How Didi Gregorius could fit A's in free agency if Marcus Semien leaves

How Didi Gregorius could fit A's in free agency if Marcus Semien leaves

Editor's Note: This week, NBC Sports Bay Area will theorize hypothetical front-office acquisitions for each of our teams. Today, we examine a potential move the A's could make.

Nobody wants Marcus Semien to stay with Oakland more than, well … Marcus Semien. But that might not be the case.

The Bay Area native and Cal grad made the inaugural All-MLB team in 2019, earning Second Team honors after slashing a .285/.369/.522 line with 33 home runs and 92 RBI. That was good for an .892 OPS. He also led the league with 747 plate appearances starting at shortstop in all 162 games. 

As we face a standstill in the baseball world due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a chance we have seen Semien wear an A’s uniform for the final time, as 2020 is the final year on his contract. That means preparing for a departure from the 2019 third-place AL MVP. Someone like Didi Gregorius could make for a good option to fill that void in 2021.

The deal

Didi Gregorious to the A's on a three-year, $40 million contract.

Gregorius signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason. The slight drop in the monetary amount would be because of his ability to be an injury magnet. 

Plus, the A’s historically have not given out long-term contracts to free agents in the past, but that could be beneficial to Gregorius. If the team couldn’t keep Semien, three years to a shortstop of Gregorius’ caliber feels fair and something Oakland could give.

The 30-year-old has been backed by A’s legend Reggie Jackson while Gregorius was with the New York Yankees. Gregorius himself has always been a leader and he did that while taking over for Derek Jeter during that time (2015-19).

“The players gravitate to him,” Jackson told ESPN’s Marly Rivera. That’s the type of role Semien plays in the Oakland clubhouse as the team’s main guy to refer messages from management to the rest of the players.

Gregorius’ eight-year career could be defined as a “rollercoaster,” but his lefty bat makes for an exciting option. One of the A’s main objectives during this offseason was to obtain a lefty infield bat. They did that and wanted to find a mainstay at the second base position. We still have to wait to see if they will use one starter or have a lefty bat such as Tony Kemp platooning with Franklin Baretto.

This could put that need to rest. 

During those years with the Yankees, Gregorius proved that bat was very successful at Yankee Stadium. He also hit the ball harder in 2019 than the year previously. He did struggle to make contact -- his chase rate spiked from 36.2 percent to 41.1 percent -- that’s a career-high. He struck out more, but so did most of the league. 

According to FanGraphs' Jay Jaffe, projection-wise, Didi is predicted to produce a 2.5 WAR (via ZiPS), which is “a performance that would be well worth the salary and would set the shortstop up for a multiyear deal.”

Last season with the Yankees, Gregorius played in just 82 games after suffering a right shoulder contusion. He also underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. He finished 2019 with a .238/.276/.441 line with 16 home runs and 61 RBI. 

He’s projected to have a stronger season in 2020, as Baseball-Reference projects him to hit .274 with 49 hits in an abbreviated season.

[RELATED: Ex-A's pitcher Bartolo Colon still wants to play at 46]

We all want Semien back -- both parties have a mutual interest in an extension, but the money that’s being talked about in order to retain him might not in the cards for the A’s. Semien also hired new representation last August with the Wasserman Agency, meaning he would be aggressively seeking a big deal.

He’s irreplaceable in more ways than the numbers, but in the event that he leaves, it’s time to prepare for what could be next.

What if Giants never acquired Hunter Pence at 2012 MLB trade deadline?

What if Giants never acquired Hunter Pence at 2012 MLB trade deadline?

In retrospect, it should come as no surprise that Hunter Pence has become such a memorable Giant. After all, his arrival at Oracle Park was unlike just about anything the franchise had seen before. 

Pence was acquired on deadline day in 2012 and landed at SFO in the seventh inning of a 4-1 win over the Mets. He was greeted outside the left field gate by Lou Seal and TV cameras followed as he walked through a hallway underneath the stands and into the home clubhouse. As Tim Lincecum talked about beating Matt Harvey, Pence showed up two lockers away. The two shook hands over a sea of reporters. Pence, still wearing jeans and a button-down, then went out to the dugout for a TV interview. It was later revealed that he paid his own way from Philadelphia because he was so eager to get to his new team. 

The rest, of course, is history. Pence's bug-eyed speeches became a staple of that 2012 title run. He signed a massive five-year extension in 2013 and the Giants won another title a year later. He had an emotional sendoff in 2018 but returned this spring, quickly reclaiming his place as one of the more popular Giants.

That trade has worked out remarkably well for the Giants, but across the country, it's a much different feeling. The Pence deal was a disaster for a Phillies organization that hasn't had a winning season since.

NBC Sports Philadelphia recently looked back at that deal, asking why the Phillies felt the need to make it. We'll look at a similar question here. 

What if the Giants didn't make the Hunter Pence deal?

