Two things I think we can say about the Phillies' decision to acquire Jean Segura from the Mariners for first baseman Carlos Santana and shortstop J.P. Crawford.
1) The Phillies probably would not have made this move if they thought a deal for Manny Machado was likely.
2) The move itself has no impact on the likelihood of Machado’s playing shortstop for the Phillies.
The first observation is nearly self-explanatory. It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to take on a $14 million/year contract if you thought you were about to hand out out a separate $35-plus-million/year contract to another guy who plays the same primary position. Especially when you have two middle infielders still on your roster in Scott Kingery and Cesar Hernandez who play the one other position where Segura has spent significant time as a major leaguer.
Segura is not the sort of player, nor the sort of bargain, that would have demanded the Phillies make this move regardless of the context of their roster. Over the last two seasons, Segura ranks 11th among major-league middle infielders with 7.2 offensive WAR, 14th with a 111 OPS+, and 15th with a .345 OBP. All that considered, his current contract, a five-year, $70 million deal with a team option that runs through 2023, represents pretty fair value.
But when you look at the player and the price tag, I’m not sure he represents a big enough upgrade over Cesar Hernandez (6.0 WAR, 102 OPS+, .364 OBP) to warrant pouncing on him with the thought that he will eventually slide to second base.
It seems likely that the Phillies anticipate entering the season with Segura as their shortstop, with a series of other moves still yet to come. That being said, the fact that Segura played 142 games at second during his breakout 2016 campaign with the Diamondbacks suggests that the Phillies would be able to accommodate the arrival of Machado even if he insists on playing short. Here’s that word again: optionality.
A few other thoughts ...
1) This sets up a move for an outfielder more than anything else.
By parting ways with Santana, the Phillies would bid a merciful farewell to the Rhys Hoskins/left field experiment. In addition to facilitating a move back to their slugger’s natural position, the Phillies also open up a hole in the outfield that will likely need to be filled externally for them to get first-division production out of it. The Phillies still have Kingery and Nick Williams capable of playing the corners, but neither one has yet to offer the kind of offensive performance a playoff team needs out of those spots. The Phillies can probably get away with one of them, but not two.
All indications are that they plan on making -- or are already in the midst of making -- a determined effort to lure Bryce Harper to Philadelphia. Even if that fails, the top of the free agent market features a couple of other options in Michael Brantley and A.J. Pollock. I’m not sure Pollock will be worth the contract he is likely to be seeking, given his career .266/.324/.438 batting line outside of the launching pad that is Chase Field. Brantley might be the better option on a shorter term deal: over the last five seasons, he has compiled a .311/.371/.475 batting line, though he will be 32 years old in 2019.
2) J.P. Crawford is not a bad price to pay.
At some point, you have to acknowledge that a player simply did not develop into the hitter he had the potential to be. Maybe Crawford does in Seattle, but he didn’t in Philadelphia, and there were very few signs that a breakout was imminent. He was pretty much the same hitter at every level of the minor leagues: good OBP, good approach, but lacking the sort of pop that a big-league hitter needs in these modern times. He was a career .267/.366/.388 hitter in the minors. The only level at which he had an OPS higher than .769 was rookie ball. He just never improved.
If you squinted, you could talk yourself into thinking that he showed signs of emerging last season. In his last 28 games, he posted a .394 OBP and a .472 slugging percentage with seven extra-base hits in 53 at-bats. But that came almost exclusively against right-handed pitching, and in select spots. Crawford was just abysmal against lefties. He would finish his Phillies career with exactly four hits in 40 at-bats against southpaws. Nearly half those at-bats ended in strikeouts.
Granted, Crawford will be just 24 this season. Maybe he’ll end up adding the strength to the frame that he needs to be a legitimate part of a contending lineup. You can understand why Seattle might think he offers some untapped value. But if we told you a couple of years ago that Crawford would end up being traded for Segura, you’d have been disappointed.
3) The final verdict on the deal depends in large part on the cash involved in the transaction.
The Phillies would be taking on $60 million in guaranteed money in Segura, but they would be parting with $40 million in guaranteed money in Santana. Without any money accompanying Santana to Seattle, Segura would be a huge bargain at a net of $20 million over four years. It’s hard to imagine that will be the case, so it will be difficult to get a handle on just how much value the Phillies would be acquiring in Segura before we hear about the money that would change sides.
UPDATE, 6:47 p.m. -- Matt Klentak just finished his conference call, and it sounds like there is no money changing hands between the Phillies and the Mariners. Along with the $56 million remaining on Segura’s contract, the Phillies will take on the $8.5 million owed to reliever Juan Nicasio. With Santana’s $40 million going out, the Phillies are adding just $24.5 million in payroll over four years.
In the end, the Phillies are acquiring an above-average bat with a reasonable salary at a premium position while clearing up one of the biggest bottlenecks on their roster (first base), at the expense of a young player who was one more season away from reaching sunk-cost status. Time will be the ultimate judge, but given what we know, this would seem to be a perfectly reasonable move.