Not much has gone right for the Diamondbacks this year. A.J. Pollock has been hurt the entire season, Zack Greinke has had a tough season with his new team, and the Shelby Miller trade absolutely backfired (as many predicted). As a result of this, the Diamondbacks are nowhere near the playoffs. Despite an overall disappointing year, there have been a couple bright spots for the team. Jake Lamb is having a breakout season, and Jean Segura has been one of the best offensive second basemen in the league. I’m going to focus on Segura’s impressive play, as Lamb was expected to be a major contributor this year, and the Diamondbacks’ front office (mainly Dave Stewart and Tony LaRussa) was highly criticized for acquiring Segura to improve their offense.
As usual, let’s start with the numbers. Segura is batting .318/.365/.473 with 11 home runs, 49 RBI, 27 steals, and 156 hits, which is the most in the National League. Baseball-Reference has him pegged at 3.8 WAR, which would make Segura the 6th-best second baseman in baseball. He’s tied with DJ Lemahieu, and ranks higher than Logan Forsythe, Jason Kipnis, and Daniel Murphy. If he can produce about 1 WAR over the last 40-ish games of the season, Segura will be a 5-win player for the Diamondbacks. To put it plainly, he’s been a very good player. Not quite MVP good, but certainly better than average.
Before I get into why the D-Backs fared so well in the trade to acquire Segura, we have to look at the trade itself. On January 30th, the D-Backs struck a deal with the Brewers, sending veteran second baseman Aaron Hill, starting pitcher Chase Anderson, and infield prospect Isan Diaz to Milwaukee in exchange for Segura and a talented right hander by the name of Tyler Wagner. On the Brewers’ side of things, Hill is a free agent at the end of the season, while Anderson is under control for four more years, and of course Diaz is yet to start his Major League playing clock. As for Arizona, Segura comes with two additional years of team control and Wagner is under contract until 2021.
In trading Aaron Hill, the D-Backs relieved a bit of salary (roughly $6 million) while at the same time opening up a roster spot for someone that isn’t in his mid-thirties, and in decline. It turned out Hill had something left in the tank, as he batted .283/.359/.421 to go along with 8 homers in 78 games for Milwaukee before being traded to the Red Sox. Even though the Brewers managed to turn Hill into two more mid-tier prospects, I still feel the D-Backs were smart to trade him when they did. It also might be worth mentioning that neither of those prospects – Aaron Wilkerson and Wendell Rijo – have played well since joining the Brewers’ organization.
Chase Anderson’s involvement in this trade is where things get interesting. The D-Backs could have kept him around as a depth piece, but Anderson’s value is mostly in the form of team control, as he is a mediocre pitcher at best. For the first two seasons of his career Anderson kept his ERA in the low-4.00 range, struck out less than a batter per inning, and gave up his share of home runs. After adding Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to their rotation, the team felt comfortable letting him go.
As a rebuilding club, the Brewers got what they wanted in Anderson: cheap pitching to eat up innings over the next few season. It makes sense that they’re not trading for an ace right now, considering they’re several years from contention. Plus, have you seen the pitching market these days? Despite his decline in performance this year (4.93 ERA while surrendering 21 HR in 111.1 IP), Anderson still provides the Brewers with a useful piece to their rebuilding puzzle. I imagine that including Anderson in this deal is how Arizona netted Tyler Wagner, whom they’re surely glad to have moving forward.
After the deal was done, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Fangraphs (to name a few) all anticipated that the D-Backs would regret the decision to trade for Segura. Many were quick to lump this trade in with the Shelby Miller deal, and said it made no sense. As has been customary lately, Dave Stewart was depicted as a fool for his comments:
“I think we all had a little bit of discomfort in where we were offensively and had been seeking to add a little bit more offense, if we could…Jean Segura has been a pretty good offensive player in the past. He’s been an All-Star and is a very good defender. And he’s a guy we can hit in the top of the order, if we choose to. With an opportunity to make a move like that, we felt that we would do it.”
To be fair, he didn’t say all that much. Stewart mentioned that Segura could improve the team’s offense, he mentioned that he is a former All-star, and he said the word “defense”. As I’ve stated before, the Diamondbacks appear to be taking a different approach to PR than most teams. Rather than giving people any sort of insight into their internal process, Dave Stewart is throwing everyone off of their trail. To me it’s a poker face, rather than a lack of diligence.
With that being said, I understand why Stewart was criticized so much for the trade. The D-Backs were making questionable moves at that time, and it was easy to write off this deal as another misstep in the team’s front office. No one was counting on Segura rebounding this year. As many pointed out, he hadn’t been a productive hitter since the first half of 2013. We’re talking about a player with a career .698 OPS in almost four season’s worth of games, and that includes this year’s major bump in production.
Though this is pretty intangible, my best guess would be that Segura was in need of a change of scenery. He only really played well for half of a season in Milwaukee, and they are now in the midst of a rebuild. To me, a rebuilding team isn’t the best place for someone like Segura – an experienced player on the downward trend – to be getting much attention. They’re probably more focused on collecting minor league talent and shedding salary, than fixing Segura’s swing. When you combine that set of circumstances with the death of Segura’s 9-month old son in 2014, it becomes clear that Milwaukee just wasn’t an environment he was going to thrive in. Time and time-again, the best players in the game have talked about how important the right mindset is to having success, and Segura was in the wrong mindset during his time with the Brewers.
The D-Backs front office surely made a misstep or two this past offseason, but the acquisition of Jean Segura was not one of them. Rather than having a declining 30+ second baseman and a below-average pitcher in their rotation, they’ve got 2 more seasons of 26 year-old Jean Segura, who is suddenly one of the best two-baggers in the game, as well as an interesting young arm in Tyler Wagner for the future. I’m not saying the Brewers lost this trade (because they still got what they wanted), but looking back now, the Diamondbacks fared quite well in the Jean Segura trade.