Dee Gordon Trade Profile: Mariners’ Options Limited

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 20: Dee Gordon #9 of the Seattle Mariners hits a 2-run singl ein the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 20, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 20: Dee Gordon #9 of the Seattle Mariners hits a 2-run singl ein the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 20, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

The Mariners need to find Dee Gordon one position to play. Scott Servais feels it’s a priority and Gordon himself isn’t keen on a utility role. With tough decisions ahead, it’s possible that a starting position will come on another team.

It doesn’t strike me as obvious to move Robinson Cano off of second base to accommodate Dee Gordon. It could happen, but Cano has reiterated his expectation to play second base in 2019 and Dee is far from guaranteed to produce enough at his natural position to justify displanting Cano.

Plus, the Mariners didn’t go into 2018 thinking less than 450 innings in center field would tell them all they need to know about Dee Gordon the outfielder, and I doubt that mindset has changed much. Giving him the starting center field job is a real possibility in that case, but the front office surely recognizes that the early results were not encouraging.

In 435.1 innings in center field, Gordon made 4 fielding errors and converted only 97.6% of routine plays (according to Inside Edge Fielding) into outs. Among players with at least 400 innings in center field in 2018, that conversion rate ranked 37th out of 38 and was well below the league average of 99.4% for center fielders.

Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA) pegged him at -3 OAA and -1% Catch Percentage Added, and he racked up -2.4 Error Runs Above Average (ErrR) and -8 Plus Minus Runs Saved (rPM) en route to disastrous UZR and DRS ratings, respectively.

His true talent level may prove to be higher, but there should undoubtedly be less optimism concerning his capabilities as an outfielder going into 2019.

If the Mariners don’t want to risk starting him in center field again and if Gordon doesn’t take second base or a utility role, the only other option is to trade him.

In a short series, I’d like to explore in depth the option of trading a few players who could realistically be on the move this offseason. Based on comments from the front office, I won’t ponder a trade of Mitch Haniger, Marco Gonzales, etc., but first up is Dee Gordon.

The Value

Dee Gordon has little value. That’s basically where we’re going here.

He’s not young, he’s not cheap, and he’s not productive.

He will be 31 next year and paid $13.3 million after posting 0.0 fWAR/0.6 rWAR/0.8 WARP in 2018.

But he is liable to rebound.

Remember that 2018 was really Gordon’s first poor year since 2013 (something something PEDs) and part of his struggles were presumably due to a broken toe that he kept re-aggravating after returning from the DL at the end of May.

His on-field upside could still easily be greater than he showed last year.

As a full-time second baseman (with 2 starts at DH), given a 2.0 UZR, a .315 BABIP, a 76% SB%, and a hefty 3.0% BB%, Gordon would have been approximately a 1.8 fWAR player in 2018 after upping his slash line to .276/.307/.358 (86 wRC+) and going 34/45 in stolen bases.

That would be his second lowest BABIP since 2013, roughly his career average stolen base rate, and his second lowest walk rate ever. Sure, 2 UZR would represent a substantial improvement over last year, but that figure is roughly equivalent to his average UZR (and DRS coincidentally) over the last three years at second base per 1200 innings.

This projection (or better, really) definitely remains within the realm of possibilities for Gordon and other teams will recognize that as they asses his value.

But that upside has to be considered alongside his competition in the second base market, his poor showing in 2018, and his price tag.

Jed Lowrie, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier, and DJ LeMahieu are all free agents this year as are guys like Ian Kinsler, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Logan Forsythe, and the trade market could be quite fruitful as well.

Long-term assets like Whit Merrifield and Ketel Marte could be made available. Short-term assets like Scooter Gennett and Starlin Castro arguably should be on the move. Some still-young rebound candidates like Cesar Hernandez and Joe Panik could find new homes as well and the Indians could try to shed Jason Kipnis. This is obviously not an exhaustive list of (potentially) available talent either.

Simply put there is plenty of competition out there. Meanwhile, Gordon’s replacement-level play in 2018 makes his remaining contract immovable in its entirety.

His team option for 2021 will vest with enough plate appearances, but I doubt that will be allowed to happen regardless of where he plays, so consider his contract to be only what is guaranteed — 2-years/$28.1 million.

But now consider that in 2016, ahead of his age-32 season, Howie Kendrick signed with the Dodgers for 2-years/$20 million.

Outside of spending a good chunk of time on the DL, Kendrick was coming off a fairly typical year in 2015. He hit .295/.336/.409 (109 wRC+) and was good for 2.4 fWAR/1.2 rWAR /2.2 WARP after being an above-average full-time starter for a half decade.

