As with every other Mariners fan, I’ve been following the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes with great hope and trepidation. We know that General Manager Jerry Dipoto and company presented to the Japanese star and his representative on Tuesday, but little else. The Cone of Silence has descended over the proceedings, and we don’t even have an idea who was in the Seattle entourage, let alone what the big guy might be thinking.
But the sludge-like stream that is driving the Hot Stove League seems to be breaking loose a bit. The Angels signed Braves refugee prospect Kevin Maitan. Trade rumors regarding Giancarlo Stanton are heating up. The Rangers signed reliever Mike Minor today, after reaching a deal with starter Doug Fister last week. The Cubs inked pitcher Tyler Chatwood to a three year contract. News tonight that Detroit is nearing a deal for Astros starter Mike Fiers.
And then there is the perfectly weird as former major leaguer and disgraced steroid user Rafael Palmeiro announced he would attempt a major-league comeback. Palmeiro faces some important challenges. The first is that he is 53, not exactly a spring chicken. The second is that he is an idiot. My last memory of him is waving his finger at members of Congress assuring them he is clean. Within months he tested positive for PED’s . What a dope.
However, for many of us, the winter baseball market is constipated, and today Dipoto provided the enema. Just as I was heading out the door right after school ended to a student staffing, MLBTradeRumors announced the M’s traded for Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon.
Just to be clear, Dee Gordon is not chopped liver. In 2017 he slashed .308/.341/.375, leading the NL with 60 stolen bases while scoring 114 runs. Gordon provides the Mariner with a top of the order hitter with great base-running talent. In 2015 Gordon led the league in hitting with a .330 average, and led the league in hits and stolen bases. Gordon received MVP votes in 2014 and 2015.
But things are not perfect. In 2016 Gordon was suspended for 90 games for a positive PED test. His game isn’t perfect either. Though he is a hitting machine, he isn’t much of a walker. Only 25 walks in 695 plate appearances last year. Gordon doesn’t strike out a ton, but enough to be noticed, 93 K’s in 2017.
Most noticeable is that Dee Gordon plays second base. That’s a position that is the property of one Robinson Cano, future Hall of Famer. Cano stakes his claim each year with a contract worth $24 million. With outfield experience in only 13 winter league games in his career, major and minor league, Dipoto annointed Gordon as the M’s 2018 center fielder.
Unquestionably, Gordon is a fine athlete, swift of foot, but outfield, let alone center field, is not an easy position to just slide into. While this doesn’t sink to the level of some of Jack Zdurencik’s moves to the outfield, Mike Morse, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, anybody? It will take some time for Gordon to figure it out.
According to MLB.com The Mariners will take on Gordon’s contract, which with three years guaranteed for a total of $37.9 million and a fourth year with an automatic $14 million if certain playing incentives are met. It isn’t a cheapie. Definitely costs more than bringing back Jarrod Dyson, but the offensive ceiling is higher even if the defense is unknown. It’s a big savings to signing Lorenzo Cain, who is likely to earn $80 million over five years.
It also cost the Mariners minor league pitcher Nick Neidert. Neidert was recently rated the Mariners number two prospect, and their best pitching prospect. He is accompanied by infielder Christopher Torres, and Class A pitcher Robert Duggar. In addition to Gordon, the M’s receive a million dollars in international bonus money they can throw at Ohtani.
This deal represents pretty out-of the-box thinking by Dipoto, and it’s hard not to like it. He could have re-signed Dyson, but the former Mariner is three years older than Gordon, and age and experience, don’t always play well in baseball when your chief attribute is speed. He could have thrown cash at Cain, but hanging on to money to address the M’s pitching woes is a smart move. Make no doubt about it, Gordon is a really good hitter who brings a lot to a Mariners team of poor base runners, and that don’t use their speed wisely. Hitting with Jean Segura in front of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz should be pretty interesting.
It’s a great trade, if it works. If Gordon adjusts to an outfield move, and is able to play the position, all is well. He began his career as a shortstop, and made himself into a gold glove second baseman, so he is certainly capable of adaptation. An example of a similar success story is Delino DeShields, Jr., who went from being a pretty decent second baseman, to being a pretty good center fielder, good enough to knock Leonys Martin out of his starting job. But it took a year, for DeShields to figure it out going from a -5.7 UZR in 2015, to a 3.9 UZR in 2016. If the M’s are forced to play Gordon in a corner outfield position, he’ll be a pretty light hitting LF/RF in an outfield that is already pretty light hitting.
That Gordon is open to the change makes it all that much better. Gordon, in an interview after the trade confessed his surprise at the deal, but acknowledged the important role Cano has on the team. Most importantly, he had no doubt he could make the move to center.
“I’ll be fine. I consider myself a fast learner and I want to help this team win. Gordon said”
So I confess to a little finger crossing, due to my role as many-times burned Mariners fan. But this was a creative solution to answer one of the team’s most pressing needs, a center fielder with excellent offensive skills.
Hey Ohtani, what do you think?