The curious case of Jean Segura

The 2019 Philadelphia Phillies season started with so much promise. After finally spending “stupid money” on acquiring players such as Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, and David Robertson, the team seemed like they had turned the page on a frustrating rebuilding process which started at the end of the 2012 season.

One of the other key additions prior to last season was shortstop Jean Segura, who general manager Matt Klentak acquired from the Seattle Mariners along with relief pitchers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos in exchange for Carlos Santana and former top Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford.

A former top prospect in the Los Angeles Angels system slotted right behind Mike Trout back in 2012, Segura is no stranger to starting over in a new city during his big-league career. Since 2012, he has been traded four times, playing for five different teams.

Segura has been successful at each of those stops. He is one of four players to record a batting average of .300 or better from 2016-2018 (Trout, Jose Altuve, and Freddie Freeman). He was an NL All-Star in 2013 with Milwaukee and and AL All-Star in 2018 with Seattle. It appeared as if the Phillies were acquiring a player who was already a perennial all-star candidate while surrendering a younger player they had hoped would blossom into one.

We all remember how the 2019 season started out. After sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the opening series the Phillies jumped out to a record of 33-24. They sat in first place in the National League East at that point and Segura was a major factor for the team’s hot start.

Segura spent those early weeks mostly batting second behind McCutchen and in front of Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto in the manager Gabe Kapler‘s batting order. He was hitting to a .301/.354/.466 slash line. The team was having fun, players were waving at each other, and Phillies fans were finally starting to believe that the corner had been turned and the rebuild was over.

As the calendar turned to June, the Phillies embarked on a West Coast road trip to California. After being swept at the hand of the Los Angeles Dodgers the Phillies headed south on I-5 to San Diego. It was there on June 3rd against the host Padres that the 2019 season turned on its head.

McCutchen led off that game by drawing a walk and up to the plate stepped Segura. On the third pitch he saw from Padres’ starting pitcher Eric Lauer, Segura appeared to harmlessly pop up to second base. As he attempted to break out of the batter’s box, Segura stumbled. He then jogged down the line assuming that he would be put out easily.

Padres’ second baseman Ian Kinsler noticed that Segura was not busting it down the line. Kinsler let the ball fall onto the infield dirt, throwing to first base to retire Segura. However, McCutchen had broke towards second base and and was now caught in a rundown. Attempting to get back to first, McCutchen fell and immediately clutched his left knee.

The collective gasp from Phillies fans here on the East Coast could be heard all the way out to southern California. McCutchen had torn his ACL. He was removed from the game, and would miss the rest of the 2019 season.

Over the next few weeks, the Philly sports media had a field day with the incident. Sports talk radio hosts, their callers, and social media users blamed the injury on Segura for perceived laziness in not running out the ball. Some of those fans found videos from the past that showed Segura not running out every batted ball, calling for his benching as a disciplinary teaching measure.

Kapler went on the Sports Radio WIP morning show as a guest and got into a contentious argument with host Angelo Cataldi. The skipper backed his player, saying it was “absolutely irresponsible” to blame Segura for the injury. Kapler further that Segura “doesn’t deserve to be scapegoated like this.

Due to McCutchen’s popularity the broader baseball world chimed in on the situation. An MLB Network analyst at the time, Joe Girardi came to the defense of Kapler and Segura, sharing that during his years as the manager of the New York Yankees he often had to have similar conversations with former MVP Robinson Cano about hustle.

Back on the field the Phillies season went into a tailspin. The team finished June with an 11-16 record which started them on the way to a 48-57 staggering final four months. Their division lead evaporated quickly, and then they slowly fell out of the playoff race, finishing in fourth place in the NL East, 16 games behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves.

Segura went on to finish his first season in Philadelphia slashing .280/.323/.420 with 161 hits, 37 doubles, 12 home runs, and 60 runs batted in. Despite the frustration from fans and radio show hosts, these offensive numbers actually fall in line with his career averages.

His defensive metrics took a step back from his previous career norms. However, Segura provided a steady presence for the infield and helped the ball club to improve what had been a miserable 2018 team defense.

