Transaction Scripts: Samardzija to the White Sox, Semien to the A’s

Jeff Samardzija takes his 96 MPH sinker & 200+ K's to Chicago to join Chris Sale at the top of the White Sox rotation
Jeff Samardzija takes his 96 MPH sinker & 200+ K’s to Chicago to join Chris Sale at the top of the White Sox rotation

After the rumors surfaced that a deal had been in place to move Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, it was made official today that he and Michael Ynoa were indeed moving to Chicago in return for Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, Chris Bassit and prospect Rangel Ravelo. While there is certainly quantity in return for the services of Samardzija, the Athletics continue their rebuilding on the fly under general manager Billy Beane. Meanwhile, the White Sox are stockpiling players to enable them to build towards a run to the playoffs and even a chance at the American League Central crown. While it may take more than they presently possess, the pieces are in place for the White Sox to improve.

One of the things that the White Sox have lacked is a solid number 2 starter to slot in behind Chris Sale. ‘Shark’ will now split up lefties Sale and Quintana to compose a solid front-3. This puts 2 of the last 5 pitchers to strikeout over 200 batters over the last 2 seasons in the same rotation. The other 3 include free agent Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez and defending National League Cy Young Award winner and MVP Clayton Kershaw. That is pretty good company to be in and to have 40% of it in your staff, if only for a year, is something to pay attention to.

I understand that moving to a ballpark that is known more for its ability to produce home runs than prevent them is a daunting task, but Samardzija has had to pitch in Wrigley with the wind blowing out, so he should be up to the task. In fact, over the last 3 seasons, his grounder to fly ball ratio (GB/FB) has increased, settling at 1.64 in 2014. While his strikeouts per 9 dipped some this year (from 9 in 2013 to 8.3), his K:BB improved to a career best 4.7. Along with that 96 MPH sinker, Samardzija also features a 96 MPH fastball, an 87 MPH slider, a 94 MPH cutter and an 86 MPH split-fingered fastball. In 2014, the big right-hander had 3 of his pitches produce ground balls per balls in play percentages above 45% (slider 47%, split-finger 55%, sinker 62%). Here is a look at his zone profile, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net showing his ground ball percentages of balls put in play:

Samardzija GB per BIP
Even though Samardzija has been a very good pitcher, he has only averaged 8 wins per season over his last 3 years as a starter. ESPN’s Tristan Cockroft has an idea as to why:

While it remains to be seen if Samardzija is continuing to grow or simply had a career year in 2014, returning to his hometown to pitch for his favorite team is a chance that the White Sox were willing to take. With a little run support he would be in line for a nice contract extension from the White Sox or a chance at free agency following the 2015 season. For an idea of his projection, I will average out his last three seasons:

Jeff Samardzija 3 year average: 8 W, 202.2 IP, 199/59 K/BB, 3.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

I think the move to a contender will propel him to double-digit (12-14) wins for the first time in his career. Being in the American League for the full season will probably force his WHIP up some (1.15 range, probably), but his ability to fan hitters at a consistent rate will be worth the price. His move to the less pitcher-friendly league may create a buying opportunity for fantasy owners, and a substantial return on investment is possible.

Due to the lack of power arms in the bullpen, taking oft-injured Michael Ynoa is worth the flier for the White Sox as well, but as enticing as his fastball and above average changeup are, his injury past makes him nothing more than a speculative bullpen piece moving forward.

Oakland’s quantity in return:

Can Marcus Semien's blend of power and speed make him a fantasy relevant player in 2015? Oakland thinks so
Can Marcus Semien’s blend of power and speed make him a fantasy relevant player in 2015? Oakland thinks so

While Billy Beane is trading pieces away from his failed run at the World Series this year, things are definitely changing in Oakland. In the short term, Marcus Semien will get a chance to gobble up the lion’s share of playing time at shortstop and Chris Bassitt will get a look at the rotation or as a long reliever for the A’s. Catcher Josh Phegley has had 2 stints in the majors but his swing can get long and he profiles as a backup catcher. The prize in this deal may be AA prospect Rangel Ravelo who is a first baseman but may get some time at third base in the minors this year to speed up his arrival to Oakland.

