Down year opens the door for Oakland A’s to keep Marcus Semien

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Marcus Semien is set to hit free agency and possibly cash in big, but a down 2020 opens the door for the the Oakland A’s to keep him

The Oakland Athletics made another early exit from the postseason this year, so now they’ll shift to the offseason and decisions on some key players. High on (if not atop) that list of key players is shortstop Marcus Semien, who will now hit free agency.

Semien had a breakthrough campaign in 2019. He slash-lined .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs, 92 RBI, 43 doubles and 10 steals over 747 plate appearances. He accounted for 7.6 fWAR (8.9 bWAR), on his way to finishing third in AL MVP voting. Errors aren’t the driving force for defensive value anymore, but Semien posted a career-best .981 fielding percentage in 2019 as he cut down on errors.

Blame it on the short season and all it entailed, but 2020 was a down year for Semien. He posted a .223/.305/.374 slash-line and seven home runs in 53 games (236 plate appearances). Based on OPS+ (91, 139 and 2019)and wRC+ (91, 137 in 2019), Semien reverted back to his previous level as roughly a league-average hitter this year. FanGraphs, albeit in that short sample, also shows a decline in his defense (-5 Defensive Runs Saved, 12 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, 14 DRS in 2018).

Marcus Semien and the A’s may want to stay together

A’s GM David Forst and executive VP Billy Beane are of the same mind on trying to keep Semien.

According to Shayna Rubin of the San Jose Mercury News, Semien acknowledged the uncertainty about his future with the A’s.

“I thought about that in the wild-card series, ….I took the field in the bottom of the eighth thinking, ‘Is this my last time playing shortstop for this team?’ I don’t know,” Semien said.

In 2017-2019, Semien posted a BABIP of .300, .296 and .294 respectively. This year, that number fell to .260. But Baseball Info Solutions data, via FanGraphs, shows a higher hard hit rate (41.7 percent) than 2019 (32.7 percent). Statcast data showed a decline in barrel rate (five percent) and hard hit rate (28.7 percent) compared to 2019 (7.4 percent and 37.6 percent).

If contract talks don’t go anywhere in the coming weeks, the A’s can extend Semien an $18.9 million qualifying offer and still work on a new deal if he rejects it. It’s worth wondering if another team would offer Semien a multi-year deal at or above that $18.9 million number, or if the A’s might even consider the same. But that requires faith that the 2019 version is who he’ll be as he crosses into this 30s, and this year’s results can’t carry too much weight.

The A’s will always come in toward the bottom of MLB in payroll. As a testament to ongoing roster turnover, they are currently dead-last in committed money for 2021 (via Spotrac). Semien is not in a great negotiating position coming off a down year. A multi-year deal to keep him in Oakland may be the first priority for both sides, and the A’s won’t necessarily be automatically priced out of the market to keep one of their own free agents.

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