Goddamn, Jerry Dipoto loves a trade. And it seems that the Mariners’ freewheelin’ GM has made himself another one, moving to acquire one of the players who Jays fans have most been talking about over the last several months, Dee Gordon.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 7, 2017
Going the other way are maybe not the most exciting prospects in the game, though one, Nick Neidert, is a right-hander drafted 60th overall in 2015, and ranked second for the Mariners per MLB Pipeline. (Granted Chris Crawford calls him “a nice get” despite the fact that he’s “not gonna miss a ton of bats,” because of his “high floor because of his ability to command the arsenal” and that he “can make hitters look silly with the change.”
The deal is quite a bit more interesting than that, though. For one, Dipoto has already told reporters that the plan is for Gordon to play in centre field. That’s something he’s barely done before, though he obviously has the speed to do so — and for Seattle’s sake he’d better, because with Robinson Cano set at second base, it will be difficult to move Gordon elsewhere if he doesn’t take in centre. (Then again, Dipoto could just deal him again in that case.)
For two, there’s this:
The Mariners are taking on all $38M of Gordon’s contact, per a source.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) December 7, 2017
Source: as part of the Gordon deal, the Marlins also send $1M in international pool money to the Mariners.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) December 7, 2017
It was pretty much a given that any team adding Gordon would be taking on some or all of the money he’s still owed, but by taking the international bonus pool money the Dipoto seems to be gambling on using that as a potential difference-maker in landing Shohei Otani — a player who will provide so much surplus value to his club that assuming the entirety of Gordon’s deal (as opposed to a slightly smaller parcel) is a small price to pay.
But it’s not like Gordon’s deal is bad. He’ll make $10.5 million in 2018, $13 million in 2019, $13.5 million in 2020, and has a $14 million option ($1 million buyout) for 2021 — an option that will vest with 600 plate appearances in 2020, or 1,200 combined between 2019 and 2020.
For a 29-year-old who has produced a WAR of 3.3, 4.8, 1.0, and 3.3 over the last four years, that’s a very reasonable hit. But… uh… hitting is kinda the thing. Gordon hasn’t done it — at least not outside of 2015, where he produced a 116 wRC+, which was rendered somewhat suspect by his PED suspension at the start of the following year. In 2017 his 92 wRC+ was more than good enough for a player who provides the kind of speed and defence that Gordon does, and his .341 OBP looks more than good enough. But for his career his OBP is just .329, thanks mostly to his 4.5% walk rate. All of his value is coming from his legs, and a whole lot of it can be undone by batted ball luck, as his .319 BABIP 2016 season (his career mark is .345) produced a slash line of just .268/.305/.335.
Still, there’s a reason Jays fans — and perhaps the team itself — were very interested in Gordon. Even after the addition of Aledmys Diaz, I think the Jays certainly should have still had interest in a lefty hitter (which Gordon is) who could factor into both the club’s infield and outfield mix.
So why is it the Mariners and not the Blue Jays who’ve made this addition?
Well, for one, with Kevin Pillar in centre, the Jays would be more likely to use Gordon in a corner, where they wouldn’t really be maximizing his biggest asset.
There is also the fact that Gordon’s not an adequate backup at shortstop, so if he’d been acquired it would have been as an OF/2B, making the newly added Aledmys Diaz the club’s cover for Troy Tulowitzki — something Ross Atkins seemed to be leaning against, according to an excellent piece this week from John Lott of the Athletic. “We actually feel as though that if we were to have him stay at second base, he would be a better overall defender, if he were to play one position,” Atkins said of Diaz. Though the GM added that he expected the club to stay active on the infield market.
The other issue, I’d assume, is resources. Granted, the Jays won’t be able to do much this winter if they can’t find a way to make a $10.5 million salary work in order to add a guy who will play close to everyday, but if the fit wasn’t going to be perfect — and it seems like he wasn’t — to do that and move prospects in the process probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Especially with the Mariners being willing to push harder with their offer because of the international bonus money they so coveted.
I mean, as the great Jonah Birenbaum points out, “he’s younger and faster, sure, but Dee Gordon also costs a lot more than Jarrod Dyson, who’s been just as valuable over the past five seasons and is, you know, actually an outfielder.”
Unfortunately, I don’t think Dyson alone solves the Jays problems either. I think that right now they still need a proper right fielder, a starting pitcher, a backup catcher, and then that magical IF/OF that Diaz is and Gordon might a have been. You could figure out a way to make it work with Dyson, but really I don’t think he is any of those things.
Still, damn, a lefty-hitting table-setting top-of-the-lineup bat sure would look pretty nice, even if there’s a chance the OBP turns scary. And that there’s one of those off the market probably isn’t a great thing for the Jays — except in the fact that this finally might start to get the market moving. LET’S DO THIS ALREADY!