It’s official: Carlos Santana and JP Crawford have been traded for Jean Segura, Juan Nicasio, and James Pazos.
Initial reaction to the trade was very positive from Phillies fans and very negative from Mariners fans, and for good reason. On its face, this is one of the more lopsided trades you’ll see. And digging deeper, this is still one of the more lopsided trades you’ll see.
Carlos Santana: $17M 2019 (33), $17.5M 2020 (34), $500K buyout 2021
JP Crawford: Team Control 2019-2020 (24-25), Arbitration 2021-2023 (26-28)
Jean Segura: $14.25M 2019-2022 (29-32), $17M/1M buyout 2023 (33)
Juan Nicasio: $9M 2019 (32)
James Pazos: Team Control 2019 (28), Arbitration 2020-2022 (29-31)
Carlos Santana: 115 DRC+ 2018, 114 DRC+ 2017, average 1B defense
JP Crawford: 84 DRC+ 2018, 89 DRC+ 2017, bad to below-average SS defense
Jean Segura: 99 DRC+ 2018, 97 DRC+ 2017, average to above-average SS defense
Juan Nicasio: 60.9 DRA- 2018, 79.5 DRA- 2017
James Pazos: 104.0 DRA- 2018, 79.7 DRA- 2017
(You can check out my primer on advanced statistics here. DRC+ is a new advanced stat offered by Baseball Prospectus that was released after that article was written, but it is similar to the stats examined there. A 100 DRC+ is average with higher being better. A 100 DRA- is average with lower being better.)
Looking at the contracts, the money is almost equal over the first two seasons, with the Mariners getting out of the last two years of Segura’s contract. While they certainly look at it as saving money, Segura’s 14.25M salary is not particularly burdensome. It is not amazing value, but it would not have been difficult to unload in the future. While the Phillies commit more money in the future, future money is worth less than money now, and they actually save money in 2020.
Interestingly for the Mariners, this isn’t even a move for the future. Santana is 33, Crawford is already in the Majors, and there’s no other prospects. Presumably, they will attempt to move Santana again, but he will be harder to move than Segura was, and they will likely have to eat significant money to move him. But this isn’t Seattle Front Office, it’s Philly Front Office, so let’s look at it from the Phillies perspective.
Breaking Down the Trade
The Santana contract, while good value in a vacuum, looked really questionable with Hoskins already on the squad. Then when the Hoskins in LF experiment failed, Santana was an albatross. Given what’s left on his contract, his trade value was neutral at best and more likely negative. Dumping Santana in and of itself is a nice win for the Phillies. It gets Hoskins back to first base which immediately improves the team’s defense at both 1B and LF. While Santana is an above-average hitter still, he’s a DH at this point, and he’s likely to continue declining both with the bat and in the field.
That makes Crawford the prize. The question: was it worth giving him up? Crawford was briefly a #1 overall prospect and was a former first round pick. He was a real prospect – but just that, a prospect. And that has shown in his results. So far, he has not been a real major league player. Below average hitting, below average fielding, and multiple injuries is not a good start. The Mariners are obviously betting on the pedigree rather than what he’s shown so far.
At this point, Crawford’s pedigree is an extremely risky bet. Looking back at his minor league stats, the most fair question to ask is how he became so highly rated to begin with. His #1 ranking was never really earned nor deserved. While he may have been fast as a teenager, he hasn’t stolen more than 15 bases in a season since 2014. He’s never hit more than 15 home runs in a season. His strikeout rate has risen as he’s moved up in competition level. He’s never hit over .265 above A+ ball. He’s never slugged above .410. There’s obviously value in a shortstop who gets on base and plays good defense, but not “#1 prospect in all of baseball” value.
Given the drop-off in speed and defense shown at the major league level, it’s fair to ask whether Crawford is even still a shortstop. If Crawford can’t stick at SS, he doesn’t have the bat to stick anywhere else other than maybe 2B. And given the lack of power or speed, his ceiling is ultimately limited. We have seen players make jumps before, and it’s possible that Crawford makes a jump at some point, but it’s hard to see him ever turning into more than an average starter at this point. He can, it just is not very likely. Crawford’s trade value at this point was that of a post-hype prospect. There’s value there, it’s just not much.
The Phillies got much more value back than “not much.” Jean Segura is an above-average SS in all facets of the game. DRC+ likes Segura less than basically every other hitting metric, but that still puts his floor at “average hitter,” which is good for a SS. His fielding consistently grades slightly above average by every fielding metric. Both Fangraphs and baseball-reference see him somewhere between a 3 and 4 win player, and entering his prime, he should be able to stick in that range. At the 3-4 win range, he is a bargain at his current price. He has consistently graded as a top 10 SS in baseball, below the elite tier but in that second tier of good players. Getting him for a post-hype prospect and a salary dump in and of itself would be a great deal.
Nicasio and Pazos
However, the Phillies were given two more pieces. Juan Nicasio is a reliever with a 1 year deal at a set-up reliever price. Looking just at his ERA, it looks like a bad deal. Look at literally anything else, and while I won’t call it a steal, the contract could be justified. He posted 11.36K/9 to just 1.07 BB/9, and his ERA was inflated by 3 particularly bad outings. Much like when Neris struggled in 2018 and I pointed out that Neris was an elite reliever suffering from bad luck, Nicasio suffered from bad luck, not bad pitching. It is reasonable to expect him to bounce back.
James Pazos, the last piece of the deal, is an average lefty reliever. He’s cheap and left-handed. It’s good to have cheap lefty relievers because otherwise you have to trade something for somebody like Aaron Loup. There’s not much to say about him. Seems like a nice guy to get as a free throw-in.
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) December 3, 2018
Any way you slice it, this deal is a great deal for the Phillies. While it’s possible that Crawford breaks out at some point in the future, there’s just no clear path for him to reach the level he would have to reach to make this a bad deal. The Phillies significantly improved this year without giving up anything in the future. Can’t ask for anything more.