Dee Gordon Becomes An Outfield Experiment

The hot stove is warming up, and as always, Jerry Dipoto is the one stoking the fire.

Now, you might say, don’t the Mariners already have the most expensive second baseman in baseball? Why yes, yes they do. So why are they trading for Dee Gordon? Because they’re not acquiring him to play second base.

The Mariners have put a heavy emphasis on athleticism in the outfield under Dipoto’s regime, and with Jarrod Dyson now a free agent, the team is apparently betting on Gordon’s speed translating into similar results in the outfield. And there’s no question that Gordon is one of the very fastest players in the game.

By sprint speed, he’s nearly equal to Byron Buxton and Billy Hamilton, maybe the two best defensive outfielders alive. Of course, it has to be noted that he’s also right next to Delino Deshields, another exceptionally fast former second baseman who moved to the outfield, but has split his time between LF and CF because he hasn’t impressed enough to be handed a regular job in CF. Speed obviously matters, but it is not, in and of itself, determinative of outfield ability.

That said, Gordon was a very poor defensive SS early in his career and worked to make himself into a strong defensive second baseman, so he’s already learned a new position and made himself more valuable once. If Gordon can do it again, turning his raw speed into upper-tier range in center field again, then he could be a nice player for the Mariners.

Gordon isn’t a great hitter, but his baserunning is so valuable than he’s been an above-average offensive player throughout his career, and he’s at +26 runs of offense over the last four years, since his 2014 breakout in LA. If you pair an above-average offensive player with potentially above-average center field defense, that’s an impact player, which is obviously what the Mariners are hoping for.

In order to bring Gordon to Seattle, they took on the rest of the $38 million he’s owed and surrendered one of the few good pieces they had left in their farm system.

Nick Neidert was one of the team’s best arms, even without a super high ceiling, while Chris Torres and Robert Dugger are low-level lottery tickets who aren’t without value. This wasn’t a straight salary dump for the Marlins, who got three guys worth watching in return.

But along with Gordon, the Mariners also get another $1 million in international bonus money, which is obviously being acquired to try and get Shohei Otani to sign with the Mariners. They gave up another prospect last night to acquire $1 million from the Twins, so the plan is pretty clearly to surrender whatever necessary to give the organization the best chance possible to win the Ohtani derby.

And given how valuable he is, any marginal improvement in that sweepstakes is probably worth surrendering decent-but-unspectacular prospects. Ohtani is probably worth some team’s entire farm systems by himself. He’ll instantly become one of the most valuable resources in whatever organization he joins. If this deal helps the Mariners land Ohtani, the price paid becomes inconsequential.

And if Gordon turns into a good defensive CF, then this could very well be a nice move on its own merits. So there’s clearly upside here for Seattle.

But there’s plenty of downside too. Ohtani might go elsewhere. Gordon might end up not taking well to the OF, and then the team would have an expensive corner outfielder with a light bat, or a second baseman who pushes Robinson Cano to first base, both options limiting their offense. And the farm system continues to be strip-mined for short-term gains, so if the Mariners don’t win, all this borrowing from the future won’t look so good in a few years.

It’s not entirely correct to say that the Mariners are “Ohtani or bust” at this point, but they really need him. And if they get him, they won’t care that they don’t have a farm system anymore.

We hoped you liked reading Dee Gordon Becomes An Outfield Experiment by Dave Cameron!

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Quadrangular
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Quadrangular

I love the reasoning here. I’m sure there’s more going on behind the scenes, but it appears to be as simple as “Hey, this guy is really fast. He’ll be great”

mbs2001
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mbs2001

Including the 79 game season, Godon had 9 WAR in his 3 seasons in Miami. Hes flawed but also not just a speed guy.

Dave T
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Member
Dave T

I think that Quadrangular was referring to the Mariners’ basis for thinking that Gordon can play CF. Going by Gordon’s player page here, he’s never played an inning anywhere except shortstop or second base during his entire team in the majors or minors, which goes back to 2008.

mbs2001
Member
mbs2001

Ok that’s understandable but I’d bet on him being at least replacement level in CF. He’s an incredible athlete who has a natural advantage over 90% of the people who play the position.

