In a recent article, ESPN’s David Schoenfield made a list of each team’s most untouchable player with the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline quickly approaching.
His criteria was pretty simple:
“For the contenders,” Schoenfield wrote, “I considered prospects or young players who have been mentioned in rumors.” For teams not expected to contend, he he looked at which players on the current big league roster are the least likely to be dealt.
The names for each of the non-contenders were fairly obvious, easy guesses if you were to quiz a casual baseball fan. Examples of these types of players include Best Player in the World Mike Trout, Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado and Arizona Diamondbacks perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt. The general managers of those teams would have to be crazy to trade away a player who’s arguably the best on their current roster.
When it came to the Oakland A’s, the name Schoenfield chose would surprise most fans. Names with the word “untouchable” attached to them would normally be the team’s ace Sonny Gray or perhaps two-time all-star catcher Stephen Vogt. Instead, Schoenfield chose shortstop Marcus Semien as being the Athletics’ most untouchable player.
He did not expand much upon his reasoning for this choice, simply writing, “Nobody is safe in Billy Beane land, but Semien may actually be more untouchable right now than Sonny Gray.”
It’s true; no one is truly untouchable when it comes to the decision-making of Billy Beane, as evidenced in the abrupt trade of the now-reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson to Toronto two years ago.
Beane could trade Semien tomorrow for all we really know, but how is Semien more untouchable than the Athletics’ ace Gray? Gray remains under team control until 2020 and finished third in last season’s Cy Young Award voting. Yet, he has had a very rough season in 2016 and no one, not even Gray, can seem to pinpoint why.
Right now, Gray’s trade value is not at its highest, but he would still likely bring back far more in any deal than anyone else on the roster. It’s unlikely Gray will be traded; however, Beane has made it clear he will listen to offers on the 26-year-old right-hander.
Beane usually won’t sell low and most expect Gray to return to form next season, but what if he doesn’t? With many clubs currently desperate for starting pitching, Beane could get an offer he can’t refuse.
If Drew Pomeranz, who has only recently had success as a starter, could command the Boston Red Sox fourth-rated prospect, it is fairly safe to assume that Gray could command more, even with his 5.49 ERA.
If A’s were able to get a team’s top-five prospect, plus another high-level prospect and perhaps a third player, cash or more, they may just trade Gray. He’s just no longer untouchable, the way he was during the offseason. They’d have to be blown away by the offer, but it’s not an impossibility.
What makes Semien so untouchable? What has made the player who committed a league-leading 35 errors in 2015 turn into what some have called a franchise shortstop worthy of an extension?
The main thing you cannot deny about Marcus Semien is his work ethic. Semien had played just 85 major league games before being traded to the Athletics, only six of which were at his now-everyday position at shortstop. He began his career with Oakland having made 28 errors through July 26, 2015. This season, he has 13. It’s not a perfect number but it’s an obvious improvement.
Semien worked every single day last season, and has so far this season, on learning his position and mastering his defense. With the help of third base coach Ron Washington, Semien managed to go from committing 12 errors in the month of May last season to just two in September. The difference this season is blatant and staggering.
Semien has now become, at the very least, a proficient defensive shortstop, but he’s better than that. His fielding percentage is up 30 points from last season, from .943 in 2015 to .973 in 2016. He’s just below the league average of .974, meaning he’s at least an average defender at his position. That’s a huge change from last season and a testament to his working with Washington everyday.
Then there is his offense. It’s something that Semien consciously works on. He hit a career-high 15 home runs in 2015 and currently leads all AL shortstops with 20. He’s clearly capable of a 30+ home run season, if not now then in the future.
Semien’s also been able to adjust his hitting to changing situations and he’s made the effort to hit the ball to the opposite field more often. Semien realized that teams were increasingly putting the shift on him; teams shifted on Semien 10.4 percent of the time in 2015 and in 2016 that number has jumped to 15.4 percent.
So Semien learned to adapt to it. However hitting the ball to the opposite field doesn’t just come naturally, it takes work.
“I worked on going the other way everyday (during BP)” the A’s shortstop has said.
His hard work had paid off. He’s hitting the ball to the opposite field more than he ever has in his career and he’s mixing grounders and flies at a 1-to-1 ratio, also a career-best.
Signs show that Semien is only getting better. He’s the type of guy a team needs to keep.
The A’s can only expect his numbers to continue to increase. Plus, he is under team control until 2021 and is not even arbitration eligible until 2018. Semien should be the A’s most untouchable player as this year’s trade deadline passes, and the team would be smart to offer him an extension sooner than later.
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