The Yankees’ primary piece of business this offseason is trying to keep DJ LeMahieu in pinstripes. He has been their best player the last two seasons, and it’s reported that they are putting all other talks on hold until the LeMahieu situation is resolved one way or another. Should those negotiations not bear fruit, the Yankees will have to quickly pivot to the rather pedestrian market of remaining middle infielders. One name that could spark their interest: Andrelton Simmons.
Any discussion about Simmons’ appeal to the Yankees begins and ends with his defense. He ranks among the greatest defenders, not just of his generation or at his position, but all-time. He is the leader among active players in defensive bWAR (26.6) and 14th in MLB history. He is second all-time in Defensive Runs Saved (191), trailing Adrián Beltré by 11 DRS despite playing about 10,000 fewer innings. He is also second all-time in UZR/150 (17.0) behind Andruw Jones. And in the Statcast Era, he trails only Nick Ahmed in career Outs Above Average (43) among all infielders.
Given the perennial question marks about Gleyber Torres’ ability to play shortstop, Simmons seems like the ideal candidate to take over at short should the Yankees miss out on DJ LeMahieu. This would slide Torres back to second base, taking some pressure off his shoulders and some strain off the overall infield defense. Indeed, this is an avenue Brian Cashman could explore, given his belief that Torres is more suited for second than short.
Signing Simmons instead of LeMahieu brings the implicit understanding that you are downgrading the offensive capacity of the middle infield. LeMahieu has been a top-ten hitter in MLB since arriving in the Bronx, while Simmons has consistently graded out as slightly below average with the stick. He is a career 95 OPS+ and 91 wRC+ hitter, and the last time he slugged more than 15 home runs in a season was as a 23-year-old with the Braves in 2013.
As you can see, you would not be buying Simmons for his bat. He doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard, and rarely barrels it up. He generally has ranked in the bottom fifth of the league in both average exit velocity and barrel rate, so don’t expect him to have a LeMahieu-like explosion upon arriving in New York.
That’s not to say Simmons offers zero value at the plate. In the same time span as above, he has been one of the most disciplined hitters in the league. From 2015 to 2019, his strikeout rate alternated between the 99th and 100th percentiles in the league before experiencing a slight fall-off to the 95th percentile in 2020. His whiff rate has never dipped below the 93rd percentile in that time frame.
Simmons does come with two significant red flags attached. The first concerns injury. In 2017-2018, it looked like Simmons was truly hitting his stride as an all-around player. He amassed two straight five-plus fWAR campaigns aided by full seasons of OPS+ and wRC+ above 100 for the first time in his career, along with his ever-stellar defense. But then he suffered a serious ankle injury in 2019.
Simmons was out for two different stints that year because of the injury, and missed about a month in 2020 after aggravating the same ankle. The second red flag is regarding his much-lauded glove, and could very well stem from the recent injury issues. Simmons posted a negative DRS and OAA for the first time in his career in 2020. He saw his range decline at short, perhaps suggesting he has lost a step in the field.
FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors vary drastically in their predictions for the type of contract Simmons could sign. The former has him pegged at three years for $42 million while the latter sees him signing a one year pact for $12 million. The Yankees would in all likelihood pursue the one-year option, with Simmons acting as the bridge to the absurd class of 2022 shortstops.
The confluence of revenue losses in 2020, a potential goal of avoiding the CBT threshold, and Gleyber Torres’ defensive struggles at short could spell the end of DJ LeMahieu’s tenure with the Yankees. And although the majority of Andrelton Simmons’ allure is tied up in a seemingly declining glove, chances are with a healthy season, the defensive numbers will normalize toward the exemplary levels we are accustomed to. With that being the case, the Yankees could do a lot worse when addressing their middle infield should LeMahieu have played his final game in pinstripes.