TORONTO -- When free agency opened, the Blue Jays were one of the first clubs to call Marcus Semien. That’s not out of the ordinary for the club, which likes to kick the tires on every car in the lot, but it kept calling. And calling.
By January, when the market began to move, those calls from Toronto continued as it became clear that Semien's return to Oakland was unlikely. It was actually his side who eventually called the A’s, but with that door closed, a one-year deal with a young, competitive club started to make more sense.
One day on a Zoom call, the Blue Jays asked Semien which position he liked most other than shortstop, where he’s played exclusively since 2014.
“I said, 'I like shortstop,'” Semien recalled.
Then, he continued.
“But if I had to pick, I think second, just staying in the middle. I’m open to anything,” Semien told them. Not long after, he agreed to a one-year, $18 million deal, giving Toronto another major offseason addition after signing George Springer for six years, $150 million.
Just like Springer, Semien’s free agency is another example of the stars aligning for the Blue Jays. Money talks and will always drive negotiations, which Toronto had plenty of this offseason. Then, the club’s need at the position and free-agent fit come into play. Right down the list, the Blue Jays and Semien checked every box for one another.
At first glance, Semien is a fit for Toronto, because he’s a talented veteran infielder with the potential for elite production, which he showed in 2019 when he hit .285 with 33 home runs and an .892 OPS, finishing third in American League MVP Award voting. Beyond that, though, Semien is a fit for this specific roster at this specific time, because he’s experienced failure and learned to call it by its name. The Blue Jays’ young core isn’t lacking talent, but the '20 season was filled with learning experiences and fundamental errors, something Semien experienced early in Oakland, but grew from.
“It just took like hundreds and hundreds of games and 1,000s of reps to say, ‘Look, I can do this at this level. And I know even if I mess up, I'm going to bounce back and I'm going to make the next one,’” Semien said. “Early on, you're like, 'OK, I just failed here. And I don't necessarily know why I did.' And it's just kind of a cloudy area you don't like to be in, but it takes time.’”
Semien didn’t necessarily know what to expect in free agency, saying that he wasn’t sure what he should be asking for going in. Instead, he let the process play out and adapted as it went along, but he was realistic about the payroll challenges some clubs were facing. Semien also knew that evaluations of a 60-game season would vary from club to club, but he hoped his full body of work would be given more weight.
The 30-year-old is well aware of the young core he’s joining, though, and where this organization has come from over the past decade. Adding veterans who have been around the league and had success helps to expedite the development process for players like Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. They’ll be able to lean on Semien’s strengths, of course, but also learn from how he’s addressed past weaknesses in his game.
“That's something that I'll be able to share with them. Along with just the playoff experience the last three years and how to get over the hump,” Semien said. “You know, it seems like Toronto had some great years with the José Bautista years, and then there's a little bit of a reset and now it's go time. I'm happy to be part of that.”
The shortened 2020 season was difficult for Semien with his MVP Award form not carrying over, something he attributes to a Summer Camp slump that rolled into the regular season. His bat picked up late and into the playoffs, though, and Semien believes a full season moving in the direction of a return to “normal” will only help.
With the A’s, Semien reached the postseason in three consecutive seasons, each time as a Wild Card team. He’s gone 13-for-30 (.371) with a 1.021 OPS over that small sample of nine games, and given the offseason the Blue Jays have had, a playoff push is now the expectation, not just a best-case scenario.
Players like Bichette, Biggio and Guerrero have experienced their early highs and lows, just like Semien did when he broke into the league, but he knows this is just the start for them.
“These guys will be just fine,” Semien said. “You know that they're already doing some really good things. But there's so there's so many more big games in their future.”
Semien could be part of some of those big games, too, with a lineup that has the potential to rival some of baseball’s best, so he’s glad the Blue Jays kept calling.