When the Dave Stewart era is viewed by history, it’s likely that our former GM will be pilloried for some trades and signings that proved to be dismal failures for the Diamondbacks. But, in fairness, there was one trade which, if looked at in isolation, would give the impression that Stewart was a genius. On January 30, this deal went down:
The Milwaukee Brewers trade Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Isan Diaz, Chase Anderson, Aaron Hill and $5.5m cash.
At the time, it seemed almost like a salary dump, as the team saved about half of the $12 million due to Hill in 2016, and swapped under-performing middle-infielders. After an All-Star season in 2013, Segura had been terrible in 2014-15, posting a combined .615 OPS and been worth just 0.6 bWAR/0.3 fWAR. But that was still rather better than the awfulness of Aaron. While Hill’s offense was a little better (OPS .648), his defense was dreadful, and his overall value over the preceding two seasons was below replacement level (-1.5 bWAR/-0.8 fWAR). Being able to clear the decks, and get a couple of player with pulses back, even at $5.5m in cost, was an okay return.
Pundit reaction was mixed, however. SI’s Cliff Corcoran called it a “head-scratcher,” and said “Segura would have to become a completely different hitter to be a better option than the infielders Arizona already had.” And a certain ESPN pundit said, “The Diamondbacks flat-out lost this deal” and “Segura once had promise, but two and a half years of lacking performance has wiped that out.” However, it appears Segura did indeed become a completely different player - both physically and mentally. To take the latter first, in July 2014, Jean’s nine-month old son suddenly died, and the weight seemed to sit heavily on Segura’s shoulders for the rest of his time in Milwaukee. His former manager Ron Roenicke made a prediction in February which proved accurate:
“I think the change will do him good... (Segura) needs to be happy. He plays better when he’s happy. When he first came over (in the trade), he was smiling all the time. You’d walk by him in the batting cage, and he would be smiling, laughing. You didn’t see that much from him in ’14 and the beginning of ’15 (while Roenicke was still manager). Being around guys who are relaxed and having fun, that’s what makes me think he can get to back where he was.”
But it wasn’t all in the mind. Less than a week into the season, Alec Dopp noticed a clear difference in Jean’s mechanics at the plate. His summary said that Segura “appears more comfortable at the plate, employing a more fluid progression from leg kick to the loading of his hands.” Ken Rosenthal in particular noted Segura lowering his hands. The player said, “With my hands lower, I don’t have to go down and then go up to hit the ball. I go directly to the ball. I do everything in one motion instead of doing it three times. When I attacked the ball with my hands up, I had to go down, go up again and swing.” But it wasn’t an easy transition, said Segura. “We did it every day for three months. To be honest, the first time I didn’t feel comfortable.”
By Opening Day, he had clearly got used to it. For Segura started the season with five consecutive multi-hit games, becoming the first major-leaguer to do that since 2010 and setting a new franchise record. He went 11-for-22 with three home-runs there, and ended April with a line of .333/.362/.523. With a BABIP of .359, many wondered if it was just an illusion, but the longer the season went on, the more confident we were that this was the real deal. Segura’s lowest batting average for a calendar month was .278 in May, quite remarkable considering his overall BA in 2014-15 was .252. Every other month, he was above .300, and ended the year at .319/.368/.499, becoming only the second D-back ever to notch 200 hits in a season, finishing on 203.
He also set career highs in runs (102), homers (20), RBI (64), walks (39) and stole 33 bases. All told, Segura was worth a team-high 5.7 bWAR and 5.0 fWAR. For the record, the players that went to Milwaukee returned as follows in bWAR/fWAR for 2016: Aaron Hill 1.2/1.1 and Chase Anderson 1.0/0.6. [Diaz is still the #4 Brewers’ prospect, but even he took a step back in A-ball, with his BA dropping by close to 100 points and his OPS almost .250]. So on 2016 major-league production, Arizona won by about 3-3.5 wins, and were also then able to spin Segura into Taijuan Walker, another player who appears to have potential upside.
Yes, it was a dismal season in general for Arizona fans. But Jean Segura gave us a genuine leadoff hitter, a second-baseman with a shortstop’s arm and a man whose enthusiasm for the game was both infectious and obvious. So long, Jean, and thanks for all the hits...