D-backs bolster rotation in Taijuan Walker-Jean Segura trade, bet on infield depth
PHOENIX — Jean Segura’s 200-hit season hardly lasted as a prelude to a great Diamondbacks career.
The prized player in a rare steal of a trade by Arizona’s old front office regime 10 months prior was repurposed by the new staff on Thanksgiving eve. General manager Mike Hazen dealt Segura to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Taijuan Walker and infielder Ketel Marte.
“Certainly gave up a very good player in Jean,” Hazen said on a conference call late Wednesday. “You don’t really take that lightly.”
In the trade, which also saw 25-year-old OF Mitch Haniger and 24-year-old LHP Zac Curtis head to Seattle, the D-backs bet on their young middle infielder depth that includes Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings, Brandon Drury and now, the 23-year-old Marte. The newcomer, in his first full season in MLB last year, showed well with a .259 average and high upside in the field despite inconsistencies.
“Our scouts loved his ability, his athleticism in the middle of the field,” Hazen said. “He’s such a young kid still at this stage in the game. I think he adds a lot in our middle infield, into that mix, in that group.”
Hazen sees Marte as either a shortstop or second baseman. Although a competition was sure to ensue at both positions, Arizona has promising options returning next season.
“It certainly helps to deal with a position of strength. I think that was definitely part of the factor,” Hazen said of the remaining infield depth. “That was a small piece to this, yes.”
But the 24-year-old Walker, who still has developing to do, is the meat in the deal.
Despite his career 4.18 ERA, the right-hander brings power with his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame — Walker struck out 119 batters at nearly eight batters per nine frames — and control by walking just 2.48 batters per nine. Only Zack Greinke (2.33) kept balls in the zone better for Arizona last year as four D-backs starters sat in the top-21 in MLB at 3.80 or above.
“It’s not one of those guys you’re able to acquire all the time,” Hazen said of Walker. “When we looked at, you know, the pitching that’s out on the market, we felt like this was an opportunity we had to take right now.
“It takes a lot of starting pitching to get through a season.”
Arizona certainly learned that in 2016 with injuries hitting starters Greinke, Shelby Miller and Rubby De La Rosa. Miller, Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray additionally fought a variety of production issues during the disappointing 69-93 campaign.
To add another strong arm to the rotation, the Diamondbacks first engaged in trade talks with the Mariners at the MLB meetings from Nov. 7-10. That’s when Hazen and Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto began tossing out ideas, and quickly, each teams’ need became clear — infield talent for the Mariners and pitching for the D-backs.
The teams began exchanging specific players they’d be interested in when Hazen was in the Dominican Republic last week, the GM said, and talks died down for a few days thereafter.
“It picked back up today and went fairly quickly today,” Hazen said Wednesday.
Hazen said it’s much too early to read into how the Diamondbacks’ rotation could shake out.
At the core of the deal, it comes down to Arizona believing in its infielders up the middle — Drury’s post-All-Star surge helped as he slashed .296/.352/.469, numbers better than Paul Goldschmidt — but most importantly, striking at an opportunity to add another option to the obvious priority. That’s on the mound.
Walker adds to Arizona’s heat with a 94.3 mph average fastball, and the D-backs believe his development hasn’t plateaued.
“He’s got power stuff. We’ve seen that,” Hazen said. “He’s sort of like a prototypical starting pitcher that you want to have in your rotation. He’s still growing into his abilities as a starter pitcher. He’s still going to be 24 this year, which I think from a starting pitching standpoint is still young in terms of development and where he is.”