Mariners acquire Dee Gordon, ammo for Ohtani

Yesterday I wrote this article and mistakenly posted it incorrectly. The Shohei Ohtani portion of the article is now very, very sad. Enjoy!

In the midst of a seven-team pursuit for Shohei Ohtani, Jerry Dipoto did something only Jerry Dipoto would do in acquiring Dee Gordon and $1M in international bonus space. In the process, the Mariners also freed Robert Dugger, Christopher Torres, and their #2 prospect Nick Neidert from their perpetually middling franchise.

To make it that much easier:

Mariners receive:

  • Two-time All-Star Dee Gordon
  • $1M international slot money to pursue Ohtani

Marlins receive:

  • Nick Neidert
  • Robert Dugger
  • Christopher Torres
  • The relief of Dee Gordon’s contract

The Mariners accomplished two things with this deal, and I’m not sure which part is more sexy. In the acquisition of Dee Gordon, the Mariners are getting a player who can play second base and shortstop.  What the Mariners hope is that he will be able to adequately play center field, which is where they intend on playing him for now.

On its own, acquiring international slot money is very much an unsexy thing to receive in a trade. But! What if I told you that the Mariners now have a slight lead in international slot money. (Or… really more of a tie with Texas.) This means the M’s can offer Shohei Ohtani more money than any other team. If you ask me, that’s as sexy as it gets. If you know some of his backstory, money clearly isn’t a pressing matter to Ohtani, but I’ve never heard of a player who doesn’t care about money.

The framework of this trade is almost identical to that of the Mike Leake trade. In the Leake deal, the M’s took on most of Leake’s contract and gave up SS Rayder Ascanio in exchange for $0.75 million international bonus space. The formula seems to be taking on contracts slightly underwater, giving up middling prospects, and getting a major league ready player and Ohtani ammo (international slot money) in return. Hell, Gordon is 29 years old; the same age as Mike Leake at the time he was traded.

Before the days of Leonys Martin and Jarrod Dyson, the Mariners were thinking of ways they could get creative to solve their black hole in center field. Back then, some suggested that Brad Miller could move off of shortstop to try and hack it. He ended up playing 146.0 innings in center for the Mariners in 2015, and the results were… not good.

Dee Gordon will now attempt to succeed where Brad Miller failed. Some have proposed the Gordon serve as a Ben Zobrist-esque superutility player, but Dipoto seems adamant that Gordon will only play center field. When Robinson Cano’s contract inevitably becomes an albatross, Gordon would hypothetically be a candidate to replace him at second base.

Today’s trade does not come without potential drawbacks. In Nick Neidert, the Mariners lost their top pitching prospect. John Sickels projects Neidert as somewhere around a number three starter. That’s not game-changing, but the back of the Mariners’ rotation isn’t exactly game-changing either. Unless you’re the other team. Our pitchers will serve up runs all day if you’re the other team, and that by definition changes the game.

Christopher Torres is an 18-year-old shortstop that wasn’t expected to join the M’s until 2020 or 2021. He is said to have the tools to stay at shortstop while also possibly being able to hit for contact and some power. Robert Dugger has been a starter and reliever in the minors and has worked a 3.22 ERA in 156.2 innings pitched.

The big deal here is not losing Neidert, and it certainly isn’t losing Torres or Dugger. It’s in getting Dee Gordon. In 2016, Gordon was popped with an 80-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs. Despite taking performance enhancing drugs, Gordon’s highest home run total for a season is 4.

It’s obvious that Gordon’s value comes predominantly from his speed on the base paths. In his last four seasons, he has averaged or been on pace for at least 60 stolen bases over 162 games. In order to swipe bases, though, Gordon will have to get on base. Going into 2018, Steamer projects that Gordon will hit .286/.325/.368 with a .301 wOBA and 85 wRC+ (i.e., 15% below league average). For comparison, Jarrod Dyson is currently projected to slash .261/.328/.369 with a .304 wOBA and 85 wRC+.  Gordon, you could argue, isn’t far from Dyson as a hitter.

Except there are clear differences between the two. The most important of which is their splits by handedness. To compare them, we’ll use wRC+. (For reference, 100 is league, 110 is 10% above league average, and 90 is 10% below league average.) Versus lefties over their careers, Dee Gordon hits a respectable 97 wRC+ while Dyson hits a comparable 93 wRC+. Versus righties, Dee Gordon hits a subpar 82 wRC+, but Dyson hits an abysmal 55 wRC+. That’s even worse than Seth Smith’s wRC+ versus lefties, and this difference will allow Gordon to play in more games and face more pitchers than Dyson would have been able to.

If the Mariners win the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, this trade looks incredible. If they lose, well, it doesn’t look nearly as good. If you think about it, though, it is curious that the Mariners have continued to add international money recently. Ohtani is passing up millions and millions of dollars to come to the United States now. So theoretically, he can’t have that much desire for a couple million extra dollars, at least one would think. If we’re making the assumption that Ohtani is to sign here, then this signing becomes more important. To accommodate Ohtani as a DH, Nelson Cruz is going to have to play in the field where he’s below average at best. With an athletic, defensive first outfield, Gordon should fit right in.

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