- After speculation earlier in the offseason that Athletics assistant GM Billy Owens could be a candidate to join the Mets, the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff reports that the Mets have, at least, “held internal discussions” about Owens, though it isn’t known if Owens has actually interviewed for the team’s general manager vacancy. Owens has a prior relationship with Mets president Sandy Alderson, as Alderson worked as a senior advisor to the Oakland front office for the last two seasons before returning to the Mets.
The Athletics announced that Mark Kotsay will take over as their third base coach in 2021. He’ll succeed Al Pedrique, whom the team parted with in October. The rest of the A’s coaching staff from last season will remain intact.
Kotsay is a former major league outfielder who spent part of his career (2004-07) as a member of the A’s. Since his playing days ended in 2013, Kotsay has garnered coaching and front office experience with a pair of teams. The Padres, with whom he also played, hired him as a special assistant and then a hitting coach in 2014. He spent a year there before heading back to Oakland.
The third base coach role will be the third different assignment Kotsay has had during his time on the A’s staff. He started as their bench coach but later became their quality control coach. Kotsay has since generated managerial interest around the majors, including from the Tigers this offseason. The 44-year-old figures to remain on other teams’ radars going forward.
With the non-tender deadline coming today at 7pm CT, expect quite a few players to agree to contracts for the 2021 season, avoiding arbitration in advance. In many (but not all) cases, these deals — referred to as “pre-tender” deals because they fall prior to the deadline — will fall shy of expectations and projections. Teams will sometimes present borderline non-tender candidates with a “take it or leave it” style offer which will be accepted for fear of being non-tendered and sent out into an uncertain market. Speculatively, such deals could increase in 2020 due to the economic uncertainty sweeping through the game, although there are also widespread expectations of record non-tender numbers.
You can track all of the arbitration and non-tender activity here, and we’ll also run through today’s smaller-scale pre-tender deals in this post. You can also check out Matt Swartz’s arbitration salary projections here.
- The Giants have a $1.275MM agreement with first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf, Schulman tweets.
- Pirates righty Jameson Taillon will earn $2.25MM in 2021, Adam Berry of MLB.com tweets. Taillon didn’t pitch at all in 2020 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2019. Reliever Michael Feliz will get $1MM, Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
- Twins righty Jose Berrios will earn $6.1MM with a $500K signing bonus in 2021, Dan Hayes of The Athletic reports. Catcher Mitch Garver will rake in $1.875MM, per Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News. Center fielder Byron Buxton ($5.125MM) and reliever Taylor Rogers (terms not released) also agreed to deals, according to Phil Miller of the Star Tribune.
- The Phillies have deals with starter Zach Eflin ($4.45MM) and relievers Hector Neris ($5MM), David Hale ($850K) and Seranthony Dominguez ($727,500), Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Heyman and Todd Zolecki of MLB.com relay.
- The Marlins and first baseman Garrett Cooper have a $1.8MM agreement that could max out at $2.05MM with performance bonuses, Craig Mish of Sportsgrid tweets.
- The Brewers are keeping catcher Manny Pina in the fold for $1.65MM, according to Heyman. They’re also retaining first baseman Daniel Vogelbach for $1.4MM, Nightengale reports.
- The Giants and outfielder Austin Slater have a one-year, $1.15MM deal, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle.The club also reached a $925K agreement with lefty Wandy Peralta and a $700K pact with righty Trevor Gott, Heyman tweets.
- The Cubs are bringing back hurlers Dan Winkler ($900K), Colin Rea ($702,500) and Kyle Ryan ($800K), Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Ryan’s agreement is a split contract that features a $250K minor league salary.
- The Mets are retaining lefty Steven Matz for $5.2MM, Nightengale tweets. Matz had a brutal campaign in 2020 with a 9.68 ERA/7.76 FIP over 30 2/3 innings in 2020, but the Mets will give him a chance to rebound.
- The Padres and lefty Matt Strahm have a one-year, $2MM deal, Nightengale reports. Strahm gave the Padres a 2.61 ERA/4.93 FIP in 20 2/3 innings in 2020.
