SEATTLE — Looking to improve their team speed and baserunning ability, the Mariners made a bold move in that direction on Thursday as general manager Jerry Dipoto acquired two-time National League All-Star Dee Gordon from the Marlins and another $1 million in international slot money in exchange for top pitching prospect Nick Neidert and two other Minor Leaguers. Seattle plans to play Gordon, a National League Gold Glove Award-winning second baseman, in center field.
Neidert, 21, was the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect per MLBPipeline.com. Infielder Chris Torres, their No. 7 prospect, and right-hander Robert Dugger are also headed to Miami.
The additional international slot money could also help Seattle’s pursuit of Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who is only able to earn an MLB-minimum salary of $545,000 next year, in addition to whatever slot money teams have available. The Mariners now have $3.557 million in slot money, moving them slightly ahead of the Rangers’ $3.535 million among the remaining contenders.
But with or without Ohtani, Gordon brings a speed element that Dipoto has been seeking.
“We want to be more athletic, we want to be faster and more dynamic on the bases,” Dipoto said. “Very few players on the planet are more dynamic on the bases than Dee Gordon.”
Gordon broke in with the Dodgers as a shortstop and played there his first three seasons, but switched to second base in 2014. He has started just two games at shortstop in the past four years. He played 13 games in the outfield for Licey in the Dominican Winter League in 2013-14, and nine of those were in center.
That is the extent of Gordon’s professional outfield experience, but a switch from the middle of the infield to center field is not unheard of, especially for players with elite speed. In recent years, both Billy Hamilton and Trea Turner — who were primarily shortstops in the Minors — moved to center in the Majors, though Turner has since moved back to shortstop because of the Nationals’ roster construction.
Gordon acknowledged he was “shocked” to find out he will be moved to center field, but said he understands the move and will do what’s best for the team. He said he’s excited to hit in front of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, and he has huge respect for Cano’s abilities at second base.
“I’m not going to lie,” Gordon said. “I worked really hard to be one of the best second basemen in baseball. But if it’s anybody I’d move for, it’s Robbie. To hit in front of those guys is a dream. I know they’re going to get their numbers, so I just don’t want to mess it up.”
Both Dipoto and Gordon said they expect the transition to go smoothly.
“Just the little bit I had in the Dominican,” Gordon said of his previous experience in the outfield. “Honestly I played that pretty well, just winging it. Hopefully with some Major League-caliber coaching, I’ll be fine. I consider myself a fast learner and I want to help this team win.”
The Mariners put a big emphasis on defense in 2017, acquiring Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger after finishing 21st in the Majors with -8 Outs Above Average (OAA) the year before. With added outfield range in 2017, they jumped to fifth in the Majors with +12 OAA. Giving significant playing time to someone who has never played center in the Majors before could put a dent in that improvement.
Though overshadowed by the talk involving National League MVP teammate Giancarlo Stanton, Gordon has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason as the Marlins look to shed payroll.
Gordon is under contract for three more seasons for a combined $37.9 million, with $10.8 million this coming year and then $13.3 million in ’19 and $13.8 million in ’20. He also has a $14 million team option for 2021 that becomes guaranteed if he accumulates 600 plate appearances in 2020 or 1,200 plate appearances in 2019-20.
Gordon certainly replaces the speed element lost by the Mariners when Dyson became a free agent, and he is a much bigger offensive threat, having posted a .308/.341/.375 slash line with 60 stolen bases and a 3.1 bWAR last season.
The Mariners finished 2017 with three rookie outfielders in Haniger, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia. With Heredia rehabbing from shoulder surgery this offseason, Gordon slides into the center-field role and allows Gamel and Heredia to split time in left field, with Haniger handling right field.
Gordon has led the Majors in stolen bases three of the last four seasons, with a career-high 64 in his last year with the Dodgers in 2014, 58 in his first season with the Marlins in ’15, and then last season when he was 60-for-76 in stolen-base attempts for Miami.
The only time Gordon didn’t lead the league in stolen bases during that span was 2016, when he served an 80-game suspension for a failed drug test and played just 79 games, batting .268 with 30 stolen bases.
The Florida native owns a career .293/.329/.367 line in seven seasons. He led the Majors in hits with 205 in 2015 for the Marlins while winning the NL batting title at a career-best .333. Gordon also was the NL Gold Glove winner and Silver Slugger Award winner at second base that season while earning his second straight All-Star berth.
The trade is the fifth engineered by the always-busy Dipoto this offseason, and the 62nd trade in the 27 months since he took over as Seattle’s GM. Last month he acquired 25-year-old slugger Ryon Healy from the A’s to fill a hole at first base, sent hard-throwing prospect Thyago Vieira to the White Sox for $500,000 in international slot money to bolster the team’s bid for Ohtani, and landed reliever Nick Rumbelow from the Yankees for a pair of Minor Leaguers.
Dipoto also acquired another $1 million in international slot money on Wednesday from the Twins in exchange for Minor League catcher David Banuelos, who was the team’s No. 10 prospect.
Teams can only add up to 75 percent of their initial pool money, which in the Mariners’ case means they’re limited to a total of $4.37 million if they want to make any further trades.
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Moving to a contending Mariners club will likely be a boon for Gordon, who should be selected during the initial three rounds of ’18 roto drafts after hitting .308 with 114 runs scored and a Major League-best 60 steals this past year. Operating in an American League lineup for the first time and batting in front of players such as Cano and Cruz, the speedster could flirt with the 100-run plateau again while posting a career-high RBI total.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.