The Trade: Walker, Marte for Segura, Haniger, Curtis

marc w · November 27, 2016 at 10:35 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

There’s a natural tendency for people writing about baseball to judge a General Manager based on his/her biggest moves: the blockbuster trade that changes a franchise, the big first-round draft pick who turns into a star, the key free agent signing (or avoiding the big free agent land mines). This isn’t wrong, of course, as big moves (especially when you can pick out the big moves with the benefit of hindsight) clearly do impact a team’s chances. The problem is that they’re not distributed evenly. The M’s were *able* to take a risk with the Robinson Cano signing while the A’s, for example, were not. Similarly, inheriting a team with a loaded farm system, a big new TV deal, or just a club in a big coastal city means you’ve got a leg or two up on some of your rivals. And of course, even if you (correctly) saw that signing Player A was the key to your offseason, you may or may not be able to prevent the Yankees from signing him first. The key to having a universally-praised resume is first building a resume that can be judged.

As a result, some bright internetting soul (I forget who) pointed out that a key component of a GM’s value is the ability to actually make good on their plan. It’s not enough to intuit that some free agent is a good value – you’ve got to go out and make the deal, with all that that entails: convincing the player, his agent, maybe your own ownership group, whatever veteran is most at risk of lost playing time, etc. So far, we’ve been focused on players *entering* an org, but there’s something just as critical about how and when players leave it, too.

Poor player development results in trading an ex-prospect for pennies on the dollar and watching them develop into Jake Arrieta. Misjudging one’s own talent leads to disasters like the Erik Bedard trade. Hold onto a struggling player too long, and suddenly your scouts are flinging frozen foods at them on some low-level field, but trading a player after a surprisingly good season or two can result in Josh-Donaldson for some 5th starters and a SS prospect. The result seems like a kind of baseball Anna Karenina principle (great moves are all alike, while bad moves are each bad in their own way), but is really a restating of the principle we just discussed. A GM needs to play for each player’s possible role, but to have – and enact – contingency plans.

Two different Mariner front offices planned on Taijuan Walker becoming an ace. They invested in development, and thanks in large part to Walker’s ability to learn and adapt to a series of coaches, watched Walker move from ultra-raw talent to a universally-lauded prospect. As they waited for him to assume the mantle of Felix’s heir apparent, they also at least engaged in some discussions to move Walker (for Justin Upton, perhaps for Yoenis Cespedes, etc.), then decided to hold on to the young righty. Until now.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the M’s and Diamondbacks kicked off the Holiday weekend last Wednesday when they swapped Tai Walker for SS/2B Jean Segura, OF Mitch Haniger, and LHP Zac Curtis. The D-backs sidestepped a horrific free agent pitching market, and got a players who can help them for the medium-to-long term. They also dealt from surprisingly solid middle-infield AND outfield depth. Meanwhile, the M’s, as expected, addressed *two* of their key weaknesses for 2017 by netting a starting shortstop and getting a right-handed hitting OF who’s projected to out-hit Guillermo Heredia and with the potential to clear bars a hell of a lot higher than that.

I’ll admit it: I was one of the guys most intrigued by Taijuan Walker’s potential, and continually thought he was one mechanical tweak, one adjustment, from becoming a clear #2 or better. It’s so easy to do considering their numerous missteps, but I wondered if any, er, delays in Walker reaching his potential were due to unforced errors made by the Zduriencik front office. The more time went on, the harder it was to sustain that sort of conspiratorial thinking. The Dipoto regime clearly saw Walker as responsible for his own struggles, as they made the rather stunning move of demoting him for a short while last year. At that point, with a manager and GM who’d pretty much openly questioned their ace-in-waiting’s mental toughness, a move like this one comes to seem inevitable.

As with the Chris Taylor deal last year, Jerry Dipoto and the M’s came to view a player who’d played his way to a lower ultimate ceiling as having more value in trade – even without a mint-conditioned prospect sheen – than they do on the M’s roster. Unlike that Chris Taylor deal, though, I think Dipoto was able to leverage Walker’s potential and the historically bad pitching market to make an intriguing deal, one that could make the M’s much better in 2017. We can quibble with Dipoto’s handling of Walker, but Walker’s the guy who gave up 1.81 HR/9 last year. Dipoto saw 1) that he needed a shortstop and 2) that Walker was probably not going to be an ace *in Seattle* anytime soon. Instead of trading him for Zack Cozart, he was able to snag Jean Segura, who posted a 5-WAR season in Arizona, AND get an interesting OF prospect in the process.

