Finding the Next Marcus Semien

Photo credit:Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Paul Berthelot
2 years ago
As we enter the offseason it appears all the more likely that the Blue Jays will lose Marcus Semien in free agency.
Reports indicate he wants to head back out West to be closer to his family and go back to his natural position of shortstop, neither of which the Blue Jays can offer. Semien who finished the season with 6.6 WAR and a top-three MVP finish will be incredibly difficult to replace. Having George Springer healthy for a full season will help but the Blue Jays need to find another player to fill the hole left by Semien.
The Blue Jays were able to get Semien as Oakland didn’t want to pay him after he had a down 2020 season. Even though it was just 60 games and Semien had an incredible 2019 season. There were some doubts that his 2019 season was real. To find the next Marcus Semien here is a list of players who had down 2021 seasons, and are prime bounce-back candidates for 2022.

The Young Players: Cody Bellinger and Gleyber Torres

We will start with two players who the Blue Jays are unlikely to acquire given their age and cost, but still need to be mentioned. Bellinger, the 2019 National League MVP, had just a 48 wRC+ this season. There was some talk in the summer the Dodgers may just non-tender Bellinger this off-season, however his strong postseason put that to rest.
Torres also struggled with the bat putting up a 94 wRC+. He was one of the worst defenders in baseball and likely needs to be moved off of shortstop going forward. He seems to have fallen out of favour with the Yankees and he may be on the move if New York decides to shake up their roster.

The Qualified Free Agents: Michael Conforto and Trevor Story

Conforto is almost the perfect bounce-back candidate for the Blue Jays. A left-handed-hitting outfielder who draws walks and hits for power. He has been an above-average hitter by wRC+ in every season of his career save for 2016. He had a down 2021 by his standards, putting up a 106 wRC+, the lowest since that 2016 season. His power fell, his slugging percentage dipped to .384, the first time in his career it has been below .400. His strikeout rate reached a career low; he just wasn’t hitting the ball with the same authority. His line-drive rate decreased, his barrel rate decreased, his maximum exit velocity on the season was lowest it’s been in the last three seasons. This is a player who is primed to take a one-year pillow contract to try and rebuild his value and try to cash in next season. The downside is the Mets decided to qualify Conforto making it very likely he returns to Queens.
If the Blue Jays do offer Semien a big contract and he ends up going elsewhere they could pivot and offer a big deal to Trevor Story. Story from 2018-19 was one of the best players in baseball. He hit 72 home runs over those two seasons while rating as a very good defender at shortstop. Had that success continued he would have looked at a Manny Machado-type contract and would be the top free agent in this class. Story through, as Ben Clemons wrote over at FanGraphs, “he had his worst season since 2017, dropping 30 points of OBP and 80 of slugging percentage compared to his previous three seasons of production.” Everything else for Story looks fine as far as his swing rates and exit velocity. Moving away from Coors field will be slightly concerning, but many talented players have left Colorado and have been just fine. The defence is something to worry about particularly throws. Story made 11 throwing errors last season, tied for fourth in baseball.  Eric Longenhagen in that post above discusses those throws. “This year he began having trouble making strong, accurate throws to first base, often just limply slinging the ball over after taking a running start.” Story certainly wants to stay at shortstop but perhaps enough money convinces him to slide over to second.

The Players on Teams Cutting Payroll: Eugenio Suárez and Matt Chapman

With the trade of Tucker Barnhart and the waiving of Wade Miley, it’s very clear the Reds are looking to cut payroll. While early speculation has the Blue Jays going after a Cincinnati starter like Luis Castillo or Sonny Gray, a player that could be an even better fit is third basemen, Eugenio Suárez. Suárez from 2017-2019 was worth 12.1 WAR making him the 27th most valuable position player in baseball over that span. He had 127 wRC+ as he walked at a double-digit rate and had big power, including a 49 homer season in 2019. In the two subsequent seasons, his BABIP has dropped causing his average to plummet. He is still hitting for power and walking, but is making far less contact than before. The Reds also tried playing Suárez at shortstop a position he hadn’t played regularly since 2015. That did not go well and who knows how much of those defensive issues he brought to the plate with him.
Suárez is signed for three more seasons at just over $11 million per season, with a team option for a fourth year. This is a very reasonable contract for a player of this caliber, however, the Reds may want to risk $11M that he rebounds making Suárez a prime trade candidate and someone who could bounce back in a big way.
Cam went over Matt Chapman and the situation in Oakland recently, here on the site. The A’s seemingly are always looking to cut payroll, and Chapman per MLB Trade Rumors is projected to make $9.5M in arbitration this season. Cam also suggests the Blue Jays could take on the contract of Elvis Andrus. Andrus is set to make $14.5M next season with $7.25M being paid by Texas. For how poorly Andrus played last season Oakland will want to get that contract off their books.
Back to Chapman, he was his usual incredible self on defence tying for first among American League third basemen with 10 defensive runs saved and winning his third gold glove award. With the bat though it was a different story. Chapman hit 27 home runs, however, his OBP and SLG dipped to the lowest they have been since his rookie season. He struck out over 30% of the time for the second consecutive season. He lost close to three miles per hour of average exit velocity.
His hard-hit rate and barrel rate decreased significantly. He was hitting fewer line drives and hitting more balls on the ground. Chapman had hip surgery at the end of last season, and that injury lead to Chapman getting into some bad habits at the plate. Chapman discussed this with Shayna Rubin of the Mercury News back in April. Based on the season he had it appears Chapman didn’t fully correct all the bad habits. A healthy off-season could get him back to where he once was.
All these players come with different acquisition costs but any one of them would be a great fit for the Blue Jays. Finding the next Marcus Semien is an impossible task, it’s difficult to project anyone to be an MVP candidate let alone someone who had a down season. Given what these players have done in the past they are prime bounce-back candidates and with some good luck could end up being the next Marcus Semien.

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