MILWAUKEE — Ever since Robin Yount traded his infielder’s glove for an outfielder’s mitt after the 1984 season, the Milwaukee Brewers have been searching for a shortstop.
From Ernie Riles and Dale Sveum to the likes of Royce Clayton and Yuniesky Betancourt — while being teased by Gary Sheffield, Pat Listach and J.J. Hardy along the way — the Brewers have trotted 18 different Opening Day shortstops out since Yount made the switch.
So when the claim is made that one trade could have brought a young shortstop who can easily become the franchise’s best shortstop since Robin Yount, the idea isn’t that far-fetched simply because, well, he doesn’t have very far to go.
A little over three months into his time with the Brewers, Jean Segura has proved a couple of things. He passes the eye test, not only with his ability to play the game, but his unflappable confidence for such a young age. His potential to be Milwaukee’s long-term solution at shortstop makes the trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels one of the best in general manager Doug Melvin’s tenure.
Who is Milwaukee’s best shortstop since Yount? Even that is debatable — if you consider an argument between four average candidates a worthwhile debate. It probably isn’t Mark Loretta, though he had the best batting average. He moved around too much and only really spent two years at shortstop.
How about Jose Valentin, who started five times on Opening Day for the Brewers? He hit .240 with just 90 career home runs in eight years with the team. Jose Hernandez made the All-Star team in 2002, but also had to sit out the last few days of the season to avoid breaking the single season strikeout record.
Maybe it’s J.J. Hardy. Like Segura, Hardy was a top prospect and started five times on Opening Day in Milwaukee before being shipped out for Carlos Gomez. And while Hardy had his moments with the Brewers, he never fully developed during his time in Milwaukee. Alcides Escobar had talent and is realizing it with Kansas City, but was traded for Greinke before he could make an impact in Milwaukee.
The Brewers paid a heavy price to acquire Greinke. It’s just how these things work. But unlike the Angels, the Brewers were going to have Greinke for more than two months, as he pitched a full season and into July of the next season in Milwaukee.
Escobar is breaking out with the Royals, while outfielder Lorenzo Cain has struggled to stay on the field, right-hander Jeremy Jeffress is currently out of baseball, and the Royals used pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi as a key piece in an offseason deal to acquire top outfield prospect Will Myers from Tampa Bay.
While Melvin gave up his fair share to get a top of the line starter, it paid dividends. The Brewers wouldn’t have won the division title or advanced to the NLCS in 2011 without Greinke.
Melvin realized the Brewers weren’t going to have a chance to sign Greinke in the offseason — as proven by the six-year, $147 million contract he signed with the Dodgers — and realized it was time to sell one of his valuable assets.
Trades in the middle of the season rarely bring back the load a deal would in the offseason, just because the player is usually a rental, or the team at least runs the risk of having the player for just over two months.
On July 27, Melvin swung the deal to send Greinke to the Angels for Segura and pitching prospects Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena. At the time, the deal was considered a wash. The Brewers got a couple of decent pieces back, while the Angels could make their run with Greinke without giving up too much.
Fast forward nine months and the perception of the deal should be totally different. The Angels not only missed the playoffs with their rental arm, but they lost him in the offseason to their counterparts in Southern California, and have limped to an 11-18 start to this season.
And could they ever use Segura. The Angels have trotted the likes of Brendan Harris and Andrew Romine out at shortstop this season, as they have gotten a combined .229 batting average from their shortstops this season.
When the deal was made, Segura’s ability to play shortstop was question, mainly due to his unique body type. There just aren’t many comparable body types to his that have played shortstop.
Because he has impressed so much early on defensively, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was asked recently about why the notion was out there from the Angels that Segura wasn’t a shortstop, but instead would eventually have had to been moved to second base.
Roenicke — who spent a decade coaching with the Angels and obviously has connections in the organization — responded by saying the Angels thought Segura was a Gold Glove second baseman, thus why the notion he would be moved to second base. The Brewers, however, feel Segura has the potential to win a Gold Glove at shortstop.
It’s hard to disagree with that claim at this point. Not only has he impressed at the plate with his ability to hit to all fields, beat out infield singles and hit for a bit of power, but Segura has been a wizard in the field. He makes one play per night that makes fans turn and say ‘Did you see that?’ His arm has been most impressive. Segura has a cannon, and he knows it.
Credit goes to Melvin and his staff for identifying Segura as a return piece in a potential Greinke trade. Though he was one of the top prospects in the Angels organization, Segura flew under the radar, and even the Brewers have been taken aback with how talented he really is.
If Segura goes on to just have an average career, the Brewers won the trade. But I’m confident in saying he’ll have a career defined by words much better than average. Unlike other trades where a winner can’t be determined until much later, the Angels can’t gain any ground on this one because they failed to meet their goal with Greinke and then lost him.
Brewers fans can’t judge this deal by comparing Segura and Greinke, either. Milwaukee had no chance of keeping Greinke, his departure was inevitable.
Melvin turned a player almost everyone knew was going to be a two-month rental into one of the more promising young shortstops in baseball, as well as getting two hard-throwing pitching prospects in the deal. Hellweg and Pena weren’t just throw-ins. They were top prospects in the Angels’ system, as well.
Hellweg has already impressed the Brewers with his powerful fastball and promising stuff. He’s off to a good start, posting a 3.38 ERA in his first five starts for Triple-A Nashville. It’s a safe bet to assume Hellweg will be in Milwaukee at some point during this season. In his first five starts for Double-A Huntsville, Pena has a 4.84 ERA, but the raw stuff is better than those numbers indicate.
But even if those two never pan out, Segura alone could make this deal one of the best in franchise history. And sure, he could be a flash in the pan like Listach. But with his talent, his mental make-up and the opportunity ahead of him, it’s hard to see Segura not working out.
Just sit back and enjoy an exciting shortstop for a change, Milwaukee.