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

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SAN DIEGO — Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Angels 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

“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,” Simmons said in a statement provided to The Los Angeles Times. “At this moment, I feel this is the best decision for me and for my family.

“We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Simmons, 31, missed 22 games this season because of a left ankle sprain but was productive when healthy. He will head into the offseason having batted .297 with seven doubles and 10 RBIs in 30 games.

Simmons’ contract expires this fall and he 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.

It is uncertain whether the Angels will attempt to retain Simmons, who last week was noncommittal about his chances of returning to Anaheim, saying, “I can’t pay myself to play here, so it’s not my decision.”

He added, “I enjoy the company of my teammates. I enjoy the city. I like the stadium. So that’s all I’ve got for you.”

Simmons 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.

With Simmons having opted out, the Angels can turn over the reins at shortstop to David Fletcher, who showed during Simmons’ 3 1/2-week absence that he’s capable of holding down the position. Utility infielder Elliot Soto was promoted from the Angels’ alternate site to replace Simmons on the roster.

Simmons spent the last five seasons in Anaheim and 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 still a Gold Glove finalist.

Simmons led all American League shortstops with a 10.4 Ultimate Zone Rating, an advanced statistic that measures a player’s defensive prowess, and 14 defensive runs saved. His rating of 13.3 in the Society of Baseball Research’s defensive index, a system that accounts for about 25% of the Gold Glove award selection process, ranked third among American League players behind Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman (16.7) and Cleveland Indians catcher Roberto Perez (17).

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

“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. Manager Joe 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.”

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.

The Angels (24-31), who play at San Diego on Tuesday and Wednesday before closing out the regular season with a three-game weekend series at Dodger Stadium, are 3 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros (27-27) for a playoff berth.

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