A little over two weeks ago, I took some time to look at the seemingly never-ending chorus of voices demanding the Dodgers call up Dee Gordon to replace the struggling left-side pair of Justin Sellers and Luis Cruz.
At the time, I argued, it didn’t make sense, because 11 decent games of hitting in Triple-A weren’t nearly enough to overcome the defensive downgrade he’d be from the incumbent duo, or to prove that he’d suddenly learned how to hit after a dreadful half-season in 2012. After being rushed to the big leagues in 2011 and missing the second half of 2012 due to injury, what Gordon really needed was daily playing time in the minors. So far, that’s what he’s received, and the early returns have been promising.
But what I didn’t discuss at the time is whether Gordon should be moved off of shortstop, and perhaps I should have. It’s a question I’ve been getting often for as long as I can remember — even more than “hey, bring up Yasiel Puig, idiots!” — posed by those who are absolutely certain Gordon will never hack it as a shortstop and should immediately be moved to second.
I usually wave that off as a dumb idea, but now it’s unavoidably out in the open:
For the last two days, Gordon has been taking pregame grounders for the Albuquerque Isotopes at second base.
This is not because second baseman Mark Ellis is more seriously hurt than the Dodgers are letting on and are prepping Gordon as some emergency fill-in. It is apparently a more long-term consideration.
And anyone who watched Gordon struggle at shortstop for the Dodgers last season will understand that thought.
Though I respect Steve Dilbeck, who wrote this for the Los Angeles Times, I have to take issue with this on a few levels. This appears to be based entirely on the fact that Gordon apparently took a few pregame grounders but little more, because we’ve heard no indication of this elsewhere. But this one report has now taken on a life of its own, appearing at NBC’s Hardball Talk, CSN Chicago, and every fantasy site you can think of — again, entirely on what seems to be some mere pregame work. If pregame fielding positions were indicative of an impending switch, Russell Martin would have been a full-time shortstop years ago. Half the pitchers in baseball would be center fielders.
But this really goes back to a larger issue, which is that a report like this seems so easy to believe because so many people want to believe it. I can’ t even tell you the number of people who have hit me up on Twitter over the past two years insisting that Gordon absolutely must be a second baseman, assuming that he’ll instantly be better at the less demanding position that requires a shorter throw.
Yet it’s rarely ever that simple to just assume that. The simple fact is that a good second baseman is inherently less valuable than a good shortstop, so to move him right now seems like a quick way to diminish whatever value he has left. Gordon’s two biggest strengths in the field are his speed and his strong arm, each of which would be less valuable at second. If the decision is made at some point that Gordon can’t handle shortstop, then by all means move him, but it certainly seems premature to say that at this point.
Besides, can you even say off the top of your head whether the majority of Gordon’s errors have come on fielding the ball or on throws? I bet you can’t. I know I can’t without looking it up, and I’m sure most calling for this move can’t either. It would seem like important information, if the main push here is “it’s a shorter throw!”
Beyond whether it makes sense defensively is what it would mean for Gordon’s game as a whole. Remember, Gordon’s problems last year weren’t just on defense; it’s not like we were watching Albert Pujols attempt to play shortstop. If he doesn’t learn how to hit — and he’s been slumping over the last week, hitting .200/.360/.200 (he somehow walked four times last night) — then it’s really not going to matter where plays in the field. I can’t imagine that burdening him with learning a new position at the same time he needs to become a major league quality hitter is the most efficient way to turn him into an asset.
The other argument I hear is that the status of the big league club calls for the move, since Hanley Ramirez is now healthy and in Gordon’s way at shortstop, and Mark Ellis is banged-up at second base. But even that doesn’t hold water for me. Ellis is probably headed to the disabled list later today, but the hesitation to move him there indicates that his injury isn’t as serious as we’d originally feared. Since Gordon has still yet to play a single inning at second, it’s hard to think that he’d even be an option before Ellis returned. Even if he was, there’s no cause to play Gordon over Ellis at second on either side of the ball — again, I can’t believe this is even a conversation — and as much as I’d like to see Ramirez moved off of shortstop, there seems little indication the Dodgers plan to try to push him to third during the season. It’s not as if Gordon is really blocked long-term, either; Ramirez is only signed through next season and it’s not at all hard to see him shifting over the winter.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about Gordon taking balls at second, and it probably won’t be the last. Someday, maybe that will be the path to take. For right now, it seems foolish to give up on him as a shortstop or think that he’s suddenly an option at the highest level at a new position. I just can’t see it either being a good idea or one that’s really going to happen.