Fresh off the back of Monday’s Brandon Moss for Joe Wendle deal, Billy Beane moved again by flipping Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa for Marcus Semien, Chris Bassitt, Josh Phegley, and Rangel Ravelo. So how do we feel about this as A’s fans? Some places would have you believe that this is a complete rebuild, but is that the case? First, let’s look at the players involved.
Samardzija will begin 2015 as a 30-year-old in his 4th full season as a starter. He’s improved every year, and last year put up his best season with a 2.99 ERA and 3.20 FIP in 33 starts. His win-loss record doesn’t reflect his dominance due to his time with the flailing cubs and last year’s struggling A’s, but he was superb. He dropped his walk and home run rates to record lows while striking out nearly a batter per inning, and even raising his groundball rate over 50% for the first time. He was rewarded with his first season over 4 fWAR, which was #15 in the league, which puts him in the ace conversation. His slider was excellent in 2014, keeping opposing hitters to to a .563 OPS. That said, he is 30 years old, and from all accounts will test free agency at the end of his contract, so you’re paying for one year of the shark.
Semien is a 24-year-old who got his first taste of the MLB after performing extremely well against AAA last year, hitting for a .882 OPS. He didn’t perform well at the MLB level at the plate or on the field, but it was only 255 at-bats, and he did perform significantly better in his September call-up than he did in the beginning of the season. He hit for an over .800 OPS during the last month of the season, and scouts say he might be able to stick at shortstop, though he probably won’t be anything special. The bat will play at 2nd base or the hot corner, which should play for nice flexibility after the A’s traded for Brett Lawrie recently. If he sticks at shortstop and provides a .750 OPS, Semien is a fantastic pick-up.
Bassitt is a 25-year-old who has consistently performed very well in the minors who also got his first shot in the bigs last year. In a limited sample size he posted a sub 4 ERA in just under 30 innings without giving up a home run. His cutter was his best pitch last year in terms of both strikeouts and walks, and he did pitch rather well against the A’s in early September.
Phegley is a 26-year-old whose stat line suggests he’s a AAAA catcher, having destroyed AAA pitching two years in a row while failing to do the same in the MLB. The power is big if he can stick though; 23 home runs in 107 games is a bit eye popping even if it is AAA. He’s a righty too, and we all know how much right handed power is en vogue right now.
Ravelo is a 22-year-old corner infielder who has taken big steps ahead in high A and AA over the last two years. Putting up OBP’s in the high 300’s and batting averages also over .300 will make any GM at least want an extended look. His value is significantly improved if he can stick at third, though he may end up at first base, and if so he’s one of those awkward no power righty first basemen that don’t have a great track record of success.
Finally there’s Ynoa, who was once a crazy talented 16-year-old whose tools have never translated into success in the minors. He’s still got the stuff you can dream on, but even after switching to the bullpen last year his impressive strikeout rate didn’t translate to runs prevented. Still, the 6’7” body is a lot of fun to watch.
Philosophically, this is the A’s taking the last year of their ace and turning it into four bodies which could produce at a lower level for many more years. If Semien sticks at shortstop, or Ravelo continues to mash in the minors, or even if Bassitt can give the A’s a win and a half on the mound, it’s hard to not view this as a pretty solid return. While this return isn’t the Addison Russell top-end piece that they traded for Samardzija, the depth here gives a lot of potential for upside. Does this move make them worse now? Yes, but with the A’s rotation depth, Samardzija’s loss isn’t as bad as other contending teams. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are front of the rotation starters, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz were excellent in their times in the rotations last year, Jarrod Parker and AJ Griffin are due back some time next year, and the A’s also have depth in Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman and Bassitt.
It makes it easier to say goodbye to Samardzija considering he only spent about half a year with the team, and that half year doesn’t exactly have the nicest place in my heart considering I didn’t even get to attend a playoff game out of it. The A’s desperately need middle infield help and they got that. To boot, they got a replacement starter, a third base prospect, and a right handed catching option in case Derek Norris gets down or is traded. I can’t argue with that.
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