Persistence paid off for the Toronto Blue Jays with the signing of veteran infielder Marcus Semien, the latest in a series of free-agent moves as the team makes a push to contend in 2021.
Semien said Tuesday that the Blue Jays were one of the first teams to contact him this off-season. Talks picked up late last month and he eventually agreed to a US$18-million, one-year deal.
"Toronto kept calling and calling," Semien said on a 25-minute video call with reporters. "I knew it was a position switch. But it was something day after day I started to think, 'This could be something really special.'
"We worked it out fairly quick. I'm really happy with the decision."
A Zoom call that included Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins and manager Charlie Montoyo helped seal the deal.
"We were just really impressed with everything," Semien said. "We were kind of just hoping they'd call back and they did."
With rising star Bo Bichette in place at shortstop, Semien was amenable to moving to second base. The versatile Cavan Biggio could move from second to third base and continue to fill in as needed around the infield and outfield.
Semien played at second and third early in his career before settling into the shortstop role in Oakland. He admits that it is his preferred position but that second base should be a good fit.
"I think that working on that double-play turn, it's something I've done in the past," Semien said. "But just focusing on that every day is going to be something that helps us win ball games."
It has been a busy few weeks for the Blue Jays, who are aiming for bigger things after returning to the playoffs last year for the first time since 2016.
Toronto recently signed outfielder George Springer to a six-year deal worth a franchise record $150 million. The Blue Jays also acquired starter Steven Matz and signed relievers Kirby Yates and Tyler Chatwood to one-year deals.
"I like the fact that they're still working on some things and trying to add some pieces," Semien said. "It just seems like some teams right now in the league are not doing that.
"I know COVID has a lot to do with that, but it's nice to be on a team that's still adding and going for it right now."
Considered a clubhouse leader with the Athletics, the 30-year-old Semien brings a veteran presence and playoff experience to a young team on the incline.
After breaking into the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 2013, Semien spent the last six seasons with Oakland, reaching the post-season in each of the last three years.
He had a career year in 2019 when he hit .285 with 33 homers and 92 RBIs, finishing third in American League MVP voting. His numbers slipped in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign when he hit .223 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 53 games.
A slump in the middle of summer camp carried into the start of the season, Semien said, adding that an injury to his left side did not help matters.
"Once I got healthy, things picked up," he said. "I wished that the season kept going because I knew I was heading in the right direction."
The Athletics did not extend him a qualifying offer.
Semien said he took on more of a vocal role on the field and in the Athletics' clubhouse last year. He tried to learn about his teammates and their beliefs while helping lead the discussion on topics like social injustice.
"I felt like I was a voice that people could start to listen to," he said. "I used my experiences over these past six, seven years just to help — especially the young guys — navigate through a season.
"I'm looking forward to being that guy for this team, if they allow me to, and I'm happy to share anything that I've done over these past seven years."
Training camp opens in a couple weeks and the Blue Jays will kick off their pre-season against Philadelphia on Feb. 27.
The Blue Jays finished with a 32-28 mark last season and were swept in a best-of-three wild-card series by top-seeded Tampa Bay.
Government travel restrictions forced the team to play home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y. last year. It remains unclear when the Blue Jays will return to Rogers Centre.
The team's regular-season opener is April 1 against the New York Yankees and the home opener is April 8 against the Los Angeles Angels.
"Now it's go time and I'm happy to be a part of that," Semien said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2021.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press