Walker’s remaining potential and the paucity of external alternatives mean that the classic arguments about overpaying for a player coming off a career year don’t apply. Segura’s got two remaining years of club control and joins an M’s squad that got all of -1.1 WAR from their SS last year, much of that thanks to the frustrating Ketel Marte, who’s Arizona’s puzzle now. Segura’s Steamer projections look a lot like Walker’s – about 2.2 WAR. That’s less than half of his production last year, and that’s despite a so-so defensive year at 2B (so he got less of a bump in positional value). A 2.2 WAR year adds over 3 wins to the M’s middle infield, and the M’s again look to be in a position where three wins would be pretty important.

Of course, many observers would take the over on that projection for Segura. This Al Melchior piece at Fanrag (hat tip to Bob Dutton) dives into his peripheral stats and note that Segura’s power spike seems like the product of sustainable changes in approach rather than luck or a fortuitous home park (he had pretty minor home/road splits last year). If Segura’s able to post a 3-4 WAR season, look out. If Safeco’s as homer-friendly as it was last year, and Segura’s able to hit 20 bombs again (I have more faith in that than a repeat of his 41 doubles, for the record), the M’s look like a formidable team, even with a hole in the rotation.

To be clear: you can’t just start with Segura’s 2016 and work from there. Segura spent all of 2014 and 2015 hitting like Ketel Marte hit in 2016. He had slightly more value thanks to a decent glove and some baserunning success, but at the plate, Segura was utterly lost. It’s nice to point to changes in approach, or working with a well-respected coach, but there’s risk here, too. Any projection has to take his entire history into account, and much of that history – even the recent stuff – looks bad. That said, his 2016 counts too. This is the part of the post where we’d typically look at similar moves – cost-controlled SS/2Bs coming off big years that get traded. The problem is that it just doesn’t happen that often (for obvious reasons).

The buy-low adage is still a good one, but it often leads to even-lower production. Cristian Guzman to the Nationals, Yuniesky Betancourt to the Royals (LOL), Ronny Cedeno/Jack Wilson/etc. Players have signed free agent deals after solid years – Marco Scutaro’s 2-year deal with the Red Sox after a breakout with the Blue Jays comes to mind, or Jose Reyes’ blockbuster deal with the Marlins – but it’s just rare to move a decent SS coming off a great year. That makes it hard to judge (is Segura more Brad Miller, Aaron Hill, or Howie Kendrick?), but at the very least, there’s not a clear pattern of similar moves backfiring. It’s not like there’s clear evidence that guys who go from 20 runs below average to 20 runs above give all of those gains back again.

The inclusion of Mitch Haniger makes the deal even easier to like. Dave Cameron’s wrap-up of the move spent a great deal of time talking about the young OF, whom many observers think has the glove to play CF long term. Even without that advantage, he’s projected as a near-league average player in 2017, and he’d fill perhaps the biggest need the M’s have.

The Mariners pitching depth wasn’t great, but the drop off from Walker to Karns is a lot smaller than the drop off from Segura to Marte. I don’t really understand what went on between Walker, Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto, and I think there’s still a chance a change of scenery helps him unlock his potential. Those are cliches layered on cliches, I realize, but as much as I’m disappointed Walker never really “happened” in Seattle, maybe Walker made the M’s 4-5 wins better after all.

A year ago around this time, Jerry Dipoto traded upside for a rotation upgrade. He did it when he moved Brad Miller for Nathan Karns, and he did it when he traded Roenis Elias and Carson Smith for Wade Miley. Perhaps we need an addendum to the principles we’ve discussed here: learn from your mistakes. Brad Miller is not, and was not, anything remotely akin to Jean Segura. But a year ago, the M’s saw reliability in the rotation as a cornerstone value. It didn’t have a pithy acronym that everyone would say on the broadcast, but it was worth parting with Miller and it was worth trading the most valuable reliever in the org for what seemed like a generic, if reliable (ha!), #4. This year, the M’s had a frustrating but valuable #4, and this year, Dipoto saw the worth of that – the frustration, the possibility, the clear value in 200 IP – differently.

