Mariners Address Center Field With Second Baseman

Shohei Ohtani. Giancarlo Stanton. Something about Shohei Ohtani, and something about Giancarlo Stanton. Given the nature of the rumor mill these past few weeks, it would’ve been easy to forget that teams have other needs. Take the Mariners, for example. The Mariners badly need a good starting pitcher. That could be Ohtani. They’re right in there, among the seven finalists. But the Mariners have also needed a center fielder. Finding a center fielder is less interesting than trying to land Ohtani, sure, but it doesn’t mean it could just be ignored. Not everything has to do with Ohtani, or Stanton. And so on Thursday, the Mariners have made a trade with the Marlins. A trade to address the other need. A creative one!

Mariners get:

  • Dee Gordon
  • $1 million in international slot money

Marlins get:

The Mariners’ roster lacked a center fielder. Dee Gordon isn’t a center fielder. He’s a second baseman. The Mariners will ask him to convert, so I guess that means he is a center fielder, at least by label. The Mariners are taking the chance that Gordon can pull this position switch off. From the Marlins’ side, does this need to be explained? Gordon turns 30 next April. He’s due at least $38 million over the next three years, and that could turn into $51 million over four. The Marlins wanted out. They’re all about cutting costs right now, so this is a normal trade for prospects. If, that is, you believe the Mariners had prospects to give. It’s debatable.

Oh, and there’s slot money, too. Turns out this is connected to Ohtani after all. He just can’t be escaped.

There’s a whole trade here to be evaluated on its own merits. Gordon’s a good player. Neidert could become a good player. We’ll get to that. But we can talk about the money first. The Mariners added $1 million to their available international money. Wednesday, they also added $1 million to their available international money, when they sent catcher David Banuelos to the Twins. As a result, at least for now, the Mariners could offer Ohtani a slightly larger signing bonus than any other finalist. It’s not the Rangers, anymore.

Now, this gets weird. On the one hand, we’ve been given no indication that Ohtani considers money much of a motivating factor. On the other hand, it at least looks curious that the Mariners have added $2 million over 24 hours. Especially given that it let them barely leapfrog the Rangers. Ohtani, you’d figure, can’t not care about money at all. If this is something the Mariners had to do in order to put their pursuit of Ohtani over the top, well, that justifies everything. Ohtani is that valuable. We just can’t take anything for certain. There are six other finalists. Banuelos is a real prospect, albeit in the lower levels. If the Mariners *don’t* land Ohtani, they’ll have exchanged resources for slot money they might not know what to do with. There’s a risk until Ohtani’s signature is on an actual contract.

I have no idea what to do with that. None of us have any inside information. Some people think the Mariners are the easy favorites. Others think other things. We probably all just want this to end, one way or another.

So let’s talk about Gordon. Ohtani angle aside, this is still an interesting trade. The trade itself is conventional, but the Mariners’ intention isn’t. Gordon was busted for PEDs in 2016, but he just bounced back with a good regular season as an everyday player. Gordon became an everyday player in 2014. Since then, he’s been worth about 3.2 WAR per 600 plate appearances, putting him around players like Ender Inciarte, Dexter Fowler, Joe Panik, and Kole Calhoun.

Gordon is an average or slightly below-average hitter, because he seldom walks and he seldom goes deep. He worked hard to turn himself into a defensive asset at second base, after he had problems as a shortstop. Of course, Gordon is a hell of a runner. Again, over the past four years, by baserunning runs per 600 plate appearances, Gordon ranks fourth in baseball, behind only Billy Hamilton, Jarrod Dyson, and Delino DeShields. Gordon is quick, having just finished with baseball’s fourth-fastest average sprint speed.

The Mariners see a potential center fielder. Gordon hasn’t been a center fielder. He said that he was surprised when the Mariners informed him of their plan. You could say it’s way too simplistic — Gordon is fast, so, therefore, the team thinks he can handle it. But…yeah, kind of. I mean, speed is the most important thing for a center fielder, provided eyesight is a given. Gordon has it in spades. Click on that sprint-speed leaderboard again. Six of the top ten players are center fielders, not counting Gordon. Of the top 30 players, 16 are center fielders, again not counting Gordon. The three players with higher sprint speeds than Gordon in 2017: Billy Hamilton, Byron Buxton, and Bradley Zimmer. Center field, center field, center field.

The job isn’t only based around speed. It’s also a matter of reads and instincts. Gordon has already shown his adaptability, by transitioning so well to second base. And Jerry Dipoto thinks this ought to be in his wheelhouse.

