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Marcus Semien and the Surfeit of Shortstops

With Marcus Semien poised to return to the squad soon, who should Oakland’s everyday shortstop be? And by that I mean, what will the entire 25-man roster look like in a month?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

I sat down with the intent of writing about who Oakland’s everyday shortstop is going to be. It’s a simple enough question - with Marcus Semien rehabbing and due to return to the major league squad within the next couple of weeks, who will field shortstop between Semien, Barreto, Pinder, and Rosales? Unfortunately I forgot the advice of the wise Carl Sagan: If you wish to make an infield from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Looking at those four names (or really three, because let’s be real, Rosie shouldn’t be part of the equation) just made me realize how many other questions must be answered in order to figure out who Oakland’s shortstop will be on August 1, when the trade deadline has passed. Is Chad Pinder a shortstop, a utility player, or a right fielder? If the latter, can he take over right field from Olson? But might that leave Olson blocked at 1B by Alonso? Maybe we can keep Alonso while ditching other veterans like Jed Lowrie. So does that mean Franklin Barreto is already our everyday 2nd baseman?

As you can see, there’s a lot to unravel here. More than I expected when I started writing this.

The Sure Positions: C and 3B

I don’t think there is much question here: Bruce Maxwell and Josh Phegley are our primary and backup catchers, respectively. Matt Chapman will be playing third base.

1B: What Light Through Yonder Competitive Window Breaks?

The options here would be Healy, Alonso, and Olson. Healy has an iron glove (-30.9 UZR/150, though the bulk of that un-value comes at 3B). Basically, if this team wants a serious chance at being a contender next year and wants to shed the shackles of incompetent defense, Healy should be DHing 5+ days a week.

So that leaves veteran Yonder Alonso and rookie Matt Olson. In my opinion, the A’s should strive to keep the veteran. I don’t need to describe Yonder Alonso’s incredible 2017 season so far, as the All Star votes speak for themselves (keep voting before Thursday! The alternative is Eric Hosmer!). I don’t necessarily believe that the numbers he has put up so far are sustainable, but I think the adjustments are real and that Alonso has finally taken the step (or in this case, the leg lift) forward to utilize his power. And I just love the guy on a personal level. If he could be locked up on something like a 3/33 deal, I would love to see the A’s jump on it.

That would leave Alonso as the primary 1B, with Olson and Healy covering approximately once a week each, depending on pitcher handedness.

On Chad Pinder

The above plan essentially forces Matt Olson to be the full-time right fielder. So what happens to Chad Pinder? Pinder, despite spending the vast majority of his time in AAA at shortstop, has looked surprisingly competent in right field so far. He has taken good routes and shown off a legitimate cannon for an arm that has already saved the A’s a couple of runs.

While I have been genuinely impressed by Pinder in RF, I still have doubts that his bat can handle an everyday role. Despite the dingers, it’s important to keep in mind that Pinder put up a 96 wRC+ at AAA this season (in 7 games), and a 93 wRC+ last season (in 107 games). Maybe his hit tool has become something real, but despite his hot streak, I’m going to assume he’s still a slightly below average hitter overall and thus not someone we want in the lineup every day - at least not against righties.

So that leaves Pinder playing the utility role, covering RF and 2B and SS as needed and serving as a useful player off the bench.

So Who’s Our Everyday Shortstop?

I’m getting there, I’m getting there.

So at this point, with Pinder established somewhere on the Sogard-Zobrist spectrum, we’re down to the returning Marcus Semien and the hot young phenom Franklin Barreto for the everyday shortstop position. Both of them have spent the vast majority of their professional careers playing shortstop - Barreto has logged a few innings at 2B and Semien at 3B, but for all intents and purposes both are lifelong shortstops. This is tricky.

This is the hardest piece of the puzzle, but I say we keep Semien at shortstop and use Barreto (and occasionally Pinder) to cover second base. Why? No particular reason other than the sunk cost fallacy. I can’t get over all the work that Marcus Semien has put in to stick as a shortstop despite how grim that prospect looked at this time two years ago. He has shown more hustle and work ethic than anyone I’ve ever seen play for this team and I think that he has earned the chance to be “first string” on this one. Footwork and positioning was always his issue moreso than throwing (not that throwing was a nonissue, but I feel slightly more confident on that front), so keeping Semien at SS would minimize his shortcomings while allowing a younger, hopefully more moldable Barreto to play 2B (where he has looked pretty fluid in his brief time in the show so far).

Again, this is a judgment call. Maybe Pinder should be our second baseman or something. I dunno. I’m trying to unravel the mysteries of the universe here.

One Final Look at that 25 Man Roster

So with all that done, how might our roster look once the trade deadline has passed? I’m assuming that Rosales, Lowrie, Rajai Davis, and Khris Davis are gone one way or another. There is a fairly reasonable alternate universe where Khrush stays and Alonso goes. There is another where both are gone. This article is getting too long so I’m running with the timeline where Alonso stays. Here’s what I’m envisioning for position players - the bullpen/rotation situation could warrant multiple articles of its own, so I’m sticking to 13 guys who will pick up a bat.

Versus RHP

C: Maxwell

1B: Alonso

2B: Barreto

SS: Semien

3B: Chapman

LF: Joyce

CF: Brugman

RF: Olson

DH: Healy

Bench: Phegley, Pinder

Versus LHP

C: Phegley

1B: Olson

2B: Barreto

SS: Semien

3B: Chapman

LF: Joyce

CF: Brugman

RF: Pinder

DH: Healy

Bench: Maxwell, Alonso


It isn’t perfect, either. Ideally Brugman would be a 4th outfielder rather than our starting center fielder, but I’m not really aware of anyone else besides Rajai Davis who can play the position, and at that point we might as well just throw Bruggy out there all the time. One of Khris Davis/Ryon Healy has to go because we can’t have two DH’s, so in my mind it has to be Khrush since HRs in arbitration = $$$.

Am I wrong, and Pinder should start at 2B? Should we keep Davis instead of Alonso? What do you think?