Things are happening!: Marcus Semien signs with Texas, the Jays add a reliever, and more!
On Marcus Semien's departure, the addition of Yimi García, Gausman rumours, a whirlwind of activity around the league, the upcoming CBA fight, and more!
It’s official. The Blue Jays will have a new second baseman in 2022. They also have a new reliever. And apparently a whole bunch of transactions are about to go down as expiration of the CBA between the league and the players union approaches.
So let’s talk about it!
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Marcus Semien chooses the Texas Rangers
Sadly the Marcus Semien era in Toronto lasted only one spectacular year for the club’s 2021 second baseman, but upshot of that is that Semien just got an immense and well-deserved payday from the Texas Rangers. Following up on a report first broken by Robert Murray of FanSided, ESPN’s Jeff Passan confirms that the deal is for seven years and worth $175 million.
That’s a lot of money and term for a guy who turned 31 in September, but similar to a key point about the Jays’ recent extension of José Berríos, if you can’t bet on 31-year-old Marcus Semien — a player who has missed just 10 games over his last four seasons, has only missed extensive time once in his career (2017), and has a reputation as one of the most dedicated and prepared athletes in the sport — who can you bet on?
Does that mean I think the Jays should have done this deal? Not necessarily. While it would have been great to see him back, I can certainly understand the club’s reticence with both the term and the dollars here.
So as not to do the silly thing where a player’s warts suddenly get a lot more noticeable as soon as they’re gone, let’s revisit two things I wrote about Semien in a mail bag back in October.
Semien was sneakily a little boom-or-bust in 2021, posting a .334 OBP that ranked 77th out of the 132 hitters to qualify for the batting title. And the thing about him being a great hitter for the better part of three years is that, while true, he wasn't great in the same ways. In his breakout 2019 (138 wRC+) he had a career high walk rate (11.6%) and a career low strikeout rate (13.7%). In 2021 (131 wRC+) those rates were back to being virtually identical to his career norms: a 9.1% walk rate (for his career it's 9.0%) and a strikeout rate of 20.2% (exactly his career average) — he just happened to hit a ton more home runs.
Obviously the 45 home runs are a long way from nothing, But, sadly, I like the 2019 version of Semien better, and I think the decision would be tougher here if he’d been closer to that.
Then also this:
The numbers are what they are, and like I say, they look very much like the guy he was pre-2019 except for the power (with a little additional base running value in there to boot). Semien's ISO (i.e. his isolated power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) was .273 this year, putting him in the top 10 among qualified hitters. I'm certainly not saying the power wasn't real, but his next best ISO came in 2019 (.237, 44th), and other than that he's never cracked .200.
Playing in Oakland and the AL West for most of his career surely had something to do with that. It also must be noted that Semien's average launch angle of 20.3° was the highest of his career this year, as were his barrel rate, his hard hit rate, and his exit velocity. It is absolutely not out of the question that he worked on these things with the resources afforded him by the Blue Jays and intentionally maximized his skills in this way. But was still a little unusual.
Of the 19 players with 35 home runs or more this season, though Semien's average launch angle was the third highest, his average exit velocity was fourth lowest, his maximum exit velocity was lowest, his barrel rate was the lowest, and his hard hit rate was second lowest.
He made it work, but do you pay him like a 45 home run slugger when he is less than elite when it comes to a skill that seems pretty critical to doing that year in and year out? I don’t know that you do. And I think if he’s more a 30 home run guy than a 45 home run guy this is a different conversation, because, as you point out, the OBP skills aren’t quite elite either. I take no pleasure in reporting this!
That all re-said, every player has flaws you can pick at, and there are ways like that to talk yourself out of just about anybody. There are plenty of reasons to be thrilled if you’re the Texas Rangers here, too. Semien will be a great influence for their young team, and with just $50 million in projected opening day payroll according to Cot’s, no dollars on the books for 2022 and beyond prior to this deal, Texas clearly have the resources to take the hit and keep on spending. Also Semien is the MLB leader in fWAR among position players since the start of 2019. He’s really exceptionally good!
And if you’re the Jays? Well, it might be time to reassess the your walk-away points. Just as a fourth year was surprising for Steven Matz, a seventh for Semien is too. But clearly that’s where the market is trending right now. A refusal to pivot here could leave a club a step behind. Especially when we see from the Semien deal that some of the things we might have expected guys to prioritize, like a chance to win as soon as possible or to play in a preferred geographic location, are being overlooked when an extra year is on the table — something that’s typically the case anyway, but that may be exaggerated with union solidarity and the idea of setting the best contractual precedents possible at the front of mind for many players right now.