- Outfielder Guillermo Heredia, whom the Mets claimed from Pittsburgh in August, will earn $1MM in 2021, according to Nightengale.
- The Astros and reliever Austin Pruitt have settled for $617, 500, per Heyman. The right-hander missed the season with elbow issues.
- The Royals and outfielder Jorge Soler have agreed to a one-year, $8.05MM deal with $250K in incentives, Nightengale reports. Soler was a 48-home run hitter in 2019, but his production went backward this past season, in which he slashed .228/.326/.443 with eight HRs in 174 trips to the plate.
- The Red Sox have kept relievers Matt Barnes ($4.4MM) and Ryan Brasier ($1.25MM) and catcher Kevin Plawecki ($1.6MM), per tweets from Nightengale, Robert Murray of FanSided and Heyman. Barnes has been a solid reliever as a member of the Red Sox, though he yielded more than five walks per nine and upward of four runs per nine in 2020. Brasier was more successful this past season, as he tossed 25 frames of 3.96 ERA/3.15 FIP ball and averaged better than 10 strikeouts per nine. Plawecki had a nice year as the backup to Christian Vazquez, as he batted .341/.393/.463 in 89 PA.
- The Giants and southpaw Jarlin Garcia have settled for $950K, according to Heyman. Garcia is coming off an 18 1/3-inning effort in which he posted a near-perfect 0.49 (with an impressive 3.14 FIP) and 6.87 K/9 against 3.44 BB/9.
- The Marlins have agreed to a one-year, $4.3MM deal with first baseman Jesus Aguilar, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. The 30-year-old slugger put up strong numbers in his first year with the Fish, slashing .277/.352/.457 with eight long balls in 216 plate appearances.
- The Giants and outfielder Alex Dickerson settled at a year and $2MM, tweets Nightengale. The 30-year-old slugger has a lengthy injury history but has been excellent in limited work with the Giants, including a .298/.371/.576 slash in 170 plate appearances this past season.
- Luis Cessa will be back with the Yankees on a one-year deal, tweets Nightengale. He’ll earn $1.05MM. The righty notched a 3.32 ERA and 3.79 FIP with a 17-to-7 K/BB ratio in 21 2/3 innings this past season. Fellow righty Ben Heller will also return, the team announced, though it didn’t disclose financial details.
- First baseman Matt Olson and the Athletics settled on a one-year deal worth $5MM, tweets Nightengale. The 26-year-old Olson’s .198/.310/.424 slash was an obvious step back from his 2019 campaign, but he’s still viewed as a vital part of the club’s future moving forward.
- The Braves and righty Luke Jackson agreed to a one-year deal, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The 29-year-old was rocked for a 6.84 ERA in this year’s shortened slate of games but posted a 3.84 ERA and 3.24 FIP with better than 13 K/9 as one of the team’s steadiest relievers in 2019. The contract is valued at $1.9MM, per a team announcement.
- The Brewers are bringing back catcher Omar Narvaez for one year and $2.5MM, Heyman tweets. Narvaez was a very good offensive catcher from 2o16-19 with the White Sox and Mariners, but he struggled last season after the M’s traded him to the Brewers. Thanks in part to a career-worst 31 percent strikeout rate, Narvaez could only muster a .176/.294/.269 line and a paltry two HRs in 126 plate appearances. Nevertheless, he’s in line to return to the Brewers for a second season.
- The Brewers have agreed to a one-year, $2MM contract with shortstop Orlando Arcia, Nightengale relays. Arcia endured serious struggles on offense in prior years, but the 26-year-old managed a respectable .260/.317/.416 line with five home runs over 189 plate appearances this past season.
- The Phillies and catcher Andrew Knapp have reached a one-year, $1.1MM agreement, per Nightengale. Typically a light-hitting backstop, Knapp batted a career-best .278/.404/.444 in 89 plate appearances in 2020. He’s currently the No. 1 catcher on a Phillies team that could lose J.T. Realmuto in free agency.
- Pirates infielder Erik Gonzalez agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.225MM, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. It was the second year of arb eligibility for Gonzalez, whose glovework will earn him a contract despite a brutal .227/.255/.359 batting line in 193 plate appearances in 2020.