It was not the all-star caliber season that the Phillies or their fans were hoping for, but he was reliable. Segura made 141 starts and demonstrated that he could fill the team’s starting shortstop role throughout the remainder of his contract, which is guaranteed through the 2022 season with another year team option.

After firing apler and hiring Girardi in October the Phillies embarked on yet another off-season of promise and intrigue. While fans thought they would add solely to the pitching staff, the front office decided to bring in a familiar face for Girardi to insert into his everyday starting lineup. That player was Didi Gregorius, a shortstop by trade who had played for Girardi in with the Yankees from 2015-2017.

With a new shortstop in the fold, that left Segura wondering where he would be playing come the 2020 season. Appearing out of shape last season, Segura picked up the intensity of his off-season workouts. He entered spring training camp in mid-February noticeably slimmer and claimed to have lost 14 pounds.

Meeting with reporters before the first full squad workout, Segura acknowledged that both he and the team were playing well before the injury. He then shared that there were a few incidents that really affected his performance last season in a negative way. 

Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia quoted the Phillies infielder as follows:

“I have to enjoy what I do. I think last year, I didn’t do it too much because there was a lot of stress — Cutch went down, you know, a lot of situation going on with the lineup, you know, I’m hitting four, I never hit four in my life. So, there were a lot of things going on in the season that sometimes affect players.

Segura’s 2019 slash numbers reflect that difference of performance in various lineup slots:

  • Batting First: .160/.220/.260
  • Batting Second: .296/.345/.435
  • Batting Third: .273/.283/.545
  • Batting Fourth: .241/.281/.414
  • Batting Fifth: .320/.358/.437
  • Batting Sixth: .176/.176/.235

History says that Segura’s production should bounce back over what we saw in 2019. However, it may be unfair to expect that he will come all the way back to an All-Star level of production now that he has the responsibility of playing a new defensive position.

With Kapler at the helm last year the Phillies were interested in moving Scott Kingery around the diamond in order to take advantage of Kingery’s versatility. Now, with a more traditional approach to the game, Girardi appears set to give Kingery a full-time shot at this natural position of second base. With Gregorius at shortstop, that leave Segura to man the hot corner at third base.

The Phillies top prospect, Alec Bohm, is knocking on the door and is a third baseman. Bohm was having a productive spring training before action was halted due to the coronavirus situation. Most see it as a matter of time before Bohm is ready to make his Major League Baseball debut.

Once baseball resumes the Phillies are almost certainly going to keep Bohm at Triple-A Lehigh Valley to start. The odds are that the advanced hitter will force his way into the big club’s plan at some point, and likely sooner than later. What will happen to Segura when Bohm is deemed ready?  Segura has said all the right things to this point regarding his change of position. When speaking with the media back in February he said “it’s all about the team.”

His manager is taking notice. Following a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Twins in late-February during which Segura had started a nifty double play, Girardi was quoted by Salisbury: “That was not an easy play. What I like is it’s smooth, it’s not panicky. Looks like he’s been doing it.”

Can the Phillies afford to keep their best prospect down in the Minors all season? And what about beyond 2020? They still have Segura on payroll for another four years at $14 million per season. The club would be hard-pressed to unload that contract. Of course, Gregorius is only signed for this year. You could very well see Segura return to shortstop in 2021, with Bohm at third and Kingery at second.

Will Segura take a bench role once Bohm is in the big-leagues? That seems doubtful. Would the Phillies switch Segura over to second base, where he played the entirety of the 2016 season while with the Arizona Diamondbacks? That seems more likely, with Kingery returning to a utility role. It certainly would not be this writer’s preference, however.

Assuming everyone stays healthy and productive, Klentak may need to get creative and l to trade Jean Segura. He could possibly be a key piece in a deal to bring in that one more necessary starting pitcher that the club needs. Any Segura deal might have to wait until next off-season, until the club can see what unfolds with Gregorius over the longer term.

Two questions remain. What type of production will the Phillies actually get from Segura when he is in their lineup? Will Phillies fans and media members forgive the 2019 McCutchen incident and fully embrace him as a key piece of the Phillies future?

 

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