If Gordon were to hit the free agent market this year at 31 coming off a bad year,  I think he would be hard-pressed to outearn that contract. Kendrick’s market was hurt by the qualifying offer, but I think his AAV at least represents a reasonable cap on Dee’s hypothetical earning power, meaning that to even entertain the idea of trading Gordon, the Mariners will likely have to pay down his contract into the $10 million/year range at least.

Reportedly, when trying to move Jacoby Ellsbury, the Yankees were willing to eat half of his contract in a trade and still couldn’t find a taker. With less money and only two years owed to Gordon, his situation shouldn’t be as difficult to navigate, but to make him truly appealing, the Mariners might need to kick in a similar percentage, especially if they hope to get anything other than a lottery ticket back.

Money is good, but considering the state of the farm and the package leveraged to acquire Dee, I would expect the front office to soak him for the best return not just the most money in return.

The Destination

Rebuilding teams shouldn’t be interested Dee Gordon, so forget about the Orioles, Blue Jays, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Rangers, Marlins, Reds, and the Padres.

Teams with solid projected starters who are not on the block shouldn’t be in play either, so consider the Yankees, Rays, Astros, Angels, Braves, Mets, Cubs, Pirates, and Dodgers out. And let’s throw the Rockies in here too because they’d be silly to give Gordon a go over Garrett Hampson.

Teams with second basemen who could be moved aren’t likely to cut ties with them only to later acquire Gordon, so the Indians, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants and the Diamondbacks I’ve also considered out.

That leaves the Red Sox, Athletics, Twins, Nationals, and Brewers as potential fits.

The Red Sox

Dustin Pedroia is adamant that he will be ready to play for the Red Sox in 2019. His rehabilitation has been a lengthy and trying process though and considering his age (35) as well, he can’t exactly be counted on.

However, Brock Holt‘s little breakout makes a significant addition at second base seem superfluous. And if Eduardo Nunez comes back, things look even muddier (despite his lack of production in 2018).

Fit: Poor

The Athletics

Dee Gordon’s fit here would be contingent on the A’s not bringing Jed Lowrie back. There is mutual interest but Lowrie could have priced himself out of Oakland with back-to-back All-Star-caliber campaigns.

But waiting in the wings is prospect Franklin Barreto. He is understandably raw with a 4.0% BB% and 41.1% K% in only 151 MLB plate appearances though. Trusting him to hold down second base is risky in terms of his production and possibly in terms of his development as a player too.

Adding Gordon also comes with risk, but he would give Barreto a chance to simmer. However, Barreto could be on the roster at any point in 2019, making Gordon and his guaranteed second year a bit unnecessary.

Fit: Poor

The Twins

Like the Athletics, the Twins have a nice prospect nearing the majors in Nick Gordon. Unlike Barreto though, Gordon hasn’t hit at all in AAA (.212/.262/.283; 52 wRC+). He will be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, but the club should be in the market to bridge the gap rather than hand him the reins early.

Perhaps, his older brother Dee could set up a harmonious transition. The elder Gordon comes with enough upside to contribute to a club that believes it could win a bit in 2019 and his second year of control means Nick Gordon can be brought up when he’s ready, not when he’s needed.

It’s not a perfect fit, as the Twins could be looking harder at a 1-year stopgap, but hey, it’d be fun to see Dee and Nick in the same organization, right?

Fit: Decent

The Nationals

After Daniel Murphy was traded, Wilmer Difo became the Nationals’ second baseman and he was not very good.

Howie Kendrick should be back for them but he played in only 40 games last year due to an Achilles injury. Dee Gordon could come relatively cheap and with plenty of upside over him considering his age (35) and injury while pushing Difo into a utility role where he could fit well (he is familiar with second base, third base, and shortstop and has some brief experience at all three outfield spots).

The arrival of top prospect Carter Kieboom could shift some infield pieces around, but he looks about a full year away and although under-the-radar prospect Austin Davidson seems to be knocking at the door and might/should have a 40-man spot this offseason, he played mostly left field and first base last year after primarily playing second base in 2017.

Gordon looks like a good fit for 2019 and his second year of control seems like a definite plus here.

Fit: Good

The Brewers

The Brewers are set to lose Mike Moustakas, which means that Travis Shaw should return to third base and vacate second. And the team appears ready to move on from Jonathan Schoop too given his projected $10.1 million salary and lack of late-season playing time due to his dreadful performance.

Without Schoop in the picture, Dee Gordon could slot in at second base. His presence would mean that top prospect Keston Hiura can spend the whole year in the minors and off the 40-man, and Hiura can move through AA and AAA more leisurely after much deserved but fairly aggressive promotions since being drafted.