- The Royals and Hunter Dozier agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.72MM in entirely guaranteed money, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports. More is available to Dozier via contract incentives. Dozier hit .228/.344/.392 over 186 PA after missing over the first two weeks of the season recovering from a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
- The Red Sox agreed to an $870K deal with right-hander Austin Brice for the 2021 season, as per Nightengale. Brice posted a 5.95 ERA, 11.4 K/9, and 5.9 BB/9 over 19 2/3 innings in his first season in Boston, and was considered a potential non-tender candidate.
- The Twins and righty Tyler Duffey agreed to a one-year, $2.2MM pact, SKOR North’s Darren Wolfson reports. According to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, Duffey’s deal is fully guaranteed.
- The Braves agreed to a one-year, $900K deal with southpaw Grant Dayton, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. Dayton had a 2.30 ERA over 27 1/3 innings in 2020.
- The Braves announced an agreement with utilityman Johan Camargo on a one-year, $1.36MM deal. Camargo was thought to be a non-tender candidate after struggling to a .222/.267/.378 slash line in 375 plate appearances over the last two seasons, but he will return for a fifth year in Atlanta.
- The White Sox and left-hander Jace Fry agreed to a one-year deal worth $862.5K, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). Fry posted a 3.66 ERA, 2.00 K/BB rate, and 11.0 K/9 over 19 2/3 innings in 2020, and he has strong overall career numbers against left-handed batters.
- The Orioles agreed with second baseman Yolmer Sanchez on a one-year deal worth $1MM, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter). Baltimore claimed Sanchez off waivers from the White Sox at the end of October. A Gold Glove winner in 2019, Sanchez was non-tendered by Chicago prior to last year’s deadline, though after signing a minors deal with the Giants, he returned to the White Sox on another minors deal and appeared in 11 games on the South Side.
- The Twins agreed to a one-year deal worth roughly $700K with left-hander Caleb Thielbar, The Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman reports (via Twitter). 2020 marked Thielbar’s first taste of MLB action since 2015, as the southpaw worked his way back from independent ball to post a 2.25 ERA, 2.44 K/BB rate, and 9.9 K/9 over 20 innings for Minnesota.
- The Dodgers and left-hander Scott Alexander have agreed to a one-year, $1MM deal, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports (Twitter link). Alexander posted a 2.92 ERA over 12 1/3 innings out of the Los Angeles bullpen this season, recording an equal number of walks and strikeouts (nine). The southpaw was thought to be a potential non-tender candidate given his relative lack of usage and his non-inclusion on the Dodgers’ playoff roster, but the team will retain Alexander for his second arb-eligible year. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (via Twitter) adds the noteworthy detail that Alexander’s $1MM salary is fully guaranteed, as opposed to the usual contracts for arbitration-eligible players that allow their teams to release them prior to Opening Day and only pay a fraction of the agreed-upon salary.
- The Athletics signed catcher Francisco Pena to a minor league deal, according to Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer (via Twitter). Pena will receive a guaranteed $600K salary if he reaches Oakland’s MLB roster. The 31-year-old backstop hasn’t appeared in the majors since he played 58 games for the Cardinals in 2018, which comprises the bulk of his career big league experience. Pena has hit .216/.249/.311 over 202 PA for the Cardinals, Orioles, and Royals from 2014-18, and has spent the last two seasons in the Giants and Reds organizations.
With the non-tender deadline on the horizon tomorrow, expect quite a few players to agree to contracts for the 2021 season, avoiding arbitration in advance. In many (but not all) cases, these deals — referred to as “pre-tender” deals because they fall prior to the deadline — will fall shy of expectations and projections. Teams will sometimes present borderline non-tender candidates with a “take it or leave it” style offer which will be accepted for fear of being non-tendered and sent out into an uncertain market. Speculatively, such deals could increase in 2020 due to the economic uncertainty sweeping through the game, although there are also widespread expectations of record non-tender numbers.
You can track all of the arbitration and non-tender activity here, and we’ll also run through today’s smaller-scale pre-tender deals in this post. You can also check out Matt Swartz’s arbitration salary projections here.
