Marcus Semien came to Oakland in 2015 as a part of the Jeff Samardzija deal that sent him to the White Sox. At the time he was still very much considered a prospect, but he never had huge expectations. As a minor leaguer in 2013, he slashed .290/.420/.483 in double A, earning a call up to AAA and his eventual call to the show during Spring Training at the start of the 2014 season. He had a less than impressive rookie season, slashing .257/.310/.405 with a .715 OPS. Nothing incredible, but there was certainly potential to work with. Of course that offseason was traded for the aforementioned Samardzija, alongside pitcher Chris Bassitt and a PTBNL, who would later be revealed as catcher Josh Phegley. Bassitt is still with the A’s and Phegley has signed with the Cubs this past offseason as of the time this article was published.
At the time nobody expected Semien to turn out to what he is today, except maybe Billy Beane but he kinda does that all the time. An article by John Sickels of SB Nation wrote about Semien as a prospect back in 2013. He said when talking about him, “Even if he’s just a .240-.250 hitter at the major league level, his ability to draw some walks, provide some power and speed, and play multiple positions should make him an attractive asset in this era of short benches.” When referring to his defensive abilities, he writes, “The consensus is that he’s best at second, but his arm is strong enough for third base. His range is marginal for shortstop, although that’s his position so far in his first few games for Charlotte.” He was very much a work in progress, especially defensively. While it’s easy to think of the great defensive players the A’s currently have on their roster, like Chapman, Olson, and Laureano, in 2015 they had none of these guys on the MLB club. Semien was abysmal in the field during his first season in Oakland, posting a UZR of -11.74 and a UZR/150 of -12.2, all while committing the most errors in the majors that year. While he began to improve at the plate, he gained a reputation as a defensive liability that some less-informed people still hold against him today.
Semien gradually improved every year until 2019, where he had his breakout campaign the A’s have been hoping for since they traded for him. This year he slashed .285/.369/.522, good for an .892 OPS and 138 OPS+. he also had career highs in wRC+ with 137, wOBA with .373, and ISO with .237. For reference, his career highs before that were 98 wRC+, .315 wOBA, and .197 ISO, all happening in 2016. While his bat was worth 7.2 oWAR according to Baseball Reference, his defense had improved dramatically since his 2015 Oakland debut. He posted a UZR of 6.7 and a UZR/150 of 5.0, both career highs. By the end of the year he was worth 2.2 dWAR according to Baseball Reference. For comparison, Semien had only two seasons where his total bWAR was higher than 2.2, in 2016 (3.5) and 2018 (4.7). In total Semien racked up 8.9 bWAR in 2019, which earned him an appearance on the All-MLB Second Team and and MVP finalist. He finished third in voting that year behind Mike Trout and trashcan drummer extraordinaire Alex Bregman.
To avoid arbitration, the A’s and Semien agreed upon a 1-year, $13 million contract. He’s set to be a free agent after this year, if it even happens. Semien proved himself to be a franchise player in 2019, and with a limited sample size for 2020, his performance last year should be his biggest marketing chip going into to 2021 offseason. But what is Oakland gonna do? They’re most notably the team that started the moneyball trend, so why would they sign Semien? He’s gonna ask for big money Oakland doesn’t have anyway so why not just get rid of him. Here’s the thing, the A’s aren’t unwilling to resign their big stars, they’re just incredibly picky with who they do. Back in 2001 they couldn’t resign guys like Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon because they couldn’t afford them. However in 2004 they resigned Eric Chavez to a club record $66 million over six years. adjusting for inflation, that $66 million is worth approximately $90,183,112.76 in today’s economy. In short the maximum the A’s might be willing to shell out in $90 million, give or take. If we consider 2019 Semien’s contract year, we can compare what other players who performed similar to Semien in their contract years made. The stats I’ll be using are xOBP and xwOBA.
In terms of xwOBA and xOBP Semien put up a mark of .362 in both categories in 2019. Similarly, Edwin Encarnacion of the White Sox also put up a .362 xwOBA, except he did this in his contract year of 2018. The contract he earned that year? He signed a 1-year, $8.7 million deal with the Mariners. But just looking at Edwin and his similar xwOBA isn’t enough. Semien is younger, better defensively, more versatile, and plays a premium defensive position. I needed to find someone similar in all of these categories, along with similar stats.
Jean Segura had his contract year in 2016 with the Brewers. That season he posted an xwOBA of .360 and an xOBP of .353. Segura went into that offseason two years younger than Semien, but consistent with the same variables mentioned earlier that Edwin Encarnacion doesn’t meet. How did Segura fare that offseason? He signed a 5-year, $70 million deal with Seattle. Adjusting for inflation, the $70 million today is actually about $73,711,039.49.
So just by judging by what the A’s have spent on guys they like in the past, and how much players like Semien made in their free agency ventures, albeit not a very deep comparison, we can now see that the price tag on Marcus Semien this free agency will be around $74 million over the span of about 4-5 years. The A’s have dished it out before, but time will tell whether they do it again or not. Judging by his age, yearly improvements, and unfinished business in Oakland, Billy Beane has every reason to resign the man. Personal bias aside, if Oakland can land him at this price tag, they will have locked up a future superstar until they are forced into the same dilemma with guys like Chapman and Olson. The future is very bright in Oakland, and who knows, maybe this time they can win a playoff series.