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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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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jmsdean477
Member
jmsdean477

If they don’t land Ohtani, and with a lot of the most interesting of the jettisoned braves prospects having already signed, I think they will be pretty desperate.

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

Yes, I think that’s right.

What I don’t know, though, based on me not fully understanding all of the IFA rules: is there any way that they could use the money late in this IFA period to jump on signing some players who otherwise would have been expected to sign after the next IFA period starts on July 2, 2018? Even a 25% or 50% overpay on market IFA bonuses is a pretty small cash commitment in MLB terms and should be preferable to letting the money otherwise go unused.