- Athletics second baseman Tony Kemp will get $1.05MM over one year, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle relays.
- The Rockies announced that they have re-signed righty Jairo Diaz to a one-year pact. It’s worth $1.1MM, Feinsand tweets.
- The Phillies and righty reliever Seranthony Dominguez have a one-year, $727,500 deal, according to Feinsand. Dominguez underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of June, so he might not pitch at all in 2021.
- The Athletics and utility player Chad Pinder reached a one-year, $2.275MM deal, per Nightengale. Pinder has two seasons of team control left.
- The Orioles and catcher Pedro Severino agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.825MM, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (Twitter link). There was some speculation that Severino could be a non-tender candidate, though he has posted pretty decent numbers over two seasons as Baltimore’s primary catcher. Severino is controllable through the 2023 season.
- The Nationals and right-hander Joe Ross agreed to a one-year, $1.5MM contract, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. This is a match of the salary Ross and the Nats had agreed on for the 2020 season, but Ross decided to opt out back in June. This was Ross’ third year of arbitration eligibility, and is now expected to return and compete for a job in Washington’s rotation in 2021.
- The Royals agreed to one-year deals with righties Jesse Hahn and Jakob Junis and outfielder Franchy Cordero, according to Feinsand and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (Twitter links). Hahn signed for $1.75MM in guaranteed money with another $350K available in incentives. Junis will rake in $1.7MM. Cordero will earn $800K in his first arbitration-eligible year.
- The Athletics and righty Burch Smith agreed to a one-year deal worth $705K, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. The 30-year-old Smith allowed three runs on seven hits and a walk with 13 strikeouts in 12 2/3 frames with the A’s in 2020. That was a solid showing for Smith to carry into his first trip through the arb process, though he carried a career 6.57 ERA in 135 1/3 frames into the 2020 season. The A’s can control Smith through 2023.
- The Rockies agreed to a one-year, $1.2MM deal with catcher Elias Diaz, per Nightengale (Twitter link). The contract contains another $300K in available incentives. The 30-year-old looked like a clear non-tender candidate after posting an ugly .235/.288/.353 slash with lackluster framing marks and just a 1-for-8 effort in throwing out base thieves, but the Rockies must remain hopeful he can return to his 2018 level of performance. Diaz is controllable through the 2022 season via arbitration.
- Right-hander Jacob Barnes and the Mets agreed to a one-year deal worth $750K, Nightengale tweets. Barnes, claimed off waivers back in October, was a quality reliever in Milwaukee from 2016-18 but has seen his results crater over the past two seasons. From 2019-20, he’s posted a 6.75 ERA over 50 2/3 innings. Barnes has averaged 10 strikeouts per nine frames in that time but also averaged 4.6 walks and 1.42 homers as well. Barnes is controllable through 2022.
The Oakland A’s may look to offset the potential loss of left fielder Robbie Grossman with organizational depth. According to MLB.com’s Martín Gallegos, the A’s suspect 28-year-old Seth Brown could play an important role – but it’s now or never for the Oregon native. Brown’s combination of power and patience is a skill set the A’s have shown a fondness for over the years, and he played well during a 2019 call-up: .293/.361/.453 in 83 plate appearances.
From 2017 to 2019, Brown made the progressive leaps an organization likes to see as he jumped from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A in successive seasons. He earned his time on the big-league roster in 2019 after an impressive .297/.352/.634 line with 37 home runs in just 112 games at the highest level of the minors.
Grossman himself was somewhat of a late bloomer, cutting his teeth on unfortunate Astros squads of 2013 and 2014. He would be released by the Astros and then the Indians before finding a home in Minnesota. After three seasons of part-time work that culminated in a solid 1.7 bWAR season in 2018, the Twinkies cut him loose, too.
Hello, Oakland. Grossman’s 2020 output was easily the most productive season of his career, but those considering him in free agency must gauge whether his power display during the shortened 2020 season is the final step of his development or a small-sample burst. His .240 ISO this season far outpaced his career mark of .127 ISO.
