Had I told you before the 2019 season an Oakland Athletics infielder would finish third in the AL MVP voting, you probably would've guessed it would be Matt Chapman. After all, the Gold Glove third baseman finished seventh in the 2018 MVP voting, and he was poised for an even bigger year in 2019, his second full big-league season.
Instead, Chapman finished sixth in the MVP voting, and it was shortstop Marcus Semien who finished behind only Mike Trout and Alex Bregman in the MVP voting. I wouldn't have blamed you for not guessing Semien before the season. His career high was a 99 OPS+ set back in 2016, and he'd settled in as more of a solid regular rather than a bona fide star. That changed in 2019.
Semien set new career highs in batting average (.285), on-base percentage (.369), slugging percentage (.522), OPS+ (138), doubles (43), homers (33), walks (87), total bases (343), and WAR (8.1) this past season. It was a career year, through and through. Semien was marvelous and deserving of that third place finish in the MVP voting.
The question now for the Athletics is how can they keep Semien long-term? The 29-year-old is projected to make a little less than $14 million through arbitration in 2020, then he will become a free agent after next season. Should he repeat his 2019 effort in 2020, Semien will be poised to cash in big next winter. That's a bidding war the A's couldn't win.
Fortunately for Oakland, Semien wants to stay around. He has told the team he is interested in signing a contract extension, reports MLB Network's Jon Heyman, though that doesn't necessarily mean he will take a discount. Historically, players who sign an extension one year before free agency get free-agent dollars. There is no discount.
Earlier this year two All-Star infielders signed long-term extensions one year prior to free agency, so they were at the same point in their careers that Semien is now. The two players: Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Here is the quick side-by-side comparison:
|Age at extension||Platform year WAR||Previous three years WAR||Years||Dollars|
Semien was coming off the best season going into extension talks, but he was also the oldest, and, with all due respect, he had the least impressive resume. Bogaerts had an All-Star Game selection, multiple Silver Sluggers, and was a key member of two World Series winning teams. Arenado had four All-Star Games, six Gold Gloves, and several high finishes in the MVP voting.
Thanks to last season, Semien has an All-Star Game selection and a third place finish in the MVP voting, and that's about it. Like I said earlier, he never posted even a 100 OPS+ prior to this season. The resume isn't quite as strong and he will turn 30 in Year 2 of a long-term contract. Arenado will turn 30 in Year 3. Bogaerts not until Year 4.
It's important to note the Bogaerts and Arenado contracts include their one-year arbitration salaries for 2019. Bogaerts agreed to a $12 million salary for 2019, then a six-year extension worth $120 million a few weeks later. Arenado agreed to $26 million for 2019 and later an additional seven years and $234 million. It wasn't all negotiated at once.
Bogaerts received $20 million annually for his free-agent years. Arenado is over $33 million per year for his free-agent years. As good as he was this past season -- and he was great -- I can't see Semien getting Arenado money. The Bogaerts contract is more reasonable. If you're Semien's agent, you ask for the Bogaerts deal and come down during contract talks.
Because he is so much older than Bogaerts was when he signed his deal, there's little chance Semien can get six years on top of his 2020 arbitration salary. Five years total is his best-case scenario, I think. The contract could be structured like so:
- 2020: $13.5 million (projected arbitration salary via MLB Trade Rumors)
- 2021: $17 million
- 2022: $10 million (strike insurance*)
- 2023: $17 million
- 2024: $17 million
- 2025: $18 million club option with $1.5 million buyout
* The current collective bargaining agreement expires in Dec. 2021 and players do not get paid during strikes or lockouts. Don't be surprised to see agents push for multiyear contracts structured with lower 2022 salaries going forward. That way the player doesn't lose as much in the event of a work stoppage.
That is five years and $76 million guaranteed with a chance to max out at six years and $92.5 million. The maxed out contract is one year shorter and $27.5 million less than the Bogaerts extension. Considering soon-to-be 30-year-old Didi Gregorius is looking at $15 million per year across three years or so this winter, five years and $76 million seems perfectly reasonable for Semien to me.
It should be noted that $76 million would represent the largest contract in Athletics history. The current franchise record contract is the six-year, $66 million deal the A's gave Eric Chavez in March 2004. Semien breaks the franchise record by $10 million in one fewer year. It's been 15 years. It's time for Chavez's franchise contract record to be broken, I'd say.
Oakland has won 194 games the last two seasons, the fourth most in baseball, and Semien is one of their cornerstone players. The A's are only going to go as far as Chapman, Semien, and Matt Olson take them, and Semien is a year away from free agency. He is open to signing a long-term contract, and, in that case, the A's should do all they can to keep him in their uniform beyond 2020.