Hiura is making the case that he need not be held back in any capacity though. A mid-to-late-2019 debut isn’t out of the question, and if the Brewers like that timeline, Gordon doesn’t make as much sense.

Fit: Decent without Schoop

I’m not saying these would be the only teams interested in Dee Gordon, but they do strike me as the most viable destinations. There are always surprises, but I’ll not ramble on.

The Trade

The Mariners trade 2B Dee Gordon and $14 million to the Nationals for SP Nick Raquet 

This is a lot of money to change hands, but covering half (or more) of a contract is certainly not unprecedented.

The Padres covered $31 million of $58 million remaining on James Shields’ contract when they traded him for Fernando Tatis Jr. and Erik Johnson.

When the Dodgers traded Dee Gordon in a seven-player swap with the Marlins they chipped in $12.5 million to cover his arbitration cost ($2.5 million) as well as the final year of Dan Haren’s contract ($10 million).

And to deal Travis Wood, the Royals covered all of both years of his contract in a six-player swap that netted them Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter, and Brandon Maurer.

These aren’t all analogous situations, but they are recent transactions that suggest the Mariners shouldn’t have a problem eating this kind of money if they feel that it’s the right move.

So how does this work for the Mariners?

The Mariners will fork over $6.5 million in 2019 and $7.5 million in 2020 to the Nationals thereby clearing Dee Gordon off the roster and saving $6.8 million in 2019, $6.3 million in 2020, and $1 million in 2021.

Now, Robinson Cano can play his natural position and center field will be opened up to a higher upside acquisition like, say, Keon Broxton who is conveniently out of options without a guaranteed place on the Brewers’ roster.

The money saved could pay for roughly half of Nelson Cruz‘s 2019 salary or for almost all of a backend starting pitcher’s contract (think Jhoulys Chacin‘s 2-year/$15.5 million deal). Both options (or another alternative) could be wiser investments than Gordon’s current deal.

Additionally, the Mariners will get back an interesting arm.

Nick Raquet is a left-handed starter for the Potomac Nationals (the Nationals’ High-A affiliate). MLBPipeline rates him the Nationals’ 16th best prospect and had this to say about him:

"After missing plenty of bats but struggling to throw strikes as an amateur, Raquet pitched to opposite results during his pro debut. Learning to repeat his delivery as well as harnessing his stuff and throwing more strikes would bode well for his chances of remaining a starter, although there’s little doubt among scouts that Raquet could move quickly in a bullpen role."

His changeup is his best pitch, but he can get his fastball into the mid-90s and he also throws an average curve and slider.

He did not fare too well upon his promotion to High-A given his 4.91 ERA/4.01 FIP in 55 IP, but he still demonstrated an ability to get groundballs, coaxing a nearly 52% GB%. He also gave up just 4 home runs in 122.2 total innings across A and High-A ball last year (0.29 HR/9).

Without a stronger third pitch, he might fit better in the bullpen long-term, but the Mariners would try him as a starter as long as possible. He is projected to debut in 2020.

MLB Comp: Martin Perez

So how does this work for the Nationals?

The Nationals will pay Dee Gordon $6.8 million in 2019 and $6.3 million in 2020 for a total guarantee of 2-years/$14.1 million, including his 2021 buyout.

That is more than the Ian-Kinsler-tier of free agents will make but less than will be made by the top second basemen on the market. And I believe it is probably a lesser commitment than would be made to Gordon himself if he were available this year as a free agent.

He may not attain his previous levels of success again, but Gordon does figure to be a decent role player with considerable upside (one bad year doesn’t mean he’s cooked) and he covers a position at which the Nationals are weak and thin at a bit less than what I assume to be his market value.

To get Gordon and hopefully solve second base for a couple years, the Nationals will pay him at a discounted rate and only give up about their 6th best starting pitching prospect — one whose only standout quality is his ability to get groundballs.

The Nationals’ system is pretty decent but admittedly top-heavy, yet Raquet is an arm they could easily part with to improve the major-league roster in 2019.

Final Thoughts

It’s going to be hard to trade Dee Gordon. A significant amount of money needs to be eaten to even make him a legitimate trade candidate, and even then, if the Mariners want more than organizational depth in return, they might have to eat 50% of his contract or more.

Knowing the initial cost, it will also just be hard to be satisfied with any potential return. You hope you could pry away at least SP Sterling Sharp with his wicked sinker and 80-grade name, but even then the simple act of trading Gordon for some team’s 10th-ish best prospect will still leave a sour taste in your mouth. And he very well may leave only to immediately rekindle his productivity, but that is a risk the front office may have to consider because rostering him, especially in center field, is also a risk in itself.