innings) with 10 strikeouts per nine innings and nearly 4 Ks per walk. Only one of those six seasons featured an ERA over 3.00, and only one had an inning total under 60 (none under 50). He's a rock, but on the other hand he costs $8 million and just turned 38 in July so he's not without risk. It doesn't sound like Seattle gave up much in the deal, though, based on the report on Lookout Landing.
Instant reaction: Good move by the Mariners. Benoit could have another great season, or he could be an expensive boondoggle, but he's in the final year of his contract so if the money isn't prohibitive (and I have a feeling it's not) then this is a great gamble.