All in all, Grossman’s skill set isn’t flashy, but that hasn’t stopped him from posting an above-average wRC+ in four of the last five seasons. If a market doesn’t develop for Grossman, the A’s could seek a reunion. Grossman and Brown both hit from the left side, of course, making for a ham-handed timeshare between the two.
Enter Chad Pinder, who could be in line for more regular playing time. Pinder has long been a short-side platoon utility player for the A’s, but his bat played up in a major way during their playoff run. Pinder was often penciled into the number three spot in the order while standing in for the injured Matt Chapman at the hot corner. Pinder could easily line up with Ramon Laureano and Mark Canha against lefties, but Stephen Piscotty should also be back in the lineup. The A’s could be intrigued by the possibility of more face time for the soon-to-be 29-year-old Pinder, but much of that time may have to come at second base, where Tony Kemp currently tops the depth chart.
All of which is to say, expect the A’s to slow-play the market this offseason and see where the value play lies. They’d like to explore the possibility of bringing back Tommy La Stella, who would expect a majority of the timeshare at the keystone. A long-time part-time player who almost retired many years ago when the Cubs sent him to Triple-A, La Stella is not likely to cherish a return to diminished responsibilities.
Add to the outfield mix ML-ready prospects Luis Barrera and Greg Deichmann – the latter of whom, Gallegos notes, was just added to the 40-man roster – and the A’s could head into 2021 as currently constituted with plenty of options to throw at the wall.
The real issue for the A’s is building a bridge between Marcus Semien and prospect Nick Allen at short. Allen’s defensive prowess is considerable, but the 5’8″ 22-year-old glove last appeared in High-A with a slash line of .292/.363/.434. Normal circumstances would dictate another year in the minors for Allen, but these days the development curve is more blueprint than model.
If Allen is close, Pinder could hold the line at short, but he’s totaled just 34 innings as the infield captain since 2017. Assuming they’re not ready to simply hand the keys to the car over to Allen, the A’s will focus their free agent energy (aka, dollars) on finding a short-term fix to keep the spot warm.
The A’s, like the Rays, are comfortable fielding a dynamic offensive lineup that shape-shifts as needed throughout the regular season. They’ll dole out playing time piecemeal until settling on the right mix. That could mean an increased share for Brown, but the A’s are sure to have ways to flex the roster if he’s unable to claim it.
The Athletics announced Friday that they’ve selected the contracts of right-handers Miguel Romero and Wandisson Charles, as well as outfielder Greg Deichmann. Oakland also announced minor league deals and non-roster invites to Spring Training for 11 players. Right-handers Domingo Acevedo, Cristian Alvarado, Argenis Angulo, Matt Blackham, Ben Bracewell, Montana DuRapau, Brian Schlitter and Trey Supak will all be in camp with the A’s next year, as will infielders Pete Kozma, Frank Schwindel and Jacob Wilson.
Each of Romero, Charles and Deichmann was in Oakland’s 60-man player pool for the truncated 2020 regular season, but none of the three made his big league debut this year. Both Deichmann (No. 13) and Romero (No. 25) currently rank among the Athletics’ Top 30 prospects at MLB.com.
Deichmann was a second-round pick out of LSU in 2017 and has struggled at the plate in the minors due to wrist injuries, but he erupted with nine homers, two doubles and a triple in just 95 Arizona Fall League plate appearances in 2019. Romero, 26, averaged 10 K/9 and kept his ERA south of 4.00 in an outrageously hitter-friendly Triple-A setting in 2019 — a far more difficult task than one might expect at first glance. Just 28 of the 143 Triple-A pitchers with at least 70 innings managed a sub-4.00 mark thanks to the introduction of what was widely believed to be a juiced ball in an already hitter-friendly setting.
Among the non-roster invitees, Kozma jumps out at the most recognizable name. The former Cardinals shortstop has long been touted as a defensive wizard but has never been able to provide much in the way of offense to accompany his proficiency with the leather. DuRapau’s agents announced his signing last week, as we previously covered. The 34-year-old Schlitter is a well-traveled journeyman who logged 9 2/3 frames with the A’s in ’19. Supak was once a well-regarded prospect with both the Brewers and Pirates but will look for a fresh start with the Oakland org. Schwindel, a right-handed-hitting first baseman, got a very small cup of coffee with the 2019 Royals.
