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Speculation around the 2017 offseason was that pitching would be at even more of a premium than usual with Rich Hill entering the offseason as the best free agent starter available. So far we've seen Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, Charlie Morton, and Andrew Cashner sign contracts that seemed to confirm this speculation.
The Mariners used this market to swap Taijuan Walker, a 24-year-old former phenom with four years of team control remaining, for one of the most productive hitters in the league last year in Jean Segura. Walker has a wide range of potential outcomes in 2017, with significant upside should he regain even some of his stuff and velocity from a few years back, but with a not-insignificant injury history. They used him to address a current area of need at shortstop.
One concern is that when you trade for need, you are limiting the supply of trade partners and, in theory, driving down the price of what you're selling. Consequently, it's probably fair to wonder what the Mariners could have gotten for Walker if they were willing to trade him for the highest possible return instead for a shortstop and leadoff hitter. The issue with doing so, though, is that the highest possible return for Walker likely comes in the form of prospects and the Mariners—86-game winners in 2016 that fell three games short of the Wild Card—are looking to compete in 2017.
When we consider this competitive window, Segura’s age-26 and age-27 seasons (his final two arbitration years) might have been the best return available for Walker. The larger concern for the Mariners is the extent of Segura’s productivity over the next two seasons. He's coming off a career-year after changing teams and positions; in 2016, Segura played 142 games at second base and 21 games at shortstop after having played only shortstop in his first four seasons. His value as a defender has greatly decreased from back-to-back 22 FRAA seasons in 2013 and 2014, to just 5.7 FRAA last season, which is to say that the Mariners are betting on the offensive gains Segura made last season with the Diamondbacks.
This jibes with GM Jerry Dipoto’s comments on the trade, saying: "I feel like we're acquiring one of the premium leadoff hitters in the game. … Last season was a real coming-out party for Jean. We saw his true talent come through.”
Dipoto’s words are not surprising given his actions, but do we think Segura is the premier leadoff hitter he was last season? If he can carry over his 46.6 percent swing rate from last year–which was back down to career norms after ballooning to 53.2 percent in 2015–as well as his career-high BABIP of .353, then his chances of repeating will be pretty good. However, while the swing rate looks repeatable because of a career-low chase rate, it probably is not wise to bet on a BABIP repeat. Even with some regression, Segura would still be an upgrade over Marte and anyone else they were batting out of the leadoff spot last season.
However, given that a) Segura will be moving back to shortstop full time, and b) the chances that his approach slips should he start pressing due to a regressed BABIP, it's fair to worry whether the gains provided by Segura and Hanigan will be enough to be worth selling low on Walker, which comes with the added cost of needing to further bolster the back end of a rotation which currently has Ariel Miranda and Nate Karns in the four and five spots. —Jeff Quinton
Assume what you will about big changes in the offing under Arizona’s new regime, but understand plainly that an ownership directive against coiffed brunette curls remains clearly and firmly in place. First Dave Stewart came for Dansby Swanson’s 70-grade mane, and now as his first order of business Mike Hazen has come for Zac Curtis. The left-hander’s mop remains raw, to be sure, with fly-away density that comes unhinged in the face of even modest humidity. But his is a powerful mop, with rich, luxurious volume that, once tamed by the hands of a big league-caliber beautician, could very well play to plus at maturity. It won’t play for Ken Kendrick, though, and the well-headed among us must take note.
Underneath the delicious shag is a skull that houses a quality pitching brain. Curtis doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he’s got guile and deception aplenty. The fastball is average velocity-wise, but can play up as an above-average pitch thanks to a tough pick-up and flashes of quality run. A slider in the 83-84 band shows late vertical action with limited horizontal jump, making it something of a curiosity given Curtis’ lower arm slot. He’ll also bring a change to the table, though it is a below-average pitch with limited velocity separation and general utility. Despite a ghastly showing in his 21-game debut for the Snakes, he does flirt with some command projection as well, albeit in spite of some length in the arm swing and stiffness at foot strike.
