The Mariners and Diamondbacks completed one of the largest trades of the young offseason last night, as Seattle sent right-hander Taijuan Walker and infielder Ketel Marte to Arizona in exchange for shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger and lefty reliever Zac Curtis in a trade that should have a longstanding impact on each organization. The lack of available starting pitching, both in free agency and in trades, has been well documented and played a role in the deal for both teams, as Arizona GM Mike Hazen and Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto explained to reporters in a pair of Wednesday night conference calls (links via Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic and Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times).
“When we looked at the pitching that’s out on the market, we felt like this was an opportunity we had to take right now,” said Hazen of the trade. “Obviously, Jean is a great fit for them and was for us, but in order for us to get a starting pitcher the caliber of Taijuan, we felt like this was the opportunity we had to take given the market. It takes a lot of starting pitching to get through the season.”
Indeed, the D-backs will add Walker to a rotation mix that features Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, Rubby De La Rosa, Braden Shipley and Archie Bradley. The magnitude of this trade and Walker’s solid results to this point in his career — 4.18 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 41.5 percent ground-ball rate in 357 innings — should effectively guarantee him a spot in new manager Torey Lovullo’s rotation. Piecoro projects Walker to be joined by Greinke, Miller, Corbin and Ray on that front, and the remaining three righties could serve as either bullpen pieces, depth options in the minors or trade fodder thanks to the increased depth brought by Walker’s acquisition. Parting with Walker was painful for the Mariners, Dipoto admitted.
“It’s always hard when you give up talent like Taijuan,” said Dipoto. “You have to give to get and in this case we feel like we are getting a little bit more of a known commodity and we understand that Taijuan takes with him the upside to achieve something greater than we’ve seen. I know that’s real. At some point, Tai is going to put it all together and he will find himself as a pitcher.’
Walker, though, was only one part of the equation for the Snakes, and Hazen sounded excited about the opportunity to add a high-upside middle infielder like Marte. The switch-hitting 24-year-old already has parts of two MLB seasons under his belt, and though his sophomore campaign didn’t live up to a tremendous rookie season that came at the age of 21 (.283/.351/.402, two homers, eight steals in 247 plate appearances), Marte still carries plenty of upside and could be a long-term piece at shortstop or at second base.
“We think there’s definitely some upside in the bat and the defensive ability, and the speed and the athleticism,” said Hazen of Marte. And, as Piecoro notes, the trade could free up some at-bats for Brandon Drury (at second base), which Hazen acknowledged was a contributing factor in the decision. Drury hit .282/.329/.458 in his rookie season last year, showing great promise at the plate, but the presence of Segura at second base and Jake Lamb at third base pushed the natural infielder to left field. Drury struggled in left (-7 in both DRS and UZR), but he’ll have an opportunity to compete for regular time at second base next year.
Both GMs noted that Segura comes with significant appeal, and Dipoto offered confidence that his new shortstop’s 2016 breakout wasn’t a flash in the pan. “Segura was one of the premiere offensive players in the Majors last season,” said the second-year Mariners GM. “His combination of average, power and speed is extremely difficult to find, especially at a position like shortstop and at the top of our lineup. We believe pairing him with Robinson Canó gives us tremendous offensive potential in the middle of our infield.”
The Mariners, though, acquired a pair of pieces that could contribute to the team as soon as the 2017 season as well in Haniger and Curtis. Their proximity to the Majors also played a role in making this trade, according to Dipoto, who spoke quite highly of Haniger in particular. “We see Haniger as a high-ceiling prospect who projects to join our outfield as soon as next season, while Zac Curtis’ track record in the minors gives us great confidence in his future as a big league pitcher,” Dipoto explained.
While neither Haniger nor Curtis has been regarded as a premium prospect, Haniger laid waste to the admittedly hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last year, batting .341/.428/.670 with 20 homers in just 312 Triple-A plate appearances. With Nori Aoki departing via waivers while Franklin Gutierrez hits the open market and Stefen Romero heads to Japan, the Mariners have some outfield at-bats up for grabs. The right-handed-hitting Haniger could complement lefty swingers Ben Gamel and Seth Smith quite nicely in the corners, and his Triple-A success lends some hope to his ability to be a starter.
As for the lost rotation depth, Dipoto expressed confidence that the organization has enough remaining talent to survive a full season, but he also acknowledged that he’ll pursue additional help. “We are going to look at the free agent market,” he said. “We are certainly not opposed at potential for trades. We still feel like in the big picture that we are 10-11 deep with guys that we feel secure in starting a Major League game. We are comfortable with that group, but we’d like to augment it.”
While the trade market offers a limitless number of avenues for upgrade, free agency brings a lesser supply. Rich Hill, Jason Hammel and Ivan Nova are the top three starters on this year’s free-agent market, though Seattle’s pitcher-friendly environment could certainly be an appealing setting for one of the numerous rebound candidates that are available. Names like Brett Anderson and Derek Holland are both available, as are former Angels C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver, each of whom pitched for Dipoto’s teams in Anaheim.