Marcus Semien is pricing himself out of the Red Sox free agency plans
There are many paths the Boston Red Sox can explore to upgrade their roster this offseason. While much of the emphasis will be on pitching, improving their infield defense should also be a priority. One way to address that area of need would be by signing free-agent infielder Marcus Semien.
Primarily a shortstop throughout his career, Semien moved to second base last season when he signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. He tied for second in the majors at the position with 11 defensive runs saved and earned a Gold Glove award. His elite defensive presence would help steady a shaky Red Sox infield. Boston could use him at second base or send him back to his natural position if Xander Bogaerts is finally ready to accept a position change. Semien also protects the Red Sox in the unlikely event that Bogaerts opts-out of his contract with the intention of leaving after next season.
Semien’s bat might be even more appealing than his glove. He hit .265 with a .873 OPS this season while setting a major league record for the most home runs by a second baseman with 45.
It’s clear that Semien would be a perfect fit in the lineup and on the field but his price tag is far from perfect. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Semien is seeking a deal that could top $200 million.
That contract would be significantly higher than most sources have projected for Semien. The Athletic predicted he would get a five-year, $148 million deal while MLB Trade Rumors has him landing a six-year, $138 million deal.
The MLBTR prediction comes with a $23 million average annual value, which seems very reasonable for a player of Semien’s caliber. The Athletic’s projected offer would be a bit harder to squeeze into the budget at nearly $30 million per year but has the benefit of a shorter duration, which carries less risk. The Red Sox should remain in the hunt for his services as long as the bidding remains in this ballpark.
If the price reaches $200 million, that’s where Chaim Bloom needs to back away. A six-year deal at that salary would mean an average annual value of $33.3 million, which would make him the fifth-highest paid position player in the majors next season.
A case can be made that Semien deserves to be among the highest paid players. His 15.4 WAR is the highest among major league position players over the last three seasons, per FanGraphs. He finished third on the AL MVP ballot in two of the last three seasons.
The problem is his age. Semien turned 31 in September and teams are more hesitant than ever to invest in players on the wrong side of 30. The last free-agent hitter to get paid $200+ million at that age or older was Robinson Canó, who signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners in December 2013.
Canó wasn’t a bust in Seattle. He made three All-Star appearances and produced a 3.0+ fWAR three times but he fell short of the elite status he held earlier in his career with the Yankees. Seattle dumped his contract on the Mets in 2019. Canó had two underwhelming seasons in which he produced a total of 2.2 fWAR, lower than he previously produced in any prior full season. He was suspended for the 2021 season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
A ten-year deal that turned into an albatross about halfway through doesn’t bode well for the concept of giving a player over 30 a deal of that length.
There are several other players who will be earning $30+ million in their age-35 season and beyond, including Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Manny Machado. The difference is that those players signed their deals while they were still in their 20’s. Teams were willing to overpay on the back end in order to lock them up for the remainder of their prime years. It’s harder to justify that type of contract for a player over 30 who will be reaching the end of their prime in the relatively near future.
A better comparable to strive for is the six-year, $150 million deal that George Springer signed with the Blue Jays last winter when he was about the same age that Semien is now. When Springer hit the market, he had three All-Star appearances and a World Series MVP on his resume. His 15.8 fWAR from 2017-2020 was 16th in the majors and ahead of Semien (14.4 fWAR) during that span. Semien is undoubtedly the better player now on the heels of a career year while Springer sputtered through an injury-plagued season. However, the perception a year ago when Springer got his free-agent deal was that he was in that same elite class.
Semien deserves as much as what Springer received, if not more, but not that much more. Not $200 million. A team could offer that salary over a longer duration to reduce the annual value for luxury tax purposes, although that only increases the risk of carrying dead weight on their payroll at the end of the deal.
Granted, the demand for $200 million could simply be posturing by his agent, Scott Boras. Remember when Boras claimed J.D. Martinez was looking for a $200 million deal only for the veteran designated hitter to settle for $110 million? This is a different scenario since the Red Sox were the only serious suitor for Martinez. Several teams will be bidding on Semien, which could drive up the price. It doesn’t mean he’s getting $200 million though, regardless of what his agent wants.
If the price remains in the range he was projected for, the Red Sox should pounce. Semien’s bat would be a welcome addition to the lineup and his glove helps solve their defensive issues. He’s worth paying a hefty price for but Bloom needs to draw a line somewhere. If a bidding war pushes the price anywhere near what he’s asking for, the Red Sox need to walk away.