Curtis works more north-south than east-west, and he’ll live dangerously in the zone if and when a batter cracks his illusory motion. Relievers with average stuff don’t tend to wear fly-ball profiles all that well, and the long ball may be a persistent issue for Curtis. Still, he creates uncomfortable at-bats for left-handed hitters, and because of that he has the chance to carve out a nice little career for himself working situationally. —Wilson Karaman
As an organization the Diamondbacks have approximately 11 million should-be corner outfielders clogging their depth chart, and enough of them are right-handed that it apparently made the soon-to-be 26-year-old Hanigan an expendable asset. There’s plenty of intrigue to Haniger’s profile, however. He’s a disciple of Bobby Tewksbary–notable for overhauling Josh Donaldson’s swing among others–who boasts raw power that is at least above average, and mechanical evolution has allowed him to bring it into games with greater consistency. The swing-and-miss isn’t excessive for a hitter with his pop, and he’ll show maturity in keeping his aggressiveness at the dish reasonably confined to in-zone offerings.
He has absolutely crushed left-handed pitching throughout his fairly lengthy tour of the upper minors, which gives him a nice platoon baseline. Defensively, he was a step or two slow for center field in the couple looks I caught at Visalia back in the day, though there was enough athleticism and decisiveness in his routes to where I could squint and see him developing adequacy there. If it doesn’t work, the arm strength is more than adequate for right. There’s some “late bloomer” potential here, and even if he doesn’t quite hit well enough to hold down an everyday gig the defensive versatility and right-handed pop give him plenty of opportunity to carve out a productive big-league role. —Wilson Karaman
There should have already been some level of regression in power accounted for with Segura, who is extremely unlikely to have another 20-homer season. Even with that said, the move from Chase Field to Safeco, while not as drastic as it used to be and as most assume it still is, will result in fewer homers and fewer triples. The lazy analysis is that he should be expected to be less aggressive on the basepaths as well, but we also don't know what kind of manager Torey Lovullo would have been anyway. Segura finished last season as the no. 2 fantasy shortstop, and even with expectations around 10-12 homers and 25 steals, the odds of him remaining a top-seven fantasy shortstop are pretty good. —Bret Sayre
Seattle's current starting corner outfielders (Ben Gamel and Seth Smith) are both left-handed, so Haniger has a good chance to start the season in the majors and see some run as a platoon bat. Sure, the scenery is a downgrade, but playing time is playing time and Safeco isn't death on right-handed power anymore. —Bret Sayre
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Acquired SS-S Ketel Marte and RHP Taijuan Walker from Seattle Mariners in exchange for IF-R Jean Segura, CF-R Mitch Haniger, and LHP Zac Curtis. [11/23]
The outgoing Diamondbacks regime left the current one with some less-than-ideal circumstances: Shelby Miller instead of Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, and Aaron Blair; Zack Greinke instead of $206 million; Yamsany Tomas instead of $68.5 million; Tony La Russa; the new uniforms.
With that said, new GM Mike Hazen did inherit a roster with Paul Goldshmidt, A.J. Pollock, Zack Greinke, and Mike Ferrin, along with other productive players such as Jake Lamb, Jean Segura, David Peralta, and Robbie Ray. While there are certainly good players on the roster, the Diamondbacks won only 69 games last season, albeit after losing Pollock for almost the entire year right before Opening Day. The new regime faced an interesting decision: Would they build on the major-league roster they had or would they begin to tear it down?
If you were looking for a definitive answer to this question, then you're out of luck as this trade does not provide one. It does indicate, however, that the new Diamondbacks regime will work more like other modern front offices (whether for good or bad) in that it places value on years of player control and, seemingly, on more predictive measures of performance. This means the Diamondbacks thought that now was the time they could get the largest return for Segura, coming off a career-year. Secondly, the Diamondbacks were able to turn two years of Segura and six years of Hanigan into four and five years of Walker and Marte, respectively.
