OK, so this season hasn’t been excellent for the A’s.  They’re among the worst teams in the league, and nothing short of a miracle would propel them back to the playoffs this year.  Every trade rumors post you’ll read has a surprisingly successful team mulling about the idea of trading for Zobrist, Clippard, or even Gray.

Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson might be the MVP in the American League this year, while Brett Lawrie has been a wee bit short of that lofty goal.  It’s easy to look at that trade and the way that this season has gone, and call it a failure.  There are upsides though; and the biggest one is the Jeff Samardzija trade.  Let’s take a look.

So the obvious reason why this trade was good for the A’s is that Samardzija hasn’t been good.  He hasn’t been indefensibly horrible by any means, but a 4.84 ERA, a dipping strikeout rate, and other poor peripherals suggest that he’s been half the pitcher he was in Oakland for 111 innings last year.  He’s earning a whopping $9.8 million in arbitration this year, and he’s due to hit free agency next year as a 30-year-old.  If the A’s had held on to him, he’d be the worst pitcher in the rotation right now, and it’s fairly clear that they’re better off without him, considering they have the best rotation ERA in the American League this year.

His 4.49 FRA puts him below his 40th percentile projection at the preseason, which means he’s underperforming expectations considerably.  His Pitch F/X profile suggests that he’s been pitching outside the zone fairly frequently as opposed to living at the corners.  While his velocity seems fine, he’s just not continuing that steady improvement many hoped for, and at this rate, he may need a short term contract to rebuild value before anybody is ready to award him a 125+ million dollar deal.

So then, what about the return?  The big piece that came back was Marcus Semien.  Now, a lot has been made of Marcus Semien’s defense, and to be fair, it’s been really bad.  There were a lot of questions about his arm accuracy going into the season, and he’s pretty much been what we thought he’d be.  By Fangraphs’ fielding metrics, he’s actually been just fine with his range and his ability to turn the double play, but he’s been atrocious with the errors, and his zone rating has been less than stellar.  He hasn’t exactly flashed the ability to be a stud ever either, as Inside Edge doesn’t have him making a single play they’d classify as “Unlikely” or better.

What he has flashed though is the ability to hit very well for a shortstop.  He posted OPS’s north of .750 for the first two months of the season, though the wheels have fallen off a bit in June.  That said, even in June his walk rate has skyrocketed, so it’s likely he’s just being a wee bit too patient.  He’s also being tutored by Ron Washington at shortstop, who famously turned Eric Chavez from nothing special into a perennial Gold Glover.  I’m holding out slim hope for him at shortstop, where his bat should be more than capable (best wOBA at the position in the American League this year), and even if he doesn’t, he should still make a fine second baseman after the A’s trade away Zobrist.

Then there’s the guy who’s been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, Josh Phegley.  Phegley has overcome a slow start in April to really come alive since May 1st, and currently has a slash line of 280/333/451.  Phegley was acquired to hit lefties, and boy has he done that.  He’s got a .908 OPS against southpaws, and is generating hard contact at a 33% clip with a 30.8% line drive rate.  He’s even going opposite field nearly 30% of the time; that’s pretty excellent.  Fangraphs has him as a plus catcher due to a 47% caught stealing rate, but even Baseball Prospectus’ more stringent catcher defensive metrics have him as basically break even behind the dish.  With Stephen Vogt quietly putting up a potential All-Star season, Josh Phegley has been the perfect short-side platoon partner, and very well may provide a consistent presence from the right side the A’s have sorely lacked for the last few years.

Then there’s the prospects; Chris Bassitt and Rangel Ravelo.  Bassitt had a cup of coffee in the big leagues during the A’s merry-go-round of relievers a month ago, and it didn’t go well, but his time in AAA has been fruitful.  He’s generating groundballs half the time, which is a good sign, and he’s striking out exactly one batter per inning.  He’s also doing very well at keeping the ball in the park, having given up just one home run all year in 51 innings, and his walk rate is the lowest it’s been since 2011.  Sure, he’s 26 and the A’s don’t exactly need another right-handed swingman type, but Bassitt is showing that he’s probably capable of filling that back-end rotation future like he looked at trade time.  Ravelo should be back very soon from wrist surgery, and hopefully will slot in at AAA, as he played extremely well in AA last year.

So while this season hasn’t been particularly great, and the Donaldson trade looks pretty bad right now, not everything is bad.  The Samardzija trade, at the very least, looks like a clear win for the Green and Gold.

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