Is it Time for Athletics to Get Semien's Name on a Contract Extension?

As shortstop Marcus Semien's contract is up after 2020, the Oakland Athletics have to make a decision on whether or not to get Semien's name on an extension. To do so, the A's would have to break with their past history.
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There may or may not be baseball in 2020. There certainly will be baseball after 2020, and for that reason it’s time to ask the question about just how the Oakland A’s should approach shortstop Marcus Semien.

Semien is 29 – he turns 30 in September – and is in the final year of his contract. He’s arguably the most important single position player on the A’s roster, given that he finished third in the American League’s Most Valuable Player balloting last year.

Should the A’s try to sign him to a contract extension now, assuming he’d be open to it, or should they let him test free agency? If they let him try free agency, he’s gone, because the A’s had no history of getting into bidding wars over anyone.

General manager David Forst came into 2020 saying that the Semien situation was something the club would address “as the season goes along.” He says he’d like to keep the heart of his infield – Semien, third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson in Oakland “as long as possible.”

And the shortstop is open to it. Semien, born in El Cerrito, raised in Berkeley while going to Albany’s St. Mary’s High and U.C. Berkeley, is a Bay Area guy, and he’s made it clear he’d like to stay here. More than that, he’d like nothing better than to help “bring a World Series to Oakland.”

“I love being home,” he said this winter. “I love winning. “I love going out to do battles with guys who share the same values as me.”

But the A’s have never spent freely. The biggest contract Oakland has offered one of its own is the six-year, $66 million deal that went to third baseman Eric Chavez a decade and a half ago. He won the last two of his six Gold Gloves over the span of that contract, but the A’s mostly didn’t get what they’d hoped with Chavez putting together a .249/.322/.434 slash line with 67 homers, an average of about 11 per season.

Chavez was a good player and a fan favorite, but before signing him, the A’s let two homegrown MVPs, first baseman Jason Giambi and shortstop Miguel Tejada, leave rather than getting into a serious bidding war that would have cost much more money.

Semien doesn’t have an MVP award in his trophy shelf, but he finished third in the voting last year as the steadiest man in the Oakland firmament. Along the way, he had a .285/.369/.522 slash line with 33 homers and 92 RBI while scoring 123 runs as the leadoff hitter. And, as has been well documented, his defense has gone from cringe-worthy to seeing him named a Gold Glove finalist each of the last two years.

More than that, he's the hub and middle man on a superior Major League infield, with third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson also among the team leaders. 

Is Semien worth the risk? Certainly. He’s played 155 or more games four of the last five seasons, and he keeps getting better.

Can the A’s afford to keep him? Well, they have deferred the $1.2 million owed in April on the Coliseum lease and they are the only one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams not to be paying the organization’s minor league players some level of stipend, most teams shelling out $400 per week per minor league player. So, Oakland is giving no indication that it’s flush with cash with baseball locked down.

The team’s controlling owner, John Fisher, who has a 90 percent ownership of the club, has money, an estimated worth of more the $2.1 billion, even if the recent economic downturn has hurt him some.

The influx of cash the club had hoped for with a new Howard Terminal stadium has been put on hold, which doesn’t help. But the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing the stadium’s path forward, and it is becoming more unlikely by the day that the A’s can get anything built by 2023.

At some point, seeing Semien in an A’s uniform post-2020 will come down to a choice of spending money or not spending it.

Oakland hasn’t done that before. Is it time for a change?

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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