Thanksgiving Eve 2016.
It is late at night and I’m in a burrito shop in Camas. My phone begins buzzing uncontrollably. After swiping away a few emails and push notifications, I scan through the three new text messages.
“Who in the hell is Mitch Haniger?”
I flip to the next one.
I flip to the next one.
Emoji vomit consisting primarily of a variety of sad faces and flames.
I clearly missed something.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners set fire to the hot stove that November night, pulling off a massive five-player trade just hours before families began preparing Thanksgiving feasts. Every single player involved had major league experience. Every single player involved seemed important. Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte were being packed up in a box and shipped to Arizona. Heading to the Pacific Northwest would be shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger, and reliever Zac Curtis. Twitter was freaking out. The LL Slack was freaking out. I had just fought my way through pouring rain and relentless traffic from Corvallis to Camas in a record time of (for all the wrong reasons) four hours, was exhausted, and was still freaking out. There was a lot to process.
Months have gone by since that night, when all the takes and all the thoughts and all the shouting matches and all the goodbyes went down with the utmost authority. As we’ve all seen in Seattle, the Mariners’ return has worked out fairly well. Even with his recent struggles, Mitch Haniger has been a solid presence in right field, posting a 129 wRC+ and 1.1 fWAR in 49 games. Jean Segura has finally brought life to the leadoff spot, slashing .348/.388/.479 over 63 games. Zac Curtis has been one of the best arms in Double-A Arkansas’ bullpen, with brief cups of coffee mixed in.
In an effort to find out how things have been going on the other side of the trade–the Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte side of it–I turned to friend and wonderful baseball mind Jeff Wiser of Inside the ‘Zona (an Arizona Diamondbacks site that is a part of ESPN’s SweetSpot Network). Wiser has provided in-depth, analytical and scout-based coverage of the Diamondbacks over at Inside the ‘Zona since August 2013 and was able to give us plenty of insight into both the Mariners’ and Diamondbacks’ haul.
Below, you’ll find the highlights of our hour-long discussion, transcribed as accurately as humanly possible by myself with some changes made for clarity’s sake. Below the wall of text will be an audio file of the conversation, if you’d prefer to just listen to the whole, raw recording right up front.
Ethan: You, at that time had the unique perspective of [paying] attention to both the Dbacks and Mariners. So, what were your thoughts initially when the trade went down?
Jeff: Yeah, I mean I grew up a Mariners fan and now I’ve been covering the Diamondbacks pretty much exclusively for the last, I’d say, going on five years now. It’s always conflicting when two teams you like make a deal like that...If the Dbacks made a trade with the Yankees, I’m just like, “oh yeah, let’s fleece those guys”. They make a trade with the Mariners, I’m like “oh god I hope this is pretty even.”
Ethan: And this wasn’t an insignificant trade...this was high quality players going both ways.
Jeff: We don’t see a lot of these kinds of deals in baseball. So many of the trades we see anymore...are like deadline-focused or offseason trades that are kind of salary dump-ish.
Jeff mentions the Michael Pineda and Jesus Montero trade. We share a moment of silence.
Ethan: You guys picked up Ketel Marte and Tai Walker in this trade. Walker has been good for you guys, right?
Jeff: He has been good, and it’s been really nice for Arizona because this is the year where a lot of the rotation has clicked and Walker is just one of those guys who is working out...There have been some minor tweaks and changes as his process is one that is always sort of evolving. It looks like he is really settled in with the mechanics–they’re more consistent now. When the trade happened I broke down some video from, you know, last year in Seattle where it was like “okay, this is what he looked like midseason”, then he got kinda hot towards the end of the season. It’s a really different setup on the mound, and now he’s kinda settled into a groove. He’s getting more ground balls, which is helpful. What is a bit of a surprise, to me, is his home run totals are way down.
Ethan: Yeah, when you go from Safeco to Chase, you don’t expect the best.
Jeff: He has survived. He’s done a good job and I think, you know, avoiding the homers has been a huge, huge boost. Even when you look at his stats from before, they’re fine, but just by eliminating the home runs, a lot of other stuff comes into alignment. If that’s a real thing and not just luck, then he looks really good for Arizona. You know, he had thrown that cutter, and he’s kinda turned it more into a slider. It’s got a little bit more horizontal movement and it has a little bit more, I shouldn’t say sink, I should say, I guess, it has a little less rise. That’s been an effective pitch for him. It’s the same thing you’ve seen in the past: it’s a lot of fastballs up in the zone to kinda get ahead of guys and just looking to throw a breaking pitch to get outs or he’ll go right back up in there to try and blow guys away. It’s a little scary; sometimes I feel like he’s sorta pitching on the edge...but it’s been productive and good so far.
Ethan: He was never bad in Seattle. I mean, he had bad starts, but it’s not like he was a disaster. He was just never able to stabilize himself. He never got to a point where it was like “okay, this is who he is and this is what we can expect him to be.”
Jeff: He’s been more consistent this year. I think a lot of his starts have been, you know, there’ve been a couple that have actually been pretty dominant. I’m just looking at his game log. I mean, he’s only had one start all year where he didn’t give up any earned runs. He’s given up earned runs in 13 of 14 starts, but a lot of them are like 2, 1, 3, 2, 1, so, he’s kinda hanging in there.
Ethan: (after some ranting about how it didn’t seem like it was going to work out for him in Seattle) I did not believe he would get it turned around this quickly in Arizona.
Jeff: Frankly, it’s like everything has worked this year in Arizona. There are parts of that that look like they are approach oriented with the new regime and a new emphasis on analytics and data. So, parts of that seem by design and other parts of it seem by luck, but either way, it seems like everything has worked...Walker has become sort of the anchor piece...
