MILWAUKEE — It’s a trade that will be talked about in Milwaukee for years to come. Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Angels, they will hear about it each time Jean Segura’s name is thrown around.
Just over a year after the Brewers and Angels agreed on a blockbuster trade sending right-hander Zack Greinke to Los Angeles for Segura and right-handers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena, the two teams met for a rare Interleague series.
Not only was this past weekend a chance to revisit a deal in which the Brewers undoubtedly won, but also Segura got to reflect on how far he’s come since last donning an Angels uniform.
“Sometimes you think back and time and say ‘Wow, this is my old team, my old friends,'” Segura said. “We are all still friends and there are a couple of guys that I like over there. Man, (a short time ago) I was with them and now I’m here. It’s a little bit crazy. This team gave me the opportunity, (the Angels) didn’t give it to me.”
To be fair to Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, he was trying to make a run at the playoffs and potentially a World Series when he pulled the trigger on the deal. Greinke was supposed to be the missing piece to stabilize a talented but shaky rotation.
Greinke didn’t pitch poorly — he went 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts for the Angels — but he wasn’t the dominant pitcher capable of lifting a team on his shoulders. The Angels finished four games out of the playoffs.
The Angels felt they could re-sign Greinke longterm regardless of how the 2012 season ended, but they watched as he’s returned to Cy Young form after signing a six-year, $147 million contract with the Dodgers.
It was a gamble and hindsight is easy to pick apart, but the Angels got nothing out of a deal in which the Brewers got quite a bit. Segura became an All-Star in his first full season with Milwaukee and appears set to lock down the shortstop position for many years to come.
The two pitchers in the deal seem likely to make some kind of impact down the road, as well. Hellweg, 24, has developed into one of the organization’s top prospects and recently was named the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year after going 12-5 with a 3.15 ERA in Triple-A.
Pena, also 24 years old, had a 3.73 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 27 starts for Double-A Huntsville this season and projects as a potential backend of the rotation starter in the big leagues.
“When you make a trade to get a pitcher like Zack Greinke, you obviously have to give up talent,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Jean Segura is a classic example of a young player who is traded and is getting a chance. This guy is electric on the defensive side and obviously in the batter’s box and the way he’s running the bases. He’s off to a great start in his career.”
For Segura, a chance is all he wanted. But with Erick Aybar signed longterm as Los Angeles’ shortstop, the 23-year-old was blocked. The Angels had talked about moving him to second base, even trying to sell him as a guy who couldn’t play shortstop moving forward. He’s proved this season that notion is far from the truth.
With his former team in town, all Segura could do is thank them for doing his career a favor.
“I played with them in the minor-league system,” Segura said. “I didn’t have much of a chance to play in the major leagues. Hopefully I got a trade, and I was excited (when it happened). I appreciate them for that. I get to play every day here and now look at where I’m at. I think they did the best (thing) for me.”
While both sides knew how talented Segura was, the Brewers were bigger believers in his ability. They felt he was a very good defensive shortstop, but his offense might take some time to develop.
He struggled to a .209 batting average in his first 19 games after being called up by the Brewers in August, but hit .309 in his final 25 games. Still, the Brewers still had questions as to what to expect out of Segura in his first full season as a starting shortstop in the major leagues.
“I didn’t think this,” Roenicke said. “I thought he would be a nice player, defensively. I knew he could play shortstop. Offensively I wasn’t sure. When he went down to winter ball and led the Dominican league in hitting, something changed. At the beginning of spring training, he was a different hitter.”
Things clicked right away this season. Segura hasn’t had his batting average dip below .300 since starting the season 0-for-2. He’s second in the National League in hits with 163 and leads the league in stolen bases with 39.
Though he’s slumped a bit as the season winds down, Segura’s line of .302, 12 HR and 45 RBI is very good for a first-year player. What makes his numbers even more impressive is the fact he’s had to hit in the middle of Milwaukee’s lineup for a good portion of the season with the team’s run producers injured or suspended.
For a guy who opened the season hitting eight, that’s a tough job. He struggled and didn’t like hitting in the third spot of the lineup, but has found his spot hitting second.
“Everybody knows what I can do,” Segura said. “They made that trade because they thought they were trying to make the playoffs. It’s not about trades, you got traded for a Cy Young winner, so it’s tough.”
Segura hasn’t had a break in quite some time. He went right from last season to winter ball to spring training to this season. Because he made the All-Star team, Segura didn’t even get those three days off to rest. He doesn’t want to come out of Milwaukee’s lineup to take a day off, but he probably is wearing down. Recently, he’s chopped a lot of balls into the infield — a sign of a tired player. Unlike most, Segura’s elite speed allows him to beat most of those out for hits.
But Segura won’t rest until the final out of the season is recorded. Then he will finally get some time to relax before spring training.
“This is a long season, especially at the end of the year,” Segura said. “The last month, everybody is shaking (off injuries) and trying to stay out there. I have to just keep doing what I do and do the best I can and keep at it. Sometimes I’m going to have a bad series, sometimes I’m going to have a good series. It’s normal to every baseball player. I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
The Brewers recently called up Hellweg for the second time this season and will put him in their rotation for the final month. He has a legitimate chance at opening the 2014 season as one of the five starters with the potential to make the deal more lopsided for general manager Doug Melvin.
Melvin gave up a good amount to get Greinke, used the right-hander to help the team to the National League Championship Series and then flipped him for three talented players when he was about to become a free agent.
“We weren’t going to be able to re-sign Zack, so for us, with ‘Seggy’ and the way he’s played, the future that he has, that alone makes it a great trade,” Roenicke said. “Hopefully, Hellweg comes along. Being named PCL Pitcher of the Year is a pretty good start with that. Pena did a nice job this year in Double-A. So, the trade, as of right now, it looks pretty great.”