Though reaching the postseason and succeeding might seem of the highest priority for the A’s, and let’s assume it is in the immediate, two issues with considerably further reach cannot go unaddressed.
One of them is a ballpark that could sustain the A’s for decades to come. Yeah, it’s needed.
The other is shortstop Marcus Semien. Yeah, he’s needed.
Both matters are related to putting more fans in the seats.
Getting Semien’s signature on a long-term contract, preferably this winter, is of greater urgency than another ballpark study. Why? Because as long as the A’s continue their practice of cycling out popular talent, they may never generate any momentum to help sell such a project.
We understand that money is of utmost importance for a ballpark; without it, there is nothing new in Oakland or anyplace else. But momentum means broad engagement. Ask the Warriors.
That Semien, 29, has spent this season punishing opponents makes him the latest test case for the slogan, “rooted” in Oakland. Insofar as he faces only one more year of arbitration before he can become a free agent after the 2020 season, Semien’s future is being monitored by fans coming to the Coliseum and, moreover, those wondering if it is safe to reconnect.
Trade him this offseason -- his market value is astronomical -- or any time after and the A’s, a quality club light on attendance, can expect yet another dip in season-ticket renewals.
A long-term deal, however, sends a signal that the A’s are investing in themselves at the top, which is what so many local fans are waiting to see, rather than facing another December with the man running the show, Billy Beane, spinning golden tripe in an attempt to explain moving today’s asset for tomorrow’s potential.
“That’s a first-world problem when your shortstop is pricing himself out of your market,” Beane told NBC Sports Bay Area last week.
Oh, yes, Semien, making $5.9 million on a one-year contract, will cost a bundle. Wielding an impact bat at a premium position, he could command a contract around $15 million per year. Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, for example, in Year 4 of a six-year pact worth $75 million, will make $15 million in each of the next two seasons, according to Spotrac.
Semien is closing out a season plucked from a rookie’s fantasy and a veteran’s wish as he blows out the candles on the cake. He’s hitting for power, with 32 home runs. He’s reaching base 37 percent of the time. He’s crossing the plate, with 120 runs. Semien is the A’s MVP. By most significant offensive metrics trails, he's only behind a guy named Mike Trout.
“I don’t know that anybody’s been more important to a team than Marcus has,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said the other day.
As if his numbers are not enough, Semien has played in all 156 games and is a solid clubhouse presence.
One more thing, and it should be of influence to the A’s: Semien is local, born in San Francisco, growing up in El Cerrito, graduating high school in Berkeley (Saint Mary’s) and spending three years at Cal.
For those who tend to examine boxes, they are checked. All of them.
Semien came to the A’s from the White Sox nearly five years ago, along with pitcher Chris Bassitt and catcher Josh Phegley, for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa. The deal was about potential, and for a while the A’s were unsure of Semien’s.
“He was the headliner in the deal,” Beane said. “We were going to make it work at short because we thought he had a chance to be a pretty special player.”
Noting Semien’s poor fielding, Beane lured longtime A’s coach Ron Washington back to the team and gave him a project. Four years later, Semien is a top-five all-around shortstop and gives no reason to question his work ethic.
“The only thing we’ll take credit for is having absolute belief in him and not wavering from that,” Beane said. “He did it all himself. At no point did we panic and give in to the narrative that, ‘Hey, this guy can’t play short.’ And, look, he’s a Gold Glove candidate, one of the best players in the league.”
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Heavy decisions on Oakland’s fabulous corner infielders, Matt Olson (first base) and Matt Chapman (third), are years away because they can’t see free agency until 2024. DH Khris Davis signed a two-year extension in April and will make $33.5 million over the next two seasons.
Sure, the A’s could throw a one-year contract worth, say, $13 million at Semien and maybe he’ll sign another one-year deal to return in 2020. Maybe.
But if the franchise wants a few cheers from the clubhouse while scoring points among its fans, a long-term contract is the way to go.
The smartest way. Maybe the only way.