By the time Jean Segura joined the Seattle Mariners, in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks in November 2016, he was used to life on the move. Segura was coming off a 200-hit season and was only 26 years old, but this was the third time a team had shipped him away.
“It was not surprising to get traded,” Segura said Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, by his locker before batting practice, “because as soon as I got to the big leagues, that’s what I was known for — getting traded.”
Segura had played one game in the majors before Jerry Dipoto shipped him off to Milwaukee in 2012. Dipoto was the Los Angeles Angels’ general manager then, and now he fills that job for the Mariners. His deal to reunite with Segura stands as the most important of his many moves that have helped make Seattle the biggest surprise in the American League.
Four teams started play Wednesday with a .600 winning percentage or better. Three made the playoffs last season: the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the defending champion Houston Astros. The fourth is Seattle, which has not reached the playoffs since 2001. Every other team in baseball — as well as the N.F.L., the N.B.A. and the N.H.L. — has done so since then.
The Mariners were 46-27 before Wednesday’s game and had lost only three series all season. Their regular No. 2 hitter is Segura, who was batting .336 and leads the majors in multi-hit games. Their regular No. 3 hitter is outfielder Mitch Haniger, who had 16 homers and ranked second in the A.L. in runs batted in, with 54.
Both arrived in the same trade, for starter Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte. It was the rare deal that brought a team two high-impact everyday players — and, at least so far, the price looks minimal for Seattle.
“It was a huge trade, departing with some of the bigger pieces in our organization,” said Mike Zunino, the veteran Mariners catcher. “But when you look at the haul, it was exciting because it addressed two major pieces. And now, a couple of years removed from it, it looks to be an absolute winner. They really helped us elevate what we were trying to do here.”
The Mariners have tried to build a deep and multidimensional offense to go with a strong bullpen and a rotation with an ace (James Paxton) and several control specialists. To get Segura and Haniger, Dipoto was willing to part with Walker, a former first-round pick with ace potential who had never quite blossomed with Seattle.
Walker helped Arizona win a wild card last season, but he lost his playoff start (one inning, four runs) and underwent Tommy John surgery this spring. Marte hit well in the playoffs, but entered play Wednesday with a .243 average and a .300 on-base percentage.
Segura, meanwhile, is an unheralded star. Since 2013, only two players in the majors have collected at least 900 hits and 150 stolen bases: Segura and the Astros’ Jose Altuve, the reigning A.L. Most Valuable Player.
“Try to square the baseball through the bat, try to get solid contact every at-bat and try to get some hits,” Segura said, explaining his approach. “I try to keep it simple. I care about how we play and how the team’s doing, but at the same point, you care about yourself, too, and at the end of the year your numbers are going to be there no matter what.”
The Mariners rewarded Segura last season with a five-year, $70 million contract through 2022. Haniger — who is playing just his second full season and is also bound to Seattle through 2022 — said he admires Segura’s ability to handle any pitch in any quadrant of the strike zone.
Haniger strikes out more often, but strives for the same kind of bat control. He refined his swing after the Diamondbacks demoted him to Class A in 2015, using a leg kick as a timing device and changing the angle of his swing to keep his barrel in the zone longer.
“I just asked the question, ‘Why are these guys better than me?’” Haniger said. “I felt like I worked harder than a lot of guys, and I’m stronger than a lot of guys. Why could they drive the ball to the opposite field and I couldn’t? Everyone talks about your approach and how important that can be, but for me it wasn’t an approach thing; I still have the same approach now, but it was a mechanical issue. I couldn’t hit the ball to right field — like, ever — so that was mechanics. When I fixed that, the whole field opened up.”
The productivity of Segura and Haniger, to go with the speed of Dee Gordon and the power of Nelson Cruz, has helped the Mariners withstand the loss of the All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano, who is serving an 80-game drug suspension.
Predictably, Dipoto got an early start to improving the roster, acquiring reliever Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span for prospects in a trade with Tampa Bay on May 25. While many teams shed their stars to end playoff droughts, Dipoto will keep pushing with a quaint concept: addition by addition.
“Not every team is built through tearing it down and watching superstars grow from your minor-league system,” Dipoto said. “That’s actually atypical. It’s more common that it happens in this way, where you’re able to tap into a team that makes sense and gels together.”