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Oakland A’s Early Extension Candidate: Marcus Semien

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Semien has had ups and downs in his two year tenure in Oakland. However, with a rock solid work ethic, ability to play a premium position (or positions), a solid tool kit, and very consistent batting production, Marcus is a prime candidate for an “early extension” with the club.

The A’s have seldom used the early extension in recent history. The last flurry of such signings took place in the 2010-2011 timeframe. The team signed pitcher Brett Anderson to a 4 year $12.5 million contract in April 2010, catcher Kurt Suzuki to a 4 year $16.25 million deal in July 2010, and pitcher Trevor Cahill to a 5 year $30.5 million contract in April 2011.

This flurry was not followed up in the subsequent years. The only notable early extension since then was the April 2014 signing of reliever Sean Doolittle. Doo signed a 5 year deal worth $10.5 million guaranteed through 2018 with 2 team options for 2019 ($6.0 million) and 2020 ($6.5 million). Doolittle will enter 2017 in the 4th of the 5 guaranteed years.

When you look around the MLB, the early extension has been used throughout the league, and has often resulted in a great deal for the club. The reason for this is that players signing the deal are commonly playing for MLB minimum and rather than navigate the lack of guaranteed money in pre-arbitration and arb years, the player locks in cash, while the team can generally get a discount on future production, if the player plays well.

One example of such a deal is former White Sox star OF Adam Eaton, who was recently traded to the Nationals for a huge haul. In 2015, before his last pre-arb year, the White Sox signed Eaton to a 5 year $23.5 million extension, with two team options included through 2021. This deal played a large role in the value Eaton brought back in trade, as Eaton’s play was clearly worth more than the annual salaries locked in at the time of the deal.

Looking across the Bay, the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner signed a similar 5 year plus 2 team option deal prior to the 2013 season. This is why it feels like he is under contract forever. Despite being worth about $30 million per year, Bumgarner will play the 2017 season at an $11.5 million salary, with two additional team options thereafter, for $12.0 million annually in 2018 and 2019. If Bumgarner stays healthy, the deal remains a steal and is a large part of the Giants’ franchise success.

Even when the early extensions go “bad”, they often are not killers. Our guy Doolittle has been injured much of the last two years, but even if he never returns to form, the A’s only owe him $2.6 million in 2017 and $4.4 million in 2018, before having team options with small buyouts in 2019 and 2020. Have we been seeing the crazy cost of relievers in the current free agent market?

The Oakland A’s have a good collection of young talent on their team and in the high minors. Fully 21 players on the 40 man roster are controllable through at least the 2022 season, while the prospects not yet on the 40 man roster of course have longer term team control. Marcus Semien is currently entering his final pre-arb year, which is the most common time the early option is signed. He is set to make roughly league minimum $535K in the coming season and then would have 3 passes through arbitration through 2020. If the A’s lock in the fairly standard 5+2 team option deal, they will have Marcus in the fold through 2023.

Two players recently signed similar deals at similar years of service time. CFs Odubel Herrera (Phillies) and Ender Inciarte (Braves) recently signed extensions. Let’s take a look at their recent deals:

Herrera, age 25, signed the 5+2 variety. He will be paid $28.0 million through 2021. Including signing bonus, he gets cash of $3.0 million, $3.0 million, $5.0 million, $7.0 million, and $10.0 million, respectively, over this guaranteed term. The Phillies have options for 2022 at $11.5 million ($2.25 million buyout) and 2023 at $12.5 million ($1.0 million buyout). Herrera locked in a great payday, while the Phillies have a really good every day player under cost control for 7 years.

Inciarte, age 26, signed a 5+1 deal. He will be paid $29.5 million through 2021. Including signing bonus, he gets cash of $5.5 million, $4.0 million, $5.0 million, $7.0 million, and $8.0 million, respectively, over this guaranteed term. The Braves have one option for 2022 at $9.0 million ($1.025 million buyout). Inciarte locked in a great payday, while the Braves have a really good every day player under cost control for 6 years.

These deals look like win-win deals. Both players were signed to the deal at the point where their respective team had 4 years of control. Herrera was like Semien, with one more year of pre-arb and 3 arbitration years remaining. Inciarte, as a “Super 2”, had 4 years of arbitration in front of him.

Marcus Semien, 26, also has the 4 years of team control. He has not been quite as productive as the two CFs noted. Semien accrued 2.75 WAR last year if you average bWAR and fWAR, and accrued a 2.25 WAR average over the last two years. This compares to Inciarte accruing an average of 3.7 WAR last year and 4.0 WAR over the last two years, and Herrera accruing an average of 4.0 WAR over each of the last two years.

Given the above, Semien’s deal would surely be at a discount compared to the Herrera and Inciarte deals. A possible structure might look like 5 years for $20.5 million with two team options. This would look like $1.5 million in 2017, $2.5 million in 2018, $4.0 million in 2019, $5.5 million in 2020, $7.0 million in 2021, with a 2022 team option for $9.0 million with a $2.0 million buyout, and a 2023 option for $10.5 million with a $1.0 million buyout. Based on the comps, this would be a reasonable deal and the A’s would have a chance to lock up a solid every day player at a controlled cost for 5 to 7 years, depending on his performance in the outer years.

As young player with an extreme work ethic, good clubhouse presence, ability to play SS and potentially move to other premium positions, if needed down the line, and a very reliable bat that has improved each year of his career, Semien makes sense as a player to lock in to be here along with the upcoming young core. Even if Semien gets pushed off SS, his comp would be Ian Desmond, who has made a 2nd - and lucrative - career for himself as a former SS now playing OF (or maybe even 1B). Semien projects as a similar type of versatile weapon.

What do you all think? Should the A’s seek out an early extension with Marcus Semien? Let’s hear your thinking in the comments.