When Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto announced that he would be leading the charge on a rebuild, it was a surprise to nobody when he put his foot the the pedal within a matter of days. After having already dealt Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, and James Paxton, he reached a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies to acquire first baseman Carlos Santana and former top-ten prospect J.P. Crawford in exchange for shortstop Jean Segura, right-handed pitcher Juan Nicasio, and lefty James Pazos.
The thing that I found interesting about this trade was that it was a depiction of placement. While Crawford has an obviously high ceiling, the Phillies will head into 2018 with a legitimate chance to make a run at the National League East and can’t necessarily afford to wait and see whether Crawford pans out. Meanwhile, the rebuilding Mariners don’t have much to lose in giving him every opportunity to succeed. Crawford, who will turn 24 this year, has always shown excellent plate discipline and has typically been considered a solid defender, despite poor marks in his first brief showing in the majors. The contact ability has always been a bit streaky, but if it clicks, the Mariners could be looking at a .280/.400/.400 type player. He had some injury issues in 2018, mainly with his wrist, but hopefully with an offseason’s rest, he can return to full strength.
Meanwhile, Segura represents a perfect fit for the Phillies. The window for competition has just opened in Philadelphia, meaning that their best bet was to acquire a player who can be there for the long haul. Segura, who is just 28 years old, will be under team control through 2023, making a reasonable $14.85 million annually through 2022 with a $17 million team option in 2023 with a $1 million buyout. For a team in one of the largest media markets in the country, this figure is rather economical in comparison to signing free agent Manny Machado. Segura has played in two All-Star games and can be expected to play average to above-average defense at shortstop while bringing with him excellent contact ability, great speed, and power that could play up at Citizens Bank Park. The biggest concern that I have regarding Segura is his plate discipline, as he walked just 5.1 percent of the time. Luckily for the Phillies, the contract only extends to the end of his prime, as the club option covers his age-33 season. The hope is that he can sustain his contact tool through the end of the deal, which seems reasonable to bet on, as his BABIP numbers have been rather neutral.
In an attempt to even out salaries, the Mariners took on first baseman Santana while the Phillies added Nicasio. While Santana’s batting average wasn’t great last season, his plate discipline is elite, and his strikeout numbers are exceptionally low, which is especially impressive for a power hitter. He slashed .229/.352/.414 with 110 walks to just 93 strikeouts to go along with 24 home runs over 679 plate appearances with the Phillies. The biggest problem with his short-lived tenure in Philadelphia was that he didn’t fit well taking position into account. While the Phillies free up about $41.2 million over the next season, the most important aspect to his part of the trade is that Rhys Hoskins can move back to first base. The benefit here is obvious improvement defensively, and possible offensive improvement, as Hoskins is back at a position that is more comfortable for him. Another side here is that there is now a hole in the outfield. With the salary relief, it could put them in a better position to accommodate Bryce Harper.
Meanwhile, the Mariners get a veteran who has been a noted clubhouse leader in Santana. He will probably serve as the designated hitter with the Mariners and could be a trade chip at some point over the next two seasons. One thing to note about this rebuild is that the Mariners have been acquiring major league or nearly major league ready talent, which could put them in a position to compete sooner rather than later. Santana could serve as a key piece to the next competitive Mariners team, as he’s under guaranteed contract through the 2020 season with an option for 2021.
As for Nicasio, this will be his second stint in Philadelphia. The Phillies took advantage of a mistake by the Pirates over the summer of 2017, claiming Nicasio off of outright waivers after he had posted a 2.85 ERA with a 3.02 FIP over 60 innings with the Pirates that season. His stint in Philadelphia lasted one week, when he was traded to the Cardinals for Eliezer Alvarez. Nicasio became a free agent following the 2017 season and signed a two-year contract with the Mariners worth $17 million. While his first season in Seattle didn’t necessarily impress, as he posted a 6.00 ERA, every one of his peripherals suggest that he will improve in 2018. He posted an excellent 2.99 FIP, while opposing hitters posted a .402 BABIP. Furthermore, his left-on-base percentage was well below average at 58.1 percent and his walk and strikeout rates were career bests, as he struck out 11.36 per nine innings next to just 1.07 walks per nine. While he’s rather expensive, making $9.25 million in 2019, he should serve in an important middle relief role for the Phillies.
Finally, the Phillies managed to add an exceptional third piece in Pazos. Pazos is a guy who I have been a fan of since he was with the Yankees. The 27-year-old posted a strong 2.88 ERA with a 3.60 FIP over 50 innings pitched. One thing to note here was the fact that his velocity dropped a bit as the season progressed, but with the move to Philly, he joins a much deeper bullpen which will allow him to receive more rest than he did with the Mariners. I would expect him to serve in a middle relief role for the Phillies in 2019. He will remain under the control of the Phillies through the 2022 season.
An indirect beneficiary of this trade is Phillies closer Seranthony Dominguez. Dominguez burst on the scene last year as a top relief arm in Philly, but he saw his production decrease as the season wore on. Dominguez had pitched just 67.2 innings as a starter the season before, and he wound up pitching 58 innings as a reliever, but the difference here is between the roles. When starting, pitchers don’t necessarily throw quite as hard, as the focus is more on durability, but relievers throw gas during shorter stints. That added strain on his arm definitely resulted in fatigue and dead-arm as the season progressed. This season, he should be able to rest a bit more as Nicasio and Pazos add more depth.
This deal looks to me like a clear win for the Phillies. Not only did they acquire more players, but they acquired players who bring a level of security that Crawford couldn’t bring. Furthermore, they clear out log-jams throughout the diamond and add depth where needed. While Crawford could be a huge factor in the Mariners’ success over the next six plus seasons, there is no guarantee that his bat will play in the majors. Santana should help them, but as a rebuilding team, his value is more obvious in the present as opposed to the future.