I will not pretend, now long after the fact, that I hated the Jeff Samardzija trade when it happened. I was never a fan of his, and I thought he was always prone to being overrated due to his college football history and his high-profile signing with a high profile team out of the draft. But it was certainly a defensible move at the time. Samardzija looked like he had finally figured out how to get the most out of his stuff, Marcus Semien was being lumped in with Carlos Sanchez and Tyler Saladino in the Expendable Utility Infielder Phylum, and as always the White Sox were trying to push their chips in to compete in the short term without spending any money.
However, it does sting to see Semien outhomering Jose Abreu as of the drafting of this piece. Even if you hate his defense at short, you could slide him over to third and basically replicate what Todd Frazier has done this season–arguably better, given the park differential.
I will not pretend that I had Semien pegged as a guy who would threaten 30 home runs in a season while playing serviceable defense at shortstop. And, given the White Sox’ track record, one could point out that if Semien had stayed in Chicago he would never have turned into this player. The pitfalls of counterfactual history notwithstanding, Semien really has turned into an excellent player, on pace to be approximately a 4-win contributor for Oakland in 2016–or, again, just about what Abreu is accomplishing this year according to Baseball Prospectus’ calculation of WARP.
The White Sox were wrong about Samardzija. Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt for how horrible the defense was behind him, Samardzija was straight-up bad in 2015, and his follow-up campaign with the Giants skews more in the direction of mediocre innings eater than No. 2 starter. Even if Semien sat more at the 2-win level of 2015 rather than leaping to basically an All Star, that would make him one of the better position players on the current White Sox roster, and though the season has been dead for a long time, it needn’t have been. Replacing the 550+ PAs given to the likes of Jimmy Rollins, J.B. Shuck, Jerry Sands, and Sanchez with Semien’s bat could have been the difference between being in a position to buy at the deadline or not.* Not to mention whatever boost the team might have gotten from rostering, say, Josh Phegley instead of Dioner Navarro.
*One wonders if Tim Anderson would have shifted to center field under this scenario.
Even pulling back from such linear substitution of Semien for the collection of sub-replacement level talent that have soaked up hundreds of PAs this season, generally speaking the White Sox have struggled so agonizingly for so long to field a lineup composed of even six credible major league bats. As a result, shipping one out in a misfiring Win Now move has devastating repercussions long-term.
No front office is perfect. By all accounts, Rick Porcello‘s contract extension was a big reason the Red Sox fired former GM Ben Cherington, and at the time, it looked like the Porcello deal was a huge mistake. Now Porcello is, right or wrong, the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award. The Astros let J.D. Martinez go for nothing and drafted Mark Appel ahead of Kris Bryant. The Rangers traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder. It happens.
Unfortunately, the White Sox have not given themselves the margin for error to make mistakes like this, whether due to their budget limitations or because they’re still simply that far behind from decades of incompetence (and a stretch of malfeasance) in amateur talent acquisition and development. While it is perversely heartening that they have finally started producing some major league quality position players–and in the form of Semien it looks like an impact one–this story is still a sad one. Regardless of how much money they’re allowed to spend, the organization has been just flat wrong on far too many player evaluations at every level for far too long. Semien was a player that they had drafted and had in their organization for four years, who they should have known more about than anybody, but they didn’t. And that is yet another reason the White Sox can’t seem to crack .500 despite their excellent, inexpensive core.
Lead Image Credit: Kelley L. Cox // USA Today Sports Images