Andrelton Simmons is the fifth Brave to get a contract extension this month. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
Another day, another Atlanta extension: The Braves have signed shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million deal. The 24-year-year-old glove wizard is the fifth young player whom the team has signed to a multiyear contract covering the remainder of his pre-free agency years this month, and the fourth whose pact buys out the early years of his free agency. The deal is the largest ever for a player with less than two years of service time, and looks like a steal relative to the highest-paid shortstops in the game.
Simmons' deal follows those for teammates Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel, all of which have been completed this month; it's the second-largest of the group in terms of both dollars and years, behind only that of Freeman:
8 yr/$135M (through 2021)
7 yr/$58M (through 2020)
4 yr/$42M (through 2017 +2018 club opt.)
6 yr/$32.4M (through 2019 + 2020 club opt.)
2 yr/$13.3M (through 2015)
Of that group, Simmons joins Teheran as having not only his arbitration years bought out but even his remaining pre-arb years, and all but Heyward as having at least one of his years of free agency bought out. Freeman's deal extends into what would have been his fifth year of free agent eligibility, hence the fact that it's more than double any of the other ones, while Simmons' deal runs through what would have been his second year of free agent eligibility — or his first, if he attains Super Two status and thus would have had an extra year of arbitration prior to free agency. His 125 days of service time are slightly beyond last year's cutoff of 122 days.
While the Braves could have unilaterally renewed Simmons' contract for 2014 at a price slightly above the minimum salary ($500,000), according to the figures reported by CBS Sports.com's Jon Heyman, he'll instead get a signing bonus of $1 million and a salary of $1 million, with subsequent salaries of $3 million, $6 million, $8 million, $11 million, $13 million and $15 million.
Simmons should be worth the money. Though he hit just .248/.296/.396 in 2013, his 17 homers represented the majors' fifth-highest total for a shortstop, and his 87 OPS+ was just four percent lower than the major league average at the position. To say that he more than made up for it on defense would be an understatement; his 41 Defensive Runs Saved set a record for the metric, which has been around since 2003. Among shortstops, it surpassed Adam Everett's 2006 total of 34, and bested the 2013 runner-up, Minnesota's Pedro Florimon, by a whopping 29 runs. Via Ultimate Zone Rating, Simmons' 24.6 runs above average was 13.7 runs better than that of second-ranked Alcides Escobar, and second only to Everett's 25.1 among shortstops in a metric that extends back to 2002.
Not only did Simmons' fieldwork net him the NL Gold Glove for shortstops, he won the Rawlings Platinum Glove Award, representing the best defensive player in the entire league, as well as the Fielding Bible Award, recognizing the best defensive shortstop in either league. Just a small sample of his reel:
[mlbvideo id="31198033" width="600" height="360" /]
Baseball-Reference.com's version of Wins Above Replacement, which uses DRS as its defensive input, valued Simmons at 6.7 WAR for 2013, the highest total at the position. While helped by the injury-shortened seasons turned in by second-ranked Hanley Ramirez (5.4) and third-ranked Troy Tulowitzki (5.3), it was impressive enough to rank fourth among all NL players.
That 6.7 WAR was also roughly 60 percent higher than the 4.2 of fourth-ranked Elvis Andrus. Though only one year and nine days older than Simmons, Andrus already has a full five years of major league service under his belt. As a below-average hitter whose value derives from the other things he does well (speed and defense), his compensation makes for an interesting point of comparison with that of Simmons, though it's not quite apples-to-apples because the latter had the potential to be a Super Two. Still, it's worth noting the dollars involved.
After three years at around the major league minimum salary, Andrus signed a three-year, $14.4 million contract in February 2012, covering his three years of arbitration eligibility. He made $3.125 million in 2012 (including a $750,000 signing bonus), and $4.8 million last year; over that span, he hit just .279/.339/.355, but thanks to baserunning (a combined 11 runs above average) and defense (+19 DRS), he was worth an average of 4.0 WAR per year, thus providing an excellent return on the Rangers' investment. He'll make $6.475 million in 2014, in what would have been his final year before free agency. Instead of reaching the open market after that, he'll begin an eight-year, $120 million deal running through 2022, with opt-out clauses after 2018 and '19 (years four and five) and a vesting option for 2023.
If, like the Braves, we assume that Simmons would have been a Super Two, then he'll make $17 million in his first three years of arbitration-eligibility ($3 million + $6 million + $8 million) to Andrus' $14.4 million. But from there, he will proceed to make $39 million over the next three years ($11 million + $13 million + $15 million), compared to the $47 million ($15 million per year plus a $2 million signing bonus) Andrus will make. The total for those six comparable years is $56 million for Simmons, $61.4 million for Andrus. Even if the former regresses to become, say, a four-win player (because his defense is by definition an outlier), he'll be a slight bargain compared to latter, and if he's merely a three-win player, the Braves will still be getting their money's worth given the market assumption of $5.45 million per win. Andrus and Simmons both represent significant bargains compared to the highest-paid free agent shortstop in recent years, Jose Reyes ($17.67 million per year for 2012-17).
Simmons' $58 million extension tops Ryan Braun's five-year, $45 million one as the largest ever granted to a player with less than two years of service time. Braun accumulated 129 days of service in his 2007 rookie season and signed early in 2008. In terms of average annual value, Simmons' $8.29 million per year is the eighth-highest currently active deal among shortstops:
Note that despite not playing at all in the majors in 2011 and just 49 games in '12, Simmons ranks seventh among shortstops in WAR over the past three seasons; Andrus, Tulowitzki, Yunel Escobar (10.7), Aybar and Reyes are the only ones ahead of him, and they've all played in at least 110 more games than he has in that span.
As noted in connection with the Teheran and Kimbrel deals, the Braves are handing out these extensions just months after bringing John Hart on board as a special advisor to general manager Frank Wren (who just received an extension of his own, as did manager Fredi Gonzalez). As the GM of the Indians from 1992-2001, Hart pioneered the strategy of buying out key players' arbitration years, saving millions of dollars by trading risk for cost certainty and thereby locking in the prime years of Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel and Sandy Alomar Jr. That strategy helping the Indians keep their core intact and become an AL powerhouse, winning six division titles and two pennants from 1995-2001. The Braves play in a larger market than the Indians do, but their payroll last year ranked just 18th in the majors at $90.0 million; they're particularly cost-conscious because they're locked into to one of the worst TV deals in the game, which explains in part why they building a new suburban ballpark so as to increase their revenue via other means.