Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray have been two of baseball’s best players this season, let alone big reasons why the Blue Jays are still in the hunt for an AL wild card berth. Both are scheduled to hit free agency this winter, and it isn’t any surprise that the Jays have interest in keeping both players in the fold. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Jays have already tried to sign Semien to a contract extension, while the club intends to discuss a long-term deal with Ray after the season.
The wording would seem to imply that the Jays have yet to broach an extension with Ray, which might not necessarily mean that the team is prioritizing Semien. Ray (like many players) might simply prefer to not talk contract during the season, in order to focus solely on baseball. Also of note, Semien is represented by the Wasserman Agency, which has traditionally been more open to in-season negotiating — in the last month alone, Wasserman clients Travis d’Arnaud and Brandon Crawford each inked new deals to remain with their current teams.
Barring a truly massive offer from the Blue Jays, it was probably unlikely that Semien would’ve accepted an extension this close to free agency, as the veteran infielder looks set to land the pricey multi-year deal that eluded him on the open market last year. Semien didn’t hit well over the first month of the shortened 2020 season, leaving him with only a .223/.305/.374 slash line in 236 total PA even after he hit much better in late September and during the Athletics’ playoff run. Rather than take a multi-year contract at a lowered cost, Semien opted for a one-year, $18MM deal with Toronto, betting on himself to deliver bigger numbers over a full season.
That bet has paid off handsomely, as Semien hit his 35th homer of the season today, and is now batting .266/.334/.530 over 601 plate appearances. With the abbreviated 2020 season folded between Semien’s big years in 2019 and 2021, his three-season cumulative total of a .268/.346/.501 slash line over 1579 PA works out to a 128 wRC+, solidly placing him amongst the best middle infielders in baseball. Semien had been a starting shortstop in Oakland before becoming the Jays’ second baseman this season, to accommodate Bo Bichette at short.
Ray also had something to prove in the wake of a rough 2020 season with the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays, and he moved quickly to rejoin the Blue Jays on a one-year, $8MM pact soon after the opening of the official free agent period. Ray had always been plagued by inconsistency and high walk totals during his five-plus seasons in Arizona, but after working with the Jays’ coaching staff and overhauling his offseason training regimen, Ray has blossomed as a candidate for the AL Cy Young Award.
Including today’s 6 2/3 shutout innings of work against Oakland, Ray has a 2.60 ERA and 32.3% strikeout rate over 166 frames. Perhaps most importantly, Ray has only a six percent walk rate — easily his career best, and in the 82nd percentile of all qualified pitchers this season. Ray has also gained enough innings to qualify as baseball’s all-time leader in K/9, with an 11.2 total over his eight MLB seasons.
In short, both Semien and Ray project to be two of the offseason’s top free agents, and re-signing both could potentially cost the Blue Jays upwards of $200MM. While it remains to be seen if the Jays will indeed be able to bring even one of the duo back for 2022 and beyond, money alone shouldn’t be a deterrent. The signings of George Springer and Hyun Jin Ryu are evidence that Toronto is willing to spend big in free agency, and many of the Jays’ young stars are either cost-controlled via arbitration or (in Bichette’s case) are still over a year away from arbitration eligibility. The Blue Jays also don’t have that much money on the books in future years, creating the possibility that both Semien and Ray could be slotted alongside Springer, Ryu, and possibly major extensions for the likes of Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Teoscar Hernandez.