As Toronto Blue Jays fans clicked on second baseman’s name Marcus semien to make him the American League’s starting second baseman for this year’s All-Star Game, they certainly did so without ever having seen him play in person.
That is, unless they have been to Dunedin, Florida, or Buffalo, New York, this season.
Semien has yet to set foot in Toronto after signing a one-year, $ 18 million deal with the Blue Jays in late January. COVID-19 protocols in Canada forced the team to start the year at their spring home in Florida and then move to their Triple A stadium in Buffalo, where they played last season.
Semien is hoping to see Toronto, and his fans, before he likely returns to the free agent market this winter.
“It would be wonderful,” Semien told ESPN recently. “Playing at Dunedin, we didn’t get a lot of applause. When we played Boston, it was like an away game.
“Buffalo may be rocking too [como Toronto]. That is the largest Triple A ballpark. My wife told me it gave her the creeps on opening night there. She was like ‘You guys are being cheered for once.’
“It is now our home.”
If the Blue Jays return to Toronto this season, Blue Jays fans will see a skilled defender rebounding from a poor 2020 season for the Oakland Athletics. His OPS dropped to .679 in the short season and he has hit 20 home runs in 79 games this year after hitting just seven during the 60-game short season.
He has a career-best 143 OPS + and it’s how that stat is defined that best tells Semien’s story in 2021, as the metric largely depends on a player’s home stadium.
In reality, Semien never thought he would play for the Blue Jays in the first place. They already had a shortstop in Bo bichetteAnd when last season concluded Semien went looking for a team that didn’t have a starter at that position. But their options were limited, mainly because the organizations claimed they had no money.
“Toronto was definitely one of the teams that looked like they were spending, after COVID,” Semien said. “It was the Mets and Toronto.
“I wanted to play shortstop, so Toronto was not on my radar at first, because I know Bo is playing shortstop.”
A return to shortstop would put Semien in one of the most loaded free agent classes ever at the position with Carlos Correa, Trevor story, Javy Báez and Corey seager they are also set to go out to free agency this winter. Even though he is now excelling at second base, Semien wants to get back with that star-studded group.
“I definitely wanted another shot in free agency after the 60-game season I put in,” Semien said. “A one-year contract was the way to do it. Here we are today and I’m happy with my improvements at second base.”
The Blue Jays are also very happy. Semien ranks in the 96th percentile in outs above average in his new position while providing leadership to Toronto’s young offensive core.
“Everything we heard about him was exceptionally positive and he far exceeded our expectations,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said this week. “It puts a smile on my face. Marcus is very good at baseball. He is a reassuring and constant influence on us.”
As the conversations got serious, Atkins recalls that Semien was interested in more than just money or his position on the team.
“He was very curious and very helpful about it,” Atkins recalled. “One of the things that touched us the most was when he started talking about Bo and his faith in this young team. It speaks to the person he is and the way he thinks about the game.”
Semien sees the Blue Jays as a different type of contender than the teams he played for in Oakland.
“We were built from the bullpen,” Semien said of the A’s. “We had like four closers at the rear in 2018. In 2019, we had Liam hendriks. This team is more built on offense … there are certain games that we should win, but we are still young. I know we will win them later in the season. “
The Blue Jays count on Semien’s lead as one of the few position players on the team who knows what a run for the pennant feels like in 162 games. The team tested it last season, but only in the 60-game format in 2020.
Even if Semien takes his team back to the postseason, it won’t change the fact that it will likely move forward in 2022. Pandemic uncertainty in free agency will give way to uncertainty of a new collective bargaining agreement. Semien is on the executive board of the players union and will have a say in what free agency will look like for all players going forward.
For now, he will focus on his All-Star appearance, playing in a position he didn’t plan for, for a team he didn’t think he would be on.
“When I think about the offseason, I didn’t know what to expect,” Semien said. “I have nothing to complain about. Toronto has been good to me.”
Even if the newest star in town still hasn’t been able to be there.