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Larry Stone: Mariners’ 2016 trade for Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura changed course of franchise

UPDATED: Tue., July 17, 2018, 8:06 p.m.

Seattle Mariners’ Mitch Haniger (17) is greeted at the plate by Jean Segura, right, after Haniger hit a two-run home run to score Segura and tie the  game against the Detroit Tigers 2-2 in the ninth inning on May 20 in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
Seattle Mariners’ Mitch Haniger (17) is greeted at the plate by Jean Segura, right, after Haniger hit a two-run home run to score Segura and tie the game against the Detroit Tigers 2-2 in the ninth inning on May 20 in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

WASHINGTON – Mitch Haniger’s first reaction was pure shock. Jean Segura’s was pure joy.

It was Nov. 23, 2016, the day before Thanksgiving, and both got the call from Arizona general manager Mike Hazen that they were Diamondbacks no longer. Haniger and Segura had been traded to the Mariners, along with since-departed pitcher Zac Curtis, for pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte.

Sitting side by side Monday during media day for the All-Star Game, Haniger and Segura looked back at the blockbuster trade that changed their lives, and changed the course of the Mariners.

“It was a good trade for (Mariners general manager) Jerry (Dipoto),” Segura said. “Think about it now – we’re both in the All-Star Game. He did a great job. I don’t think when he made that trade anyone expected me and Mitch were going to be here in the All-Star Game.”

Segura had made it with Milwaukee in 2013 and probably should have done so in 2016 with the Diamondbacks when he played second base, hit .319 and led the National League with 203 hits. The Mariners told him he was moving back to shortstop, which caused skepticism among some analysts but thrilled Segura nearly as much as being alongside his close friend, Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano.

“My reaction to the trade was positive, because I was going to be around one of the best players in baseball, Robby, and it was going to be a new team for me,” Segura said. “It was very special to get to be around one of the best second basemen in baseball for many years to come.”

The “many years to come” part was secured last June when Dipoto signed Segura to a five-year, $70 million contract extension. He hit .300 last year and brings a .323 average into this year’s All-Star Game.

“I’ve found a home here,” Segura said. “I mean, I’ve already bought a home in Seattle. I really love being in Seattle, I love the people, I love the city, and it feels like home for me.”

Haniger was the complete wild card in the trade, a promising young player who had torn up the minors in 2016 but hit just .229 in a 34-game showcase with the Diamondbacks. The shock Haniger said he experienced initially was quickly replaced by the recognition that, at age 26, he finally was going to get a chance to play every day.

That’s the conclusion Haniger drew after talking to Dipoto and his agents, and reflecting on the teams’ rosters.

“The Diamondbacks had so much outfield talent at the time, so I was probably a guy they were OK parting ways with,” he said. “For me, it was probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me in my career, just getting a chance to be an everyday outfielder.”

Of course, there was much consternation in Seattle about giving up Walker, in particular, with the risk that his undeniable talent would blossom elsewhere. It has happened before, after all. That concern was shared by Dipoto, who admitted last week it was hard to pull the trigger on the trade, “because it is so hard to get and maintain young, controllable pitching. It was tough to do, but in the end, we were committed to it.”

What pushed the Mariners over the top was their zeal for Haniger, whom Dipoto had coveted since he was a first-round draft pick by the Brewers in 2012. Dipoto, then the Angels’ GM, didn’t have a chance to select Haniger, but he tucked away the name.

“When you go into every draft, there’s a number of players you start to gravitate toward because their tool box starts to fill up,” Dipoto said. “History has taught me there are not many five-tool guys, and that’s the way we saw him in the 2012 draft. That’s the way our scouts saw him, and when I got here I found out that’s also the way the Mariners’ scouts assessed him. He always remained on our radar.”

The Mariners scout who saw Haniger in Arizona, Chris Pelekoudas, gave a positive review. Dipoto contacted an old friend, Phil Nevin, who had recently become a Giants coach after managing Haniger in Triple-A, to get his opinion. Nevin sent a text that said, “All-Star. Book it.” A few moments later, Nevin sent Dipoto back another text that said, “Good enough to win Gold Gloves.”

“It’s easy (to make the trade) when people believe in you,” Dipoto said. “When you have that kind of ability, you trust the makeup and quality of performance at the next level.”

As for Segura, Dipoto said he felt confident his offensive skills would translate to the Mariners.

“The only thing he’s done that exceeded our expectation is how quickly he adapted himself back to shortstop,” Dipoto said. “The offensive end, he’s been doing this for three years now. It’s who Jean is.”

It’s dangerous, of course, to come to definitive conclusions about trades too early, as the results can fluctuate. Last year, the Diamondbacks were feeling good about the deal from their standpoint. Walker was a steady starter for a division-winning team, and Marte, who began the season in the minors, played so well amid a series of injuries to their shortstops that they signed him to a five-year extension during spring training in 2018.

This year, however, Walker made just three starts before suffering an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Marte has played mostly second base and is hitting just .238, though he leads the National League with eight triples and has hit nine homers.

Dipoto takes no joy in those who say he fleeced the Diamondbacks. One because he doesn’t believe it, and two, because he says that’s not the way he operates.

“I think you want trades to work out for both teams,” he said. “That’s part of why we trade in volume. We’re not looking to drill anyone. We’re looking to make fair trades and not looking to acquire a dollar by trading a dime. You don’t make many deals if you operate that way.

“Taijuan was very good last year, and the future of Ketel is very bright. That’s why they locked him up. I hope it’s win-win. That means it worked for everyone.”

Down the road, the dynamics of this deal might be regarded in an entirely different way. Nevertheless, Mariners designated hitter and All-Star Nelson Cruz on Monday offered a glowing assessment of the trade as it stands, gesturing to his left at Segura and Haniger.

“Those two have been a huge part of our success,” he said. “They’re the heart of the team, the heart of the lineup, and they play really good defense. So it’s definitely a trade if you look at it from that point right now, we win.”


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