The assumption is that shortstop Jean Segura found something in his game that will propel him to consistent All-Star status — not that he just stumbled into a great season in 2016.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has been clear that, when it comes to building his team, he isn’t thinking about tomorrow as much as he’s thinking about today.
“We’re in our window now,” Dipoto said back in September. “There is no five-year plan.”
Seattle has the longest active postseason drought in baseball, its fans’ patience is MIA, and after falling just short of the playoffs last season, the front office knows the phrase “long-term vision” isn’t going to sit well. Hence Wednesday night’s trade.
In a five-player deal with the Diamondbacks, the Mariners shipped out starting pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte in exchange for shortstop and leadoff hitter Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger and left-handed reliever Zac Curtis. The move was as bold as it was frightening and certainly has the potential to cause regret.
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But if there was one clear message Dipoto sent in making the most significant trade of his 14-month tenure, it’s this: The Mariners aren’t trying to win later — they’re trying to win now.
If Walker ever reaches the ceiling his champions have been touting since he signed with Seattle, then the Diamondbacks will probably end up winning this trade. But through the first two years of his major-league career, Taijuan’s production has fallen well short of his potential.
Even that magical April he had last season came with an asterisk, as pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. noticed delivery issues despite a 1.44 ERA during the month. Could he end up being an All-Star? Sure. But he hasn’t demonstrated enough to suggest that breakthrough is imminent.
Segura, on the other hand, just had the best year of his career. The one-time All-Star hit .319, socked 20 home runs, stole 33 bases and posted the sixth-best WAR (5.7) for position players in the National League.
More substantially, he fills the void the Mariners had at shortstop and the leadoff spot in one fell swoop. Is it a gamble? Sure. But it was a necessary one.
The Mariners essentially bet that the Jean Segura of last year is the Jean Segura they’re going to get. Never mind that he hit .257 with six home runs in 2015 and .246 with five home runs the year before that.
The assumption is that he found something in his game that will propel him toward consistent All-Star status — not that he just stumbled into a season of good luck.
They’re also betting that Walker isn’t going to have his Jake Arrieta moment anytime soon. Like Walker, Arrieta was a much-hyped phenom who struggled through the first few years of his career before winning the Cy Young in 2015 after a season for the ages. Taijuan was probably the most acclaimed pitching prospect the Mariners have had since Felix Hernandez, and if the Mariners were thinking about 2020, they wouldn’t have dealt him. They’re not, though. And while that departure might scare fans who notice the gaping hole the M’s have in their rotation, those same fans should also appreciate that their team is going all-in in pursuit of a ring.
There are other questions worth asking, of course.
Was Marte going to get any better?
Again, it’s tough to know. But he was far more effective in the 57 games he played in 2015 than he was last year, when he had a .259 batting average, a .287 OBP and one home run.
What about Haniger? Could he be the steal of this trade?
Maybe. There have been scouts who have been high on his defense and potential power, both of which the Mariners’ outfield has been lacking. But he wasn’t listed as one of the Diamondbacks’ 20 best prospects.
Do the Mariners really have to give up major assets just so they can “win now”?
Have to? No. But they probably should.
You have to remember that Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano are all in their twilight years. So is Hisashi Iwakuma, who was the squad’s best pitcher last year. This isn’t just about appeasing a fan base — it’s about recognizing the situation and jumping on it.
Grading a trade right after it takes place is generally a silly endeavor. The answer isn’t usually revealed for years.
But grading the intent of the trade is different, and in this case, Dipoto gets an “A.” Winning eventually isn’t an option for him. Only now will do.