(Author’s note: Between finishing this write-up and its publication, Semien signed a $175MM deal with the Rangers for seven years, so consider everything below to be in the past tense. I think it goes without saying that it’s good that the Cardinals weren’t eyeing a long-term deal for Semien.)
Going into hot stove season, the most obvious need for the Cardinals was in their pitching depth. Some thought they might dip into the deep free agent market at shortstop, but with Edmundo Sosa and Tommy Edman playing solid defense up the middle, the need seems much less pressing. The Cards have addressed the need in the rotation by signing former Blue Jays pitcher Steven Matz. The Cardinals have also stated publicly that they aren’t in the market for a shortstop and that this offseason’s focus will be on pitching. These factors and others make the following suggestion extremely unlikely to happen, but I hope you’ll briefly indulge my imagination: Do the Cardinals have a spot on the roster for Marcus Semien?
First off, as mentioned, there is probably a 0% chance that the Cardinals will even attempt to sign Semien, which is probably good. Estimates for Semien’s new contract fall anywhere between $19.5 million (Spotrac) to 23 million (MLBTR) AAV for between four to six years and his asking price was reportedly too steep for the Red Sox, so to say it would be surprising for the Cardinals to pursue him would be an understatement. He’ll also be going into his age 31 season, with 2019 (138 wRC+) and 2021 (131 wRC+) being his only above-average offensive seasons in his nine-year career. It’s possible he’s figured something out with the bat in the last three years or so, but the looming question is if he can keep up that kind of production as he progresses further into the wrong side of the aging curve, especially during a six-year deal.
Defensively, Semien has played shortstop, but the Cardinals would probably get more value playing him at second base. He played shortstop every year since Statcast started tracking Outs Above Average, and in every year except 2018, he’s recorded negative OAA values at shortstop. Conversely, he recorded 7 OAA in 2021 at second. He’s actually had a couple of decent defensive seasons at shortstop going by Defensive Runs Saved on Fangraphs, but the conflicting numbers probably only reinforce how flimsy defensive metrics can be. Because of the conflicting numbers, I’ve included some defensive highlights from 2018 to let you form your own judgments. I think, however, that it’s a safe assumption that a platoon of Sosa/Edman would man shortstop better than an aging Semien would.
The signing of Semien would have a couple of other issues associated with it. One, the Cardinals would displace their Gold Glove second baseman. Putting Semien there would put Sosa and Edman into a platoon situation at short, with Edman hitting against lefties and Sosa, with his reverse splits, hitting against righties. Assuming everything works out, it would make Paul DeJong a very likely trade candidate to dump salary and make room on the roster. But this strategy could go sideways pretty quickly in a couple of ways. There’s no guarantee that either Sosa or Edman will be good offensively next year (let alone both of them), and while I have confidence that Edman could play a decent enough shortstop, that’s by no means a guarantee.
This is all besides the fact that Semien to second on a multi-year deal would block Nolan Gorman’s development as a starter at the position. But, assuming the DH comes to the NL with the new collective bargaining agreement, there’s room for Gorman and Juan Yepez to spend time hitting, and Gorman’s value will come more from his bat than his glove. The DH also gives Semien a place should his defensive value tank as he ages (though that spot could already go to Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt later in their thirties).
As fun as the speculation is on how the move could work, the risk for the Cardinals outweighs the reward when it comes to Semien. Four to six years for a middle infielder in his thirties is already a risky proposition, and the Cardinals aren’t dying for improvements up the middle as of right now. The money that would be used to get Semien would be much better suited going towards improving their pitching staff, which follows better with what John Mozeliak has said publicly about the current offseason. Anyway, thanks for indulging my imagination for a bit, and I can’t wait to read in the comments about how bad of an idea this would be.