Mike Hazen aimed high in his first trade as Diamondbacks’ general manager, landing a starting pitcher with potentially sizable upside on Wednesday night when he acquired right-hander Taijuan Walker in a five-player deal that sent infielder Jean Segura to the Seattle Mariners.
“It’s not one of those guys that you’re able to acquire all the time with the state of the game now with pitching and the premium, especially on starting pitching,” Hazen said on a conference call to announce the deal. “We felt like this was an opportunity we needed to take at this moment in time.”In addition to Walker, the Diamondbacks also acquired infielder Ketel Marte while sending outfielder Mitch Haniger and left-handed reliever Zac Curtis to the Mariners.But the deal revolves around a pair of players whose values have gone in opposite directions in recent years. Walker was once rated among the best pitching prospects in baseball, a hard-thrower with size, athleticism and pure stuff who was labeled as a potential ace by Baseball America five years ago.Though still only 24, Walker hasn’t put it together yet at the major-league level, posting a 4.18 ERA in parts of four big league seasons and struggling – particularly this year – to keep the ball in the park.“He’s sort of a prototypical starting pitcher that you want to have in your rotation,” Hazen said. “Good stuff, throws strikes, can eat a lot of innings – all those thing that we’re looking for. I think he’s still growing, in terms of his repertoire, he’s still growing into his abilities as a starting pitcher.”Segura, meanwhile, is coming off a huge year in his only season with the Diamondbacks. He hit .319 with 20 homers, 41 doubles, seven triples and a league-leading 203 hits, garnering a handful of down-ballot MVP votes in the process. Though he played primarily second base this season, he’ll likely return to shortstop for the Mariners.“When we looked at the pitching that’s out on the market, we felt like this was an opportunity we had to take right now,” Hazen said. “Obviously, Jean is a great fit for them and was for us, but in order for us to get a starting pitcher the caliber of Taijuan, we felt like this was the opportunity we had to take given the market. It takes a lot of starting pitching to get through the season.”The Diamondbacks had depth in the middle infield; in addition to shortstop Nick Ahmed and the versatile Chris Owings, the club also has Brandon Drury, a natural third baseman who has experience at second. While Hazen said he expects to have competition for playing time during spring training, he also said opening up at-bats for Drury, who hit .282 with 16 homers as a rookie this year, was a factor.“The young core guys that we have that we’re going to try to build around, having them have opportunities to have at-bats is a critical part of seeing their long-term success and watching them thrive,” Hazen said. “That was a small piece to this, yes.”Haniger has believers around the game, many of whom think the swing changes he implemented the past two years make him an intriguing player despite his somewhat advanced age (26 next month) for a prospect. There are also scouts who think he can play above-average defense in center field.arte burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2015, hitting .283 with a .351 on-base and a .753 OPS in 219 at-bats, but he struggled in his first full season in the majors this year, hitting just .259/.287/.323. A shortstop, he also struggled in the field, according to defensive metrics.“We think there’s definitely some upside in the bat and the defensive ability, and the speed and the athleticism,” Hazen said. “All around, we feel he adds quite a bit to our club.”Walker, though, was the clear key to the deal for the Diamondbacks, who add him to a rotation that likely includes Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin, Shelby Miller and Robbie Ray.Walker has experienced flashes of dominance in the big leagues; he struck out 11 three times this season, including in a three-hit shutout of the Angels on Sept. 13. But he’s also struggled with consistency, failing to work into the sixth inning in 11 of his 25 starts. He gave up an alarming 27 homers in 134 1/3 innings this season, a rate of 1.8 per nine innings that would have been the fourth-worst in the majors if he had enough innings to qualify.“He’s going to be 24 this year, and from a starting pitching standpoint that’s still pretty young in terms of his development and where he is,” Hazen said. “I’m sure he learned a lot. We look forward to getting to know him a lot better. Obviously, we did a lot of background on him and everybody that we talked to raved about his ability, his intelligence – all good qualities for a starting pitcher to get through the lineup multiple times. Those are a lot of the things that really attracted us to him.Nick Piecoro | azcentral sports