After producing 13.6 bWAR across his prior two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, Marcus Semien had a down year in 2020. A one year “prove it” deal makes sense for both Semien and the Detroit Tigers.
MLB free agency is rapidly approaching and the Detroit Tigers have several key roster holes to fill. In addition to catcher, first base, and corner outfield, the Tigers could use an upgrade at shortstop. As I previously wrote, finding a long-term option at the position is the next key step in the rebuild.
The Detroit Tigers currently have two major-league caliber players on their roster with experience at shortstop in Willi Castro and Niko Goodrum. Goodrum is solid at shortstop defensively and Castro performed well at the plate in 2020, but there is good reason to believe neither is the long-term answer at the position.
Goodrum looked to be the Tiger’s best option at shortstop going into last season, but he faltered significantly at the plate. After two seasons of league-average production at the plate, Goodrum simply couldn’t make contact enough this year. His strikeout rate rose nearly 10 percent to an astronomical 39 percent, and, despite playing some good defense, he produced negative bWAR for the first season in his career.
Willi Castro had the opposite problem, as some significant batted ball luck aided his still-impressive offensive season. His .932 OPS, though destined to regress next season, will play at the shortstop position. The problem for Castro is he may be the worst defensive shortstop in the league. His -8 defensive runs saved ranked second-to-last in the American League, despite appearing in only 30 games this year. Castro’s bat may allow him to stay in the lineup, but he should not be a top option at shortstop moving forward.
Opting for another year of Goodrum at shortstop and moving Castro to another infield position wouldn’t be a disaster. The team may believe that Goodrum’s horrid offensive year was just a fluke. However, bringing in an option like Semien would allow the team to leverage matchups and put both players in a better position to succeed.
Semien Looks to Bounce Back
Following the 2018 season, it would have been insane to think Marcus Semien could sign a one-year deal in free agency. He was coming off an 8.9 bWAR season and finished third in AL MVP voting. That year, he launched 33 home runs, walked almost as many times as he struck out, and stole ten bases, all while providing Oakland adequate defense at shortstop. Semien looked like he had finally put it all together.
Then came 2020, which proved to be a bad year for Semien. His .679 OPS and 21 percent strikeout rate weren’t damning in and of themselves in the shortened season, but they certainly raised some eyebrows. The bigger issue for Semien is that his 2019 season is starting to look like a fluke in the grand scheme of things. In fact, it is the only season in his career that he has produced above league-average offensively.
That’s not to say that Semien isn’t useful now, or that all hope is lost. He has still put together 22.2 bWAR in his career and can help a team even if he cannot match his 2019 offensive output. His down year in 2020 is precisely why a one-year deal makes sense for him if he wishes to bet on himself.
One-Year Deal is Key
Inking a one year contract with Semien, or another shortstop free agent, is crucial for the Detroit Tigers. The 2022 free-agent class is historically stacked, as names like Trevor Story, Fransico Lindor, Trae Turner, and several other stars are set to enter the market. Signing Semien to a one year deal would allow the Tigers to be major players in the shortstop sweepstakes as they look to transition into contention next offseason.
There have been no indications that Semien is interested in a short-term deal, but it would make some sense for him following a down season. He may wish to cash in now instead of becoming a second-tier option next offseason, but the market is likely not all that rich for him now due to the risk of further regression. If I’m Semien, I think long and hard about betting on myself for one season to try to enter my name into the top-tier conversation ahead of next year’s massive shortstop exodus.