4:50pm: “It sounds as if” Athletics general manager David Forst is a target for the Mets, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. Forst and Alderson did work together in Oakland for two years, Slusser notes, though it’s unclear whether Forst would be willing to move to a different organization. With executive vice president Billy Beane potentially on his way out, Forst could soon be the head of A’s baseball operations.
12:52pm: The Mets’ front office search has led into the front offices of opposing teams, with mixed results thus far. The Mets had interest in speaking with Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns, but the Brewers denied the Mets’ request, MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reports. In a follow-up tweet from Morosi, he reports that New York also asked the Indians for permission to speak with GM Mike Chernoff about the Mets’ vacant president of baseball operations role, and it isn’t yet known if the Tribe has agreed.
Chernoff is a long-time member of Cleveland’s front office, and he has been working as general manager since October 2015. He does have some notable ties to the New York area, as Chernoff hails from New Jersey and his father is an executive at New York’s WFAN Radio. Since Chris Antonetti is still the Tribe’s top decision-maker as the team’s president of baseball operations, the Mets job would represent a promotion for Chernoff (clubs generally don’t block their employees from interviewing for higher jobs up the ladder) and a chance to not only run his own team, but take over one of the more intriguing job opportunities in recent memory.
Since Stearns is already the Brewers’ president of baseball operations, it would be a lateral move to take a similar job in New York, which would explain why the Brewers turned down the Mets’ request. Stearns signed a contract extension in January 2019 that carried the promotion from GM to president of baseball ops, quite possibly as a way for the Brewers to head off potential headhunting inquiries from other teams. Stearns is from New York and began his career working in the Mets’ front office, plus his stock as an executive has only risen given the Brewers’ success under his watch. Milwaukee has reached the postseason in each of the last three years, and finished a game away from the NL pennant in 2018.
While the Mets are known to be looking for both a president of baseball operations and a general manager, Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark of The Athletic note the possibility that New York might just hire a GM for now. “The pool of available executives might not be deep enough for them to hire two top decision-makers to work under” team president Sandy Alderson, Rosenthal/Stark write, listing several names (including Antonetti, Rays GM Erik Neander, and Blue Jays president/CEO Mark Shapiro) seem comfortable in their current positions.
With Alderson approaching his 73rd birthday, the Mets could explore hiring a GM who could then move into a president of baseball ops role and full control of the front office once Alderson stepped down from his current role, having overseen the transition into Steve Cohen’s era of ownership. Or, that general manager could remain in the position and the Mets could hire an entirely new president of baseball ops should another name (Theo Epstein, perhaps?) enter the picture in a year or so.
Kingston fit the mold of many of the Angels’ candidates — well-regarded younger executives who were looking for their first opportunity to run a front office. However, the Angels also explored making a big splash by poaching experienced names, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Halos asked for permission to speak with Rays GM Erik Neander, Athletics GM David Forst, and Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti. The Rays declined the Angels’ request to talk to Neander, though it may have been a moot point since “Neander does not wish to leave the [Tampa] organization.”
While a frosty winter for most free agents has been the general expectation throughout the industry, there’s also been a belief that the very top names on the market will still be compensated at a rate more commensurate with a typical economic climate. Names like Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, George Springer and DJ LeMahieu are widely projected to secure lucrative multi-year deals. Agent Joel Wolfe tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that he expects client Marcus Semien to also command a high-dollar contract despite the harsh market conditions.
Wolfe didn’t say he expects a nine-figure deal for the 30-year-old shortstop but did plainly state that Semien’s “pure value in the industry is north of $100MM.” The use of “pure” value at a time when contractual expectations are depressed suggests that the actual target could be somewhat lower. Still, it’s rather eye-opening to see any agent invoke a $100MM price point in any context at this point — particularly for a player coming off a respectable but hardly elite season. I won’t fully rehash Wolfe’s comments for the purposes of this exercise, but Slusser’s interview is well worth a full read-through to get a broader sense of his representation’s thinking.
