It may be Thanksgiving Eve, but that didn’t stop the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners from making a blockbuster trade late on Wednesday night.
The Mariners have sent starting pitcher Taijuan Walker and infielder Ketel Marte to the Diamondbacks for infielder Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger, and left-handed pitcher Zac Curtis.
With all due respect to the other three players involved, the headliners of this deal are certainly Walker and Segura.
Walker, 24, was a consensus top-20 prospect in baseball from 2012-2014. As the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin points out, the Mariners refused to give up the right-hander in many deals in the past, including for star left-hander David Price three years ago:
Reminder about prospects: Three years ago, Mariners wouldn't trade Taijuan Walker to get David Price. Today, Walker gets Jean Segura.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) November 24, 2016
In 2016, Walker had a 4.22 ERA and 4.99 FIP in 134 1/3 innings pitched. He was worth 0.6 WAR (wins above replacement) according to FanGraphs, and 0.4 WAR per Baseball Reference. He battled some injuries during the season that could’ve been detrimental to his performance, but he hasn’t quite been the pitcher that many evaluators thought he’d be, and while pitching in a pitcher’s park in Seattle (and now he goes to more hitter-friendly conditions in Arizona). But, there’s no doubting his talent and he’s still just 24 years old. Additionally, the Diamondbacks will have him under team control for four years, whereas the Mariners will only have team control of Segura for two years:
Taijuan Walker is super-2 arb eligible this year. #Dbacks have four years of control left on him.
— Steve Gilbert (@SteveGilbertMLB) November 24, 2016
So, the Diamondbacks are buying low on Walker, being well aware of his upside. And they’re selling very high on Segura.
The 26-year-old Segura was terrific in 2013 for the Milwaukee Brewers, and followed it up with two bad seasons, before being dealt to the Diamondbacks. Well, Segura bounced back and then some with Arizona, leading the National League in hits with 203, and putting up an outstanding 5.0 WAR per FanGraphs. While he was awesome, the Diamondbacks surely wondered if he could keep it up at anywhere near that level going forward, especially when he has a career 4.5% walk rate and is so dependent on getting hits to getting on base. The Mariners are clearly confident that Segura can keep being damn good over the next two years.
Arizona also gets Marte, a 23-year-old shortstop to potentially replace Segura. And like Walker, Marte has four years of team control left:
Arizona sold high on Jean Segura and bought low on Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte. Marte a legit SS, four years younger than Segura to boot.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 24, 2016
Haniger goes as a secondary piece to Seattle, and the 25-year-old outfielder put together a 229/.309/.404 slash line in 123 plate appearances for the Diamondbacks in 2016. He’s put together great numbers in the minors and at least looks like he’ll draw plenty of walks. If nothing else, he should serve as solid outfield depth for Seattle. The Mariners also get Curtis, a 5’9″, 24-year-old lefty that gave up 10 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings for the Diamondbacks in his rookie 2016 campaign.
So, who gets the better of this deal? We won’t truly know that answer for a couple years, of course, but Arizona comes out the winner on the surface in getting two players that will be key contributors for at least four more seasons, and with those two players — particularly Walker — having upside to get much better. Even if Walker is nothing more than a back-of-the-rotation starter for the Diamondbacks over those four years, that still has plenty of value (as you will see by what such pitchers get paid this winter). And he has the potential to be much, much more than that.
If Segura goes back to the poor player he was in 2014 and 2015, it’s possible Marte is even more valuable than him, and while being three years younger with two more years of control. But if Segura hits anything like he did in 2016, the Mariners aren’t going to care about what they gave up, as they will be getting a star middle infielder for the next two years on a team that finished just three games out of a postseason spot in 2016.
One thing we know for sure: There’s no chance in hell that former general manager Dave Stewart would’ve made this forward-thinking trade for Arizona.