The Giants had not entered that second half in 2012 thinking they had to get a big outfield bat for the heart of the lineup. Melky Cabrera had not been suspended yet, and he was one of the best players in the National League. Newcomers Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco were revelations. Buster Posey was in the midst of an MVP season and Pablo Sandoval was having an All-Star year. The lineup was actually in pretty good shape.

But then it all started to unravel.

Sandoval strained his hamstring a week before the deadline and went on the disabled list. The rival Dodgers came to town on July 27 and swept a weekend series, twice shutting the Giants out. They had traded for Hanley Ramirez and on deadline day they added Shane Victorino, Pence's teammate in Philadelphia. 

Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans sprung into action. They had tried to pry Pence away from the Astros a year earlier but found Carlos Beltran was easier to acquire. Pence had gone to the Phillies in a blockbuster, but at the 2012 deadline, the Giants finally got him, sending over catcher Tommy Joseph, outfielder Nate Schierholtz and right-hander Seth Rosin. 

"In some ways, this is a reaction," Sabean said that day. "We knew (the Dodgers) were going to be extremely active and you don't want them to outdistance you. The three games against the Dodgers weren't pretty and we kind of took that personally. We were hoping we could infuse something from the outside like they did."

The Giants led the Dodgers by one game on deadline day. They lost Pence's first two games but then won five of six on the road, righting the ship. They went 38-21 the rest of the way, winning the NL West by eight games.

When you look at Pence's production the rest of that year -- .671 OPS, seven homers -- it's easy to make the argument they would have won the West regardless. But it's not that simple.

On the day Cabrera was suspended, the Giants actually trailed the Dodgers in the standings. A clubhouse is a delicate ecosystem, and it's possible that without Pence's presence, that whole season would have collapsed. Instead, the Giants took on a defiant tone and took off. Pence was one of the players who spoke to the media that day, even though he had only been on the team two weeks.

Pence's greatest contribution that season came in the playoffs, when his fiery speech before Game 5 of the NLDS helped motivate a club that had fallen behind 2-0 to the Reds. His pre-game huddles became a hallmark of that championship run. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Perhaps we give too much credit to chemistry at times, but there was so little margin for error that postseason that it's easy to see how every small contribution added up. 

Pence hit 27 homers the next year and 20 in 2014, when he finished 11th in the MVP balloting for a team that took a Wild Card spot all the way to another parade. That 2014 World Series is remembered for Madison Bumgarner, which means people forget Pence went 12-for-30 with five RBI and a 1.167 OPS against the Royals. He was in many ways the heart of that team, and he started every game of that season. 

The Giants weren't close on a Plan B at the 2012 deadline, so there's no "what if" outfielder to compare Pence to. But looking back, it's not hard to see how they could have missed out on a title or two had they missed out on Pence. 

Perhaps the best argument for that case comes from the men who acquired him. The previous regime could have -- probably should have -- traded Pence for prospects in 2013, but they held on and instead extended him, insisting that he would be a crucial piece in another title run. 

[RELATED: George Springer could be great fit for Giants]

They were right, and they got the bonus of having Pence impact a new generation of Giants. That part of his legacy is so clear that when Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris put together the first team of the Gabe Kapler Era, they capped their offseason with a dramatic move. 

They signed Hunter Pence. 

Giants' Mike Krukow recounts amazing Pete Rose brawl story from MLB career

Giants' Mike Krukow recounts amazing Pete Rose brawl story from MLB career

MLB players being involved in a brawl at some point during their careers is like a right of passage.

Giants broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper recently recounted some of their favorite in-game fight stories, including Krukow being egged on by an iconic player during his days playing with the Chicago Cubs.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

“The [Philadelphia] Phillies bring in this pitcher named Kevin Saucier,” Krukow tells NBC Sports Bay Area’s Amy Gutierrez. “He decides he’s gonna take somebody down, so he hits Steve Ontiveros, our third baseman, who was a really good friend.

“So the inning ends and I tell our catcher ‘first 0-2 count, we’ll take whoever it is,’ meaning whoever is coming up, if they get an 0-2 count, they’re getting drilled.”

Krukow was due to lead off the next half-inning, and Saucier -- as is customary in these traditional baseball beefs -- hit Krukow with the first pitch. But after he got to first base, Saucier’s actions brought the two to blows.

“Kevin Saucier walks halfway from the mound to first base and he spits at me,” Krukow said. “Pete Rose is the first baseman for the Phillies, he goes ‘You can’t let him do that, go kick his a--!’ So I go ‘Yeah!’”

[RELATED: Tyler Heineman's path to Giants began in unlikely fashion at UCLA]

Krukow got one punch in before a swarm of Phillies surrounded him and got their own licks in.

All of this also is happening while Krukow’s wife is in the hospital after giving birth the day before. 

No matter who won the fight, Krukow certainly won the war. Not only did he throw a two-hitter through seven innings, but Krukow hit his first MLB home run that day, the at-bat before his run-in with Saucier.

It’s hard to imagine Krukow has had a more memorable 48 hours in his professional life.