Mariners acquire one Jean Segura and prospects for two fellows, ditch Venditte

In the midst of finishing a research paper of mine, Jerry Dipoto figured I didn’t have enough distractions and completed a five-player trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks that headlined Jean Segura and Taijuan Walker. To clear a roster spot Pat Venditte was designated for assignment.

My knee-jerk reaction was I loved the trade. My thoughtful, tactful reaction is I love the trade. If I had to do an “Explain Like I’m Five” for someone who wasn’t knowledgeable about either team, I would say as follows: The Mariners dealt an overrated former top prospect and an underperforming, yet toolsy, shortstop for a shortstop coming off the best season of his life, a tweener outfielder outplaying his predictions, and another LOOGY/starter tweener. Context is critical. So we will give it context.

As always when it comes to trades in baseball involving prospects, I lean heavily on one of my favorite minor league guys, John Sickels. He’s the perfect mix of a scout and analytics guy.

What did Jerry Dipoto net us?

Jean Segura

Jean Segura is an interesting fellow. After putting up menial offensive numbers in 2012, Segura broke out in a big way with a .294/.329/.423 triple slash in 2013. Segura went on to put up very poor offensive numbers in 2014-15, and then broke out in an even bigger way with a .319/.368/.499 triple slash this past season. Whether because of the change of scenery or a simple adjustment, his career .280/.319/.396 line easily pales in comparison to his 2016.

Change of scenery likely played at least part of the role in Segura’s uptick in production. Chase Field (DBacks’ park) ranks #2 in the MLB in runs scored. Miller Park (Brewers’ park) ranks #17.

It would be ignorant to chalk up his newfound offensive production to just a change in parks. Some of Segura’s hitting peripherals are very promising. For example, Segura hit more line drives and less ground balls, and his hard hit ball percentage went up drastically. He still hits more ground balls and less line drives than league average, but he is also a diminutive shortstop.

batted-ball-rates

What this table taken directly from FanGraphs.com shows is that line drives are great, fly balls aren’t good but not terrible, and ground balls are really bad. This is why it’s encouraging to see the ground balls go down and the line drives go up.

In terms of plate discipline, Segura swung at the lowest percentage of pitches of his career in 2016. This includes outside the zone, inside the zone, and altogether. Whether that played into his improvement, I don’t know. Segura is known as an aggressive hitter, but he managed to keep his K% as low as his magnificent career K% while bringing up his BB% to a more respectable 5.6%. The reason why Segura has had a low OBP throughout his career is because he’s hit a little bit, but hasn’t walked enough. It would still be nice to see that BB% creep up a couple percentage points, but if he hits like he did in 2013 and especially 2016 it won’t affect him so much.

John Sickels gave him a ‘B’ grade as a prospect in 2011 and called the grade a “bit too conservative.” On Sickels’ scale, this means the player, in this case Segura, has a good chance to have a successful MLB career. They could be a star, could be a role player.

After he was traded in a package for Zack Greinke in 2012, Sickels postulated Segura would end up at second base as a + defender. Sickels had this to say:

He possesses above-average speed. He has a strong throwing arm and is a decent defensive shortstop, although most scouts believe he’ll wind up at second base eventually. He is a line drive hitter with power potential that he hasn’t fully tapped. An aggressive hitter, Segura doesn’t draw many walks, but is adept at making contact and is expected to hit for average.

I’m not sure how I made it this far without mentioning this, but here I go: Jean Segura was worth 5 WAR in 2016. That ranks him as the #5 SS in 2016, behind Corey Seager, Machado, Lindor, Brandon Crawford, and one spot ahead of Carlos Correa. Jean Segura may not be a superior player to them, but he’s in good company.

Jean Segura is a risk. He was worth 3.5 WAR in 2013 and 5 WAR in 2016, but he has also been worth 0.0 and 0.3 WAR in seasons with everyday playing time without missing many games. If I were a betting man, which I am not, but if I were, I would not expect him to repeat his offensive performance in 2016. However, I believe Segura raises the floor at shortstop and gives even higher upside than Ketel Marte provided. Not to mention he instantly provides the leadoff hitter the Mariners have sorely needed for years.

Mitch Haniger

Mitch Haniger was never supposed to hit like he hit in the minors in 2016. Yes, his 2016 MLB stint wasn’t great, but in a sample size of 34 games and 123 plate appearances, you take that with a grain of salt.

Haniger is a former compensation round pick from 2012 (meaning he was the 38th overall pick of the draft) out of Cal Poly. Similar to a Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger provides a major league ready outfielder who also has options. That isn’t to say that Haniger and Gamel are similar players, because Haniger is a superior player. In theory, at least. Haniger instantly will bolster the Mariners’ lineups against left-handed pitching where he demolished in the minors. The hope is that he can manage to hit right-handed pitching well enough that he can justify playing everyday.

In the outfield, Haniger can be slot in at any of the three positions. Optimists say he’s going to be at least an above-average center fielder with the chance to be +, less optimistic people say he’ll end up being + in the corner outfield. Either way, he’s at least capable of playing center field, and he certainly wouldn’t be a disaster out there. According to John Sickels, he has good defensive instincts and a strong (and accurate!) throwing arm. Sickels thinks Haniger is best in right field and capable of both left and center field. He is currently being blocked by Leonys Martin, which is a good problem to have.

Haniger is quite possibly the most pivotal part of the trade. He’s the wildcard. No matter how you feel about Taijuan Walker, he still has oodles of upside, and he’s still young. Dave Cameron went so far to say Haniger has the chance to be the best player involved in the trade.