Whether you think the Diamonfbacks got the best possible return for Segura will depend on your projection for Walker and, to a much lesser extent, Marte. As to whether collecting players like Walker is sound strategy for a team like the Diamondbacks, there is some potentially telling history from Hazen’s time with the Red Sox, where he was a member of the front office from 2006-2016. In recent years, the Red Sox have acquired young (sometimes more young-ish), previously heralded pitchers in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Joe Kelly. They went 1-for-3, but Porcello hitting his upside last year made the racket as a whole profitable.
So while it's easy to point out Walker’s diminished stuff, results, and injuries, and then point to his median projection and say that he likely will not be worth a ton, this misses the point. The Diamondbacks likely acquired Walker for his higher-end projections, knowing that there's a good chance they will miss. They did so because unlikely projections still carry value and they often carry a lot of value. Sure, we could argue that every pitcher’s upside carries a lot of value, but this trade indicates that the Diamondbacks either like the odds of Walker’s upside hitting more than other pitchers or that his upside carries more value than that of other pitchers.
Will we now see the Diamondbacks begin to collect such players in exchange for shorter-term assets until their team’s play dictates a more obvious strategy for the front office? Given the current construct of their major-league roster and minor-league system, that would be a pretty keen strategy. —Jeff Quinton
It's tough to say that Walker hasn't been a disappointment up to this point after being one of the top fantasy pitching prospects in baseball a couple of years ago. Then again, that probably says more about fantasy pitching prospects than it does Walker. His stuff isn't quite as crisp as it was before we were seeing it every fifth day, and he still hasn't thrown 170 innings in a season. With that said, we've seen it in flashes—his two best starts in 2016 netted him Game Scores of 92 and 87, respectively. We can play the "if he can harness it" game all we want, but that's not the smart move. Playing in Chase Field negates the positive of moving to the NL, as Walker doesn't do a great job of keeping the ball on the ground (as you'd expect based on his reliance on his four-seamer), so expecting his strikeouts to tick up into the 150-160 range seems reasonable, but expecting his ERA to settle over 4.00 again also does. All in, that makes him a nice SP4 to gamble on with his combination of good-enough current performance and ability to jump if he can harness it. Damn it, I'm sorry. —Bret Sayre
More was expected out of Marte in 2016, as he stumbled through an injury-laden and down season. He found himself hitting out of the nine-spot the vast majority of the time and looked less like a future good Erick Aybar and more like a future meh Erick Aybar. With this trade, though, the Diamondbacks are committing to making him their shortstop and Chase Field is a place that really supports Marte's ability to spray the ball around, including into the gaps. He's pretty unlikely to reach double-digit homers even with the park upgrade, but still carries the upside of being a .300 hitter with 25-30 steals. That's not too different from the player he's replacing, there's just more risk here. I like Marte a lot as a sneaky shortstop play with top-10 upside. —Bret Sayre
We already knew that Owings wasn't likely to hold a ton of fantasy value heading into 2017, but he at least had gotten back on the map by not embarrassing himself like he did in 2015. That said, Marte is likely to be a fixture at the six in Arizona now, and Owings doesn't have the bat to carry a job at second base. He also won't have an A.J. Pollock injury (yet) to get him additional time in center field. He'll enter next season as back-end NL-only option, mostly because of his flexibility. —Bret Sayre
Rubby De La Rosa/Robbie Ray/Patrick Corbin/Braden Shipley
We can pretty safely say that barring injury Zack Greinke, Archie Bradley, and Taijuan Walker will have rotation spots heading into the spring. We can mostly say the same for Shelby Miller, at least to start, since the Diamondbacks are very unlikely to just shelve him in Triple-A forever, even if his performance warrants it. That leaves two, and possibly three, of this trio on the outside looking in at the rotation. Personally, I still believe in Corbin the most of this group long term, but given how he looked in relief toward the end of last season, he's probably the most likely to be in the bullpen this year. —Bret Sayre