Shortly after the A’s season ended, executive vice president Billy Beane was asked about internal candidates to replace Marcus Semien in the event the shortstop leaves this offseason in free agency.
“I don’t feel good about anybody better than Marcus at this time,” Beane said, “let’s put it that way.”
Semien’s value to the A’s has gone beyond his top-three MVP finish in 2019 as their clubhouse leader and player union representative. As arguably the top shortstop in free agency, he could draw deeper-pocketed suitors than the A’s, who passed on extending Semien an $18.9 million qualifying offer for 2021 earlier this month.
The A’s have several valued shortstop prospects — Logan Davidson, Nick Allen, Robert Puason — who could use more time in the minors and so could be looking for a shorter-term solution for the major-league roster this offseason. They do have infielders with shortstop experience such as Chad Pinder and Vimael Machin.
But they could certainly explore the free-agent market for a replacement if Semien does leave. Here are five available players the A’s might consider:
Galvis, 31, might not be the flashiest name out there, but he’s a switch-hitter who has played good defense as an everyday shortstop in the majors and figures to be more affordable than fellow free agents Semien, Didi Gregorius or Andrelton Simmons. Defensively, Galvis ranked in the top eight of all shortstops in outs above average each season from 2017-19 (plus-26 total), though he posted a minus-3 mark in 2020, per Baseball Savant. A career .247 hitter with a .291 on-base percentage and six seasons of 100-plus strikeouts, he hit .220 in 47 games for the Reds in 2020 but did cut down his strikeout rate. After hitting a career-high 23 home runs in 2019, Galvis hit seven in 47 games in 2020. He has played for the Padres, Blue Jays and Reds the past three years after six seasons in Philadelphia. The analytics site FanGraphs projects a two-year, $12 million deal for Galvis this offseason.
Like Galvis, Villar hit free agency following a down season. In 2019, Villar played all 162 games with Baltimore, batting .274 with a career-high 24 home runs. In 2020, the 29-year-old switch-hitter hit .232 with two homers in 52 games with Miami and Toronto. Villar could offer the A’s an element they’ve lacked in recent years — speed on the basepaths. He led the majors with 62 stolen bases in 2016 and had 40 in 2019. He also has swing-and-miss tendencies with four 130-plus strikeout seasons, including an eye-popping 176 in 2019. He has lots of experience hitting leadoff, which was Semien’s usual spot. Villar has played more second base than shortstop the past several seasons but has more career innings at shortstop. Defensive metrics don’t love his work there, though playing next to Platinum Glove third baseman Matt Chapman could help mask issues. FanGraphs projects a one-year, $6 million deal for Villar.
Miller, 31, signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Cardinals before last season and posted an .807 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 48 games as a utility infielder. In 2019, Miller had an .894 OPS with 13 home runs in 79 games. Miller has not been an everyday shortstop since 2016 and struggled defensively to where Tampa Bay moved him off the position that year. As a left-handed hitter with some power, though, Miller could fit a shortstop platoon with, say, Pinder, especially if the A’s were to acquire a pure second baseman. A platoon could suit Miller, who has a career .772 OPS vs. right-handed pitching compared to .619 against left-handers and has hit 84 of 95 homers against right-handers. The former Seattle Mariner has spent time with six different teams in the last three seasons, so he’d be used to fitting into new surroundings.
Alberto, 28, was the Orioles’ second baseman in 2020 but has some big-league experience at shortstop and played there extensively in the minors. In 2019, his first shot at regular playing time, Alberto hit .305 with 12 homers in 139 games for Baltimore. He hit .283 in 2020 but the Orioles non-tendered him this month rather than offer a 2021 contract projected at $2.3-$4.1 million in arbitration. Alberto, a right-handed hitter, doesn’t strike out much and makes a lot of contact — his 92.9% contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone over the past two seasons is sixth-highest in the majors, according to FanGraphs. He didn’t draw many walks for the Orioles, either, but had a .312 average hitting in their leadoff spot. Alberto nearly ended up in the Bay Area once before — the Giants claimed him off waivers in February 2019 but quickly waived him and he was claimed again by Baltimore.
The bespectacled Sogard was a popular player in his first stretch with the A’s, when he mostly played second base. He posted his best career season in 2019, hitting .290 with 13 home runs for the Blue Jays and Rays. That led to a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Brewers for 2020 but Sogard hit just .209 with one homer in 43 games and Milwaukee opted not to exercise his 2021 option. Sogard has played mostly second and third base in recent seasons. He’s a platoon option as a left-handed hitter and would be familiar to the A’s staff. He’ll turn 35 in May, but if the A’s are looking for a stopgap, they could consider a low-cost reunion.