After Gleyber Torres’ quad and hamstring strains, Gio Urshela’s bone-spur, and DJ LeMahieu’s lingering thumb sprain, the Yankees are down to their final Opening Day starter in the infield, Luke Voit. Right now, the club doesn’t even have a shortstop on their Major League roster. With all due respect,the Yankees haven’t had a great defensive shortstop in any of the past 25-plus years. Acquiring one before these playoffs would help alleviate tension across the thinned-out Yankees infield.
Since Torres’ injury, at least one of Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada, has been in the lineup. Wade is a fine option to turn to as a pinch-runner, but not for much more. As a starting shortstop, he can barely feign adequacy on either side of the ball. To date, he has a .541 OPS and rates as one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball. Estrada’s only played second, but he hasn’t been much better at the plate with a .652 OPS. In a playoff series, the Yankees will be in some trouble without a fully healthy Torres or LeMahieu, but will be entirely up a creek if they’re stuck starting Triple-A caliber middle infielders.
Despite their willingness to pay a premium for stars, the Angels, yet again, are out of the playoff race. At 10-22, they might as well sell off any players who could help a contender, and trying to build around their stars again next year. Andrelton Simmons’s $12 million expiring contract could be just that piece for the Yankees.
Before getting into the defensive wizardry that could make Simmons a Hall of Famer, I have to acknowledge that he has not been a good hitter since 2018. At his best, Simmons was a contact hitter without any power, who swung at everything he saw, and never walked. Despite his limitations, he struck out less than almost anyone in the Majors, and he hit a ton of groundballs, leading to a batting average that would consistently approach his .300-ish BABIP.
Now, Simmons is in the midst of an awful season at the plate; his current OPS is just .575, the worst of his career. He’s making the worst contact of his career, posting a career-low average exit velocity (6 mph softer than last season), and striking out more than ever (14.7%), undermining the only thing he had going for him in his offensive profile.
Of course, he’s recorded just 34 at-bats over eight games, too little playing time to draw any significant conclusions against the broader trends over the course of his career. Though his batted-ball data is worse than normal, his swing looks relatively unchanged. From what I could tell, he might be cutting his bat path across the ball slightly, leading to softer sliced contact, but that’s a shortcoming that could erode as he regains his rhythm at the plate, growing comfortable tracking the ball deeper into the zone.
Simmons’ swing, contact, and whiff percentages have remained nearly identical to the rest of his career, suggesting he’s probably still the same guy. More likely than not, his batted-ball profile will regress from atrocious to merely mediocre, more than enough to be offset by his stellar defense.
The only truly concerning metric is his rapidly declining foot-speed over the past three seasons. He’s now the slowest shortstop in the game by a wide-margin, which could eat into his offensive floor (a worsened ability to squeak out infield hits) and defensive ceiling (a decrease in maximum range). However, Simmons is still just finding his footing, quite literally, only a week removed from an IL stint due to his third left ankle sprain in two years. Though the recurring injury could be a long-term problem, it could just as easily get better as the season goes on. As his ankle heals and Simmons gets more comfortable putting pressure on it—he says it’s still sore—his sprint speed might come back to a certain extent, though it’s not something I would necessarily bank on.
Defensively, even with the foot-speed regression, the 30-year-old Simmons is still at his peak. Since 2017, Andrelton Simmons has the second highest number of Outs Above Average among shortstops, and the ninth highest total among all players. Just last year, Simmons trailed only Javier Báez in shortstop OAA despite missing 59 games with the two ankle sprains.
Beyond the adoring advanced metrics, Simmons is the kind of player that can swing the momentum of the game with his glove on a daily basis. He’s got an all-time combination of range, hands, transfer speed, arm strength, and arm accuracy to make plays that only he thinks might even be possible.
According to Statcast, on plays with less than a 30% estimated success rate, Simmons recorded an out 55% of the time. Whether it’s a diving stop to help a pitcher out of a jam, or preventing an extra base with a heads up cut and throw, the experience of watching Simmons play defense can be at least as electric as the numbers suggest it is. Like a Derek Jeter with range, Simmons is so confident in his interstellar talent that he can allow his focus to drift away from executing fundamentals, think two steps ahead, and he’ll end up making the play that no one on the field or in the stands sees is possible until after he’s already made it.
Acquiring Simmons right now would cost the Yankees relatively little, while improving their best and worst-case playoff scenarios. If one of Urshela, Torres, or LeMahieu is injured heading into the playoffs, Simmons can play short with the other two manning second and third. Although this seems farfetched given the current state of the team, if everyone’s healthy, Simmons wouldn’t have to play every day, easing the wear and tear on his ankle as well as the attrition on the other battered Bombers, while providing a value approximately equivalent to around two WAR over a full season. With Andrelton Simmons, the Yankees could start to approach the embarrassment of riches they likely thought they had coming into the season.