As is stands right now, the Yankees’ infield is far from complete. Assuming the team does not make a single move over the rest of the winter — not likely, but this is just a hypothetical — the Yankees currently have Luke Voit at first base, Gleyber Torres at second, third baseman Gio Urshela at shortstop, and second baseman DJ LeMahieu at third base. On top of that, because Tyler Wade and Andrew Velazquez are now in Anaheim and Chris Gittens was released to play in Japan, the only other infielders on the roster are a pair of shortstop prospects: Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera. They have combined for 17 games total at Triple-A Scranton, as they were only promoted in September.
Due to this dearth of shortstops with MLB experience on the roster, the Yankees have been understandably but infuriatingly linked to free agent Andrelton Simmons.
There is one reason and one reason alone to like Simmons: his glove. No matter which metric you use, it is impossible to describe his defense as anything other than as one of the best in the modern era. His 197 Defensive Runs Saved lead all Major Leaguers by a considerable margin since he made his debut in 2012 (Nolan Arenado comes in a distant second at 136), as does his 15.9 UZR/150 (ahead of Jason Heyward’s 13.4 by more than 2.5 points). Since Statcast began recording Outs Above Average in 2016, only two players, Francisco Lindor and Nick Ahmed, have accumulated more OAA than his 81.
Simmons had a rough go of it in 2020, a season when baseball understandably took a backseat for him as he battled depression, anxiety, and more. On the field, he posted negative numbers defensively for the first time in his career with a -1 OAA, -2 DRS, and 4.0 UZR/150.
In 2021 though, Simmons rebounded with the glove in a big way, accruing 16 OAA and 15 DRS despite his UZR/150 dipping to -1.1. And although he has only ever formally played the shortstop position, he has lined up all over the diamond via the shift with admirable results (image depicts Statcast data from 2019-2021).
Simply put, Simmons’ glove, at least for now, remains elite, and as such, he would be an asset to any team looking to deepen their bench — as we suggested the Yankees might do two years ago at the August 31st trade deadline.
Of course, nobody appears to be looking at Simmons as a useful bench piece —let alone the Yankees, who tried to trade for him at the deadline this past year and who have continued to keep him on their radar this winter. So what in the world are these guys thinking?
It’s certainly not his performance at the plate in 2021, which was so bad (.223/.283/.274, 56 wRC+) that he was actually worse than replacement-level this past season (-0.5 fWAR; Baseball Reference was more forgiving, and had him at 1.5 bWAR). Among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances, he was the fifth-worst, ahead of only Jackie Bradley Jr., Austin Hedges, Kevin Newman, and Cody Bellinger.
Simmons’ Statcast numbers don’t exactly inspire confidence, either. His barrel percentage of 0.6 percent was higher than just Ronald Torreyes and David Fletcher, his hard-hit percentage of 21.5 was higher than them and two others, and his xSLG of .281 was worst in baseball.
It’s not like 2021 is an aberration, either, as he’s also ranked near the bottom of these stats every year since 2019. Sure, it certainly represents a bottoming out — his wRC+ was almost 40 points lower than his 2020 value and 20 points lower than 2019 — but it’s not exactly unsurprising. And given the fact that he will be entering his age-32 season, there’s no real reason to doubt that his best days at the plate are behind him.
And yet ... the only reason that a contender could truly see Andrelton Simmons as their starting shortstop in 2022 is if they foresee a return to his 2017-2018 form. Across those two seasons, Simmons was one of the most valuable shortstops in baseball, accruing more fWAR (10.3) than anyone except for Lindor (13.4), simply because he was able to pair his elite defense with a league-average bat for just the first time in his career (104 wRC+). If he could return to anything close to resembling this form at the plate, he’d instantly be a solid option for a large number of teams, somewhere in that second tier of free agent shortstops behind Carlos Correa.
Unfortunately for Simmons, those years have passed. He’s three years older and significantly slower (once ranking in the 63rd percentile in the league, he was in the 32nd percentile in 2021), and he has dealt with ankle injuries in each of the last three seasons. Personally, after how open he has been about his mental health, I am rooting for Simmons to succeed and have a long career over which we can marvel at his defensive prowess. His next stop, however, should not be as the Yankees starting shortstop — although, at this point, I fully expect it to be.