(I realize I’ve given short shrift to Zac Curtis, the lefty reliever the M’s picked up. I saw his BrooksBaseball page and literally lol’d. Curtis throws 92, and has a ton of horizontal movement, the byproduct of the exact same low 3/4 delivery Dipoto’s sought out throughout organized baseball.)


7 Responses to “The Trade: Walker, Marte for Segura, Haniger, Curtis”

  1. LongDistance on November 28th, 2016 2:04 am

    Thanks Marc.

    No direct comment. Except something more general about Dipoto.

    Regardless of all else, Dipoto, at least for me, has brought thinking baseball back to Seattle. And even feelings of being a fan without having to do it through some forced effort.

    Scale by scale has slowly been dropping the cynicism that seemed to be on its way to becoming permanent while watching excuse-laden Howard Lincoln — making the appropriate noises to what he’d identified as fans/sheep/consumers — while leading management absolutely nowhere other than towards spreadsheet protection … and the kid-in-the-candy-store approach to team building (and about the same age level of negotiating maturity) of Jack Zduriencik.

    I like being able to watch the M’s again, without nagging doubts. They might win, they might lose. But as far as I’m concerned, they’re much more than just in remission from their previous plague.

  2. maqman on November 28th, 2016 2:22 am

    It’s interesting that there seems to be a compulsion for baseball fans to determine the “winner” and the “loser” in trade transactions as soon as they are made. The reality is such judgments can only be made years after the trade and there is no actual need for there to be winners and losers other than to confirm previous biases. There are usually positives and negatives for both trade parties eventually but both found value in the moves at the time the trade was made and that was sufficient in their opinions to culminate the transaction. It occurs to me that baseball fans, players, executives and probably ballpark vendors all seem to have a compulsion to judge every facet of the game, over and over again until actual facts replace suppositions and they either never wish to talk about it if their original opinion was wrong or will never shut up about how they “knew it was a bad deal when it happened.” Maybe they need to create a Baseball Supreme Court in the new CBA to settle such questions but I’ll bet that wont curtail this addiction.

  3. ripperlv on November 28th, 2016 9:58 am

    Interesting point of view. Do you think when Taijuan started pitching from the stretch that the writing was on the wall (or hints of more to come)?

  4. ck on November 28th, 2016 10:41 am

    GM tries to Win Now, but doesn’t trade five players for Eric Bedard; what a concept!
    I am very happy the M’s finally have a competent GM, and new Management, both front office and field operations. This trade addresses a glaring need to improve at shortstop, and adds another outfielder to the pile. Haniger may eventually become a regular for years to come.

  5. Edward Baker on November 28th, 2016 3:05 pm

    There is no earthly way that Segura will put up numbers in Seattle that he put up in Arizona, but he´ll be a better SS than Ketel was last year, and a better than average lead off guy. One stone, two birds. Thank you JDP.
    As for Tai, I really hope he reaches his potential in Az, but it´s going to be a little up hill because he´s going to be pitching in one of MLB´s really great hitters´ parks.
    It may be a few years before we know how everyone made out in this trade, but on the face of it I think that we did better than OK.
    Meanwhile, the rotation, which a couple of weeks ago was nothing to write home about, is in shreds.

  6. ck on November 28th, 2016 6:06 pm

    GM Dipoto just traded Alex Jackson for Braves Org. pitchers…..

  7. leftfield limey on November 28th, 2016 10:45 pm

    I don’t post much and so want to say thanks to Mark for the great work on this site.

    Ever since Bavasi left (offseasons of HoRam and Vidro do that to you), the offseason has been a time of the greatest light for Mariners fans, sometimes well founded sometimes not. Jerry is not disappointing us. It feels like he challenges more with the players he gives away but the trades, mostly, feel justifiable. I like the Segura/Haniger one although I wish Walker all the best. The Alex Jackson trade may be even better.

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