After struggling against right-handed pitching earlier on, he’s almost matched his production to reflect even splits from both sides. Haniger will be able to platoon at the least, and he’ll likely slot into left field and compete for at bats with Ben Gamel. Dipoto has stated he wants to rely less on platoons, more specifically in the outfield, so it remains to be seen how Haniger, Gamel, Smith, and Valencia will be utilized.

Zac Curtis

Jerry Dipoto continues to stockpile lefties in his quest to find a replacement to Charlie Furbush as the team’s pro tempore LOOGY.

The first thing you will notice about Zac Curtis is his size. He stands at 5’9″, 190. And his glasses. He has dorky glasses. His size screams LOOGY, but his pitch repertoire whispers starter. In college Curtis pitched masterfully as a starter. After getting drafted, Curtis has pitched out of the bullpen and he’s been dominant.

Because of his success against batters of both handedness, as well as his starter’s arsenal, Curtis may profile as something a little more than a LOOGY. Whether that’s a starter or middle relief guy, we don’t know, but his immediate role will likely be to pitch predominantly to left-handed hitters if he makes the 25-man roster.

What makes Curtis even more of an anomaly is that Diamondbacks elevated him from High-A to the MLB in 2016. Why? I don’t know. They were 69-93. The Diamondbacks are a bad organization, that’s probably why. They later sent him back to AA and in doing so wasted an option.

Zac Curtis will probably always strike a lot of people out. His sample sizes that we can draw from are small, so relying on scouting reports is the logical way to go here. He doesn’t throw particularly hard (90 mph four-seam), but he has a hard slider to complement it. These highlight his four-pitch repertoire.

We’ll wait and see if Curtis can usurp the other lefties Dipoto has stockpiled to pitch along with Ariel Miranda, another lefty in the bullpen.

Taijuan Walker

This is the Mariners buying as high as Segura’s value will probably be, and the Diamondbacks buying relatively low on Taijuan Walker. That part is frustrating, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s the correct way to look at it. Here’s a really bad way to look at it: A long time ago, mlbtraderumors.com posted a rumor that detailed a package that included Taijuan Walker for Giancarlo (back then Mike) Stanton. That was just an unfounded rumor, but holy crap.

Since sometime this past season, I have given up hope on Taijuan Walker. From his lingering foot issues and multiple times getting pulled out of games with injuries, to his atrocious 1.81 HR/9, to his undying penchant to throw his fastball that has absolutely no movement, to his possible weight gain, enough was enough.

The number that I absolutely cannot believe and that I always come back to is his 1.81 HR/9. Taijuan Walker almost averaged two home runs every nine innings in 2016. There were only three pitchers in the MLB (with enough innings to qualify) that had a worse home run rate. Those guys don’t get strikeouts, though. Taijuan does (sometimes).

His fastball is too straight. His cutter has not turned into the slider he wanted. He can’t throw his curveball for strikes. Or at least it seems. He just cannot seem to have all of his pitches on the same day.

He’s only 24, so he’s got some time to turn things around if you’re more patient than I. I’m happy to sell low on him. For a guy with so much perceived upside, it’s a little strange that his #1 attribute is his athleticism. Why anyone regards athleticism at all as a pitcher befuddles me and I’m serious, athleticism has always been talked about as his greatest trait. A quote from Tom McNamara of the Mariners on Taijuan:

“There is a lot of upside,” McNamara added. “I’ve been around a lot of good baseball people with scouting experience, and it’s been drilled into my head about athletic pitchers.

Boy, I respect McNamara as a baseball mind. He’s a better scout and surely more baseball savvy than I, but I’ll take Bartolo Colon over Taijuan Walker right now. Keep talking about Taijuan’s experience as a former basketball player while he keeps serving up the gopher ball.

This has largely been speaking negatively of Taijuan, and it’s clear why. As a Mariners fan, I’m biased. And I’m pissed. He could turn out to be the #1 or #2 pitcher they all said he’d be. We’ll have to wait and see. But I do not mind selling low as we are doing here. There isn’t a time in the near future that I see him being of greater value, and he does not even fit into the plan in the immediate future. Now is a great time to make a deal.

Ketel Marte

Marte is 23 and already has a solid season under his belt. Aside from 2015, he has poor BB% numbers, which translate a low OBP. Until Marte learns to walk, he’ll always have to hit a high enough average to buoy that OBP to a respectable level. Marte has never and probably will never hit for power of any sort. That doesn’t mean he’ll never be a good player.

Marte is the typical young shortstop who will make a spectacular play and then airmail a throw over the first baseman’s head. With age will come more consistency when it comes to routine plays.

Marte might eventually become a nifty little player, but there are enough holes in his game to cause worry, and I will take Segura and Co. at the price of Walker and Marte.

And so…

The Mariners dealt two very young players with many years of club control for a package that will hopefully help now and in the future. That is an important component of this trade. The M’s gave up younger players and club control for still-young players with some club control. Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger will be they keys to this trade. If they play as well as they’re capable, it doesn’t necessarily matter if Taijuan Walker turns into a solid starter or if Ketel Marte figures his stuff out. Haniger has the chance to blossom into a good defensive center fielder who can hit and Jean Segura can possibly be an annual All-Star shortstop right away. As I stated before, Mitch Haniger could very well be the best player in this trade.

Oh, and that Segura? He’s fun.

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