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Elephant Rumblings: How will coronavirus affect free agency next winter, including Marcus Semien?

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Good morning, Athletics Nation!

For Oakland A’s fans, one team-specific effect of the coronavirus pandemic has involved Marcus Semien.

The shortstop played like a star in 2019, earning himself a third-place finish in the MVP voting, and 2020 was set to be his last year before free agency. His presence was expected to be a major factor in the club’s dreams of World Series contention, but at the same time another strong performance would certainly price him out of the their budget on the open market next winter. In other words, unless the A’s suddenly broke their long-standing tradition of letting expensive stars walk via free agency, there was a good chance this would be his last hurrah in Oakland — but at least it could be a memorable one.

All of that is one reason why the threat of a canceled season would have particularly stung the A’s. Not only is this a prime year in their window of contention, but also maybe our last chance to see Semien in green and gold. Remember, if the season got wiped out entirely, players would still get service time and Semien would still become a free agent.

It might not be that simple, though. Andy McCullough of The Athletic took a look at how free agency might be affected by the pandemic, the subsequent lost revenue, and the threat of another labor battle (and even potential work stoppage) with the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring after 2021. The outlook is not good, especially for the non-superstar class of players.

The current expectation is that spending will be down, especially with no way to know when fans might be able to return to the stands. A top star like Mookie Betts will still make a ton, even if he might not break salary records as previously expected, but the future is cloudier for everyone else. McCullough even mentions Semien specifically:

But there were questions about a variety of others soon to hit the market. George Springer won’t get a full season to shake off the taint from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Marcus Semien won’t be able to deliver another 8.9 bWAR campaign like he did in 2019. Marcus Stroman can’t yet build off his All-Star performance last year.

McCullough suggests that one option for players is to gamble on a short-term contract, and try again to hit the maximum jackpot in another year or two when the landscape might be more favorable. And that’s where things could get interesting for the A’s.

What if Semien decided to go that route? If he re-upped with the A’s on a hefty one-year deal to continue establishing his value, then that would mitigate the team’s worst (on-field) consequence of the messed-up 2020 season, by giving them the final season of his services that they’re currently missing out on — and thus another prime year of contention. And it would make sense for Semien, too, as 60ish games this summer surely won’t be enough to fully prove that teams should take last year’s 8-WAR season as an absolute truth of his future ability.

To be absolutely clear, this is not any kind of report that any of this is happening, simply musing about the possibilities. Of course, there’s another way Semien could build his value in 2020, even in a shortened season — by leading the A’s on a deep run in the expanded postseason tournament, or even all the way to a ring. But if that’s how 2020 ends, I’ll bet Athletics Nation wouldn’t mind.

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