Look of a winner: Segui deal shows O's hindsight is 20/20 Hindsight 20/20 in Segui trade

March 13, 2001|By John Eisenberg

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - It all makes sense now, in hindsight.

Unlike when it happened.

"We looked stupid, and I know we looked stupid," Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said yesterday about signing first baseman David Segui to a four-year, $28 million contract last winter.

Not that Segui wasn't worthy; he has an underrated glove, a .292 career average and hit .334 with 103 RBIs for Texas and Cleveland in 2000. His signing instantly improved the Orioles.

But he was 34, and Chris Richard, 26, had firmly established himself at first base over the last two months of last season.

"Chris certainly impressed me with the way he played defense and swung the bat," Segui said yesterday. "I felt bad for him because he had really earned the right to be the first baseman this year. And I had been in that position before, when they go out and get someone else and you get pushed aside or told to wait your turn."

Stupid?

"Sure, in and of itself [as a move] at the time," Thrift said. "Why block a kid as promising as Richard?"

But the story wasn't nearly that simple, as became evident when Albert Belle reported to camp last month with a bad hip, a limp and his future in jeopardy.

"I had thought all along," Thrift said, "that Albert wasn't going to be able to play."

When it turned out Belle, indeed, couldn't go and was effectively released last week, Richard took over in right field and Segui became the cleanup hitter. Suddenly, it all made sense.

"We signed Segui to be our No. 4 hitter, absolutely, no question," Thrift said. "You're hoping Albert can go, but based on the medical reports we had and what I saw in September, how hard [Belle] tried to play and how he was covering [the injury] up, you couldn't depend on that. You had to have someone else at No. 4."

That meant going out and signing him, since Mike Bordick was the only projected 2001 Oriole to hit at least 20 homers in 2000.

Segui hit only 19 himself, and he had averaged 73 RBIs per season since 1996, so he wasn't necessarily the ideal candidate. But he is a late bloomer who seems to be improving as he reaches what should be the latter stages of his career, and who knows what he might accomplish with his first chance to play every day and bat cleanup? (He has done both before, but never at the same time.)

"I don't make a big deal out of it," he said. "The pitches are the same, the ball the same size. Wherever I bat, I have to produce."

Being traded three times in the past 20 months and five times overall has toughened up Segui, who started with the Orioles from 1990 to 1993.

"I still love the game, but you don't look at it with the same, childlike eyes," he said. "It's really a business."

That cut-the-fat mental approach could prove helpful as he assumes the role of Belle's replacement in the order, however reluctantly.

"Hey, I've been around too long to fall into that trap," he said. "I'm not looking at it that way, and I don't care if [the media] is looking at it that way. I've learned that when you try to do what anyone else thinks you should be doing, it doesn't work. You end up not doing the things you're good at in the first place."

In other words, don't expect Segui to hit 30 homers and recreate a healthy Belle's power numbers. But go right ahead and expect him to hit for a high average with a lot of line drives and enough homers to make him dangerous.

"I'm in my prime," he said. "My body has just matured later. As long as I stay healthy, I'm not worried about producing."

A switch hitter, he homered from both sides of the plate in Sunday's win over the Red Sox, quite a feat even in an exhibition game. Richard hit one out in that game, too.

"Before we signed Segui, I asked [manager] Mike Hargrove to promise me Richard would still get at least 400 at-bats this season, and [Hargrove] assured me that would be no problem," Thrift said.

Because, apparently, it was assumed Belle would be gone.

"No one told me if they were looking ahead that way [to him as the No. 4 hitter], but if they were, it looks like it's played out to be a really good move," Segui said. "I mean, it's unfortunate, what happened [to Belle], but he's not going to be the first guy to have his career end [prematurely] by injury."

And the obvious benefit to Richards?

"I'm excited for Chris that he's getting the chance he deserves," Segui said.

What really excites Segui? The chance to play every day in the field, where he is known for quick reactions and soft hands.

"I've always ended up at DH, and I'm not sure why," he said. "I just seem to fall into the role. But I'm not old enough or fat enough yet to do that. I'm really glad to be in the field instead of sitting in the clubhouse trying to stay loose [between at-bats]. There comes a day when your body says, `OK, you're a DH.' But I haven't gotten there yet."

No, he's still a first baseman - a good one. And now, a cleanup hitter, too.

It didn't make sense when he signed, but oh, it does now.

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