9:22pm: The A’s are more focused on Semien’s arbitration figure than a potential extension, according to agent Joel Wolfe, Heyman tweets.
7:32pm: A’s shortstop Marcus Semien has told the front office he’s interested in a long-term extension, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). The A’s “would love to keep Semien” and the two sides will kick off dialogue on talks about a long-term deal, Heyman adds.
Of course, mutual interest in an extension doesn’t guarantee that a deal will come to fruition. The low-payroll A’s haven’t had ample success retaining homegrown stars in the past, and any deal with Semien would certainly be pricey. The AL MVP finalist is entering his final season of team control via arbitration, in which he’s projected to make $13.5MM. With free agency not too far in the future, Semien has the leverage to hold out for a rather lucrative deal.
There’s some chance the A’s don’t even have to top the market to retain Semien’s services. The Bay Area native starred at Berkeley and has spent the past five seasons playing in Oakland. Over the first three of those seasons, Semien was merely an average, if durable, performer. The A’s stuck with Semien, though, as Heyman notes, and they’ve been rewarded the past two years. Semien totaled 3.8 fWAR in 2018 before truly breaking out last season, slashing .285/.369/.522 (137 wRC+) en route to a nearly eight-win season.
On both sides of the ball, Semien’s development has been remarkable. Defensively, he endured some well-publicized throwing tribulations in his first two-plus years in Oakland. The past two seasons, though, he’s almost completely eradicated the miscues and transformed into one of the game’s top defensive infielders. Since the start of 2018, Semien has totaled 14 defensive runs saved at shortstop, ninth-most at the position.
At the plate, Semien put together a banner year in nearly every category in 2019. Always one with a keen eye for the strike zone, Semien chased fewer pitches and made more contact than ever, enabling him to sport a career-high walk rate and a career-low strikeout rate. He also upped his hard contact by nearly ten points from 2018, contributing to career-best marks in homers (33) and ISO (.237).
Before last season, Semien had never before been above league average with the bat, so it would be fair to anticipate some regression in 2020. That said, he turned 29 in September and Statcast largely supports his bottom line results from last season, so there’s little reason to believe he’ll revert all the way back to a league average hitter. Even output 15-20 percent better than average at the dish, while not at the level he performed in 2019, would make Semien a true star given his elite durability and plus glove at the infield’s most important position.
Semien’s market is tough to gauge. If he were to play out 2020, he’d hit free agency having just turned 30. Assuming he were to stay healthy and approach anything near his level of production the past two seasons, Oakland would surely make him a qualifying offer. That could be a small hit to his market, but there’d be ample interest in Semien regardless. If he repeats his 2019 production, he’d no doubt be among the top free agents in next year’s class. However, there is certainly some risk involved for the player in taking that course of action. He has been extremely durable to this point, but injuries are always a risk for any player. Any regression in performance, too, would obviously curtail his earning power. One need look no further than the top shortstop on this year’s market, Didi Gregorius, for a cautionary tale of how quickly one’s long-term outlook could change. Of course, Gregorius has never approached the type of season Semien just put up.
For the A’s, committing to Semien would be a franchise-defining decision. As MLBTR’s Connor Byrne explored in his offseason outlook, Oakland doesn’t have much wiggle room if they plan to open 2020 with a payroll in a similar range as their $92MM season-opening outlay last year. However, much of that payroll is tied up in arbitration-eligible players, with Oakland’s only commitments beyond 2020 a combined $25MM to Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson will surely get more expensive as they progress through arbitration, too, but there seems to be some room in the long-term budget if the A’s front office feels comfortable betting on Semien long-term. Oakland has previously made runs at both Semien and Chapman in the past, but to no avail. With both players having truly broken out, neither would come cheap at this point. The club did extend Davis as he entered his walk year, although the commitment required to lock up a two-way star shortstop like Semien dwarfs that of a DH-only like Davis.
Semien’s future will perhaps be the defining decision of the offseason for executive vice president Billy Beane, GM David Forst, and the rest of the Oakland front office. Earlier this month, MLBTR readers weighed in on the subject. In a tightly-contested vote, 37% called for Oakland to extend Semien (even if at market value), 32% thought it best to trade him this offseason, while 31% felt the sides should simply play out the season.