The fact that he’s enthusiastic about it shows that he’s confident in his ability to play fly balls, which he can misstep and still make easy catches.

Dave T
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Member
Dave T

He might be, but replacement level in centerfield is a pretty high bar. Replacement level defense is defined as average defense amongst major leaguers who play a position.

Going by career UZR/150, Mike Trout is almost exactly a replacement level defensive centerfielder (-0.7 UZR/150). He’s not Dee Gordon, but he’s faster and more athletic than the average major league player.

The point is that, yes, Gordon is faster than most centerfielders, but a replacement level defensive centerfielder is still an athletic player who is quite a bit faster than the average major league player. And these players have generally been getting defensive reps in the outfield since before they were drafted, or at least since the low minors if they were converted from middle infield.

mbs2001
Member
mbs2001

He’s faster than all but 2 MLB centerfielders, speed is numero uno at the position.

Also, the Mariners wouldnt have made the trade if Dee wasn’t all in on CF. If you think he doesn’t already have an accurate gauge on how he reads flyballs from the outfield then you’re wrong. All players know their range and especially their limitations.

Dave T
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Member
Dave T

Speed helps, but it’s not the be-all end-all. Jumps matter and routes matter also. Vince Coleman rated as a pretty mediocre left fielder – admittedly under the cruder “total zone” system that we have from back then – even as one of the fastest players in the game.

I’m not saying that Gordon definitely will be bad at playing CF. Maybe he’ll be really good at it. I’m just saying that speed alone doesn’t guarantee that he turns into a good defensive centerfielder, because the baseline is other players who are pretty good at it and, in almost all cases, have tons of reps at playing the position.

Sonny L
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Member
Sonny L

Corner OF and CF are totally different challenges. Speed plays up in CF because the path of the ball-laterally-is less ambiguous off the bat. The mistakes in your read as a CF have more to do with exit velo (speaking in rough terms identifying a dying quail off the bat is harder) so having top 1% speed helps cover delayed reactions off the bat.

A player moving from middle infield to corner outfield reckons with spin/slice/hook of a batted ball more than they ever had to at SS or 2B. That spin effects not only the lateral movement but the carry of the ball overall, adding another potential direction to a misread.

If I were a Mariners coach/FO my biggest concern with this transition would be Dee’s arm. If he had the arm to play SS at MLB level he most likely will be sufficient, but I don’t remember anything about him as a SS so I’m not sure.

tb.25
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tb.25

The mariners didn’t need Dee gordon to be all in on the positional change… They can force him to try it.

They’d HOPE he’s all-in, but I highly doubt that was a condition to trade acceptance for the Mariners.

j6takish
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j6takish

Dee gordon may be the most BABIP dependent guy in the league. When the hits fall in, he’s good, if his BABIP falls to even league average levels like it did last year, he’s borderline unstartable. He’ll “probably” be okay in CF but this seemed like a pretty big risk at the time, the 1mm in international spending originally wasn’t reported in the deal

frangipard
Member
frangipard

Yeah, and if Kyle Hendrick’s control was league-average he’d be an ineffective, too. So what?

It would be unusual for a guy with 80 speed to have a league-average BABIP. .330 is entirely sustainable for him.

mbs2001
Guest
mbs2001

Unless youre playing in a 4 team league .300 or.340 with 60 sbs at 2B is not unstartable.

dl80
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dl80

I’m sure he meant in real life.

mbs2001
Member
mbs2001

He meant fantasy, otherwise how many MLB teams have a 3-4 war 2nd baseman who’s “unstartable”. Yeah.. park his arse on the bench because .340 obp with 80 speed grows on trees.

-voting down my objection to gordon being unplayable at 2b because other people are doing so

tb.25
Member
tb.25

What suggested he meant fantasy…? You were the first to bring it up.

csw117
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Member
csw117

This isn’t going to go well. He’ll be a worse CF than Adam Dunn.