“Like two ships passing in the night” might be an excellent idiom for describing how beneficial for both parties a short term marriage between veteran gloveman Andrelton Simmons and the up-the-middle deficient Detroit Tigers would be.
While the Detroit Tigers got better defensively in 2020, Simmons has long been one of the most dynamic defensive presences in MLB. The four-time Gold Glove winner may have been toiling away in a relative west coast baseball backwater in Anaheim where the Angels have spent the last decade unable to break through as a contender, but Simmons has been a highlight reel defender on the morning baseball recaps for years.
Simmons isn’t a great offensive player by any means, but his high contact/low power game has typically been enough to compliment his glove skills as an overall productive player. He peaked as a 7.8 bWAR player in 2017 and followed it up in ‘18 with a 6.3 effort. So the possible ceiling is high. Indeed Simmons’s overall slash line in the American League since joining the Angels in ‘16 after a desk with the Atlanta Braves is a very acceptable .281/.328/.396.
Why might Simmons be available on a shorter deal? Primarily age and injury concerns. He’s entering his age 31 season so there could be concerns of fall off in mobility even in perfect circumstances. But Simmons doesn’t present perfect circumstances. In 2019 he injured his ankle in May running out a grounder. He then aggravated it in August to limit him to 103 games that season. Simmons then had issues with the same ankle in ‘20. He only played in 30 games and, in a very small sample, ranked as a negative defender for the first time after dominating those stats for much of the prior half-decade.
Simply put, Simmons might need a year to prove he’s healthy and ready to be a defensive force again.
Why would Detroit be that place for him to do it? Well…the Tigers are paper-thin with a veteran presence in the middle infield. Few would question that statement. A lot depends on how committed GM Al Avila and new skipper AJ Hinch are to sinking or swimming with young Willi Castro as a shortstop.
Castro had a wonderful run with his bat in 36 games in ‘20 with a .349/.381/.552 slash. Nobody is looking to set those numbers as an expected baseline of course…but he showed promise offensively. It was defensively where the growing pains were obvious. Questionable footwork, hesitancy on some plays, and questions about arm strength and accuracy. In short, Castro might a second-baseman. Should he get reps at shortstop? Probably…but a safety net might be worth it.
A healthy Simmons would be a great compliment on a consistent basis for what is projected to a very young Tigers pitching staff. A good way to partially protect those young arms is to invest in a plus defensive presence behind them. If Simmons can prove his ankle issues are healed and he’s even 90% of the defender he was at his zenith of a couple of years ago, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and the rest would benefit if Castro is judged unfit for the long haul at the position.
Simmons could also play himself into a desired player at the trade deadline for a contender looking to button-down its infield defense for the stretch run and the playoffs. Detroit could always use a valuable commodity in late July.
The Tigers need to add some punch to its anemic lineup. Despite hitting a high of 17 homers once upon a time, Simmons isn’t that guy. The Detroit Tigers should still look to add some firepower by inking a free agent deal or executing a trade for an outfielder (or two) who can swing the lumber with authority. They have 1B at-bats available too. Detroit should be able to find those bats and lock down one or two. Then a complementary move for Simmons, if he’s still lingering on the market, could pay dividends for a young pitching staff in ‘21 and maybe even ‘22 if they need to add an affordable second year to a deal with Simmons.
The status of the market should take shape after the December 2nd deadline to tender contracts to arb-eligible players. We’ll have a better look at who is available and how flooded or not things will look for veterans looking to lock down a gig like Simmons.