I love the kind of deal the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks completed Wednesday night: the Mariners sending Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte to the Diamondbacks for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis.
It's a trade that could turn into a win-win for both organizations or it could easily blow up for either team. All five players are difficult to project moving forward, with Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto selling low on Walker and new Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen selling high on Segura.
Here's the breakdown:
Segura: The best player in the group in 2016, he gives the Mariners a much-needed leadoff hitter (they were 24th in the majors in leadoff wOBA). In fact, Segura was one of the best players in baseball. After Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa acquired him from the Milwaukee Brewers, Segura hit .319/.368/.499 while leading the National League with 203 hits. He played mostly second base for Arizona, but will move back to shortstop, where he graded out as a league-average defender during his time with the Brewers. He ranked 19th among MLB position players in Baseball-Reference WAR and 22nd in FanGraphs WAR.
The question: Is he the 5.7-WAR player of 2016 or the player who was worth 0.6 WAR total in 2014 and 2015? Segura improved from 16 doubles to 41, from six home runs to 20. Even if he had some batted-ball luck in 2016, you don't pound out 68 extra-base hits by accident. Indeed, Segura showed up in spring training with a new stance, holding his hands lower. "Now with my hands lower, I don't have to go down and then go up to hit the ball. I go directly to the ball," Segura told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal early in the season. "I do everything in one motion instead of doing it three times. When I attacked the ball with my hands up, I had to go down, go up again and swing."
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Segura's well-hit rate increased from .093 to .164. His exit velocity was up as well. He's still an extreme ground-ball hitter, although he did lower his ground-ball rate from 59 to 54 percent. Some regression is in order -- he's moving to the better league and a tougher park -- but it appears his 2016 season wasn't necessarily a complete fluke.
Walker: We've been hearing about Walker forever, but he's still just 24 years old, and while the Mariners control Segura for two more seasons, the D-backs will control Walker through 2020. He's a big kid who throws hard and throws strikes, but his fastball is straight and he pitches up in the zone, leading to home run problems -- 27 in 134.1 innings in 2016. The Mariners grew so frustrated with Walker they sent him down to the minors in early August. Manager Scott Servais basically questioned Walker's competitiveness. "When you go out there and take the mound as one of five starting pitchers, there's a certain level of expectation," Servais said at the time of the demotion. "You have to go deeper in games. You’ve got to be competitive when you go out there. Just the consistency of it, not knowing what you’re going to get from time to time."
In one of his first starts back from the minors, Walker allowed six runs and three home runs while getting knocked out in the first inning. After that, he took some advice from pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and added a little Felix Hernandez-like twist to his delivery to help him hide the ball better and keep his shoulder from flying open. Two starts later, against the same team that had just shelled him, he pitched a three-hit, 11-strikeout shutout against the Angels. Over his final five starts, he posted a 2.93 ERA. That's the kind of upside the pitching-starved Diamondbacks are banking on.
Marte: After playing well in a 57-game call-up in 2015, Marte was a huge disappointment, posting a .287 OBP and making 21 errors. He's still very young as well -- he played the entire season at 22 -- but lacks power and an aggressive approach hurt him in 2016. Marte is a good athlete, and if he can improve his patience at the plate, like he showed in 2015, there's some potential upside here. Nick Ahmed is a plus defender but can't hit, so Marte should take over as the starting shortstop.
Haniger: A possible sleeper, Haniger is a right-handed-hitting outfielder with enough range to play center. He'll be 26 in December, but he could be a late bloomer after adding a leg kick during the 2015 season (more on that here from Dave Cameron at FanGraphs). Haniger hit .321/.419/.581 in the minors in 2016 (granted, 74 games at Triple-A Reno, where the ball flies), but he did struggle in 34 games with Arizona. He'll have a shot at a corner position for Seattle and could see time in center as well.
Curtis: He adds lefty bullpen depth, but is not overpowering. He had 52 K's in 30.1 innings in the minors, but skipped Triple-A in going to the majors. He's likely ticketed for Triple-A.
Dipoto continues to stockpile depth, and if Segura hits close to like he did in 2016, the top of the Seattle lineup could be pretty imposing:
DH Nelson Cruz
3B Kyle Seager
RF Haniger/Ben Gamel
That's still a mix-and-match outfield (Guillermo Heredia is part of the picture as well) without one big bat, but Dipoto has given Servais a lot of platoon possibilities. Seattle's rotation is now Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Ariel Miranda and Nathan Karns, with no obvious depth and Iwakuma and Paxton two high injury risks. The estimated payroll is already at its 2016 level, so adding another starting pitcher likely means a significant payroll increase for 2017. But given the ages of Cano, Cruz, Iwakuma and Hernandez, Seattle has to be all-in for 2017. I would expect twitchy-finger Dipoto to make another deal for a starting pitcher.