On the flight back from Los Angeles to Oakland Friday midday, A’s manager Bob Melvin and shortstop Marcus Semien had a bit of quiet time together.
Semien, who had a big postseason after a regular season full of offensive struggles, is en route to becoming a free agent now that the A’s have been eliminated from the playoffs by an American League Division Series loss to Houston.
Born in San Francisco and raised in Berkeley, He’s a Bay Area guy, an East Bay guy. And just a year ago, before anyone talked of pandemics, he was third in the AL’s Most Valuable Player voting.
Will the A’s be able to bring him back? This will be one of the overriding questions for the A’s going forward in what will be an expensive offseason for Oakland, traditionally one of the smallest budget teams in the Major Leagues.
This season the A’s were projected to spend a little more than $105 million on player salaries, players took substantial pay cuts as Major League Baseball dealt with playing a 60-game season, but the plan for now is for a 162-game season in 2021, COVID-19 permitting, and it will be difficult to keep the payroll to anything in the area of $105 million, with or without bringing Semien back.
The A’s are looking at having 10 free agents, including much of their AL-leading bullpen – Liam Hendriks, Joakim Soria, Yusmeiro Petit and T.J. McFarland. And there are nine arbitration-eligible players, including third baseman Matt Chapman, first baseman Matt Olson, outfielder Mark Canha, utility specialist Chad Pinder and starting pitchers Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea.
But, initially at least, Semien is the guy the A’s would like to find a way to bring back. He’s the player representative, he plays almost every day and he’s turned himself into a Gold Glove defender as well as a first-class offensive threat.
General manager David Forst wasn’t on the trip to Southern California for the series against the Astros, said he’s been exchanging texts with Semien since the A’s were eliminated by an 11-6 loss to Houston Thursday.
“I exchanged text messages with Marcus Last night just because I wasn’t there in person,” Forst said. “And I just told him that from the first day he was here, he’s been an incredible representative of the organization and a great ambassador for the Oakland A’s and has turned himself into a great player. I wanted to make sure he knew how much I appreciated the six years he’s been here.
“I told him `we would love to have you here.’ He and I have talked a lot this season, probably more than any other just because he was the player rep, with all the stuff that’s going on and with the social justice issues.”
Billy Beane, the club's executive VP who was the man who pulled the trigger on the deal that brought Semien and Bassitt to the A's half a decade ago, is on board.
"I don't feel good about anybody better than Marcus at this time," Beane said when he was asked what A's minor leaguers he liked to move in at shortstop. "I know Bob and David feel comfortable with Marcus."
Will that be enough to keep Semien close to home? He’s going to want the first multiyear deal of his career, and the A’s have shied away from those at least until they get ready to play in a Howard Terminal. And there’s no date scheduled for the first shovel to break into the ground north of Jack London Square. A projected 2023 move-in looks almost certainly too optimistic.
News that the qualifying offer teams can offer players as a one-year inducement to stick around is likely to be $18.9 million, is such that the A’s may find even that pricey.
There is a cost to not bringing him back, though. For one, their best shortstop prospects are in the lower minor leagues, and didn’t play a game this year because of the coronavirus shutting down the minor league systems across baseball.
And there is what Semien means to his teammates. Speaking after Thursday’s loss in which Semien had a couple of hits, including a run scoring single in what might have been his first at-bat with Oakland, Canha was effusive.
“Marcus is an incredible person,” Canha, who has known Semien since the played college ball together up the road in Berkeley, said. “As a friend, as a teammate, as a man, you can’t have a better teammate than Marcus. He’s a fighter. He’s the ultimate.
“He’s the guy you want on your team. I sure hope we get him back.”
And then Canha got really effusive.
“I don’t think it’s lost on anyone in our organization or anywhere else,” Canha said, “so Marcus is going to be just fine. He’s our captain and he’s a hell of a player and a hell of a friend.”
Sounds like somebody the A’s would like to keep around. And to be clear, he’s interested in staying.
Semien told the media on Thursday that he’d like to return, and he told that to Melvin the same. But it’s too soon after the season to know what will happen.
“I’ve never been in this position,” Semien said. “This is just ne to me. I haven’t taken that much time to think about all that stuff.”
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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