As we reach September and the baseball season continues to wind down, we can start looking retroactively at some of the moves teams made in the off-season. The Red Sox had a fairly active off-season, all things considered (2020), and we have seen enough of these players to gauge fairly well whether the acquisition was a mistake or not.
However, that’s not quite what I’m looking to do here. Instead of mistakes made, how about mistakes not made? Last year I made the case that the Red Sox needed to sign Marcus Semien, and now that the first 5 months of the season have come and gone, we can review his season to see how he could have fit. While Semien was a bit of a wildcard and certainly far from a sure thing given his poor 2020 showing, his 2019 third-place MVP finish allowed for a glimpse at what he can be: a plus offensive and defensive player at a premium position (shortstop). His 2021 season has not disappointed, with 39 home runs in 143 games, an .889 OPS and a 137 wRC+. This led to me wondering what it would have taken for the Sox to have signed him. Semien, for what it’s worth, signed a 1 year contract worth $18 million. As we all know well by now, the Red Sox have done everything they can to stay under the luxury tax threshold.
Given what we know now, was it possible for the Red Sox to have signed Semien? Well, yes, but it would have led to a far different result in the Red Sox off-season. Here are some of the Red Sox acquisitions that would have changed the game on a Semien signing:
Garrett Richards: 1 year, $8.5 million with a club option for 2022 worth $10 million and a $1.5 million buyout
Adam Ottavino: 1 year, $8.15 million with the Yankees sending $850k to the Red Sox
Enrique Hernandez: 2 years, $14 million, $6 million for 2021
Martin Perez: 1 year, $4.5 million with a club option for 2022 worth $6 million and a $500k buyout
Hunter Renfroe: 1 year, $3.1 million (Note: Renfroe is arbitration eligible for next season even though his deal is for 1 year)
Marwin Gonzalez: 1 year, $3 million
How could the Sox have gotten Semien? There are a variety of ways to get there, but the biggest two are Ottavino and Richards. While neither has been horrible, neither pitcher has been amazing either, with Richards notably disappointing in the rotation before moving to the bullpen. Given that, it probably isn’t hard to pass up on the two players, even with Frank German coming over in the Ottavino deal. Past that, either Gonzalez or someone like Matt Andriese ($2.1 million for 2021) gets the Sox to the requisite $18-20 million necessary to sign Semien. The downsides of this type of player replacement comes in the innings pitched by Richards and Ottavino (and to a much lesser extent Andriese). Ottavino’s up and down season comes bearing very solid peripherals, and for a stretch of the season he was the Sox’ best reliever not named Garrett Whitlock. Richards, on the other hand, is far more replaceable, and while the team would have had to cobble something together, he did not provide a ton of positive pitching out of the rotation.
The second way of signing Semien I would like to examine is one that replaces Kike Hernandez. Now I understand this may be sacrilege given his spot at the top of the lineup, but Kike was primarily supposed to be the Red Sox second baseman this year. Going off of that, it makes sense that the Sox would swap one second baseman with another, slotting in Semien rather than Hernandez. After Hernandez, Richards would once again be a part of this roster turnover, still underperforming his contract and not worth the $10 million he’ll make from the Red Sox. Furthermore, Gonzalez and Andriese again miss the cut due to their poor season with the Red Sox prior to their releases. This path has the Red Sox retaining Ottavino and swapping Kike for Semien, providing stability at second base while downgrading in the outfield.
Do you guys think the loss of depth would have been worth it to sign Semien? And if so, are there other packages of players the Sox could have given up on (Renfroe, Perez, Sawamura), in order to fit Semien’s contract under the books? While I would have loved Semien on the Red Sox I’ll admit I find it hard to say I’d rather have him than many of the players that found their way to the Red Sox this offseason.