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Should the Brewers Extend Jean Segura?

(Image: Mike McGinnis / Getty Images)

(Editor's note: This is the debut post by new contributor Ben Tannenbaum)

The emergence of Jean Segura was one of the few bright spots amidst the wreckage of the 2013 Brewers. Acquired from Anaheim in the Zack Greinke trade, the shortstop made the most of his first full major league season. He got out of the gate strong, hitting .367 in April and .345 in May. Segura was named to the National League All-Star team and his 44 steals trailed only Eric Young in the senior circuit. He is good at taking the ball the other way; Segura had more opposite field hits than pull hits, which is a quality trait in such a young hitter. As the Brewers trickle in to camp at Maryvale, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this week that the club is interested in signing Segura to a contract extension. Haudricourt’s report brings up two questions: should General Manager Doug Melvin try to extend Segura now? And if so, what should the contract look like?

Extending Segura would seem to be a clear-cut, easy decision. He turns 24 this St. Patrick’s Day, and keeping him around for the long haul would be immensely popular. However Segura’s 2013 season was not as unambiguously triumphant as it would appear at first glance. His second-half performance suffered due to a hamstring injury and he hit just .241 after the All-Star break, including a meager .214 in September. More advanced statistics, such as his 107 wRC+ and 103 OPS+, reveal that Segura was not significantly better than the league-average hitter. Segura’s walk rate was a microscopic 4%, a dangerous number for someone toward the top of the lineup. Additionally, his .326 batting average on balls in play was fortuitously high, leaving room to believe that his average will regress next season. Defensively too, Segura was not as successful as Milwaukee fans may believe. His 3 Defensive Runs Saved placed him second among all shortstops on the Brewers.  The wunderkind Segura trailed his backup Jeff Bianchi in that department. Further, Segura’s Ultimate Zone Rating was actually below zero, checking in at -1.1. None of this criticism is intended to take away from Segura’s 2013 campaign. He certainly should remain the Brewers’ shortstop in their long-term plan. In fact, his second-half struggles may even make this a propitious time for the club to offer an extension because they may be able to ink him for a lower price. Yet much of Segura’s value comes from his low cost.

As it stands right now, Segura is on the rookie contract that paid him $492,000 last season. Haudricourt pointed out that the shortstop is not up for arbitration until after 2015 and cannot explore free agency until after 2018. Recent extensions the Brewers have given to Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez offer an indication of what a Segura contract might look like. Lucroy was extended for five years – one season beyond his arbitration date – with a $2.2 million average annual value, and Gomez received three years past arbitration at $8 million a year. A Segura contract signed now would likely resemble Lucroy’s in the sense that both had two years remaining pre-arbitration. Yet Segura is younger than Lucroy was, and it is reasonable to assume that the deal would be longer than Lucroy’s. Gomez was also older than Segura at the time of his contract. Although Gomez is a superior defender and has more power, his 104 wRC+ in the year preceding his extension is remarkably similar to Segura’s. Therefore, it seems a Segura contract would be just a bit less than Gomez’ yearly $8 million. Compared with the Gomez and Lucroy deals, a reasonable extension for Segura would be roughly eight years and $50 million. This would lock up Segura through 2021, when he will be 31, at $6.25 million a year. The deal would take Segura through his arbitration eligibility and add three years to team control. However, he would still have the prospect of hitting the free-agent market for another contract in his early thirties. If Segura asks for much more than this, however, it makes sense for the team to hold off. There is no downside to exploring an extension, but Melvin should not be trigger happy to get a deal done now.