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The Mariners Will Probably Regret Signing Jean Segura

Today, the Seattle Mariners announced a 5 year, $70 million contract extension (with full no trade clause) with shortstop Jean Segura. Immediate reaction from Mariners observers, fans, and bloggers has been…. actually quite positive.

Segura, acquired this past winter from Arizona after a career year, had been playing great – in fact leading the AL in batting – before an ankle injury a week or so ago that isn’t expected to keep him out too long. The general consensus is that $9 million next year, $14.25 million in each of the four years after that, a $17 million option year with a $1 million buyout, and a $3 million signing bonus a pretty good deal for a borderline All-Star caliber shortstop just entering his third arbitration eligible year.

However, I am dubious. I don’t necessarily think the Mariners overpaid – given contracts in baseball these days, those numbers seem to be the going rate, and a popular player has some added value as well – but I think Seattle will regret tying themselves to Segura so tightly. At least with arbitration years, there’s the option to negotiate with a player or even not offer him a contract. Now, all that is off the table.

To see if my hunch was right, I decided to take a look at some comparable players to see how the next few years of Segura’s career might play out.

Some notes on Jean:

He’s 27 and now in his 6th major league season. He’s a terrible fielder and a bit of a streaky hitter, but when he’s good, he’s very good. In his good offensive seasons, 2013 and 2016, he made an All-Star team and got MVP votes. In 2013, he posted a 105 wRC+ while socking 12 homers, stealing 44 bases, and batting .294. In 2016, he dazzled with a 126 wRC+ and 5.0 WAR, batting .319 with 33 steals and 20 homers.

Of course, in 2014 and 2015, his last two years with the Brewers, his wRC+ never touched even 68. So he was 32% worse than league average offensively those years.

So far, he’s played 675 games, hit 47 homers, stolen 136 bases, and slashed .284/.324/.401.

Here are some notable comparisons:

Barry Larkin through his age 27 season: 695 games, 58 homers, 133 steals, .294/.350/.426

Rafael Furcal through his age 26 season: 663 games, 45 homers, 143 steals, .283/.347/.404

Alex Cintron through his age 27 season: 530 games, 30 homers, 16 steals, .280/.318/.409

Angel Berroa through his 6th MLB season: 618 games, 45 homers, 50 steals, .264/.305/.386

Asdrubal Cabrera through his age 26 season: 681 games, 59 homers, 53 steals, .279/.342/.416

Alcides Escobar through his age 26 season: 663 games, 30 homers, 97 steals, .258/.295/.342

Derek Jeter through 638 games and roughly the same duration: 63 homers, 86 steals, .318/.389/.465

Ok, so I’ll admit, the comparisons make Segura look a bit better than I thought they would, but there are still some things to consider.

First, Segura doesn’t really bring any value to the table on defense. His defensive runs saved is negative for his career and his career UZR is -12.3. What’s worse, for the last couple years of this contract, the Mariners will have a 30+ year old shortstop on their hands. Yes, shortstop. Don’t have any illusions that Seattle could move Segura off the position to an easier one: second baseman Robinson Cano is signed through the start of Nancy Pelosi’s second term (and second base isn’t really an ideal spot to hide a bad shortstop anyway), and Kyle Seager is also signed long term, through 2021.

Also, Segura is extremely streaky. It’s true that he has glued a very, very good 43 games on to a very, very good 2016 season but I think it’s a little early to assume that this is the new Jean Segura. We can’t just give a pass on two really terrible seasons in 2014 and 2015, leading to the trade that brought him to Arizona in the first place.

Looking at those comparisons above, Segura looks something like a mixture of Rafael Furcal and Asdrubal Cabrera – and that’s not bad! Furcal wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but he played for 14 seasons, made 3 All Star teams, and made a good career as a 2.5-4 WAR, pretty reliable shortstop. Cabrera is now in his 11th season and has been a serviceable 1-2 WAR player as well.

It should be noted, though, that Furcal was an excellent defensive player who was able to justify being in the lineup even when he wasn’t hitting. Also, there’s that consistency. Whereas 2 of Segura’s first 4 seasons sported WARs under .5, Furcal’s first 4 full seasons (I’m ignoring a semi-rocky 2001 when he only played 79 games) all boasted WAR’s above 2.6.

Basically, it would be a borderline unrealistic scenario to hope that Jean Segura‘s next five years, or the rest of his career, look like Rafael Furcal’s.

On the other side of the coin, the comps that Segura is marginally better than, namely Berroa and Cintron, flamed out pretty badly – neither was even in the league 5 years after their age 27 seasons.

It is absolutely possible that Jean Segura has put himself on a path to be a perpetual .300 hitter with power and speed. It is definitely true that his statistical ceiling exceeds that of all of his comparison players, save for the 2 Hall of Famers. It is also possible that his inconsistency becomes a problem, and 5 years seems like an awfully long time in Seattle. I guess we’ll see.

-Max Frankel

(NOTE: A previous version of the article stated that Segura was about to enter his first arbitration eligible winter, that was not correct. Segura has already has two arbitration eligible season and would have been in line for his third had he not signed this contract. Our bad. Hopefully that satisfies that one commenter. The rest of you all are just mean.)

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