Should the Cardinals take a look at shortstop Marcus Semien?

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Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

While the St. Louis Cardinals search for their next manager, one thing should be clear moving forward: The shortstop position must be addressed. In other words, the person playing shortstop for the next five-to-10 years isn’t currently on this team.

No, it’s not Paul DeJong. If the year was 2019, he might still be a candidate but that’s not the case these days. The Cardinals need more than a player hitting below .200 with an on-base percentage below .300 and a slugging percentage under .400. DeJong’s defense is fine, but his strikeout-prone bat is not. A league average OPS+ is 100; DeJong’s OPS+ of 86 simply doesn’t cut it. A 1.6 WAR isn’t bad for a bench player; not a starting shortstop.

But it’s not Edmundo Sosa’s job to lose either. While he can handle the glove work quite well at the position, the ability to produce offensively isn’t quite there. Sosa did hit .271 and collect 18 extra base hits while putting up a WAR over 3.0, but the .386 SLUG leaves a lot to be desired. This team can’t afford to put a decent-defending yet potentially weak-hitting shortstop out there in 2022 and expect to contend for a deep playoff spot. They just can’t. Sosa could be a great shortstop, but that wasn’t shown even in a semi-breakout 2021 season for him.

So, who is the guy? The free agent class at shortstop is booming this offseason, with the likes of Corey Seager and Carlos Correa leading the way. And while fans shouldn’t forget about Trevor Story and Marcus Semien, it’s not going to be easy or cheap for the front office to bring them to the Cardinals. But the genuine need is there, so let’s take a look at the candidates one body of work at a time. Semien is up first.

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MARCUS SEMIEN, 31 years old, coming off a one year/$18 million contract in 2021

Why is he a good fit? Semien’s 6.6 fWAR states the case quite well. He gives a team a potent right-handed bat and a very good glove in the field. His success isn’t a fluke either. While he was a slow starter, Semien has given his team a combined 14 WAR over the past two full seasons. Just like Nolan Arenado, he didn’t fare too well in the truncated 2020 season, but his 2019 and 2021 combined offensive output of 78 home runs and 82 doubles shows his ferocity at the plate. He averages 62 walks, 13 stolen bases, and four triples per season as well.

Semien’s defense is well above average, and he can play second base as well as shortstop. He saved the Toronto Blue Jays 11 runs while primarily playing second base in 2021, with a solid Ultimate Zone Rating (tabulates fielding, throwing, and range) of 6.3. In just under 3,000 total innings with Oakland at shortstop in 2018-19, he saved the Athletics 18 total runs. You get the thump in the lineup and the versatile ability in the field.

Why is he not a good fit? The age will turn some off. The one area where a guy will get dinged if he breaks out later than usual is the time department. At 31 years of age, (Semien has a September birthday) he isn’t ancient by any means, but the Cardinals front office may be against it with certain recent signings (namely Dexter Fowler) for older players burning them in the end. And like Fowler, Semien only has a couple very credible seasons. Also, can his stats translate from the American League to Busch Stadium? St. Louis could also be looking for a left-handed component to the middle of their lineup.

What will he cost? According to Spotrac, Semien’s market value sits around $19 million per season. That’s the starting gun for the free agent class at SS, with Semien being the cheapest. His age should keep the term less than others like former Cub Javier Baez, who is set to turn 29 here soon. For Semien, you could see a four-year deal at around $80 million.

In summary, Semien makes for a solid fit to this team. Semien’s last three full season WAR were 3.9, 7.6, and 6.6. He plays two defensive positions very well and offers extra base hit potential to the Cardinals. While the age and side of the plate he hits on could be a turn-off to some, a productive player is a productive player. Trends are real and Semien is trending up. If there’s a best-kept secret shortstop option on the market, it’s this guy.

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