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Seattle's seemingly shedding payroll at this point — and the Phillies were the latest club to cash in.

By Jon Tayler
December 04, 2018

The Mariners’ fast-moving rebuild has claimed its latest victim. On Monday evening, just hours after the trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets became official, Seattle dealt All-Star shortstop Jean Segura to the Phillies in a five-player swap. Along with Segura, relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos head to Philadelphia; in exchange, the Mariners get shortstop J.P. Crawford and first baseman Carlos Santana. It’s a great pickup by the Phillies, but the light return for a good hitter is strange on Seattle’s part.

Segura is the headliner. Once hurtling toward oblivion after a brilliant start in Milwaukee curdled, the 28-year-old Dominican resurrected his career with the Diamondbacks in 2016, hitting .319/.368/.499 with a 122 OPS+ as a second baseman. After being acquired by the Mariners along with Mitch Haniger in one of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s finer moves, Segura posted a .302/.345/.421 line as Seattle’s shortstop over the last two seasons. Among regulars at the position in that span, his 112 OPS+ ranks fourth behind only Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts and Didi Gregorius. His 13.0 bWAR since the start of ‘16, meanwhile, is better than—among others—Anthony Rizzo, J.D. Martinez, Matt Carpenter, and dozens of others. He’s a legitimate star.

That’s what makes this trade so confusing. It’s not that Segura’s departure is a surprise. Once the Mariners began this rebuild, his fate was sealed. It’s that Seattle has gotten what feels like relatively little for a player under 30 who hits well and defends adequately at a premium position while also on an affordable long-term deal. Segura inked a five-year, $70 million extension with the Mariners in June 2017 and has four years and $59.4 million left on that deal, along with a $17 million team option for 2023 with a $1 million buyout.

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That’s not chump change, but given how valuable Segura has been—FanGraphs has him worth $53.6 million over the last two seasons—it’s not a high price to pay. An equivalent player at his age in free agency would be looking at $85–100 million, if not more, over at least five years. Your mileage may vary depending on how you grade Segura’s defense, but by just about any measure, he’s a bargain who should have commanded a lot in a trade.

But Seattle’s return is just two players: Crawford and Santana. The former is a one-time top prospect whose stock has plummeted over the last three years, struggling at both Triple A (.244/.343/.370) and the majors (.214/.333/.358). The starting shortstop on Opening Day, the 24-year-old hit .188 in April before a forearm strain sidelined him until June. Two weeks after returning, he broke his left hand, costing him two months. By the time he got back in early September, he was no longer in the Phillies’ plans, getting just 26 plate appearances amid the team’s ugly end-of-season collapse.

At least Crawford is young with upside, though. You can’t say that about Santana, who turns 33 next April and is coming off his worst season since 2015. After signing a three-year, $60 million deal in free agency, the burly Dominican hit just .229/.352/.414 with a 105 OPS+ and a mere 1.7 bWAR. A lot of that is the result of a bad April (.153/.295/.276); from May 1 onward, he hit .245/.364/.444, in line with his career averages. But given his age, weak defense, and the $41 million he’s owed over the next two years, he’s not much of a catch even for a Mariners team that hasn’t seen a productive bat at first base since Barack Obama’s first term in office.

Amazingly, though, that’s all Philadelphia had to give up to upgrade—sizably so—from Crawford to Segura. And there’s more, as Seattle threw in two capable relievers in Nicasio and Pazos. Nicasio had an awful 2018 on the surface, with a 6.00 ERA in 42 innings. But his peripherals—a 29% strikeout rate and 2.7% walk rate (third-best among relievers with 40 or more innings last year) coupled with a .402 batting average on balls in play and 58.1% strand rate (last year’s league average was 72.8)—suggest the 32-year-old righty was far better than his results. Pazos, meanwhile, is a 27-year-old lefty whose 2.88 ERA in 50 innings outperformed his numbers, like a modest 21.3% strikeout rate, but he’s cheap and represents good depth for a Phillies bullpen that was a mess most of the year.

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It’s a clear win for Philadelphia, which now has a quality starting shortstop for 2019 and beyond and adds some potentially useful bullpen pieces in the process. For Seattle, though, it’s a whiff. It’s not that Crawford is a bad player; he still has oodles of talent, and maybe the right combo of coaching could unlock his potential. And after falling out of favor with the Phillies, a fresh start with a new franchise could help as well. But he’s far from a sure thing. Santana, meanwhile, is a placeholder—not a bad one, but still someone who won’t be in the team’s future plans.

For an asset like Segura, you should be able to do better than that (though there aren’t many contenders looking for shortstops right now; beyond the Phillies, the Yankees and Twins are the only others that come to mind). That feels like a common theme with Dipoto’s moves this winter. His trades have brought back some good prospects—Justus Sheffield, Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn and Crawford will, if nothing else, improve Seattle’s farm system (which was admittedly putrid going into the winter). But not one of those deals has returned an established blue-chipper. For a teardown that’s reduced an 89-win roster to one that will lose 90-plus games next year, it’s not a particularly impressive haul, especially given how light the Mariners are on young talent already in the organization. Beyond Haniger—who turns 28 in three weeks—and the newly acquired prospects, there’s not much else to build on.

Those players are still plenty talented, and there’s always a chance that all or part of that quartet could turn into Seattle’s next contending core. But this doesn’t feel like a team holding out for the best possible return. Instead, it reeks of the Mariners trying to shed payroll as quickly as possible. Dipoto probably could’ve gotten more for Diaz if he’d shopped him solo; instead, he made him the sweetener so the Mets would absorb the majority of Cano’s contract. And by swapping Segura for Santana, he’ll save at least $30 million going forward. Seattle seems dead set on ridding itself of long-term money, which helps explain why the team’s not doing better in these trades—and makes you wonder if the reason for this teardown is more financial than anything else.

Regardless of what’s driving the deals, though, what’s done is done. Segura joins Cano, Diaz, James Paxton, Nelson Cruz and Mike Zunino in the Mariners’ diaspora, much to the Phillies’ benefit. And it’s unlikely that Dipoto is done; Haniger, Seager and Felix Hernandez could very well be next. He’ll have to hope that his deals to date and future trades will quickly bear fruit, but this trade doesn’t provide much faith that better times are in store for the Mariners any time soon. As for the Phillies, they don’t need to wait: With Segura joining the team and more moves to come, the present and future are plenty bright in Philadelphia.

Grades

Phillies: A

Mariners: C-

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