In the immediate wake of Robinson Cano’s suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy, the front office of the Seattle Mariners stated that former Gold Glove Award winner Dee Gordon, who was obtained in the offseason via trade with the Miami Marlins and subsequently converted to a centerfielder, would remain in the outfield during Cano’s absence. The rationale was that the long-term plans for Gordon were for him to play CF and any interruption might hinder his development at his new position. But, after a few days of reflecting on the prospect of inserting light hitting Gordon Beckham into the lineup for 80 games, the GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais changed their minds. Gordon has been taking grounders in pre-game and will likely return to second this weekend in the home series against the Detroit Tigers.
An Improvement on Defense
Seattleites, just like the home fan base of every team in the major leagues, suffer through the incessant over-hyping of the prowess of their team’s players abilities from the local broadcasting crew. And despite the insistence of the ROOT Sports team, Robinson Cano has been about league average at 2B for most of his tenure with the Mariners. In his four-plus seasons with on the infield at Safeco and on the road as a Mariner, Cano has recorded DRS (defensive runs saved) of 0, -9 (minus isn’t good), 11 (worth about a win – good), 0, and 2 so far this season, for a total of about 4 DRS. He is solid, steady, and reliable. He is not, by any means, a gold glove 2B at this stage of his career.
The other sabermetric measure of defense reported by Fangraphs, UZR (ultimate zone rating) and its extrapolated companion UZR/150 (for a look at 150 games or roughly a full season – useful in smaller sample sizes), is even less kind to Cano. In 2016, the year DRS rated Cano at 11, UZR placed him at 3.9. The positive trend is the same, but the overall impact of maybe less than half a win versus a full win can be important, as Mariners fans who have seen their team fall a single victory short of the playoffs in recent memory. To be fair, the UZR of -1.7 in 2015 does look better than the DRS -9 of the same year.
By contrast, Dee Gordon, once the Los Angeles Dodgers moved him off of SS, has been pretty darned good at 2B. in 4,462.2 innings at 2B, Gordon has 13 DRS and 14.9 UZR. Cano’s overall cumulative DRS and UZR are greater than Gordon’s (30 and 24.5 respectively), but he has played 17,372 innings at the position, nearly four times as much.
In the outfield this season, Gordon has been less than spectacular. While metrics like DRS and UZR are admittedly not intended for small sample sizes like the fourth of a season that’s been played so far, Gordon currently has -9 DRS in just 341.0 innings and a corresponding UZR of -1.7. By improving the glove in both CF, with say Guillermo Heredia, and by the move of Gordon to 2B in Cano’s absence, the loss of Cano’s bat could, theoretically, be off-set in WAR.
The Present and the Future
The relatively younger Gordon (30), should offer a defensive upgrade over the thirty-five-year old Cano in the short term of half a season. It’s worth noting that Nelson Cruz, the Mariners regular DH, is in the last year of his contract. Cano, signed through his age forty season could easily slot over at DH, with Gordon remaining at second. And as for this season, pitching and defense have been the problem in a still so-far successful season, not the hitting. With Dee Gordon at 2B, one of the team’s deficits should get addressed.