The Braves are busy extending every young player who isn't clamped down, and their recent Freddie Freeman deal probably bumped extensions upward throughout baseball, but what they've done with Andrelton Simmons may be similarly bad for teams like the Pirates who try to sign their pre-free agent players to long-term deals. Simmons gets $58 million guaranteed through 2020, and it appears the Braves will not get any of the team options often associated with these pre-free agent deals.
Simmons likely would have been a Super Two next offseason, so this deal probably buys out one pre-arbitration season, four arbitration seasons and two free-agent seasons. This is an odd deal to evaluate, because so much of Simmons' value comes from the fact that he's the best defensive player in baseball. Arbitration salaries are often dictated disproportionately by offensive counting stats, and Simmons doesn't have those. But he's only 24, and his defense is likely to give him good value no matter what.
Omar Vizquel wasn't a very good hitter, but his all-world defense meant that his floor was relatively high. (Fun fact: Vizquel never made more in a season than the Pirates paid Jeromy Burnitz in 2006.) Simmons is likely to be the same way. In terms of pure value, Simmons for seven years and $58 million is a good deal. There's also a good chance, given Simmons' age, emerging power and artificially low 2013 BABIP, that he'll become a solid hitter as well, and if that happens, the Braves will have a steal.
But it's hard to say how well Simmons would have done in the arbitration market. Perhaps the Rangers' two deals with the similarly defensive-minded Elvis Andrus (the three-year, $14 million deal that covered 2012 through 2014, and the massive extension he signed last year) would have determined that market a bit. I'm struggling to think of other relevant precedents, both because Simmons' defense is off the charts and because not many good, defense-first shortstops have hit the arbitration system recently.
I do wonder, though, how much this deal will edge extensions upward for defense-first middle infielders, and perhaps for all defense-first players. Prior to the 2012 season, Alcides Escobar (who isn't as good as Simmons, but who's still a very effective defender) signed away his last four pre-free agency years and two option years for $10.5 million guaranteed. Those kinds of deals probably aren't possible anymore.
Pirates fans have recently focused on the possibility of signing Pedro Alvarez or Neil Walker long-term, but the guy they should focus on is Starling Marte. I thought of Marte immediately after I heard about the Simmons deal, because they're both ace defensive players with between one and two years of service time. Simmons is a likely Super Two player, while Marte isn't, and it's hard to say how dollars paid for middle infield defense will translate to dollars for outfield defense. Marte is also clearly a better hitter than Simmons. The connection I'm seeing between them may be a stretch, since they're different in several fundamental ways. But I see an extension like this one and wonder if it might be getting tougher for the Pirates to sign Marte long-term. Last May, I proposed that Denard Span's five-year, $16.5 million contract might be a good starting point for a Marte deal, although with the idea that Marte's would likely be a bit bigger. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore.