Most of the time, we’re just hoping to look one trade into the future. This weekend, we had the rare opportunity to look two trades into the future. We knew that, barring catastrophe, the Mariners were going to finalize a big trade with the Mets. And then word got out that, after that, the Mariners were going to finalize another big trade with the Phillies. That Mets trade is complete, as the Mariners have lost their second baseman and their closer. Now that Phillies trade is also complete, as the Mariners have lost their shortstop.
On the Mariners’ end, it feels light. It feels like there should be some kind of young third piece. Segura is 28 years old and affordably under contract another four years, and since 2016 he’s had about the same WAR as Carlos Correa. You’d think that, from a value perspective, Segura would be more comfortably in the black, and traded accordingly. But for one thing, Segura is dogged by an unflattering reputation. For another thing, Crawford is an intriguing unknown. And for a third thing, take a look at the shortstop market out there. There wouldn’t have been many buyers.
It’s most worth dwelling on the latter two points. It’s unclear how much teams really care whether a player doesn’t always get along with everybody. Segura isn’t the most popular player in the clubhouse, but maybe he just hasn’t had the right group of peers. People change. Clubhouses change. Teams survive. As such, I want to talk about the market. It’s been obvious for at least a few weeks that Segura was extremely available, given the Mariners’ change of direction. He is, again, a cost-controlled shortstop on the right side of 30, and he’s been a quality player for years. The problem the Mariners ran into is that there still wouldn’t have been much interest.
As much as Segura counts as a long-term player, he’s not getting any younger, and he makes the most sense for a competitive team. Who are the competitive teams in the American League? The Red Sox have a shortstop. The Yankees will have a shortstop for the second half, and they wouldn’t want to impede a pursuit of Manny Machado. The Rays have a shortstop. The Indians and the Astros and the A’s and the Angels have shortstops. If you want to get fringe-y, the Twins have a shortstop. And they’re not really a classic buyer.
Who are the competitive teams in the National League? The Nationals have a shortstop. The Braves have a shortstop. The Mets have a shortstop. The Cubs have a shortstop, and the Cardinals have a shortstop, and the Dodgers have a shortstop, and the Rockies have a shortstop. The Padres are still some time away, and their best prospect is a shortstop. The Pirates are sort of where the Twins are. The realistic best fits have been the Phillies and the Brewers, and I doubt the Brewers would be that interested in a Segura reunion, given that things didn’t go so well the first time.
The Phillies weren’t just the most obvious fit — they were arguably the only good fit. The Phillies hope to contend, and they wanted more of a sure thing at the shortstop position. The higher-probability player, then, is going to Philadelphia. The guy he’s replacing is going to Seattle. That guy has been a top prospect before, but the Phillies were getting tired of waiting. You can’t afford to be that patient anymore when you’re trying to get into the race.
Looking at all this objectively, Segura has had positive trade value. A limited market, which worked in the Phillies’ favor, but it’s not like they got him for free. Nicasio has had slightly negative trade value, given his $9.25-million salary, but he’s coming off far better peripherals than his ERA would suggest. Pazos has had slightly positive trade value, given he’ll cost the league minimum as a lefty reliever. Santana has had negative trade value, as his next two years will cost about $41 million. It’s not all a sunk cost, since Santana can still hit, but the Phillies had been looking to dump him to free up first base again for Rhys Hoskins. That all leaves us with Crawford. Crawford has had some amount of positive trade value. Before the year, he was our No. 29 overall prospect. He’s a shortstop who can walk, and who hasn’t yet turned 24 years old. At issue is that he hasn’t progressed. Some of the shine is off the apple, and at this point, the evaluations are all over the place, even as far as Crawford’s old team was concerned.
At his best, Crawford can make plays like this:
And, at his best, Crawford can hit the ball like this:
When Crawford was a top prospect, his whole brand was playing strong defense while mastering the strike zone. That defense hasn’t yet graded out well at the major-league level. The eye is still more or less there, but Crawford found himself more exposed in 2018, having trouble with the pitch away and the pitch in. Maybe some of the trouble had to do with an elbow strain, which was followed by a hand fracture. Little about Crawford’s season went smoothly. But there were already questions about whether he’d be able to tap into enough of his modest power. No one wanted to see three times as many strikeouts as walks.
The Mariners presumably see this as a wise buy-low. They were able to get a former top position-player prospect, with five more years of team control remaining, and he’s going into his age-24 season. There exists a decent chance the Mariners just traded for their shortstop of the future. Not unlike Mallex Smith, Crawford is someone who could help right away, and down the line, when the team hopes to compete. I mean, it took Jurickson Profar until 2018 to start to get it figured out. Crawford still has a lot of that upside. He’s just believed to have a reduced chance of reaching it. He’s somewhere in that area between post-hype and bust.
In order to get Crawford, the Mariners were willing to accept Santana, who, contract aside, remains an above-average hitter with an unimpeachable eye. Santana is no one’s idea of a long-term solution, but with Seattle, at least, he can serve a purpose, upgrading the roster and helping the team avoid completely bottoming out during this transition phase. If Santana hits well enough, he, too, could get traded. In this particular move, he’s found a better home. The Phillies didn’t want to have Hoskins in the outfield anymore. That was a mistake of their own doing, the consequence of misreading last year’s market and thinking Santana’s deal was too good to pass up. Now the Phillies’ defense is going to be a lot better, with fewer air balls falling in. And, obviously, Segura is a get.
Segura’s three-year wRC+ is 117. He’s stolen at least 20 bases six years in a row, and he’s sustained the bulk of his breakout gains in 2016. Segura is an atypical kind of valuable hitter, since he’s more about contact than pop, but he’ll hit for better pop in Philadelphia anyway, and for as much as I’ve heard that Segura isn’t long for the shortstop position, he’s rated basically average by DRS and UZR. He shouldn’t have to move next season. He probably shouldn’t have to move the season after that. There are better shortstops in the game, absolutely. Segura, though, is pretty quick, and he’s fresh off an 11% strikeout rate. After three consecutive quality seasons, you can buy that his profile is for real. This is one upgrade for a team poised to make several. Two upgrades, really, given the Hoskins move back to first, and then there is a bit of upside in what Pazos and Nicasio might be able to do. Pazos is coming off a troubling velocity loss, and Nicasio had a knee operation, but you don’t have to dig deep to find success in their track records.
For the Phillies, it’s the start of the offseason plan. It’s a plan that’s likely to involve several steps, and it’s a plan that could still include Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Hoskins has freed up space in the outfield, or Machado could agree to play third. I don’t know how much the Phillies will actually pull off, but it looks like we should expect four competitive teams in next year’s NL East. As for next year’s AL West? Maybe two competitive teams, or maybe three. The Rangers aren’t going to be there, and neither are the Mariners, after a season that brought them achingly close. I don’t believe the Mariners won this trade. There’s no guarantee the Mariners have won any of their offseason trades. But at least they’re no longer stuck in the middle, and at least they’ll have new youth to dream on. This has been a painful series of steps, but you can’t say now the Mariners don’t have a future.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.