The consensus view throughout baseball forecasts an inevitable regression this season for Jean Segura, whom the Mariners acquired from Arizona in a Thanksgiving Eve trade.
It’s easy to see why.
Segura put together a breakout year last season when he led the National League with 203 hits while batting .319 with 20 homers and 64 RBIs. All were career highs by a wide margin.
Even general manager Jerry Dipoto concedes Segura’s production will be tough to duplicate.
"It’s impossible for a player to sustain what he did over and over," Dipoto said. "The year that he had is one of just five seasons in this century where a hitter was able to throw out 200 hits, a .300 batting average, 20 home runs, 40 doubles, 30 stolen bases and 100 runs scored.
"The fact that it’s only happened five times since the turn of the century probably suggests we shouldn’t press the pencil too hard that that’s going to occur again."
The Mariners are also shifting Segura back to shortstop, a more demanding position. He played second base last season at Arizona after three-plus years as Milwaukee’s shortstop.
While scouts generally view Segura as an average defensive shortstop, his career metrics in Milwaukee paint a more-optimistic picture: He graded at plus-24 in runs saved over his three full seasons.
If nothing else, Segura, who turns 27 next month, projects as a defensive upgrade over Ketel Marte, who graded at minus-1 last season in runs saved. Marte was part of the package that went to Arizona in the five-player deal.
"Playing Ketel Marte last year at shortstop," manager Scott Servais said, "he was a very young player. We knew going in that we were going to have some ups and downs with him.
"Segura has played shortstop more even though he didn’t play there last year. We’re hoping a more veteran presence there helps out in our consistency level."
Just know that Segura isn’t buying this regression narrative.
"Last year, it was a new me," he said. "I had a better mentality. I think you guys know what I’ve been through. I lost my son two years ago. I got hit in the face by Ryan Braun. There were a lot of issues. A lot of family issues."
A quick recap:
Segura was a rising star in Milwaukee, which acquired him in 2012 trade-deadline deal from the Angels, where Dipoto was then the general manager, for pitcher Zack Greinke.
The Brewers plugged Segura into their lineup and in 2013, his first full season, he was picked as an All-Star. He batted .294 with a .329 on-base percentage, a .423 slugging percentage and produced a 4.0 wins above replacement (WAR) rating.
Everything changed on April 26, 2014.
Segura as walking in the Brewers’ dugout in the first inning of a game against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park when he was struck inadvertently in the side of the head as Ryan Braun swung a bat.
The Brewers were 17-6 at the time and leading the National League Central Division. But the incident seemed to shake the whole team, which immediately went into a tailspin.
Less than three months later, Segura endured a greater tragedy when his nine-month-old son, Janniel, died after an illness in the Dominican Republic.
Segura missed only a handful of games before returning to the lineup, but he wasn’t the same. He finished the season at .246/.289/.326 and a paltry 0.6 WAR. When his struggles continued through 2015, the Brewers traded him to Arizona.
"It’s difficult when you have so many problems on your mind," he recalled, "and you’re trying to focus and do your job in a baseball game."
Segura pointed to his-now teammate and middle-infield partner, second baseman Robinson Cano, for helping him finally to refocus his professional career. The two became workout partners in the Dominican.
"He’s very quiet," Cano said. "Two years ago, he told one of our friends that, `I’d like to go practice with Robby.’ I called him and said, `Well, you should have called me or texted me.’
"Then he came onboard, and we started working with my hitting coach. He changed the way he worked out, and you could see the change last year. He had a great season and, hopefully, he’ll have the same this year."
Since Segura lives roughly 2 1/2 hours away from Cano, he would stay at Cano’s house Monday through Friday before returning home for the weekends. It’s hard to believe Segura’s career renaissance was a coincidence.
"He was dynamic," Dipoto said. "Not just good, he was fantastic; and he was fantastic for six months. There was no variance in what he was doing…We feel like many of things he did last year were very sustainable.
"He made a real change in the way he sets up and where he holds his hands. As a result, the long-term angles of the ball leaving his bat changed and so did the velocity off the bat."
Something else changed, too. Segura found he could smile again, and that smile deepened when he learned of the trade that brought him to the Mariners, which meant a deeper connection with Cano.
"I can tell you right now that it’s going to be fun," Segura said. "We’ve practiced together. We live together in the off-season. I think it’s going to be the best (time) in my life.
"He told me that I’m going to be in a great place, that this year is going to be even more fun that last year. He told me about the clubhouse and the guys. And I believe it when he tells me something.
"I can’t wait to get the season started."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners