Analysis: Why the A’s losing Marcus Semien to Toronto is a terrible sign

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The A’s are never too shy to cry poor. This year is no exception because all Major League Baseball teams are taking substantial financial hits because of the pandemic

But Oakland’s inability to sign shortstop Marcus Semien to a one-year deal is an alarming sign that the A’s are truly in a bad financial spot.

The A’s could have extended qualifying offers worth $18.9 million to closer Liam Hendriks and Semien.

Though Hendriks was probably a lock to leave — he’d eventually land a three-year, $54 million deal with the Chicago White Sox — it seemed entirely possible that the A’s could bring back Semien on a short-term deal under the qualifying offer. Semien could bounce back after a rough, short 2020 season, positioning himself for a more lucrative deal next off-season, and the A’s could keep their leader at a reasonable price.

Instead, Semien fled Tuesday to Toronto on a one-year, $18 million deal to play second base for a young, talented Blue Jays team spending on pieces to bolster a budding contender. Safe to say the move will be a culture shock for Semien.

It’s a lot of money for a middle infielder, sure, but it’s not a good sign that the A’s weren’t able to match that deal to keep their clubhouse leader, 2019 MVP finalist starting shortstop and fan favorite in his hometown for another season, at least.

There was clearly interest on both sides for a reunion.

Baseball-wise, there are fixes to the loss. Nick Allen could be a defensive star next to Matt Chapman in the near future — maybe not in 2021, but soon.

Andrelton Simmons signed with the Minnesota Twins not soon after Semien’s signing, but the A’s may find a player via trade or free agency if they don’t slide Chad Pinder into a regular shortstop role.

Morale-wise, it’s yet another hit to a franchise that’s already numb to the pains of playing or working for a cash-strapped organization.

Last spring, Chapman indirectly voiced his frustrations and displeasure with his adjusted contract for the truncated 2020 season, which totaled $230,926 for the two-time Platinum Glove winner. He retweeted a tweet that said: “So I just learned I’m making more this year than @mattchap6 Guess dinner on me for one more year buddy !!!”

Then, he liked a series of tweets from A’s fans calling out ownership for not spending on players, especially stars such as Chapman.

We also know the A’s won’t have the green light to spend on players until they have shovels in the ground at the new stadium site. Billy Beane, the team’s executive vice president of baseball operations, and general manager David Forst have said as much.

“All the things we’re doing parallel what goes on with the stadium, and when we can start planning on that happening,” Beane said in December 2019. “Until we know that’s going to happen, we have to stay relatively nimble.”

New ballpark plans at Howard Terminal screeched to a halt with local government officials entirely preoccupied with the pandemic. And, with it, the A’s financial future grows even dimmer. Related Articles Marcus Semien leaves Oakland for Toronto — what’s next for the A’s at shortstop?

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The A’s had 10 free agents heading into this offseason. Four of them — Semien, Hendriks, Robbie Grossman and Mike Minor — have walked. The current state of affairs in Oakland can’t sit right with stars such as Chapman and Matt Olson, as it certainly shrinks the possibility of an extension for them and the dozen players who hit arbitration this year.

The A’s payroll is shrinking.

Oakland is a talented team, and it should contend with the hordes of young talent it has on the 2021 roster so far. But morale is important, too. And the Semien loss stings for more reasons than the obvious.

Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays reach agreement on 1-year, $18M deal, source says

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Infielder Marcus Semien is in agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays on a one-year, $18 million contract, a source familiar with the deal told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Semien will become the second star and fourth free agent added by the Blue Jays during a slow offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Toronto gave outfielder George Springer a $150 million, six-year deal. Toronto also agreed to one-year contracts with right-handers Kirby Yates ($5.5 million) and Tyler Chatwood ($3 million) and re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to an $8 million, one-year contract.

Coming off a career year in 2019, Semien struggled in 2020 while dealing with a rib injury, as the shortstop hit just .223 with 7 home runs, 28 runs, 23 RBIs and 4 stolen bases for the Oakland Athletics. His production was down largely due to his strikeouts being up, as he fanned on 21.2% of his plate appearances.

It was a different story for Semien in 2019, when he finished third in AL MVP voting after posting personal bests with 33 home runs, 92 RBIs and a .285 batting average while playing in all 162 games. His WAR (8.9) was third in the majors that season, and he parlayed that into a one-year, $13 million deal – more than double his contract after earning $5.9 million in 2018. He earned $4,814,815 in prorated pay for 2020.

Semien was tied for 190th among batters in WAR in 2020, with 0.5. Even with the decline in 2020, he is one of just six hitters to account for at least 9.0 WAR in the past two seasons combined.

Semien’s 151 runs scored since the start of the 2019 season rank second among all American League players, and his 100 extra-base hits rank fifth.

