Athletics

Marcus Semien reiterates hope to stay with A's as MLB free agency looms

Marcus Semien reiterates hope to stay with A's as MLB free agency looms

Marcus Semien was both quantity and quality in 2019.

The A's shortstop started all 162 games and was a finalist for both American League MVP and Gold Glove Awards. He also was named to the second-team "All-MLB team," which was announced Tuesday.

It only raises the value for one of Oakland's longest-tenured players, who is expected to receive a notable raise in his final year of arbitration.

“But going forward, we all know what comes after that,” Semien told NBC Sports California in an exclusive interview Tuesday at the MLB Winter Meetings. “That is the business side. Of course, I love winning, love being home and love my teammates.  Love going to battle with guys who share the same qualities as me.”

Semien doesn’t hide his preference to stay in Oakland long term: “Of course, that would be ideal," he said.

The shortstop also said his camp wouldn’t want to currently interfere with VP Billy Beane and GM David Forst continuing to build the team before re-approaching a long term deal.

“As we approach Spring Training, we’ll see what happens,” Semien said.

Here's what else Semien touched upon during our conversation.

Success In A New Role

It’s easy to forget last season was actually a transitional one for Semien, who had previously been hitting in the bottom third of the lineup before becoming the became the regular leadoff guy.

“The amount of at-bats is a big one for me," Marcus said. “The more at-bats I get, I feel the better I get."

Batting first also helped him gain a better grasp on games.

“Most of the time it gets you in the rhythm of the game right away. I think in years past, I hit seventh, eighth or ninth, sometimes you don’t get your first chance to bat until the third inning. It’s harder to get into a rhythm, so I tried to take advantage of that this year."

Power or consistency

In his first four seasons with Oakland, Marcus' bat always was a strong point, through either consistency or power. In 2019, he excelled in both regards, clubbing 33 homers and a .285 average.

“The average is a byproduct of getting more pitches to hit," he said. "Getting in better counts to do more damage, that’s where the power comes from."

Especially noticeable was Semien’s ability to crowd the plate and still get around on inside pitches this past summer.

“A lot of my teammates laugh at it sometimes when I sometimes pull my hands in to hit a pitch that’s off the plate inside. But it’s definitely a quality that I want to keep, and a weapon to use if they throw it in there.”

Middle-infield partner

Marcus has paired with several different middle infielders over the years, and it seems like consistency at second base would benefit both him and the team. The departure of Jurickson Profar opens up a menu of at least four in-house choices for Oakland, and potentially anyone else they might acquire in the offseason.

“The platoon system has worked out for some teams,” said Semien. “But in my opinion, we’ve got an infield where three guys play every day, and have gotten better year in and year out. So we’ll see what they do at second base.”

[RELATED: Beane reveals he has Kyler on his fantasy football team]

Is this the window?

Optimism is high surrounding a team that has won 194 games over the last two seasons. After seeing the arrival of highly anticipated prospects like A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo debut last year, many are wondering whether Oakland is entering a window for something special over the next three to five years.

But Semien is not focusing on where the A’s have been, but rather where they need to go.

“Our division is only going to get better," he said. "Especially with the Rangers getting a new ballpark and looking to spend more money on free agents. Anaheim has one of the best lineups in the game, if they add pitching they’ll be right up there too.

"For us, we can’t take anything for granted, we need to get better and stay healthy as a group.” 

Pedro Martinez lazily rips Mike Fiers for his role in Astros' scandal

Pedro Martinez lazily rips Mike Fiers for his role in Astros' scandal

Pedro Martinez has joined Jessica Mendoza on the wrong side of history

The Hall of Fame pitcher recently spoke out on A's pitcher Mike Fiers, putting his name next to accusations of the Houston Astros electronically stealing signs in the 2017 season. 

“If he was to do it when he was playing for the Houston Astros, I would say Mike Fiers has guts,” Martinez told WEEI on Saturday. “But to go and do it after you leave the Houston Astros because they don’t have you anymore, that doesn’t show me anything. You’re just a bad teammate.”

A reminder to all: Blaming the whistleblower is the opposite of bold. It's the essence of weakness. 

In a November report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drelich, Fiers -- who joined the A's halfway through the 2018 season -- was the first player to confirm the Astros used technology to steal signs. 

“I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing,” Fiers said

Four people with the Astros told The Athletic the team stole signs during home games in real-time with the aid of a camera positioned in the outfield. Fiers was the only one to put his name next to his words. That's bold. That's courage. 

