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Angels acquire Andrelton Simmons from Braves for Erick Aybar, prospects

Angels acquire Andrelton Simmons from Braves for Erick Aybar, prospects
Shortstop Erick Aybar, left, is leaving Anaheim for Atlanta and Andrelton Simmons is leaving Atlanta for Anaheim. (Getty Images and Associated Press)

The Angels ought to be a joy to watch on defense next season. Whether their team is better off for sacrificing two of their very few prospects remains to be seen.

The Angels on Thursday acquired Andrelton Simmons, widely regarded as the best-fielding shortstop in the major leagues, for shortstop Erick Aybar and pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis.

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In Billy Eppler's first trade as the Angels' general manager, he solved one of the pressing issues next winter without resolving any of the pressing issues of the moment.

Aybar, 31, the Angels' shortstop since 2008, is eligible for free agency after next season. Simmons, 26, is signed through the 2020 season, for a total of $53 million.

The Angels do not have a shortstop prospect close to the major leagues. They might have shied away from a long-term extension with Aybar, one that would not have started until he turned 34. The next-best shortstops eligible for free agency next fall are 30-something backups: Clint Barmes, Andres Blanco and Brendan Ryan.

When a top-flight shortstop becomes available, Eppler said, the suitors are many and the price is high.

"This was an opportunity to grab something that very rarely presents itself," Eppler said.

In order to get Simmons, the Angels sacrificed their best prospect — Newcomb, a left-hander who pitched in the Futures Game last year — and arguably their second-best prospect in Ellis, a right-hander.

They did not use those players to address their holes at second base, third base, left fielder and catcher, and a team that needs offensive help acquired a player whose on-base percentage has been below .300 in two of the last three seasons.

"When you have an opportunity to acquire an impact-level shortstop in the prime age of his career, you have to be willing to take that leap of faith," Eppler said.

This particular leap of faith appears to require Eppler to believe he can fill most of the Angels' holes through free agency.

The Braves now have the Angels' top three starting pitching prospects last winter — Newcomb, Ellis and left-hander Ricardo Sanchez, who was traded for third-base prospect Kyle Kubitza. The Angels had hoped Kubitza would succeed David Freese; they now would like to bring back Freese.

The Angels also had hoped that Cuban import Roberto Baldoquin would succeed Aybar in 2017. But Baldoquin, 21, struggled mightily at the Class-A level this year, and the Angels signed him to a bonus so high that it restricts them in Latin American signings for the next two years.

So, under the new management of Eppler, the Angels grabbed Simmons and a Class-A catcher for the prospects, paying the Braves $2.5 million to balance the 2016 salaries of Simmons and Aybar.

The Braves, building toward the opening of a new ballpark in 2017, traded closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielders Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton last winter. They could keep Aybar as a stopgap or flip him to a team in need of a shortstop, perhaps the San Diego Padres.

Simmons said he had not expected a trade but was not surprised by it, given the Braves' rebuilding process.

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"I'm happy to be part of an organization that's trying to win right now," he said.

Simmons also said he was looking forward to playing alongside Albert Pujols, whom he said he admired while growing up, and Mike Trout, whom he called a "supernatural human being."

Eppler emphasized that a run saved is just as valuable as a run scored, and the Angels now have Simmons at shortstop and Trout in center field.

Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood, who played with Simmons in Atlanta, tweeted this: "Simba and Trout up the middle ... that's where hits will go to die haha."

Twitter: @BillShaikin

Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

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