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Oakland Gives Semien a Huge Raise; Why no Extension?

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The Oakland Athletics ended the 2019 season with 12 arbitration-eligible players including 2019 MVP finalist, shortstop Marcus Semien. They narrowed that number down to seven after making a few moves. The team was able to avoid arbitration with all seven eligible players, settling on contracts before Friday’s deadline.

Semien received a well deserved and monumental raise, one that more than doubled his 2019 salary of $5.9 million.

Still, when you consider the improvement Semien has shown since joining the team in 2015 that has already culminated with a third-place finish in the 2019 MVP race, it’s reasonable to wonder, where is Semien’s extension?

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Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reiterates a comment made by Beane at the Winter Meetings last month. The most obvious reason for Semien’s currently non-existent extension is, as usual, the A’s budgetary restrictions, something that may not change until a decision is finally made on the site of the new stadium.

While an extension for Semien is definitely not off the table, the reasons the A’s need to make the extension happen are numerous.

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The team may want to keep their talented young core together by extending the contracts of their most valuable players in third baseman Matt Chapman, first baseman Matt Olson and Semien yet, this cannot be a matter of what they want to do, its a matter of what they MUST do.

The need not ask themselves “Can we afford them?” The question should be “can we afford to lose them?” The only answer, if they intend to bring the franchise it’s 10th World Series Title, is “No.” The elite infielders need to remain together. And that has to begin with extending Semien.

Beyond Semien’s third-place finish in the 2019 MVP race and the A’s potentially squandering their best chance in years to actually make it deep into the postseason, the list reasons to keep the shortstop in Oakland well into his 30’s is a long one, but let’s talk about a few.

To begin with, Semien wants to remain in Oakland, much like Khris Davis, which is a sentiment not usually heard from players. While Davis was new to the area and happened to fall in love with the team and city, Semien is absolutely rooted in Oakland. He grew up there, his parents still reside there, he and his wife both attended the University of California Berkeley and are now raising their children there – he is at home playing for the A’s.

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Semien knows, but the A’s need remember, how much the team has invested in him. Semien came back home to Oakland in a December 2014 trade that involved sending starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija to the Chicago White Sox.

While in Chicago, Semien played in just over 80 big league games over two seasons with White Sox, only six of which were at shortstop. Naturally, being suddenly thrown into an everyday position did not come easily to Semien at first.

Just five seasons ago, in 2015, Semien led the league in errors with 35. A couple of months into the 2015 season the A’s called upon an old friend who had coached for the team for 10 seasons, between 1996 to 2006. Ron Washington has been credited by some of the team’s most accomplished players as being a critical part of their success, including six-time Gold Glove Award winner Eric Chavez and 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada.

Washington and Semien worked together for a year and a half, as Semien’s defense continued to improve. In 2016, he cut his number of errors from 35 to 21. Semien became a Gold Glove finalist in 2018, just three years after leading the league in errors. He has nominated again 2019, along with his top three AL MVP finish. No one can say that kind of turn around isn’t an incredible feat. He attributes his success to Washington,

“He’s the reason that happened. I’m out there playing the game but I always imagine him still coaching me and talking to me. It’s helped me so much. … Without him, I don’t know if I’d be here.”

Semien’s had to learn to play his position in the majors, he worked tirelessly with Washington on defense. While he’d always had some pop in his bat (having hit an average of 20 homers a season in his five with the A’s), he was able to then focus more on his offense and hit 33 home runs last season.

The A’s shortstop has a work ethic unlike any other. That, along with the A’s having invested their time and money into him, has made him the MVP caliber player he is today. Semien, Olson, and Chapman play together with ease. They all know each other so well that the A’s infield is one of the best in the game.

Marcus is the veteran of the group going into his age 29 season, while Chapman will be 27 and Olson 26. Yet Semien debuted in 2013 and has played parts of seven seasons, while the other two are just entering their third full big league season, making things optimal, really. Having a hard-working player like Semien as the veteran in the clubhouse can only help.

The team has no real choice but to make their budget issues work to keep the three infielders together and that must begin with Semien.

Something tells me that has broken ground for a new stadium or not, wouldn’t make extending Semien’s contract an impossibility. Losing one of the three shouldn’t even be an option for the A’s. These are players they cannot afford to lose. Unless their future plans include more early postseason exits and a broken infield by 2021.

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