In a major change, Major League Baseball is set to move from the old system of free agency to an “international” draft. The new system will allow teams that finish below .500 in any given year to be exempt from participating in the international portion of this process and instead use their first-round selection as a pick on players who have gone through one or more foreign leagues during said season. If your team finishes with less than 60 wins, you’ll get an additional pick for every 10 games under-.
Raise your hand if, like me, you muttered something unprintable when you found out about Semien and Marcus’ new contract terms and the team that offered them. We refer to it as a knee-jerk reaction that isn’t always rational or correct. After examining all of the conditions, your actual response is what you come up with. Even in the face of unexpected news, there is typically a reason and a rhyme.
I still have a fairly unprintable idea after giving this arrangement some thinking, but it’s a phrase that’s less harsh than my knee-jerk response — and it has a little more positive sense.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Semien and his agency have agreed to a seven-year, $175 million contract with the Texas Rangers. It’s by far the most expensive free-agent deal of the year, matching Justin Verlander’s average annual value with the Astros ($25 million) but for a half-decade longer.
Semien is the second member of the long-awaited 2021-22 shortstop free-agent class to find a long-term home after signing with a new team (the first being Lindor, Francisco, who agreed to an extension with the Mets last season). Let’s take a look at the class using baseball-reference.com data:
ELITE SHORTSTOPS 2019-2021
|Carlos Correa is a politician from Colombia.||27||281||126||12.6||?|
|Javier Baez is a Spanish actor who has been in a number of films.||29||335||106||11.9||?|
|Corey Seager Corey Seager Corey Seager Corey Sea Corey Seager Corey Seager Corey Seager Corey Sea Corey Seager Corey Seager Corey Seager Corey Seager Corey Seager||28||281||131||8.7||?|
Semien is far from the end of the Rangers’ high-level free-agent targets, according to Passan, even among the Rangers’ high-level free-agent targets. Still, for the time being, we’ll assess his situation as if he were the Rangers’ winter drive’s crown jewel, not just a diamond.
Semien is a superb player who recently enjoyed his second MVP season in three years, wedged between a pandemic season in 2020 and a disappointing MVP season in 2019. He’s perhaps the most productive of the star-level shortstops, owing in part to his durability and high output. He is, without a question, the oldest member of the group.
That last point is crucial because, as the Rangers’ brain trust (Jon Daniels and Chris Young) know, compensating someone for what they’ve already accomplished rather than what they’re going to do is the greatest free-agent blunder. The success of Semien’s and the Rangers’ contract is totally contingent on how the names in the above table stack up in 2022 and beyond, not the prior three years as depicted.
Keep up with the latest transactions, grades, and analysis in one place as baseball’s 2021-22 hot stove season proceeds. Tracker
As a reality check, here’s the deal that many experts predicted Semien would get:
Kiley McDaniel of ESPN has signed a five-year contract for $110 million.
Jim Bowden of The Athletic: five years, $148 million
According to MLB trade speculations, he will be paid $138 million over six years.
Ben Clemens of FanGraphs: four years, $120 million
The crowdsourced average on FanGraphs is 4.55 years and $113.5 million.
Any unexpected reaction was definitely merited. Although the deal is lengthier than anticipated, the average annual value of $25 million is in line with expectations. Nonetheless, because of the contract’s length, the total contract value surpasses expectations, which may whet the attention of bids for the other star-level free agents.
On the other hand, one might argue that this is precisely what occurs when you go for the top of the free-agent market, especially if you’re a noncontender looking to establish some credibility in your rebuilding effort. Last winter, the Blue Jays gave George Springer, who was roughly the same age as Semien at the time, a six-year, $150 million contract, despite the fact that Springer lacked Semien’s track record for durability.
The opportunity cost is the problem that bothers me. If you were willing to pay Semien this much money for this long, could you have gone to 10, 11, or 12 years and a higher annual value for Carlos Correa or Seager? You’re still likely to receive a contract with a back end that’s upside down, but at the absolute least, you’ll get more peak seasons, some of which will ideally coincide with your team’s actual return to contention.
One of my not-so-unique proposals for the Rangers when I was advocating risky moves for each team last week was to sign one of the top free-agent shortstops. I didn’t indicate who they should go after, but Semien wasn’t on my list of possibilities.
The two reasons for this are Semien’s age and the Rangers’ status as a non-contender, which is unlikely to change in 2022. It’s reasonable that Texas would want to make a major statement after a 102-loss season in its first full season in a new stadium. Was this, however, the appropriate splash?
Perhaps conversations with great shortstops persuaded the Rangers that this was the only way to have a significant impact. Would you rather have Semien or nothing if it came down to it? Semien’s fate becomes predetermined. This problem will be moot if they sign another quality shortstop (see below).
Apart from Semien’s age, everything I stated last week in support of investing a lot of money on a good shortstop still holds true. Semien, an exceptional shortstop who can bat in the power position if needed, brings the Rangers’ youthful team into closer focus. Isiah Kiner-Falefa can play third base until Josh Jung is ready (perhaps in 2022), after which he can move to a superb utility player. Semien, who is underestimated, can play in the middle of the infield alongside Nick Solak.
Not to mention the fact that Semien won a Gold Glove at second base in Toronto only a few weeks ago. The Rangers could wish to keep Kiner-Falefa because of the versatility he and Solak offer to the table. Semien will definitely become a cornerstone fixture if the Rangers sign another free-agent shortstop. Texas has a lot of options because to Semien’s now-proven ability to play many positions at a high level.
The Braves have been named the 2021 World Series Champions, which means it’s time to start thinking about next season! What’s new in the world of the hot stove and beyond is detailed here. Coverage in depth »
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• ESPN+’s early free-agent tiers » by Passan
• Frequently Asked Questions (ESPN+) for each non-playoff team
So, given that he’s in his 30s, it all comes down to how much value Semien can be expected to retain in terms of productivity. It’s a valid concern, given that, as good as he was in 2019 and 2021, he’s been below league average in each of the prior seasons.
This is a minor concern for the time being, since Semien seems to be a devoted player who has improved his game to a more sustainable level. Nothing in his statistics shows that his success is due to poor luck or his home ballparks. He’s only gotten better.
Semien, on the other hand, is 31 years old and plays middle infield, thus his chances of slipping into mediocrity are higher than any of the other top free-agent shortstops.
There are two possibilities for the Rangers to benefit from this transaction. The first is for Semien to maintain his current level for at least the next four or five years. The Rangers’ second option is to return to contention earlier than expected, taking advantage of Semien’s contract’s early years, and they are ready to spend the money to do so.
Whatever happens, one thing is certain: the Rangers are a better squad today than they were at the end of the 2021 season with Semien on board. Who’s to say they were wrong (with or without profanity) if they payed a little to get a head start on their reconstruction? Especially if this turns out to be just the beginning of a long and tortuous journey.
Watch This Video-
The “2021-22 mlb free agent tracker” is a great resource for baseball fans. It allows you to see the players that are available in 2021 and 2022. Reference: 2021-2022 mlb free agent tracker.
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