Martinez's issue is with Fiers publicly telling what went on behind the scenes and waiting two years to do so. This isn't a new take, but one which many are now using against Fiers, especially those who played baseball. 

“Whatever happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse, and Fiers broke the rules,” Martinez said. “I agree with cleaning up the game. I agree that the fact that the Commissioner is taking a hard hand on this, but at the same time players should not be the ones dropping the whistleblower.

“If you have integrity, you find ways to tell everybody in the clubhouse, ‘Hey, we might get in trouble for this. I don’t want to be part of this.’ You call your GM. You tell him. Or you call anybody you can or MLB or someone and say, ‘I don’t want to be part of this.’ Or you tell the team, ‘Get me out of here, I don’t want to be part of this.’ Then you show me something.

"But if you leave Houston, and most likely you didn’t agree with Houston when you left, and then you go and drop the entire team under the bus, I don’t trust you. I won’t trust you because we did have that rule.”

It's not that simple, though. Fiers said many within the Astros believed other teams already were electronically stealing signs, which made them feel less guilty about doing so. He then told his new teams -- the Detroit Tigers and A's -- in 2018 about what was going on. Fiers never says in The Athletic article if he went to the front office or coaches about the scandal. 

[RELATED: Red Sox star understands why Fiers spoke up about Astros]

Another piece to the puzzle is Fiers struggled in 2017. He went 8-10 with a 5.22 ERA in 29 appearances and was left off the postseason roster. How would it have looked if a struggling player made complaints about his own team and brought forth such serious allegations? Probably not very good. 

Whether it be a scandal like the one the Astros constructed -- and received historic punishments for -- or wrongdoing in general, guilt weighs on you. Just because a person doesn't come forward right away, it doesn't mean they didn't understand the situation was wrong. The gravity of it all can be more understood over time, as well. 

This is a lazy argument that we're sure to hear again. It needs to be put to rest, but don't expect that to happen. 

Baseball America releases new top 10 A's prospects for 2020 MLB season

Baseball America releases new top 10 A's prospects for 2020 MLB season

The A's top three prospects virtually are set in stone. Wherever you look, you likely will see the same three names in the same order: Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Sean Murphy. 

That's a pretty talented trio right there. It's the same top three that led off Baseball America's list of top A's prospects going into the 2019 season. The same goes for 2020

Luzardo and Puk are regarded as two of the best left-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball. With a high-90s fastball and nasty changeup, Luzardo has all the ingredients to one day be a perennial Cy Young candidate. Puk's fastball-slider combination has him right up there with Luzardo, too. 

Murphy is expected to make a big impact on the A's this upcoming season, and the catcher is regarded as one of the best defensive prospects in the game. The 25-year-old made his MLB debut last year and hit four homers in limited time, too. 

The real change for the A's, however, is at No. 4. Going into last season, Baseball America had a Heisman Trophy winner as Oakland's fourth-best prospect. That's right, we're talking about Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyle Murray. 

While Murray claims he still believes he can play both sports in a calendar year, and the A's still own his baseball rights, it's highly unlikely the elusive QB ever wears an A's jersey. So, who's the A's new No. 4 prospect? Cal product Daulton Jefferies made a huge leap in the rankings. 

Jefferies, 24, entered 2019 as the A's No. 18 prospect on Baseball America's top-30 team rankings. The low ranking wasn't due to his talent, though. It was all because of injury risks. Jefferies missed a chunk of his junior year at Cal with a shoulder injury and then had Tommy John surgery in late April 2017. 

Prior to the 2019 season, Jefferies had only pitched 20 1/3 innings since being drafted by the A's with the 37th pick overall in 2016. He was healthy last year and showed his potential that always has intrigued front offices. The 6-foot right-hander went 2-2 with a 3.42 ERA and had 93 strikeouts to only five walks in 79 innings pitched between Advanced Class A and Double-A. 

[RELATED: A's Reed hopes to reunite with Florida teammate Puk in '20]

Jefferies is expected to start the season in Triple-A Las Vegas. He throws everything for strikes and sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball. The A's will be safe with his workload, but don't be surprised if the former Cal Bear makes it to Oakland this season. 

There's no doubt the A's have one of the best young trios in Luzardo, Puk and Murphy. Don't forget about Daulton, though -- even if he does spell his name wrong.