Back on November 23rd, the Seattle Mariners sent pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger, and left-handed pitcher Zac Curtis. As with many off-season moves in baseball, when there’s nothing else to talk about in baseball, writers at many local and national outlets speculated about who had “won” the trade. Most of the discussion focused on whether Walker, a one-time highly touted prospect, would reach his potential with a change of scenery and whether Segura, coming off a career year, could maintain that level of production. A few astute analysts, like Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs, mused about whether the inclusion of Mitch Haniger in the deal was the real coup for the Mariners. So now that every team in baseball has played roughly thirty games, let’s take a look at how the pieces in the Mariners/Diamondbacks deal are panning out.
Two Pieces are in the Minors
Of the five players included in the November trade, two are currently in the minor leagues – Zac Curtis and Ketel Marte.
Curtis was expected to start in the minors, as he had only pitched 13.1 innings in the majors with the Diamondbacks in 2016 with a low 6.75 K/9 and an extremely high 8.75 BB/9. He clearly wasn’t ready to face big league hitting after just 19.2 innings at AA.
Marte, on the other hand, played 119 games for the Mariners in 2016. Granted, he generated -0.7 WAR by being bad offensively (3.9 BB% with .287 OBP) and, well, being bad defensively (-9.8 UZR/150 at SS). His presence in the majors last year probably said more about the lack of depth in the Mariners farm system than any great promise on Marte’s part.
So far this season, Curtis has pitched 14 innings for the AA Arkansas Travelers in the Texas League. He has recorded 3 saves with respectable 8.36 K/9 and 2.57 BB/9. He’ll turn 25 on July 4th, so there’s still a little more time for him to develop.
Marte finds himself in Reno playing for the AAA Aces in the Pacific Coast League. His .403/.448/.530 slash line looks impressive at first before you remember he’s putting up those numbers in the extremely hitter friendly PCL. Both Steamer and Depth Charts projections have Marte playing in about 25 games this season in the majors, so he’ll probably stay in the minors a full-season, joining the Diamondbacks after roster expansion.
How Has Taijuan Walker Faired in Arizona?
Chosen 43rd overall in the 2010 draft, Taijuan Walker was always considered a high upside starter in the Mariners organization. However, in a little over 300 innings in the majors Walker’s ERA remained north of 4 with FIP and xFIP pretty much concurring. After parts of three seasons, Walker had accumulated 3.2 WAR. But, going into the off-season, most Mariners fans assumed the 24-year-old would plug in as the two or the three in the rotation. GM Jerry Dipoto had different ideas, like shoring up the offense and defense at shortstop.
This season, Walker has started 7 games with the Diamondbacks, posting a 3.83 ERA. His FIP is half a run better at 3.36, but his xFIP is pretty similar to his ERA at 3.85. He currently has a 0.9 WAR, which if he were to make even 28 starts might approach 3 for the season. A nice number two for the D-Backs behind Zach Grienke.
Walker has pitched better on the road, including two starts in San Francisco and one at Dodger Stadium to post a 3.10 away ERA, compared to 4.58 at home that is probably a bit skewed by the 15-9 game against San Diego. So, all-in-all with the inclusion of some pretty pitcher friendly parks in the NL, Walker seems to have neither been a bust or a big steal for the Diamondbacks and definitely a justifiable and fair trade from their perspective.
How About the Hitters the Mariners Got?
One of the things that jumps off the leaderboard of Mariners hitters on FanGraphs is that the two pieces acquired in this trade are number one and number two, ahead of Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. Now we are only talking about 100 PA or so, but the returns so far have been good.
As of the first game of the series on the road at the Philadelphia Phillies, Jean Segura, who has spent a short stint on the DL, is hitting .376/.414/.516. For the more analytically inclined (like me), Segura has a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .404 (interpret the number as if were the same scale as OBP – .404 is really good) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 167, where 100 is league average and 167 is roughly 67% better than league average. Segura leads the Mariners offensive players with a WAR of 1.4.
Again, it’s early, but it’s reasonable to assume Dipoto thought Segura could come close to repeating last season’s break out when he hit .319/.368/.499, with a 126 wRC+, and 5.0 WAR. His torrid pace will regress, but the offense seems to be genuine at this point. What Dipoto might not have been able to predict is how good Mitch Haniger has been.
Haniger is hitting .338/.442/.600 with an outstanding .444 wOBA and an absolutely Ruthian 195 wRC+, which he’s definitely not going to maintain – he has just 95 PA – but is a hot start and a harbinger of things to come. He’s barely played 50 games in the big leagues and the 34 in Arizona produced .229/.309/.404, but as the sample size grows, Haniger should turn out to be a really good everyday player.
The projections going forward by Zips, Steamer, and Depth Charts have Haniger playing 92-99 more games with 390-400 more PA, while hitting 13-15 HR, scoring 47-50 more runs, and driving in 45-50 more runs. As a .250ish/.320ish/.430is hitter going forward, he should remain above league average in wRC+ and finish the season with around 3 WAR. Not bad for a piece of a trade that was probably not the focus of the casual fan.
Grade on the Trade So Far?
With the caveat that it’s extremely early and grades could change, it appears both the Diamondbacks and the Mariners got what they were looking for, with the Mariners maybe coming out on top if Haniger continues to pan out with above average hitting and solid defense in right field.
The Mariners have improved offensively, ranking fourth in the majors with 6.3 WAR, behind only the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and the surprising Cincinnati Reds. If Segura had enough PA to appear on the individual leaderboards, he’d be tied with Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians as the second most productive SS in baseball. And if Haniger qualified, he’d be tied with Steven Souza, Jr. of the Reds for third most offensively productive RF in baseball.
By FanGraphs defensive metric Def, the Mariners rank 9th in the majors and 5th in the AL. Segura does have enough innings in this category to rank 8th in the majors and 4th in the AL, while Haniger does not qualify and the Def stat, (oddly, isn’t listed on the player’s page for comparison to the leaderboard).But, his UZR/150 of 5.7 would put him around 11th in the Giancarlo Stanton neighborhood.
Ironically, the staple of recent Mariners teams – pitching – isn’t there yet, although it has been improving of late. So, could the Mariners have used Walker this season? Certainly. but the improvements at short and in right currently tip the scale on this trade to the Mariners. But, it is early.