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The Toronto Blue Jays continue their busy offseason, signing former MVP candidate Marcus Semien to an $18 million deal.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the Blue Jays agreed to sign the 30-year-old free agent to a one-year, $18 million deal on Tuesday, with the expectation that the former Athletics shortstop will move over to second base this season.
If the Blue Jays get the 2019 version of Semien, the one who finished in the top-three of Most Valuable Player balloting and hit 33 home runs, the deal is a bargain. Semien had a .892 OPS that season, which would’ve ranked second among second baseman if he replicated it in 2020. But he came up well short, and that’s the dilemma now facing the Blue Jays.
A slow start doomed Semien’s 2020 season. After 14 games, he was hitting just .190 with no home runs. Over the next five weeks, though, he started looking like his MVP-caliber self, hitting seven home runs with a .847 OPS. His batting average ended up declining by more than 50 points, his percentage of hard-hit balls falling from 38.1 in 2019 to 28.6, among the bottom 10 percent of the league.
Was 2019 or 2020 more of the outlier when it comes to Semien’s production? The former was the only time over his eight-year career he batted above .260 in a full season or had an OPS above .800. He’s reached the 20 home run threshold just one other time, in 2016. His 2020 stats, meanwhile, were even below his career averages.
But if 2020 was just an aberration in an unusual and condensed season, and Semien was more like the player he was in 2019, then the Blue Jays may have the best infield in the league. His arrival likely ensures that Cavan Biggio will move over to third base, giving Toronto an infield of Biggio, Bo Bichette at shortstop, Semien and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first base. Combining the 2020 stats of Biggio, Bichette and Guerrero with the 2019 season of Semien, this infield had an average OPS of .841. That would’ve been the best in the league last season (the White Sox ranked first at .836).
Semien joins another high-priced free agent acquisition, George Springer, on a Blue Jays roster that reached the postseason for the first time in four years in 2020. Springer will fill out an outfield that already had Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel.
It could be among the deepest lineups in baseball in 2021, but only if Marcus Semien reverts to his 2019 self. That, along with where they will play if the Canadian government doesn’t allow them to return home again, is the big question facing this fast-emerging roster.