Since Marcus Semien seems to be the centerpiece of this trade, it will be interesting to not only see if his defense can keep him at short with the A’s, but if his bat can play a full season in the majors. There is some life in his bat and in his legs, but can he make enough contact in the majors to become fantasy relevant? To start building a baseline for his projection with Oakland, let’s have a look at his last 2 seasons in Triple A and with Chicago:

Marcus Semien AAA 2013-14: 115 G, 77 R, 19 HR, 69 RBI, 11 SB, .266/.368/.491
Marcus Semien Chicago 2013-14:
85 G, 37 R, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 5 SB, .240/.293/.380

There is a lot to like in Semien’s 2-year stat line from AAA, which features double-digits homers and steals with a .859 OPS. However, he’s yet to translate that to the majors. One of the reasons that Semien was traded is that the White Sox possess depth in the middle infield. Because Jeff Samardzija could be a 1-year rental, it was hard for Beane to maximize his full value on the trade market. But Semien does represent what Oakland prefers, a player with multi-positional possibilities that can get on base along and drive in runs. Some interesting splits exist when looking at Semien’s numbers in 2014:

Semien vs LHP: .271/.311/.424 wRC+ 105
Semien vs RHP:
.212/.294/.342 wRC+ 79

In the ever-changing world of fantasy baseball, Semien may be a great matchup play in daily fantasy against left-handed pitchers; even in Oakland. I was surprised by his home/road splits since Chicago is a good hitting environment:

Semien Home 2014: .220/.320/.385 wRC+ 96
Semien Road 2014:
.246/.281/.361 wRC+ 80

During the 2014 season, Semien was demoted to AAA since he really struggled early on, but after posting an .881 OPS with Charlotte he finished the year in Chicago:

Semien 1H 2014: .218/.287/.327 wRC+ 72
Semien 2H 2014:
.273/.333/.485 wRC+ 129

Predicting a player’s performance over his first full season in the majors is tough to do. Fortunately, Semien has provided a template for his performance thus far in his 85 games as a Major Leaguer. Fangraphs Steamer projection is bullish on him for 2015:

Marcus Semien Steamer Projection: 120 G, 60 R, 16 HR, 56 RBI, 9 SB, .242/.323/.410

With the move to Oakland, I will put my projection slightly under on the power numbers but I could see Semien producing 13 home runs with 55 runs, 49 RBI and 7 steals. But I could also see Semien reaching the projection above if his adjustments at AAA from last year stick. Let’s compare Semien’s projection with Asdrubal Cabrera’s 2014. Cabrera finished the year as the 16th ranked shortstop via ESPN’s Player Rater.

Asdrubal Cabrera 2014: 146 G, 74 R, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 10 SB, .241/.307/.387

Even with his limitations, Semien has top-15 potential at shortstop. However, that probably represents his upside. I think he can be a good late mixed league middle infielder with potential for more if he can thrive in Oakland as others have in the past.

Similar to their trade with Toronto, Oakland has acquired another big league ready arm in Chris Bassitt. He will get a chance to make the rotation or audition for Oakland’s long reliever gig. Bassitt has a fastball, sinker, a slider and a curveball in his repertoire, but his best pitch in the majors last year was his curve. Paired along with the acquisitions of Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman, they are taking calculated chances on upside arms who could stick. I really see Bassitt sticking as the long reliever as he could reduce his pitches to his sinker and curveball. Further, Oakland’s ballpark will help Bassitt keep the ball in the park.

Josh Phegley has played 76 games with the White Sox and represents organizational depth at catcher. He does have pop in his bat but his 7 Major League home runs have come with a .207/.221/.332 slash line attached. He’s at best Oakland’s third catcher and should receive only limited playing time.

Along with Semien, the player I am most interested in from this deal for Oakland is first base prospect Rangel Ravelo. There are questions about his ability to hit for power and stick at first base but there are rumors already starting that the A’s will also use him at third base to season him quicker. Over 133 games in AA, Ravelo scored 72 runs with 11 home runs, 66 RBI and 10 stolen bases while slashing .309/.386/.473. A versatile high OBP player being acquired by Oakland seems to fit the Beane type of target in trade. There are probably more moves to come but as always there is a lot to talk about when it comes to this team:

It is much too early to say who wins a trade like this, but social media has decided that Chicago got the better end. How Marcus Semien and Rangel Ravelo develop and contribute in Oakland will be a determining factor when looking back at this trade in hindsight. The early winners are Jeff Samardzija and Semien. Samardzija should get more run support and Semien will get a chance to play full time with a big league club.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MiLB.com, Fangraphs.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/FxRPHf (Samardzija), http://goo.gl/88yWvs (Semien)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

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