Free agency decisions for Semien, Ray loom over Jays’ winter

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TORONTO (AP)Marcus Semien sounded like a man with unfinished business in Toronto after his Blue Jays endured a near-miss finish in the AL wild-card race.

Between now and spring training, the All-Star slugger must decide whether he wants to come back to Canada to try and finish it.

Semien and left-hander Robbie Ray, a favorite for the AL Cy Young award, are the two biggest free agents for a Blue Jays team whose 91 victories left them one win behind East rivals Boston and New York for a playoff spot.

Semien set a major league record with 45 home runs as a second baseman, and can expect a raft of offers this winter after betting on himself last offseason and signing a one-year, $18 million deal to switch positions and join the Jays.

”I feel like my power numbers speak for themselves,” Semien said. ”I’m 31 years old but I feel like I’m getting better every day. My body feels great.”

After Toronto’s season ended in disappointment Sunday, All-Star shortstop Bo Bichette was asked about Semien’s impact on his development this year.

”Everything,” Bichette said, struggling to contain his emotions. ”He’s meant a lot to me.”

Acknowledging that family considerations will factor into his decision, Semien didn’t hesitate when asked if he’d consider coming back to the Blue Jays.

”Of course,” he said. ”We had the best offense in the major leagues and, in my mind, the best starting pitching in the game. How could you not want to be a part of that?”

Toronto led the major leagues in home runs (262) and slugging percentage (.466). Their 846 total runs were third-most behind Tampa Bay (857) and Houston (863).

Acquired from Arizona at the deadline in 2020, Ray returned to Toronto on a one-year, $8 million deal and went 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA, leading the major leagues with 248 strikeouts.

”I was finally doing what I felt like I was capable of,” Ray said. ”Everybody always kind of talked about `Would it ever come out?’ This year, the walks were down, the strikeouts were still up, everything was still good. It just kind of all came together and it was really fun.”

Ray’s career season helped the Blue Jays record a 3.91 ERA, fifth-lowest in the AL, and lead the league with 14 shutouts.

The Blue Jays have gone outside their organization to make free agent splashes in signing left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu and outfielder George Springer the past two winters. This offseason, keeping one or two of their own players could be Toronto’s most important move.

Here are some other things to watch with the Blue Jays this offseason:

WHAT’S NEXT FOR VLAD?

After slimming down last winter, first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. super-sized his offensive production in 2021. Guerrero matched Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez for the major league lead in home runs with 48, and his 363 total bases were 12 more than Semien for most in the majors.

”He showed everybody that he’s willing to do what it takes to be the best in the world,” Bichette said of Guerrero. ”I know that he’s ready to get after it again and I’m sure he wants to do even better next year.”

GETTING GEORGE HEALTHY

After the start of his season was delayed by oblique and quadriceps injuries, Springer had 22 home runs and 50 RBIs in 78 games, but missed more time in August because of a sprained left knee. Although the knee was still sore in September, Springer said he expects to be fully healthy by spring training.

CONTRACT CHATTER

Besides Semien and Ray, left-hander Steven Matz also is a free agent this winter. Matz went 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA, setting a career high in wins. Toronto’s other free agents are outfielders Corey Dickerson and Jarrod Dyson, right-hander Joakim Soria, and two right-handed relievers who missed most or all of the season because of injuries, Kirby Yates and David Phelps.

NO MORE MIGRATION

Toronto played home games in three different cities in 2021, but with border restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic now easing, a full season north of the border is expected in 2022. That’s good news for the Blue Jays, who went 25-11 at home after returning to Toronto July 30 following stints at their spring training site in Dunedin, Florida, and the home of their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.

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