It has taken Marcus Semien nearly a decade to get to this point.
He’s gone from erratic young player to an All-Star on a club that achieved in spite of its close-fisted owner. Endured an unwelcome but productive one-year free agent diversion. Signed the lifetime contract he’d probably earned years earlier only to see his trusted routine disrupted by industry tumult.
Finally, though, as he eases his way through a Texas Rangers clubhouse in the midst of one of the greatest starts in franchise history, Semien can quietly complete his pregame routine unbothered. He knows where his home will be for this season and five others after it, thanks to a seven-year, $175 million contract. At 32, he’s playing for a manager perhaps unrivaled in his handling and understanding of veteran players.
And both Semien’s standing in the game – only two American League position players can match or exceed his Wins Above Replacement – and his team’s 34-19 start and first-place position feel like just rewards.
MLB TICKET PRICES See who has the cheapest, most expensive get-in tickets
MLB POWER RANKINGS Padres keep falling after series loss to Yankees
“Talk about lead by example,” San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin, his field boss with the Oakland A’s, tells USA TODAY Sports. “He’s the hardest worker, wants to play every day, shows up for every at-bat, out there taking grounders on day games. He does a lot of things you want your leaders to do. And then you have younger guys showing up behind him, they have no choice but to do it the way that he’s doing it.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Marcus Semien.”
Right now, he’s the most productive second baseman in the American League, his .854 OPS trailing only Miami hit machine Luis Arraez. He’s currently riding a career-best 18-game hitting streak, and his 3.0 WAR, per Baseball Reference, trails only shortstops Wander Franco and Bo Bichette in the AL. Since 2019, Semien’s 19.6 WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, ranks first among second baseman and 11th overall.
That number is only more remarkable given Semien’s determination and ability to, as his colleagues say, post.
He’s played in all 53 Rangers games this season and reached 161 or 162 games played in the last three full seasons. Since 2018, he has played in a startling 98.6% of games (750 of 761), a rare cocktail of availability and ability.
That combination is no accident, as Semien, with the benefit of hindsight, is glad to point out.
“Experience is everything in this league,” says Semien, who debuted in 2013 with the Chicago White Sox. “You just want to make sure as a player, that your body is healthy and stays strong.
“The mind is so powerful in this game. The confidence comes with experience and success at this level.”
Even if it took several disruptions to reach this point.
'Never good enough to just show up and play'
Semien’s career blossomed in between teardowns in Oakland, arriving in a 2014 trade for Jeff Samardzija and leaving as a free agent in 2021 when the A’s offered him a contract almost comically insulting – a heavily deferred pay cut one year after he finished third in MVP voting.
The kid who arrived as a scatter-armed shortstop – Semien committed 35 errors in 2015 – who’d sometimes let his glove woes affect his bat gradually blossomed. By 2019, he was a 33-home run man and more tellingly posted a 139 adjusted OPS in that season's power-fueled offensive environment.
Along the way, he listened – to veterans like Alexei Ramirez and Paul Konerko in Chicago, and Jed Lowrie in Oakland – about the import of routine and reaching almost a Zen-like preparation level.
“You look at the games played over the years, there’s a reason,” says Semien. “I take care of my body and every day – no matter what the weather, what part of the season it is – show up and have the same routine so that when you go out for the game, you feel right.
“I was never good enough to just show up and play. There’s always things that we can be working on.”
Yet that routine would soon be upset.
Semien, an East Bay native, prefers using big league facilities for off-season workouts and thus was a regular at Oakland’s Coliseum during winters. But the pandemic upended the 2020 season and Semien struggled, leading to his one-year “pillow” contract with Toronto.
That was hardly the picture of stability: Canadian COVID-19 restrictions forced the Blue Jays to play 2021 home games in Dunedin, Florida, Buffalo and finally Toronto come July. Through it all, Semien ripped 45 home runs, and the suddenly success-hungry Rangers signed him and shortstop Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) at the end of November.
Just in time for Major League Baseball’s lockout.
That meant Semien would not meet his new home ballpark until playing in it for real come April. Meanwhile, the laborious winter offered no emotional relief, not with Semien serving on the MLB Players’ Assn. executive subcommittee.
By mid-March, a deal was struck and a shortened spring training commenced, but the season jumped on Semien quickly. He did not homer until Texas’ 45th game, on May 28, and was batting just .194.
“It took me a while to figure out my routine in Globe Life,” he says. “All my years in Oakland, I was in the Coliseum, working and using the big league stadium facilities. Here, we couldn’t do that because of the lockout. Those things are important to players, for sure.”
Semien quieted any buyer’s remorse by hitting 25 more home runs and posting a .777 second-half OPS. But the Rangers were bad, losing 94 games and firing manager Chris Woodward in August.
That simply laid the groundwork for perhaps Semien’s best professional situation yet.
'He's a good dude, man'
The Rangers spent big again this past offseason, this time $185 million and $34 million, respectively, for much-needed pitchers Jacob deGrom and Nathan Eovaldi. Yet hiring future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy was a massive commitment to establish a championship culture.
And an ideal hire for a veteran who cherishes his independence.
“He’s definitely the perfect manager for me,” Semien says of Bochy, 68, who hadn’t managed since he and the San Francisco Giants parted ways in 2019. “He lets me go play, lets me do my thing. From a position player standpoint, that’s how all of us are. Just let us get our work in, play our game.
“He’s helped every single one of us out – thinks about when to get us rest, when to get us out of a game. He sees things other managers may not see.”
Bochy was known to ride with his veterans in San Francisco, a habit that led to three World Series titles in five years. Unsurprisingly, he appreciates what his second baseman brings on the daily.
“Marcus is such a pro," says Bochy. "He does everything right and what you hope for. He leads by example, makes sure the guys are getting their work in. It’s just who he is.”
The leadership piece may become more prevalent as the Rangers’ system keeps producing. Third baseman Josh Jung – who has an .837 OPS – might be the AL Rookie of the Year. Center fielder Evan Carter is a consensus top 10 prospect and should arrive next year, perhaps sooner. Amid this group, Semien is sage material.
“He’s a good dude, man,” says reserve outfielder Bubba Thompson. “He’s seen the ins and outs. And he’s got his mind in a good spot right now to lead the team.
“He wants to be the best, and that trickles down to all of us, too. He don’t really say too much. You just see him working on his craft. That drives everybody else.”
Semien expresses some disappointment that it never worked out in Oakland, when owner John Fisher set them on a current path to relocation by letting Semien and closer Liam Hendriks leave and trading All-Stars Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Chris Bassitt. The club won 97 games in both 2018 and ‘19 but lost in the AL wild card game twice.
Perhaps it was meant to be that Semien would find himself in an even better position, one that he certainly earned.
“He had some spectacular years for us,” says Melvin. “And it wasn’t an easy road for him, either. Because of his hard work, his perseverance, how tough-minded he is, he’s become the player that he is right now.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Marcus Semien getting rewarded with Rangers for decade's grind