There’s no doubt that the Jays will be a worse team if they don’t find a way to replace some of the offensive firepower Semien brought in 2021, but there are still plenty of opportunities out there for them to do so. It just appears as it will be so costly that it’s not quite yet out of the question that we may end up hearing spin about how full years of George Springer and Cavan Biggio and the arrival of Gabriel Moreno will ultimately help close the gap. That wouldn’t be a great outcome for this offseason, I don’t think. But we’re still a long way from there yet — and I’d fully expect that if they did go lighter in terms of position player acquisitions it would mean spending a ton to upgrade their pitching. (Plus, with Semien now gone, the Jays will get a compensatory draft pick following Competitive Balance Round B in next year’s draft, which should end up in the 70-80 range. That should at least make it a little easier to part with some of their current crop of prospects, theoretically.)
On a brighter note, a great teammate and great Blue Jay had his bet on himself pay off in a massive way, Marcus gets to visit his home in the Bay Area a whole lot more often than had he chosen to play in a different division, and he also didn’t end up with the stupid Yankees or Red Sox — an outcome that would have been much more difficult to take.
Still, it sucks to see Semien. It also sucks to see fans counting Rogers’ money for them, as though they couldn’t have easily swallowed a deal like this with the change from the couch cushions in the executive lounge. Worst of all it sucks to see a small number of fans turn on Semien for not taking less money to go to a more win-now team.
We’re talking about the architect of what may have been the defining moment of the Jays’ season — and no, I’m not talking about that one against the Tigers.
The Jays floundered through much of August after 3-6 road trip to Anaheim, Seattle, and Washington that zapped the momentum they had after their return to play in Toronto. September 4th, in the first game of a must-win series against Semien's old team, the Jays needed a six-run eighth inning to tie the game at 8-8. We all then watched in horror as Jordan Romano improbably coughed up the lead in the top of the ninth. As had been the story all season long for the club, the Jays were close, but not close enough. Or so it seemed. A slap single to left from Breyvic Valera and a double on a low slider hooked into the left field corner from George Springer brought Semien to the plate as the winning run.
When Sergio Romo hung a 2-2 slider, Semien made no mistake.
This team was simply too talented to be written off early. Suddenly there was real reason to believe.
This game was the second of what would become an eight-game win streak, and a 12-1 stretch in early September that propelled the Jays into the thick of the playoff race. And while, as we all know now, they would ultimately fall short of the big dance, it was certainly not through any lack of effort from Semien, whose 1.6 fWAR in September/October led the team and ranked 11th in baseball among position players over that stretch.
So, godspeed Marcus, I say. Enjoy the rewards of a marvellous season.
Now let’s add some impact talent here before the best guys are all taken, Jays.
Jays sign Yimi García
I don’t think I’d put this down as adding “impact talent,” but we do have an actual Blue Jays transaction to talk about! The Jays added a nice piece to their bullpen mix on Saturday, signing right-hander Yimi García on a two-year free agent deal with a vesting/club option for a third.
Shi Davidi @ShiDavidiBlue Jays are in agreement with righty Yimi Garcia, as @jonmorosi reported. It’s a two-year deal (pending physical) that guarantees $11m and includes a club option, per source. https://t.co/dk3bIxfIPd
García saved 15 games for the Marlins in 2021 before being sent to the Astros in a mid-season trade. He was a little homer prone in 2021 (1.25 HR/9) and had an ugly 42.6% strand rate with Houston that helped contribute to his 5.48 ERA there, but he pitched to a 3.36 FIP with the Astros, keeping the 1.5 mph gain he found on his fastball this season, knocking down his walk rate from 8.6% (about his career rate) in Miami to 5.8%, and increasing his strikeout rate from 23.2% to 29.1%. He's been worth 1.0 WAR according to FanGraphs over his last 72 2/3 innings, and ticks off a few things that should be of interest to the Jays, as his fastball velocity was in the 85th percentile of all pitchers in 2021, his curve spin was in the 83rd percentile, and his fastball spin rate was in the 95th percentile.
Worth also noting that his spin rate was pretty durable despite the league’s sticky substance crackdown in 2021, and even went up a bit after he joined the Astros — *COUGH*.
