A’s Reasoning for Long-Term Talks with Davis, Semien
By Guy Cresson
In the midst of a rebuild, the Oakland Athletics look to sign slugger Khris Davis and shortstop Marcus Semien to long-term extensions.
A week after Billy Beane stated the club’s focus on a rebuild and intent to keep players for the long-haul, the A’s have reportedly engaged with Khris Davis and Marcus Semien over multi-year deals. Though the extent of the talks is unknown, the move comes as somewhat of a shock.
Beane’s talk of keeping players seemed to be geared toward this next influx of talent — Matt Chapman, Franklin Barreto, Ryon Healy, Chad Pinder, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, etc. The A’s executive seemed to be referring to the future rather than the present.
Also to be considered are the players involved in the report. Khris Davis and Marcus Semien aren’t franchise cornerstones. Though both have enjoyed solid seasons in Oakland, they’re not the players an organization typically builds around. Both have their share of flaws.
Let’s start with Davis: After being acquired from Milwaukee in a trade last offseason, the slugging left fielder instantly became a fan favorite. He smacked 42 long balls in 2016, while also managing to hold a decent batting average (.247).
This season, Davis is posting similar numbers at the plate, .246/.336/.522 with 28 HRs. He has also raised his walk rate to 11.7%, as he continues to improve his batter’s eye. The Fullerton-product has swung at a low 27.3% of pitches outside the zone this season.
Main Concern: Arm Issues
Fielding-wise, Davis shows good range in the outfield (6.9 career RngR). He can cut balls off in the gap fairly well, while also covering a good bit of ground on liners. That said, Davis has one glaring weakness on defense: his arm.
His poor throwing ability has consistently allowed opposing base runners to stretch singles into doubles. Davis also lacks strength on throws home. Even on balls hit to shallow left, he fails to deliver a strike to the plate.
A’s outfield coach Mike Aldrete worked hard with Davis to improve his hose during Spring Training. The two aimed to get the slugger’s arm strength and accuracy to at least league average.
"“We’re not looking for him to throw like Roberto Clemente. What we’re really working on is trying to stop guys from taking extra bases.” — A’s outfield coach Mike Aldrete per csnbayarea.com"
Unfortunately, Davis has shown no improvement from last year. In 79 games in left field, the slugger has posted an atrocious defensive WAR of -1.5, almost all of which is due to -8.9 ARM runs.
His negative dWAR eats a good chunk of the value produced by his bat. In 426 PA, Davis has produced 2.5 WAR at the plate. Factor in his good base running and terrible arm in left and it’s down to a meager 1.5.
At age 29, it’s unlikely Davis’s arm will ever get better. His value will always be found in his bat. His ability to homer on any pitch to anywhere in the park is his greatest asset. Hitting well against right and left-handed pitching, Davis is a must-have in the lineup at all times.
That said, he will always be chasing a .250 average, likely never to hit much over .260 in a full season. Should the two sides agree on a long-term deal, Davis should be relegated to the team’s primary DH next season.
After coming over in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, Semien has been the shortstop version of Davis — lots of pop, low average, good walk rate. His best year was 2015, in which he posted a .257/.310/.405 slash line, while also earning a WAR of 1.4 on defense.
In 2016, the A’s shortstop batted .238/.300/.435, effectively raising his wOBA from the year before. Missing much of this season due to injury, Semien has raised his batting average and OBP to .240 and .360 respectively but hasn’t hit much for extra-bases.
At age 26, his best seasons are still ahead of him.
In parts of five Major League seasons, Semien has shown an ability to be one of the game’s more productive offensive shortstops.
Should he get his swing figured out, he could hit .260 with a good OBP and lots of XBH.
Unlike Davis, Semien is a capable fielder at his position. He’s produced 1.8 defensive WAR in his Major League career. While that’s certainly not elite, it proves he’s an everyday shortstop. He also possesses slightly above-average range as indicated by his positive career RngR.
Where Semien struggles is consistency. Much like his batting stats, his fielding metrics have fluctuated heavily.
Main Concern: Fielding Woes
Over the course of a season, the Berkeley boy is unreliable in making the routine play. In 2015, Semien led the entire league in errors with 35 in 152 games. Though reducing his fielding blunders to 21 last season, he still finished with the most among shortstops.
On the bases, Semien possesses fairly good speed. He’ll swipe a few bags here and there, owning 33 SB thus far in his career. With the A’s likely not extending Rajai Davis, he’ll be the A’s only threat on the bases next year.
The real question here is what the Athletics expect from Semien should they offer him an extension. At least with Davis, the answer is clear — LOTS of HRs, decent average, good walk rate, and terrible defense. Semien, on the other hand, is a bit of a mystery.
His numbers, having fluctuated so great in degree from year to year, make it difficult to assess what kind of player Semien really is. However, a few aspects of his game are clear:
Unlike Davis, his power plays only to his pull-side. He’s hit a mere 2 HRs to the right-side of second base over his Big League career.
He also struggles against right-handed pitching, hitting for 87 wRC+ compared to his 126 against lefties. He’s a legitimate leadoff/two-hole vs. lefties but more of a 7-8 hole vs. righties.
In short, the best-case scenario for Semien would be average defense with good power for his position.
A’s Reasoning for Extensions:
So why are Beane and Co. considering the duo for extensions?
Several factors complicate the matter, but the A’s are looking to redevelop their fan base over the next few seasons.
The constant trading and cycles of “Moneyball” make the A’s a hard team for fans to follow. By keeping the same players on the field, the front office is looking to establish an identity among the club.
Signing Davis and Semien to multi-year deals would certainly help in that regard. It’d provide A’s fans consistency for the years leading up to the stadium’s opening.
Both Cali boys and reportedly good friends during the offseason, locking them down would be a smart move for a rebuilding club. The two would provide the A’s young clubhouse with veteran leadership over the next few seasons.
The front office also has the money to commit to multi-year deals. With so many guys in their pre-arbitration years and being paid league minimum for the next few seasons, the A’s certainly have space on their payroll.
If nothing else, both signings would serve as practice for the front office in big-money deals. The A’s should be making plenty of long-term deals in the future if the new stadium does, in fact, bring in more revenue for the club.
Neither are likely to become franchise pieces. Both Davis and Semien will be productive in the future, but, more importantly, instrumental in the stadium transition and new philosophy of keeping players on long-term deals.