In news that almost took a step away from the chase for Shohei Ohtani – almost – Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto picked up a leadoff-hitting, NL stolen base-leading second baseman to play center field Thursday afternoon. For good measure he grabbed an additional $1 million in pool money the Mariners can spend on Shohei Ohtani.
We will get how this relates to Ohtani out of the way first. The Mariners now have the most international bonus pool money available to spend on Shohei Ohtani of the seven teams still vying to sign him.
• Mariners, $3.557M
• Rangers, $3.535M
• Angels, $2.315M
• Cubs, $300,000
• Giants, $300,000
• Dodgers, $300,000
• Padres, $300,000
These figures could change as there is still bonus money out there to be traded for, but under the CBA teams are limited to accumulating no more than 75 percent of their initial pool. This trade was about more than just about additional dollars, however.
In a conference call with the media Wednesday, Dipoto hinted that he could get creative in filling the Mariners’ need in the outfield. A day later he traded for Dee Gordon, sending prospects Nick Neidert, Chris Torres and Robert Dugger to the Marlins in exchange for the Gold Glove middle infielder. While some suspected as the news was coming down that this was just a precursor to another deal because the Mariners have All-Stars at shortstop and second base, it quickly became apparent that Dipoto intended to keep Gordon and move him to center field.
Gordon checks off the boxes for the speed and athleticism the Mariners desire. Dipoto does not believe the transition to the outfield will be a problem.
“He’s a terrific athlete,” he said. “I don’t think the transition to center field will be a difficult one. He’s up for the challenge. We feel he is a real impact guy on our club. It allows us to play that fast, athletic game we have been looking for.”
While Gordon was not surprised that he was traded from the rebuilding Marlins, he did admit the move to the outfield was not something he expected.
“I was shocked,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “I honestly had never heard of a situation where a guy who is a Gold Glove-caliber player at his position turning over to a new position. At the end of the day I am a team player and that’s what I have got to do for the Seattle Mariners.”
Gordon has already reached out to Ken Griffey Jr., who is a neighbor in Florida, for help with the move. Griffey has talked often of Dee, who is a friend of his oldest son Trey.
“We all tried that Griffey catch out there at the wall in center,” he said. “Shagging with my dad being a young kid running around in center trying to make that catch. He’s been nothing but great to me my whole life. Trey and I talk all the time.”
The son of former pitcher Tom Gordon, who enjoyed a 21-year MLB career, Dee Gordon has connections that date back to his school days with another Mariner. This connection helps make the move to center more palatable.
“Robinson Cano is a dream come true for me to play with,” he said. “I watched that guy play with my dad as a rookie and he has always been awesome to me. It’s a dream. If I have to move, I’m not going to lie to you and say that it was just like, ‘Yeah, let me move,’ because I worked very, very hard to become one of the best second basemen in baseball. But if it is anybody I had to move for, it would be Robbie. Just to hit in front of these guys, I just don’t want to mess it up because you know these guys are going to have their numbers every year.”
Gordon does have some experience in the outfield as the Dodgers sent him to the Dominican Republic to learn to play center field in the winter ball in 2013.
“Honestly, I played there pretty well just winging it,” said Gordon.
For Dipoto, the determination that Gordon can play in center went beyond the eye test.
“It’s just the athlete,” Dipoto said. “When we go through our data, his first step, his acceleration is as good as anyone in the league. We have him registered as one of the top three in all of MLB in those categories. When you look at the people in front of him, they are center fielders. He has that explosive speed that really resonates at that position.”
“I’m going to just do it,” said Gordon. “I don’t feel anything (about the move) either way. I haven’t done it yet, so I just have got to see what it is like and play it to the best of my ability. At the end of the day it is about getting outs and I want to make sure I get as many outs for these guys as possible.”
Dipoto is going to give Gordon every opportunity to get comfortable in center. While there could be value in using him at shortstop or second base to spell Cano or Jean Segura, the initial plan is to play him in center only.
“I think it is important to give him the opportunity to sink his teeth into a position and play it,” said Dipoto. “He asked that question, he’s moved around so much.”
With the initial shock of the move wearing off – and a return phone call from Griffey coming mid-interview while on the air with Danny, Dave and Moore on 710 ESPN Seattle – Gordon appears ready for anything.
“I want to win,” he said. “I have seen the roster. We have a really good team and I am excited to be a part of it.”