The Seattle Mariners never expected they’d ask Dee Gordon to grab an infielder’s glove.
They acquired him to play center field, a position he’d never played in the major leagues. Gordon’s days as a Gold Glove second baseman were effectively done — at least as long as he was with the Mariners. No more taking ground balls on the dirt and no wondering if he’d ever move back to the infield.
But the Mariners also never expected they’d lose Robinson Cano, their other Gold Glove second baseman.
The Mariners are searching for roster answers after Cano's 80-game drug suspension, which will not only keep him out until mid-August, but also makes him ineligible for the playoffs.
So there Gordon was Tuesday, throwing his infielder’s glove onto the ground to work it in and taking ground balls at second base for the first time since September, when he played for the Miami Marlins.
“No, never,” Gordon said when asked if he ever thought he’d play second base this year. “I came here to help this team win. We’ve got some of the best players in the world on this team. I definitely never imagined this – I was all-in on playing center field.”
Gordon was still starting in center field for Tuesday’s game at Safeco Field against the Texas Rangers. And it's likely to stay that way for at least the next few days.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais met with Gordon after word spread of Cano’s suspension for testing positive for Furosemide, a diuretic that can mask performance-enhancing drugs. Although Cano has denied he ever took steroids or other PEDs.
But how do the Mariners survive without Cano? How do they end a 16-year postseason drought – the longest active streak in the four major American professional sports – without their No. 3 hitter and eight-time All-Star?
“We will definitely look outside in the ability to augment the team,” Dipoto said.
And they have an extra $12 million that they won’t be paying Cano during his unpaid suspension that Dipoto said they could use toward supplementing the roster.
They had shied, though, from saying they could switch Gordon from center field to second base even the past two games that Cano has been out with a fractured finger in his right hand. It was an injury that Dipoto said is 99 percent certain to require surgery on Wednesday, but despite reports that said Cano could miss at least a month, Dipoto said they were expecting Cano to miss just 2 to 4 weeks.
They could have got by in the short term with a platoon of Gordon Beckham, who was recently selected from Triple-A Tacoma and has started at second base in the majors previously, and utility player Andrew Romine. But that combination for the remainder of the season doesn’t seem like a long-term solution for a team with playoff hopes.
“We just sat down and talked with Dee Gordon and tried to come up with an alternative plan and that would be moving Dee to second base,” Dipoto said. “And he said that is something that he would be cool with.
“We’re not going to rush it. … We haven’t made that decision definitively, but Scott, Dee and I spoke about it and he said he would do whatever the team needs and we’re going to see how that goes for the next couple of days.”
But the Mariners have some flexibility.
Gordon, wearing a shirt that said “Athlete” across chest, said Tuesday that’s what he wants to be for the team. If they need him to play center field, he can play center field. And if they need him to switch to second base, he'll switch back to second base.
“The one thing, and we said this when we acquired Dee – we didn’t want to jerk Dee back and forth. We don’t want to move him around,” Dipoto said. “He’s worked so hard to pick up center field. You could see in the past two weeks, he said it’s fun for him now. So we don’t want to move him around haphazardly.
“But giving him the opportunity to move for a time and then move back when that becomes a reality is something we’re committed to, if in fact he moves (to second base) full time. So we can now look at the potential for a second baseman, we could look at the potential for outfielders – people who can help our team get better.”
Gordon hadn’t taken a ground ball since about December, he said.
“He wants to do whatever is going to help the team win,” Servais said. “Even if that’s a switch where he needs to come back to the infield. He’s going to work out the next two or three days with Manny Acta, our infield coach, see how it goes and make a final decision on this in the next couple of days.”
And Gordon has mentioned multiple times this season how difficult of an adjustment it is, even for someone as fast as Dee Gordon, to adjust to center field.
It’s a position he’d only previously played for a couple of games in the Dominican winter league with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that some days when it didn’t go too well in center that I didn’t wish I was back at second,” Gordon said. “Center field is pretty tough, trying to learn it in the big leagues. You pretty much can’t make any mistakes without them getting blown up. So that was definitely tough.”
If the Mariners move Gordon to the infield, then they could play Guillermo Heredia in center field and Ben Gamel in left instead of platooning them like they have much of this season. Heredia has played center field when Gordon has been given days off so far.
But the Mariners also have more outfield depth in Triple-A. They signed former National League All-Star and 38-year-old Jayson Werth to a minor-league contract near the end of spring training. He's been playing for the Rainiers, though he’s not on the 40-man roster.
They also signed 30-year-old Kirk Nieuwenhuis, 27-year-old Cameron Perkins and 27-year-old John Andreoli this offseason. All three are with Triple-A Tacoma, as is speedy 26-year-old prospect Ian Miller.
Or, of course, the Mariners bring in outside help.
“This has been less than 24 hours that we’ve had a chance to process this and not something we’ve spent a great deal of time on,” Dipoto said. “But we’ve certainly looked at outside alternatives as a possibility.”
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