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Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons opts out of playing the rest of the season

Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of playing the remainder of the 2020 season.
(Jon Durr / Getty Images)

If the Angels manage to make the postseason, they will be doing so without the Gold Glove shortstop who has spent five years in Anaheim dazzling with acrobatic plays. Andrelton Simmons informed the team Monday evening he has opted out of the remainder of the season because of COVID-19 concerns, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Manager Joe Maddon said after the Angels’ 4-2 win over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday that he was able to reach Simmons via a “very warm” text message, but he didn’t offer any clarity on the decision, which effectively brought Simmons’ career in an Angels uniform to a close. Simmons’ seven-year, $58-million contract expires this fall.

Maddon was surprised when he received the news of Simmons’ departure while driving from Angel Stadium to his Long Beach home after Monday’s victory over the Texas Rangers. Simmons hadn’t seemed disenchanted with the Angels.

“No [hint], not at all,” Maddon said. “Name in the lineup, ready to go, bumps fists before the game, smiles easily, talks easily, is always willing to converse when we go out to the mound. When I go out to take out pitchers, he’ll be asking questions about different things.”

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In a statement provided to The Times, Simmons thanked the Angels for their hospitality. He also said: “Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association developed an environment and system that empowered players and provided us the opportunity to decide on whether to play or opt out of the season. At this moment, I feel this is the best decision for me and for my family.”

It is uncertain whether the Angels will attempt to retain Simmons, who last week was noncommittal about his chances of returning to Anaheim.

“I can’t pay myself to play here,” he said in a videoconference, “so it’s not my decision.”

General manager Billy Eppler is likely to take the fall for another disappointing Angels season, but owner Arte Moreno is the constant over a decade of losing.

Simmons, who was replaced on the 40-man roster by 31-year-old rookie Elliot Soto, is making the prorated portion of $15 million this season. With $116 million in 2021 payroll committed to Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton and Albert Pujols, it seems unlikely the Angels would sign Simmons to a long-term deal. They probably will direct most of their budget to landing front-line pitching.

The Angels entered Tuesday’s matchup with the Padres trailing the Houston Astros by 3½ games for second place in the American League West. Even if they were to win both games in San Diego and sweep the season-ending series with the Dodgers, the Angels would need the teams ahead of them in the standings to stumble in order to clinch a playoff berth.

Barring a miracle finish, the Angels will miss the playoffs for a sixth straight year. They already secured their fifth consecutive season with a losing record under general manager Billy Eppler, whose first move after being hired in October 2015 was to acquire Simmons in a five-player trade with the Atlanta Braves.

Still, Maddon lamented the exit of Simmons, who missed 22 games because of a left ankle sprain but batted .297 with seven doubles and 10 RBIs in 30 games. The Angels went 12-7 to start September, the third-best record in the American League during that span.

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“It’s just unfortunate,” Maddon said. “He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons’ opt-out opens the door for utility man David Fletcher to prove once more that he’s capable of handling shortstop on a regular basis. Maddon was complimentary of Fletcher’s ability on the left side of the infield when Fletcher, a Gold Glove finalist at third base a year ago, filled in at shortstop during Simmons’ absence from July 28 to Aug. 21.

“I can stack him up against any of the better guys I’ve ever had as a teammate, or as a manager,” Maddon said when asked if Fletcher could be Simmons’ long-term replacement. “He’s that good.”

After a horrendous start to the 2020 season, Angels outfielder Justin Upton is finishing strong and hopes the success carries over into 2021.

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Simmons, 31, would be a prime candidate for a team seeking not only elite defense but solid offensive production. Simmons had a .282 average and .718 OPS with 125 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 279 games from 2018-20.

Simmons won two of his four Gold Gloves in an Angels uniform. He also accumulated 15.5 wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs. The same site estimates that Simmons’ production in Anaheim could be valued at $124.2 million.

Ankle injuries slowed Simmons the last two seasons. Despite being limited to 103 games in 2019 by a left ankle sprain sustained when he lunged for first base on an infield single, he was a Gold Glove finalist. He led all American League shortstops with 14 defensive runs saved and a 10.4 Ultimate Zone Rating, an advanced statistic that measures a player’s defensive prowess.

Asked last week how much longer he expects to be able to play shortstop at the MLB level, Simmons estimated “eight, 10 years.”

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“You’ve got to believe in yourself, first and foremost,” he said. “I hurt my ankle again this year, and not playing at 100% hurts what I can do, but I know what I’m able to bring to the table every day.”

There are signs that Simmons can continue to provide world-class defense as he matures. Maddon has raved about Simmons’ internal clock and his supremely sharp baseball IQ.

“I try to maximize the risk-reward [of plays],” Simmons said. “That comes with experience and, I think, watching a guy like [Omar] Vizquel play.

“He was one of my idols. I learned that from him, just being very cerebral, anticipating plays, not making mistakes and always being prepared.”

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Three takeaways on the Angels

1. Catcher Max Stassi made the difference for the Angels. He logged his first multihomer game, a 436-foot drive to left-center tying the score at 1-1 in the second and his 409-foot shot to right-center giving the Angels a 3-1 lead in the sixth. Behind the plate, he stole several strikes from outside the zone for starter Griffin Canning, threw out Fernando Tatis Jr. trying to steal third base in the first and turned a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded and no outs in the third.

2. Canning showed fight in striking out 10 batters for the first time as a pro. He labored through six innings, throwing a career-high 108 pitches and issuing five walks. The top of the Padres lineup gave Canning the most trouble.

3. Taylor Ward again flashed his above-average speed when he lined a double into the right-field corner and secured an infield hit on a groundball that traveled 26 feet.


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