Mariners and D’Backs Exchange Upside and Downside

Apparently Mike Hazen and Jerry Dipoto don’t have anything better to do on Thanksgiving eve than make a big trade that makes those of us with stuff to do have to apologize to our family and start working. Thanks, jerks. Have some pie and take a day off already.

Personal aspersions at the GMs aside, Arizona and Seattle have pulled off a pretty fascinating trade. The particulars.

Arizona Receives

Taijuan Walker, SP
Ketel Marte, SS

Seattle Receives

Jean Segura, SS
Mitch Haniger, OF
Zac Curtis, LHP

Mike Hazen’s first big trade as Arizona’s GM is to sell high on the best player acquired by previous GM Dave Stewart. The Diamondbacks hit the jackpot buying low on Segura last winter, as a player who had racked up +3.6 WAR during his career in Milwaukee put up a +5 WAR season in his one year in the desert. Rather than bet on him coming back and having another career year, Arizona turned Segura into another buy-low guy in Walker, who has long been hailed as a possible frontline starter but hasn’t lived up to the potential yet.

It’s pretty easy to see Hazen’s rationale here; he turns a 27-year-old and a 26-year-old into a 24-year-old and a 23-year-old, picking up extra team control years in the process, and in Walker, he lands a guy who could easily be worth more than Segura long-term, especially if you don’t buy into Segura’s power spike. The Diamondbacks get younger and pick up some extra long-term value, and in reality, they probably don’t make themselves much worse in 2017 either; Haniger didn’t have a role on their team at the moment, and Curtis is mostly a throw-in.

From Seattle’s perspective, this looks reasonable enough if you buy into two things.

1. The team’s long-term future depends mostly on them winning in the short-term, given the age of the guys anchoring the roster, so current wins are worth a lot more to Seattle than future wins.

2. Haniger is a potential above-average regular. While Segura is going to be the guy everyone focuses on, Haniger might just be the guy who makes this deal work for Seattle — if it works for Seattle — by giving them a quality OF they don’t really have at the moment. Eric Longenhagen’s write-up on him from the Arizona Prospect Report is particularly useful now.

While big-league pitchers were able to exploit Haniger’s vulnerability to pitches down and away during his late-season cup of coffee, he’s an above-average runner with plus raw power. Players with that tool combination aren’t exactly easy to come by. Haniger was demoted to High-A as a 24-year old in 2015 after slugging a paltry .379 for Double-A Mobile. It looked like bad news to those of us on the outside who thought the Diamondbacks were souring on him, but in reality Haniger proactively told the D-backs he’d accept a demotion if it meant he could play every day which, with prospects Evan Marzilli, Socrates Brito and Gabriel Guerrero also in Mobile by mid-year, wasn’t going to happen at Double-A. Haniger made a swing change (profiled here and here by excellent D-backs beat writer Nick Piecoro) and took off. You can see the old swing here.

Scouts are a little bit apprehensive about Haniger’s propensity to swing and miss and think there’s a good chance he either ends up as a platoon bat or power-first fourth outfielder who can play center field in a pinch. Given Haniger’s purported makeup and clear ability to make significant adjustments, I think there’s a non-zero chance he’s a late-blooming average regular but it’s more likely he falls just short of that. The Diamondbacks acquired Haniger along with Anthony Banda from Milwaukee in exchange for Gerardo Parra.

If Haniger turns into a fourth OF, I don’t know if Seattle will get the upgrade they were looking for in turning Walker’s upside and whatever Marte might be into Segura’s 2017 and 2018 seasons, but there are reasons to think that maybe Haniger has some remaining value left. Most notably, he played 182 of his 258 innings with Arizona in CF, and D’Backs beat writer Nick Piecoro texted me after the trade was announced to say that he thought Haniger’s defense in center was quite good, and definitely better than just a get-away-with-it glove.

If Haniger is a good enough defender to be a regular CF, then the offense could make him more valuable than Segura, especially if his 2016 improvement was more breakout than fluke. The projections aren’t sold, especially after he didn’t hit that well in the big leagues, but if you’re into speculative buys on late-bloomers, there are some reasons to think that maybe Haniger could be on the late-developing-star track. From a Piecoro story in August.

A year ago, he was getting inconsistent at-bats with Mobile when the organization demoted him to High-A Visalia. While there, he began incorporating a leg kick. Then in the offseason, he continued to tinker with his swing mechanics, adjusting where he holds his hands and altering his swing path.

For Haniger, the changes were borne from a question: Why was it that other hitters who weren’t as big or as strong as he was were able to drive the ball to the opposite field with more authority? He began studying swings of players like Josh Donaldson and A.J. Pollock and read up on the hitting philosophies of Bobby Tewksbary, a coach who helped both of those hitters develop into All-Stars.

“I feel like now I’m able to recognize pitches better,” Haniger said. “I can make up my mind whether to swing or not later than I have in the past because my swing is deeper in the zone. I’m able to stay off close pitches. It’s easier for me to use all fields and to see pitches better.”

Donaldson and Pollock certainly aren’t bad examples to follow, and they aren’t the only guys who have improved dramatically after working with Tewksbury; Eno Sarris wrote about Ryon Healy also making similar adjustments, and he was a revelation for the A’s this year after not really being considered much of a prospect.

There’s a lot of ifs here. If Haniger’s glove really is as good as Piecoro thought — which could make him a very good defensive corner OF in Seattle, since Leonys Martin is still around — and if some of these swing changes were the reason for his 2016 breakout, then he could be an average or better hitter with some real defensive value. And with six years of team control, that would make him the real get in this deal for the Mariners, likely offsetting a lot of the long-term value they may lose with Walker and Marte gone gone.

If Haniger is just an ordinary defensive OF without enough bat to carry him, then I think Arizona will be happy with this deal, getting younger and selling high on a guy whose value didn’t really have anywhere to go but down. But if Haniger turns into a 100 to 110 wRC+ guy with plus defense in a corner or enough glove to play center? Well, all of the sudden, that’s a pretty great piece too, and would fill a hole the Mariners definitely needed to fill.

So, yeah, this is a fascinating trade. I don’t know if I’m sold enough on Haniger, so I’d probably prefer Arizona’s side, but for a win-now Mariners team, you can see the potential for this to make the team a lot better in the near future. And given that Walker is, at this point, more upside than realized value, it’s not that hard to see why the Mariners preferred to push in now, before their old stars stop playing like stars.

And for Arizona, while I might have short-changed them in words here, this is an easy deal to like from their end. If Walker turns into this year’s Segura, and they hit on another buy-low talent, Mike Hazen will be plenty happy with his first deal as the Diamondbacks GM.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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7 years ago

As graceful as I’m sure Nick Piecoro is in centerfield, I believe you meant Haniger in the 7th paragraph. Great read though, appreciation for working over the holiday.