Semien’s market and contract, admittedly, are among the toughest to gauge among all free agents this offseason. That’s due to a combination of Semien’s pedestrian regular-season numbers, his huge postseason efforts and the fact that he was an elite, MVP-level performer in 2019 — but at no other point in his career. Add in that we simply don’t see solid, everyday shortstops reach free agency often, and it’s all the more difficult because of a lack of precedent.
Outside of Didi Gregorius last year and Zack Cozart a few years back, most quality shortstops have been locked up on contract extensions that buy out their early free-agent years. (It’s fair to wonder whether that would’ve been true of Gregorius, too, had he not required Tommy John surgery post-2018). Each of Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Elvis Andrus, Paul DeJong, Brandon Crawford, Jorge Polanco, Tim Anderson and Jean Segura took earlier paydays rather than a year-to-year arbitration approach, for instance. It may not seem like it at first glance, but Semien’s very presence on the market as an in-his-prime, starting-caliber shortstop is rather atypical.
Given that context, the scattershot nature of predictions for Semien isn’t all that surprising. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel predicted a three-year, $54MM deal, calling Semien a “steady 2.5 to 3.5 WAR player whom a savvy club will find solid value in for two or three years.” At FanGraphs, Craig Edwards predicted a four-year, $64MM deal, pointing to the fact that if you toss out the first two weeks of the season after a shortened ramp-up period, Semien posted a 133 wRC+ (playoffs included). The Athletic’s Keith Law ranked him sixth among free agents — between Marcell Ozuna and DJ LeMahieu — noting that he seems capable of handling shortstop for the next several years but calling 2019 a likely outlier season.
Tim Dierkes, Connor Byrne, Jeff Todd and I struggled with what to predict for Semien when we were discussing our annual Top 50 list. I was the most bullish of the bunch on Semien’s prospects, believing that the “one elite season” argument somewhat glosses over the fact that Semien kept his bat elite over the course of an MLB-high 747 plate appearances that year. Weighting that output the same as we’d rate a 500-600 plate appearance sample simply because it fell within the confines of “one season” didn’t sit right. Over Semien’s past 1000 plate appearances — closer to two full seasons than to one — he’s been about 25 percent better than a league-average hitter. For someone capable of playing average or better shortstop defense, that’s immensely valuable, even if there’s some further regression in store.
It’s tough to overlook a .223/.305/.374 slash in 2020, however, and even folding in his massive postseason performance that only jumps to .244/.326/.408. Even as the most bullish member of the MLBTR staff regarding Semien, I had a difficult time picturing more than a three-year deal in the range of $14-15MM annually. We ultimately put down a one-year deal with a return to market next winter, hopefully on the heels of a stronger showing, with the prevailing logic being that any multi-year offers received simply wouldn’t be that exciting relative to Semien’s post-2019 expectations.
The 2021-22 class of shortstops featuring Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, Trevor Story and Carlos Correa certainly isn’t a welcoming group to join, although as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd rightly pointed out, the huge supply of quality shortstops inherently means there will be considerable demand for replacements — and not every club losing one of those five will be able to meet the asking price to retain them. Therein could lie an opportunity for a strong contract for Semien. That glut of quality options, Wolfe tells Slusser, is “a factor we’d consider but not a guiding factor” in the shortstop’s ultimate decision.
While it’s again worth noting that Wolfe didn’t outright set a $100MM asking price, it still seems likely based on his comments that Semien’s reps at Wasserman have a loftier goal than most pundits expect to be attainable. Wolfe tells Slusser that interest in Semien has already been strong — including an inquiry from a club that already would appear to have a set shortstop. “I just got another call (Wednesday) from a team that said they’d be willing to move their shortstop to another position,” the agent tells Slusser.
Between the A’s, Reds, Phillies and Angels, there are at least four postseason hopefuls who have fairly straightforward openings at shortstop. Other clubs like the Yankees, Mets, Twins and Blue Jays could certainly shuffle their infield mix if they believe Semien represents a potential value purchase in a depressed market with a historically good 2021-22 shortstop class looming.
Wolfe’s comments to Slusser exude some confidence that Semien will eventually land a strong multi-year commitment, but there may not be a position player with a broader range of plausible outcomes on this year’s free-agent market.