We discuss Zunino’s defensive issues, Chris Iannetta, and very briefly Steve Clevenger.
Ethan: You guys also got Ketel in that trade.
Jeff: I like Ketel, man.
Ethan: Yeah, he’s a really fun player. High energy, lots of line drives when he’s locked in. Some pop in his bat. He hit a 460-foot homer the other day, didn’t he?
Jeff: Yeah, he hit a huge one.
Ethan: That’s ridiculous. I can’t imagine Ketel Marte hitting a 460-foot home run, but he did it.
Jeff: Squaring it up, man.
Ethan: He went down to Triple-A and was just bozonkers this year, right?
Jeff: Yeah, they just couldn’t get him out. At times, like, well into the season, he was hitting near or even at .400. And I know that the PCL is totally weird and it is what it is, but for awhile there he was hitting in the .380s. But yeah, just crushing it. Showing a little bit of pop...Still stealing bases and doing those things. So, I mean it’s been really impressive and he’s kinda come up to the majors and he’s only played like ten games, but aside from the home run hasn’t really done a ton. But, at the very least he looks kinda replacement-level fill-in-ish.
Ethan: And when he’s not making, you know, the boneheaded mistakes, the defense is perfectly fine. He has the athleticism to really cover the position.
Jeff: Yeah, it’ll be good to see more from him. I’ll be really honest, almost all of the defense I’ve seen from him has been from when he was in Seattle...but the defense is fine. He actually got some time at third base the other day. I think they’re going to want to move him around and see if he can be that kind of utility guy.
I mention him playing center field in the Mariners organization and drag his shortstop defense a little. We continue discussing him as a utility candidate.
Jeff: I think that’s the kind of role that makes sense for where he is right now. He’s a guy where, ever since his breakout rookie year has sort of struggled to hit. You know, he hasn’t hit well for the Dbacks necessarily in his limited time. I think that will change because that’s more of a sample issue. He’s just an interesting guy, I mean, so much of his value with the bat is BABIP-dependent. Are the hits falling in or are the hits not falling in? Because, if they’re falling in, he makes a lot of contact, he’s going to be on the bases all the time; he can steal bags. And if they’re not falling in, he doesn’t really walk much and it’s not a bunch of power.
Ethan: His first year with the Mariners he ran a walk-rate around 10% and I think a lot of Mariners fans were skeptical. And the next year it was down to like 3.7%. He likes to swing, he’s very aggressive up there and he doesn’t have enough power to consistently get balls out of the ballpark or into the gaps. And when it’s not happening, he doesn’t bring much value at the plate.
Jeff: One of the things that will help him is, you know everyone hits at Chase Field. It’s a great place to be a hitter. You know, it’s a place where–and, kinda the whole NL West is like this–you have a really big outfield. Doubles can become triples. Well-placed singles can be stretched into doubles by a guy like Marte. Making a lot of contact makes sense for him as the ballpark seems to benefit everybody.
We discuss his hand placement and how he’s changed it over the last couple years. We then lament how the hitter-friendly Triple-A environments don’t lend themselves to a patient approach. We then pivot to a broader view.
Ethan: He still has a lot of time to learn and figure it all out. Is he ever going to be a star with the bat? Probably not, but he’s an interesting piece to have and I miss the Mariners having him because he is so versatile and there are a lot of different things you can do with him. You can do a lot worse.
Jeff: Absolutely. I look at this trade, you know–you tell me two years of Segura for four years of Walker. You might hedge Walker because there’s more time, but that has a chance to break pretty evenly.
Ethan: It’s so rare you see a trade work out for both teams.
Jeff: What do the Mariners have a hard time developing? They’ve had a hard time...with hitters. What do the Dbacks struggle to develop? Pitchers. Kinda, everybody hits in Arizona to a degree. Finding a guy that can pitch there and fit relatively well there really helps out. For Arizona, that’s certainly the priority.
Ethan: It’s such an interesting situation, because it’s almost human nature where, the moment a trade goes down, you want to declare a winner and loser. Just, as soon as humanly possible. And this is a trade where–sure, you can wonder how the Mariners would do if they had Tai Walker this year–but both teams have to be happy with what they got out of this trade.
Jeff: I would certainly think so...This thing has a ton of dimensions and every time I find a point in one direction, I can find a point in the other.
Some other highlights:
- We very briefly discussed the current state of Felix Hernandez, and how he’s changed recently. We are both sad.
- Jeff provided a bit of a look into Mitch Haniger’s rise as a prospect last year. We discuss how intelligent of a player he is and how he managed to reinvent himself.
- We talked about the Oregon State invasion of the Mariners system, from Sam Gaviglio to Andrew Moore to Stefen Romero to Joey Wong, and so on.
- A joyous conversation about the influx of Beavers in Seattle is immediately tarnished by me recalling how awful it was to watch Oregon State lose in the College World Series in a Corvallis bar.
- Some very brief Diamondbacks prospect talk.
If you want to read more about Jeff’s thoughts on the trade (with a Dbacks perspective, obviously), feel free to check out his early reflections post from late May.
You can listen to the whole conversation below. Fair warning, it’s not a podcast and the editing doesn’t treat it as such. There are some harsh cuts included at two points, once in the middle and then at the end. There are no fun musical intros. There’s no grand goodbye at the end. Regardless, Jeff provided a lot of good stuff over the course of the interview.
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to talk baseball. You can find him over at Twitter at @OutfieldGrass24 or at Inside the ‘Zona.