Blue Jays: Reports of Extension Talks With Marcus Semien; Robbie Ray is Next
By Dave Litman
MVP contender or Cy Young candidate? Decisions, decisions. The Blue Jays must be ready to plunge into the free-agent pool even deeper than ever this offseason.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, sources say that the Blue Jays have already attempted to get second baseman Marcus Semien to agree to an extension, though “without success to this point.” The sources also say they will start talking with ace pitcher Robbie Ray in the offseason.
Both Semien and Ray have been critical pieces for the Jays this season after signing one-year contracts for the 2021 season. Semien, after finishing 3rd in MVP voting in 2019, cratered in 2020 and was willing to sign a one-year deal for $18 million in order to re-establish his market value as an MVP-type player. That, he has done. Semien has slugged a career-high 37 home runs, along with a .875 OPS.
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Robbie Ray signed on for $8 million, in the hopes that he could regain the All-Star form of 2017 that has eluded him since then. He’s done more than that. He’s become the Blue Jays’ undisputed ace and a Top 3 Cy Young candidate, going 11-6 with a 2.60 ERA, while becoming baseball’s all-time leader in strikeouts per innings pitched (11.2), with a minimum 1,000 innings.
He’s allowed two runs or fewer in 10 of his last 11 starts; he’s struck out double-digits in his last 4 straight starts while averaging 11.5 K/9 overall this season, and his ERA+ is an astonishing 72% above league average.
It goes without saying that the Jays would like to re-sign both players, but neither will be coming back on one-year contracts. In fact, they’ll both command deals most likely worth north of $100 million dollars.
Who’s more indispensable to the team?
As Rosenthal notes, the Blue Jays’ offense is 4th in the majors—and that’s without George Springer for a large portion of the season. They’d still have a vaunted offense even without Semien in 2022. There is, however, no doubting his value to the team as an everyday, consistent offensive threat. And he has, to say the least, been doing it in the clutch, something the younger players haven’t always been able to do.
In the rotation, Ray has certainly proven himself indispensable. Consistent elite starts every time out. Incumbent ace Hyun Jin Ryu will be going into the third year of his four-year deal, and at 35 years old in 2022, it’s certainly possible he could slow down a bit.
If stellar pitching is the most critical component of a successful playoff team (spoiler: it is), then Ray seems like a necessity.
Can they afford both players? Let’s not forget that there are other aspects of the team that needs improvement, as well (hint, hint: starters generally only go seven innings max these days).
How can team President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins navigate all these murky waters? Let’s delve a bit into what makes these guys tick.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, sources say that the Blue Jays have already attempted to get Marcus Semien to agree to an extension, though “without success to this point.” The sources also say they will start talking with Robbie Ray in the offseason.
Coming from their small-town roots in Cleveland for so many years, is diving into those deep, chilly free-agent waters still a little foreign to Shapiro and Atkins? They like to dip their toes in first, and slowly wade in.
In 2019, they rushed towards the deep end a little quicker than they’ve ever done before by signing Ryu to a 4 year, $80 million dollar deal. A very good and robust signing indeed to this point.
It was an even greater shock to their systems when they dove in headlong and spent $150 million on George Springer last offseason. The best positional player on the free-agent market in the winter of 2020, Springer has been tremendous for the Jays this season—when he’s played. The leadoff slugger has only managed to play in 56 of the team’s 136 games to this point. Are Shapiro and Atkins wondering, perhaps, if they’re not fully getting their money’s worth? Are they feeling a little tepid about entering waters that deep again? Times two??
Many more questions come to mind as well:
Was the high prospect price they paid for starter Jose Berrios partially motivated by the fact that he’s signed through 2022, so they could justify to themselves avoiding a bidding war for Robbie Ray?
I would suggest that those dynamics have changed since the Berrios acquisition, as they’ve ridden the roller coaster ride that is Berrios, while Ray has continued to soar to new heights. The two simply aren’t comparable.
And what about those other team needs? As we have all been witness to this season, upgrading the bullpen must also be a top priority in the offseason if this team is to get to the next level.
The Blue Jays front office duo got burned on their $5.5 million contract for closer Kirby Yates last winter, as he was lost to injury before the season began. Upgrades are still needed here.
At third base, another need, will they try to save money by going into 2022 relying on the likes of Santiago Espinal, Kevin Smith, or Breyvic Valera? Or do they need to allocate funds here as well?
These are all serious questions facing Shapiro and Atkins when they get ready to dive into the offseason. Because the free agent pool of Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray will be deeper than they’ve ever waded into before.