Semien addition helps Blue Jays’ defence, raises team’s offensive ceiling

Toronto Blue Jays insider Shi Davidi discusses the impact Marcus Semien will have on Toronto’s lineup next season. Plus, Shi gives his insights on the 2021 Baseball Hall Of Fame ballot results.

TORONTO — A week and a half ago, the Toronto Blue Jays had almost nothing to show for their off-season. Now that they’ve added Tyler Chatwood, Kirby Yates, George Springer and Marcus Semien this roster suddenly looks much different — and much better — than before

Bringing Semien in on a one-year, $18-million deal strengthens the Blue Jays’ infield and their batting order. While more work remains on the pitching staff, the team’s offensive depth looks better than it has in years following the addition of Semien, who finished third in AL MVP voting in 2019. The Blue Jays’ lineup now projects to be among baseball’s most prolific, but this most recent deal brings with it other repercussions worth discussing.

With Semien now the leading candidate for second base at-bats, Cavan Biggio likely becomes the team’s primary third baseman. On paper that works, but there’s no need to be overly rigid about those roles in January, and the Blue Jays do value versatility highly. It’d be a surprise if the Blue Jays limit Semien and Biggio to those spots all year.

On defence Semien remains an above-average defensive shortstop, according to FanGraphs (UZR/150 of 6.4 in 2018, 5.0 in 2019, 4.8 in 2020). When he’s playing second base, the skills that allow him to handle shortstop — a strong arm, good footwork and field awareness, for instance — will be highly transferable. In those moments, the Blue Jays will essentially have two shortstops up the middle. But should Bo Bichette need any time off, Semien can slot in easily at the only position he played from 2015-20.

One way or another, this addition should help the Blue Jays’ run prevention, one of the main goals for the front office this winter. At the same time, it does appear to complicate Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s path to regular starts at third. After an off-season of dedicated workouts Guerrero Jr.’s Instagram bio reads ‘Blue Jays 3B,’ and it stands to reason that the team will ensure he gets reps there in spring training, but with Biggio, Bichette and Semien in place, Guerrero Jr. more likely projects as the team’s first baseman.

With that in mind, the team’s batting order could look like this on any given day:

CF: George Springer (R)
SS: Bo Bichette (R)
1B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (R)
RF: Teoscar Hernandez (R)
LF: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R)
3B: Cavan Biggio (L)
2B: Marcus Semien (R)
DH: Randal Grichuk (R) / Rowdy Tellez (L)
C: Danny Jansen (R)

Of course that’s just one possible structure among many, and teams rarely stick with one lineup for long in today’s game, but it illustrates the offensive depth this team now possesses. Some days, Rowdy Tellez (.886 OPS in 2020) might be on the bench. Other days it might be Randal Grichuk (12 HR, .793 OPS). At some point, Alejandro Kirk will get a chance to contribute, too.

Speaking of the Blue Jays’ bench, adding Semien might also allow for some creativity. Since Semien can handle shortstop, there’s less of a pressing need to roster Santiago Espinal which creates an opportunity to carry another bench bat or reliever.

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With the addition of Semien, the Blue Jays now have the fourth-best projected offence in baseball behind only the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros. And if Semien is the guy he’s been for most of his career — a roughly league-average hitter with 15-homer power — that would certainly help. But there’s further upside here, too, as he showed by hitting 33 home runs with an .892 OPS in 2019.

Even this past season, there were flashes of that offensive potential. After a slow start in 2020, Semien had a .772 OPS from Aug. 8 through the end of the regular season then posted a 1.151 OPS with two home runs in the playoffs. If the Blue Jays get that version of Semien, their lineup gets much deeper.

From an organizational standpoint, he doesn’t become a core piece in the way Springer did. But while the Blue Jays’ outfield is devoid of top prospects, Jordan Groshans and Austin Martin lessen the need for long-term help on the infield. If a need exists in a year’s time, the Blue Jays could bring Semien back or even obtain a draft pick for extending him a qualifying offer — something the A’s did not do.

All of that’s a discussion for much later, though. Right now, the Blue Jays are a much better team with a deep lineup and an improved defence. They could certainly use more pitching, and there’s reason to believe their work isn’t done on that front, but the addition of Semien represents significant progress for a team that’s suddenly making a habit of big moves.

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