Seattle picked up more money it can offer Shohei Ohtani. And no, Robinson Cano isn't going anywhere; the Mariners have other plans for Dee Gordon.
The Mariners have found their starting centerfielder in a second baseman.
No, Robinson Cano isn’t shifting positions. He’s staying put. But on Thursday, Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto traded for a different all-star second baseman to play the prime outfield spot, acquiring Dee Gordon — a two-time All-Star — from the Marlins.
Gordon has never played the position in a Major League game, but he played centerfield in nine games for Licey in the Dominican Winter League in 2013-14. He also played left and right field in that stint as well.
“I don’t think the transition to centerfield will be a terribly difficult one for him,” Dipoto said. “He actually doesn’t live too far from Ken Griffey Jr. So I think he’s actually reaching out for a little assistance. We are thrilled to have him. It allows us to play that fast, athletic game we’ve been looking for and we do trust that the ability for him to acclimate himself into centerfield will be a pretty seamless transition for him.”
But of course, no move this offseason could not feature some aspect of the quest for Shohei Ohtani. Seattle also picked up another $1 million in international pool money to sweeten their bonus offer to the Japanese hitting and pitching standout. That additional money gives the Mariners $3.557 million in their bonus pool, moving ahead of the Texas Rangers at $3.53 million for the most to offer.
“It’s good to have,” Dipoto said abruptly and didn’t expound on any further.
The Mariners could try to add more to increase their pool, but they are limited by the collective bargaining agreement.
“We are getting pretty close to capping out,” he said. “You can only acquire 75 percent of your initial pool. We still have some space to add. And as you may have figured out in the last few weeks, especially the last couple of days, we’ve been fairly aggressive in so doing.”
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In exchange, the Mariners sent top pitching prospect Nick Neidert to the Marlins along with right-handed pitcher Robert Dugger and infielder Christopher Torres.
Gordon, 29, hit .308 (201 for 653) with 114 runs scored, 20 doubles, nine triples, two home runs, 33 RBI, 60 stolen bases and a .341 on-base percentage in 158 games with the Marlins in 2017. He led the National League in steals last season while also tying for the second most hits and fourth most runs scored. Drafted as a shortstop by the Dodgers, he converted to second base before being traded to the Marlins. He won the Gold Glove in 2015. So being requested to play centerfield wasn’t something he expected.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I had honestly never heard of a guy, who was a Gold-Glove caliber player at his position, turning over to a new position. I was definitely shocked. But at the end of the day, I am a team player and that’s what I have to do for the Seattle Mariners. That’s what is best for them. Then that’s what I have to do.”
Why does Dipoto think it will work?
“His first step, his acceleration is about as good as anybody in the league,” he said. “We have him registered as one of the top three in Major League Baseball in those categories. And when you look at the two people in front of him, they are both centerfielders. He has that explosive speed and athletic ability that really resonates at that position. And if you add to it, the fact that we have a Hall of Famer playing second base, then this was a way that we could be creative to add what we think is an impact player to our club.”
Gordon was pragmatic about the move when asked about his excitement level to move the outfield.
“I’m just going to do it,” he said. “I don’t feel anything either way. I haven’t done it. I just have to see what it’s like and play it to the best of my ability.”
But he also understands why he can’t play second base for the Mariners right now.
“Robinson Cano, it’s a dream come true to play with him,” Gordon said. “I watched him play with my dad as a rookie. He’s always good to me. If I have to move — I’m not going lie to you and say it was just, ‘oh, great, let me move,’ cause I worked really hard to become one of the best second basemen in baseball — but if there was anybody I would have to move for, it would be Robbie.”
Asked about his brief stint in the outfield during winter ball, Gordon said: “Honestly, I played that pretty well just kind of winging it. I see myself as a fast learner. Like I told Jerry, I just want to compete for a Gold Glove and help this team win.”
Seattle will assume the remaining money owed on Gordon’s contract guaranteed through 2020, which includes a $14 million vesting, club option for 2021 with a $1 million buyout. Gordon will make $10.8 million this season, $13.3 million in 2019 and $13.8 million in 2020.
Since 2014, Gordon leads all MLB players in triples with 35, while totaling the second-most stolen bases with 212. During that span, only he and Billy Hamilton (230) have tallied at least 200 stolen bases. He is the only active player to bat at least .300 while stealing at least 50 bases in multiple seasons (2015 and 2017).
Neidert was named the organization’s minor league starting pitcher of the year in 2017. In 19 starts in the Cal League, he dominated, posting a 10-3 record with a 2.76 ERA. Neidert struck out 109 batters in 104 1/3 innings while walking just 17. He allowed three runs or less in 18 of his starts, and opponents batted just .244 against him. Of the more than 1,300 pitches he threw, 69 percent were strikes. He closed out his time in Modesto in dominant fashion, going 5-0 in his last five starts, posting a 1.45 ERA and striking out 27 batters in 31 innings.
He didn’t replicate that success at the Class AA level. He’s 1-3 with a 6.56 ERA in six starts with Arkansas. He left his last outing on Aug. 18 after being struck by a line drive. He was placed on the disabled list after suffering a deep bone bruise in his right forearm and never pitched again.
While being the M’s top pitching prospect, Neidert was only projected to be a No. 4-5 starter at the big league level. The Mariners shopped Neidert during the trade deadline last season. Two opposing scouts that saw him pitch for Class AA Arkansas came away less than enthused, saying Neidert’s fastball sat around 88-90 and his breaking pitchers were lacking. Still, he is considered to have a fair amount of deception in his delivery and strong command of his pitches.
Dugger, 22, split the 2017 season between Low-A Clinton and High-A Modesto, posting a 6-6 combined record with two saves and a 2.75 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 32 walks in 31 appearances, including 18 starts.
Torres, 19, hit .238 (46 for 193) with eight doubles, six triples, six home runs, 22 RBI, 25 walks and 13 stolen bases in 48 games with Short-A Everett in 2017.
Here’s a statement from Gordon’s representatives …