It’s not like this is unprecedented. We’ve seen attempts like this before. The Nationals had their Trea Turner experiment. Billy Hamilton was a minor-league infielder before he was one of the best defensive outfielders on the planet. The same goes for Mookie Betts. The Dodgers, just this season, started trying Chris Taylor in center field. And even though the circumstances were different, the Royals converted Alex Gordon from corner infield to corner outfield, where he became defensively elite. The odds are pretty good that Gordon can do this. If anything, his range is somewhat wasted at second, with infield alignments moving around so much.

Granted, we always have to consider the possibility that Gordon won’t take to center field. That would give the Mariners an issue. There’s no easy way to then move pieces around. For me, the bigger concern isn’t about 2018. It’s more about 2019, or especially 2020. How well is Gordon’s speed going to age? It bodes well that he was still so fast at 29. But just four of the top 30 sprint speeds from 2017 came from players in their 30s. Credit to Rajai Davis, who, at 37, was still one of the 15 fastest players in baseball. Gordon might preserve his range. If he doesn’t, he’ll force the Mariners into tricky decisions.

It’s a short- and medium-term move. Gordon makes the Mariners better now, and he makes them more athletic now. This improves the Mariners’ chances of winning the wild card, and remember that they have baseball’s longest active playoff drought. There’s no question that Dipoto feels a certain urgency to make something happen. The looming problem is that the Astros aren’t going away. Ideally the Mariners would have a clearer path to first place in the division, but these are the kinds of moves they have to make, if they refuse to tear down. The farm is as empty as ever, but the major-league product is okay. And Ohtani might be just around the corner. You can’t ignore Ohtani.

Going to the Marlins, once more, are Neidert, Torres, and Dugger. Neidert is the best-looking prospect of the three. He was probably the best pitching prospect in the Mariners’ system. I got some quotes from Eric Longenhagen to help out, here, so here’s Eric on Neidert:

Neidert is 87-92 with movement, any pitch in any count. Plus changeup and command projection. Curveball is fringey but I think it plays up against righties because of his cross-bodied delivery. Scouts tend to underrate changeup/command righties because those skills tend to be more acquirable than velocity (traditionally, maybe not any more) and a breaking ball. But I think we forget that changeup and command projection apply to the guys who already have them, too. If you suddenly have a 7 change and 7 command, you have Kyle Hendricks‘ 2016 season. I think Neidert is a #4, but I think there’s more room for growth above that than others give him credit for.

On Torres:

Torres originally had a deal with the Yankees for $2mil but New York backed out, probably due to a failed physical, something with his arm. Seattle signed him later in the summer of 2014 for like $375k. His arm is fine now, I have a 6 on it. I think he stays at short or is plus at 2B, has the power to play there if he has to move. Switch-hitter, K’s a lot. Hasn’t developed as a hitter because he’s been hurt. Profile has some volatility but he’s an up the middle guy with power.

And on Dugger:

Dugger: athletic righty, 92-94, average curveball. Good arm action. Spent two years at Juco, then draft year at Texas A&M.

Eric says that Neidert and Torres were two of Seattle’s top six. Now, relative to the rest of baseball, that was a mediocre top six to begin with, but subtraction is subtraction. Neidert might have a narrow path to success, being able to afford little loss to his arm strength, but he already has command, which is important. It means he could make it, and he could make it soon.

But Neidert wasn’t going to help the 2018 Mariners as much as Dee Gordon. Neither was Torres, and neither was Dugger. They certainly weren’t going to help as much as Shohei Ohtani might be able to. The Mariners are essentially trying to stay afloat, building a product good enough they can stay in the race while the farm starts over. Give a farm three years and it can be fixed. Can the Mariners hang around for two or three years? Gordon should make that a little more likely. And Ohtani — well, we all know about that one.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Say the Gordon CF experiment doesn’t pan out. Do you put Haniger in CF? Heredia is the only other option but I wouldn’t have his bat in the lineup if it can be avoided, other than to maybe be a weak-side platoon with goldilocks.


I would guess that Haniger would be plan B. He might have been plan A if they had signed Jay.

Dag Gummit
Dag Gummit

I feel confident that Haniger could be a passable CF for two or three years. He may not be great or even below average, but over-emphasizing -5 on defense is far from a sin for a +15 sophomore.

Heredia was a damn good CF even if not Dyson out there and was really good against LHP. If the team feels he’ll never be serviceable enough vR (which may be true), then they definitely need someone else out there for 80% of the time. Ah, heck. The Gordon trade may have just been to buy enough time to see if Heredia makes any growth vR is winter-ball or something. I don’t know.