In eight MLB seasons, Semien, who is above average when it comes to base running, has a .254 batting average with 115 home runs, 380 RBIs, 467 runs scored and 66 stolen bases – but with 731 strikeouts in 3,266 at-bats – for the Chicago White Sox and A’s.

Toronto went 32-28 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, finishing third in the AL East behind the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees and qualifying for the expanded postseason despite behind forced to play home games in Buffalo, New York, due to Canadian government restrictions on travel. The Blue Jays were swept in two games by the AL champion Rays in a first-round series.

Toronto has an emerging young core and is adding major contracts, while younger players such as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have relatively low salaries because they remain shy of eligibility for arbitration.

It is not clear where the Blue Jays will play home games when the 2021 season starts.

ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

A’s loss of Marcus Semien might be final blow to reeling franchise

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A’s fans, players and team execs got great news Tuesday: Their shortstop, Marcus Semien, is signing with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Also Tuesday came news that infielder Tommy La Stella, who hit .289 for the A’a last season in 27 games, has signed with the Giants.

On the surface, the Semien news was a sledgehammer to the gut of the A’s, final proof that the organization is broken — financially, artistically, competitively.

The good news is that this could be the final blow to the current ownership. Something drastic— and maybe positive — will come out of losing Semien. Maybe. Eventually.

The A’s can’t go on as they are, rocking the worst business model in sports. Maybe now Major League Baseball will step in and encourage a change of ownership, or maybe owner John Fisher finally will admit he can’t — or chooses not to — play with the big boys, despite his reported net worth of $2.9 billion as of this week, according to Forbes.

In recent years, Fisher — through his team President Dave Kaval — has been trumpeting an A’s revival, featuring a planned ballpark at Howard Terminal. Semien’s departure is a signal that the trumpeting is all hot air and no brass.

Meanwhile, how long can the A’s go like this? It could be that losing their East Bay-native, super-popular, MVP-level shortstop might be just the beginning of the team’s losses. The A’s soon might face:

• The loss of third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson. Why would they stake their promising futures on an organization going nowhere fast? Why would the A’s pay them when they wouldn’t pay Semien?

Chapman/Semien/Olson had a chance to become a superstar threesome on the order of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Draymond Green, but that dream went poof.

Semien signed a one-year deal for $18 million. The A’s made an offer, but best guess is that it wasn’t competitive, otherwise Semien almost surely would have stayed.

Had Semien left Oakland for long-term huge bucks, the A’s could have justified not matching the offer, considering Semien’s drop-off last season. But if they can’t afford $18 million to keep their shortstop, the A’s are like a barbershop that can’t afford scissors.

• The loss of executive vice president Billy Beane. Beane might be on the verge of leaving the A’s, anyway. For years, he has been asked to build competitive teams with relatively little money, but now it seems he is being asked to build competitive teams with no money.

• The loss of manager Bob Melvin. The popular and successful skipper will be entering the last season of his contract. In similar circumstances in the past, Melvin has let it be known he wants an extension. His silence might indicate that he, too, has had enough of working for one of sports’ greatest cheapskates.

• The loss of team morale. The A’s draw an underdog pluck from their status as bargain-basement baseball orphans in a crummy ballpark. That narrative might be wearing thin. The players won’t be happy over losing a great team leader, despite his 2020 batting slump.

• The loss of even more fans. The loyal ones who stuck around through years of heartbreak over key players leaving in their prime will again be tested again. When the A’s lost recent MVP Miguel Tejada in 2004, for example, they did so in order to pay to keep fan fave Eric Chavez. This time, there is no such silver lining.

Semien is a hometown hero. He went to St. Mary’s High-Berkeley, went to Cal, grew from fringe major-leaguer into one of the game’s best shortstops. Baseball aside, a team could not design a better role model and leader.

• The loss of credibility. The A’s might blame the pandemic for the loss of Semien. The COVID slowdown/shutdown of MLB surely has hurt whatever mysterious progress the A’s might be making toward a new ballpark, and cut into the team’s bottom line.

But the A’s are worth $1.1 billion, according to Forbes, and it’s an ominous sign that ownership wasn’t willing or able to borrow against that to keep Semien.

The A’s can afford fancy new office space at Jack London Square, they can afford to file a civic-minded (they claim) lawsuit against Schnitzer Steel, they can afford to hire world-class architects to design a stadium they have no place to put, but they can’t afford their shortstop.

Semien is a teammate’s and manager’s and fan’s dream, a zero-ego, zero-maintenance, high-character individual who drove himself to be a top-flight player. Now he’s driving himself to the airport.

For just about any other big-league team, a day when you lose a player like Semien would be a sadly memorable day.

For the A’s, it was just a Tuesday.

Scott Ostler is a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @scottostler