Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. At least, that’s what it appears to be regarding the Dodgers and infielder Marcus Semien.
The first smoke came back in the middle of December, courtesy of ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
This week, we’ve seen some more smoke around this rumor.
Even more smoke.
If there isn’t a fire…
It’s getting awfully hot in here.
The 30-year-old, former Athletics’ infielder is a Bay Area native and, if baseball owners (on the whole) actually tried to compete/win, the A’s would have re-signed Semien a long time ago. Alas, they did not and he’s a free agent.
He’s coming off a down 2020 season, but his numbers were depressed because of a slow start. He hit just .179/.207/.232 with a paltry 19 wRC+ and .194 wOBA in the first 13 games. From Aug. 7 through the end of the season, Semien hit better, but still wasn’t the ’19 version of himself: .239/.337/.426, 114 wRC+, .333 wOBA. His Statcast percentile rankings are … not pretty.
While we’re talking about small sample sizes, let’s get a little smaller. In the 2020 postseason, Semien hit .407/.484/.687 (11-for-27) with two home runs, a double, four walks and just one strikeout. Take that for whatever it’s worth.
I’ve written about some players this offseason and have tried not to put too much stock into their 2020 numbers — especially if they were down. In this case, however, it’s a bit more concerning because Semien doesn’t have a long track record of being an above-average hitter. Outside of his ’19 campaign, Semien has never topped 98 wRC+ in a season. His defense has improved enough that he’s an average shortstop, but he’s not about to displace Corey Seager at the position. There’s no telling how he might handle second- or third base. Second base is a concern because he struggles going to his right (hat tip to J.P. Hoornstra for that), which he would do much more at second rather than third. Going to his right at shortstop is different than second base, but the point still stands. At third, is his arm strong enough and, as Hoornstra pointed out in his Tuesday newsletter, he might not have the quick-twitch reaction to play the hot corner. I’d argue that if 36-year-old Justin Turner can handle it, I’d say 30-year-old Semien could as well. So, the arm would be more concerning for me.
Semien hasn’t played any other position other than shortstop since 2014. Not even for an inning. He’s been strictly a shortstop. That doesn’t appear to be making him as attractive to teams this offseason (seriously, where are the Reds on this guy?), so he might have to market himself as more of a Chris Taylor-type (minus the outfield aptitude). That’s where he would make solid fit for the Dodgers. If he signs for more than a year, he could be a decent insurance policy should the Dodgers fail to extend or re-sign Seager over the next 10 months.
Now, this could just be some leverage in the Turner negotiations, which is a bit surprising. He must really be holding out for that third- or fourth year. Or, perhaps Semien and Turner could be the plan. Once DJ LeMahieu re-signed with the Yankees, the Dodgers had to shift their focus elsewhere. Semien has shown he can be an above-average hitter, and maybe the Dodgers hitting coaches can get Semien closer to being the 2019 version rather than every other version of him during his career. It’s a big ask, but there’s potentially some big reward if he can figure it out.
If Turner is re-signed, he’s not going to play 162 games. Hell, he might not even play 120-130 games. That’s fine. The Dodgers would rather have him as healthy as he can be for October. Having Semien (along with Edwin Rios, Taylor, Zach McKinstry and maybe even Matt Beaty) would allow the Dodgers to mix in some consistent rest for Turner. It could also take some pressure off Gavin Lux, who never got things going in 2020.
Also, this could signal the Dodgers are confident the designated hitter will return to the National League in 2021. Their interest in Marcell Ozuna and probable interest in Nelson Cruz also lends credence to that theory. Having Semien and Turner on board will just make the Dodgers deeper, better and more dangerous.
FanGraphs ranks Semien as the No. 4 free agent this offseason. Craig Edwards predicted a 4-year, $64 million deal (the Turner deal from the 2016 offseason). I don’t think the Dodgers would offer him that much (no would any other team at this point, sadly). MLB Trade Rumors (ranked 15th) predicted 1 year and $14 million which is more long the lines of what you think the Dodgers might do. Jim Bowden of The Athletic has Semien (15th, as well) at 2 years, $18 million. I think it’d take a little more than that over two years to land Semien. If Turner gets a 2-year, $26-28 million deal, I could see the Dodgers offering Semien something similar to that, or maybe even a 3-year, $30 million-type deal. Probably not the deal he was envisioning following a 3rd-place AL MVP finish in ’19, but still some life-changing money. Also, he could be the Taylor replacement if he isn’t retained after the 2021 season.
Semien is an interesting player. I don’t see the Dodgers signing him as a replacement for Turner, unless they’re going to turn around and sign Ozuna or Cruz. Semien’s bat can’t make up for Turner’s, unless he’s going to hit like 2019 Semien (no guarantee). This seems more like a tandem signing situation.
The Dodgers are going over the luxury tax this season, but instead of committing more money to a guy like Ozuna, who’s more defensively limited (but a much superior hitter) and Turner, perhaps they can figure out a way to give it to Semien, Turner and maybe a reliever — but not Kirby Yates, who’s on his way to Toronto. Maybe Brad Hand, Garrett Richards or Trevor Rosenthal? Stay tuned.
We’ll see what happens. The Dodgers’ offseason has been a bit slow, which is understandable, but there’s still some work left to be done.