While some of what the Red Sox are going to do this winter is pretty much common knowledge — there’s no way they don’t add to both their rotation and bullpen, for example — their plan at second base has always seemed a bit murky. At times it’s seemed that they were going to go for a cheap veteran, at other times it’s seemed like they might go more expensive, and still at others it appeared they may be willing to ride with what they have while concentrating resources to other areas of more pressing need. They are, of course, under no obligation to share any information on plans, but from the outside it is a bit difficult to discern what they are thinking about their situation at the keystone position.
Well, on Wednesday we may have gotten a little peek at least into one road they are considering. Jim Bowden reported that Boston is among the teams showing interest in former Athletics infielder Marcus Semien.
According to club sources #Phillies #Reds #RedSox (2B) #Athletics have all been involved to some extent in negotiations w/free agent infielder Marcus Semien. There are probably more clubs interested due to his versatility, athleticism, & durability, Strong postseason helped him— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) January 13, 2021
Semien is among the most fascinating free agents on the market, and frankly I’m a bit surprised the Red Sox are interested, though from the above tweet it’s not super clear the extent to which that interest goes. Just a couple of years ago in 2019, Semien was legitimately one of the best players in all of baseball and had a very reasonable case to be the MVP in the American League. He’d finish third. That season, he finished with an impressive 137 wRC+, playing a key role in a playoff lineup for Oakland and flashing tremendous leather at shortstop as well.
However, that year has been a bit of an anomaly compared to the rest of his career. That 2019 season is the only one in which he has finished with an above-average wRC+ over his entire career, more typically settling in around a 95 mark. There were reasons to believe in that 2019, though, largely due to a better batted ball profile than he had ever produced while also improving his defense to the point where he was in the conversation for the best defensive shortstops in the game. If a team believes that the 30-year-old (he’ll be 30 for almost all of the 2021 season) can get close to repeating that 2019 and is willing to write off his 2020 backslide to a 91 wRC+ due to weird 2020 stuff, he would be worth it.
For the Red Sox specifically, though, it seems like a tough sell. I surely don’t blame them for checking in as they are in a position where there aren’t a whole lot of players with whom they shouldn’t at least have an initial conversation, but I don’t know if I see a fit. Part of the appeal of Semien would be that defense at shortstop, but as Bowden notes Boston would be interested in him as a second baseman. He has played there a bit as a professional and good defense is good defense, no matter where you can get it, but in the era of shifting I’m not sure I’d pay up all that much for defense at second base, particularly with so many questions with the bat. It’s possible they’d be willing to move Xander Bogaerts off of shortstop, but there’s no indication that’s in the plans and I’d be surprised if it came to pass.
And the cost is a really interested part of this because the projections have been a bit all over the place. FanGraphs readers see a three-year deal worth $51 million for Semien. However, MLB Trade Rumors predicts only a one-year deal worth $14 million. Those are vastly different deals. If it’s the latter, I can see the Red Sox being more heavily involved. However, if we assume they want to stay near or below the luxury tax threshold — whether or not they should is a different conversation — then I’d be surprised if they put this much towards second base rather than pitching and outfield help.