If things go exceptionally well his experience closing out games could come in handy, though it seems more likely that he’ll be another middle-inning option for Charlie Montoyo and Pete Walker to turn to, with a pretty solid floor and some things in his profile that the Jays are surely already thinking about tweaking. One of those is his pitch mix, which is deep for a reliever. According to Baseball Savant, in 2021 he threw a four-seamer (39.3%), slider (29.8%), curve (18.2%), changeup (6.4%), and a sinker (6.4%). It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Jays focus on having him alter that mix, in addition to trying to get more out of his fastball — which was a below average pitch according to FanGraphs’ pitch values in 2021, though that was mostly due to his time in Miami, as he saw a rebound after a move to Houston.
You also have to love this about him:
(García isn’t out there getting a record-breaking deal, so I don’t think this is the same as not begrudging Semien taking the contract that will best benefit a fellow union member down the line.)
Anyway! The structure of the Jays' bullpen is starting to take shape with García now joining mid-2021 additions Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards, plus incumbents Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza. MLB is planning on limiting teams to carrying 13 pitchers again in 2022 after easing that rule in the pandemic seasons of 2020 and 2022. That means the Jays now have five of eight relief spots accounted for, with a number of other arms expected to compete for the remaining spots, including Ross Stripling, Nate Pearson, Julian Merryweather, recent waiver claim Shaun Anderson, plus Ryan Borucki, Anthony Castro, Hagen Danner, Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay, Taylor Saucedo, Kirby Snead, and Trent Thornton all also on the 40 man.
Of that secondary group, only Borucki and Stripling can’t be optioned to the minors, meaning most of them will likely be spending some time in Buffalo. If I had to guess, I'd say that at the moment Romano, Mayza, Cimber, Richards, García, Stripling, Pearson, and at least one more arm from outside the organization are the most likely to end up in the bullpen, provided everyone is healthy. That could change if the Jays end up giving a starting slot to either Stripling or Pearson, or having Pearson start the year in Buffalo’s rotation. That's going to make it a little difficult for the club to cycle guys up and down from the minors, though with the frequency of injuries to relievers they should have a reasonable path to do so if they need to. It also means that Borucki may not be around for much longer — though I suppose it's possible he gets a chance to pitch his way onto the team this spring.
• We’ll see how long this post lasts at the top of the site, because it seems like there’s a pretty good chance more transactions are a-comin’.
The CBA expires on December 1, Wednesday, just before midnight, and it seems as though teams and agents are in a rush to get deals done now so that players will be able to take a physical and make any signing official before the transaction freeze that will accompany the lockout sets in.
• The big name Jays fans seem to be watching at the moment is Kevin Gausman, who Jon Morosi said on Saturday night the club is a finalist for:
Gausman’s market may be getting held up at the moment by another starter:
The Mets are obviously staying in contact with Gausman’s camp, even if their attention at the moment is supposedly on Scherzer.
Most of the chatter about Scherzer has, unfortunately, not included the Jays. That can all change very quickly, of course, but at the moment it feels like Gausman or Robbie Ray are the most realistic possibilities to be Blue Jays next year. It’s going to take a lot of money to make either of those deals happen, obviously.
• If you want a reason to be pessimistic about the Jays potentially signing Gausman, I thought this breakdown of his season and newfound success from Bob Ritchie of Jays From the Couch was pretty thought-provoking.
• Some of the deals we’ve already seen this weekend (links via MLB Trade Rumors):
The Rays have signed Corey Kluber to a one-year, $8 million deal with incentives that could take it as high as $13 million — a lot of potential money for a cheap organization, but a pitcher who has done well when healthy. Kluber had a 3.83 ERA for the Yankees over 16 starts this year, missing months from late May until late August.
Byron Buxton is getting a $100 million extension from the Twins in a fascinating deal that could be incredibly team-friendly if Buxton can stay healthy, but that is a life-changing amount of money that must have been incredibly hard to turn down for a guy who has struggled so badly to stay on the field. Since his full debut in 2017 Buxton has played in just 50% of the Twins’ games.
The Marlins have signed outfielder Avisail Garcia on a $53 million deal. Might have wanted to give him a qualifying offer there Milwaukee! The four-year deal for Garcia is, like the Matz and Semien deals, a year longer than most seemed to be predicting. Does this make a blockbuster between the Marlins and Jays involving, say, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Alejandro Kirk, less likely? Sure. Probably.
In addition to Marcus Semien, the Rangers have signed Kole Calhoun to a one-year deal. Meh. The bigger story in Texas is that they’re not done shopping:
• Lastly, speaking of the CBA (weren’t we?), Evan Drellich of the Athletic had a pretty interesting profile of the union’s top negotiator, Bruce Meyer, go up on Sunday. The players are definitely gearing up for a fight. As they should be! I’d still really like there to be a 2022 MLB season though!
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