The Dodgers made a splash when they signed Cuban middle infielder Alexander Guerrero this past offseason to play second base, but in the early stages of the 2014 season, it’s been another middle infielder that has emerged as a sensational second baseman.
After years of hacking at the threshold, Dee Gordon has finally materialized into the player that he was hyped up to be when he made his major league debut for the Dodgers in 2011.
In his prior three seasons with the Blue Crew, Gordon flashed game-changing, lightning speed on the base paths, but getting on base with consistency was a challenge for him, as he hit a collective .256 in his career coming into this season.
In addition to his unpredictability at the plate, he also struggled to make plays at his native position of shortstop, where he tallied 35 errors in 160 games (.947 fielding percentage).
Gordon’s mediocre performance and the signing of Guerrero in October 2013 suggested that the 26-year-old infielder would be spending most of the 2014 season in the minors, barring an injury to shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
Facing another run-of-the-mill year alternating between stints with the Dodgers and their minor league affiliates, Gordon worked his tail off in the offseason and put on nearly 15 pounds of muscle to his slender 5’11” frame.
Gordon continued to work hard in spring training, where he hit .271 and stole 10 bases in 21 games, notching more base knocks (13) than Dodgers sluggers Adrian Gonzalez and Ramirez.
Then, the ideal scenario aligned for Gordon to reclaim his starting spot in the Dodgers lineup.
The Blue Crew let Mark Ellis, who was the team’s everyday second baseman for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, enter the free-agency market, a logical move given the four-year, $28 million deal they’d just inked with Guerrero.
However, Guerrero demonstrated in spring training that despite having ample years of professional ball in Cuba at age 27, he wasn’t quite refined enough to be an everyday major league infielder, particularly at his new position of second base.
Enter Gordon, rejuvenated and willing to do whatever to make the 25-man roster.
In only a few months, Gordon has not only made the transition to second base, but has been the most consistent contributor to the Blue Crew’s offense, which contains sluggers like Gonzalez, Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, who are being paid a collective $71 million this year to join forces to become one of MLB’s most dominant offensive juggernauts.
One-quarter of the way into the season, the 26-year-old second baseman leads the Boys in Blue in both batting average (.324) and hits (48). What more could manager Don Mattingly ask for from his leadoff hitter?
However, Gordon doesn’t just get on base. He has the exceptional ability to immediately swipe his way into scoring position, which has been extremely valuable for the Dodgers’ No. 2 hitter, Yasiel Puig, who is currently on pace to drive in 117 runs in his sophomore season.
Gordon is not only leading MLB in stolen bases with 24 bags swiped, but is doing so by a wide margin, as the runner-up in steals, Eric Young Jr., is nine steals behind him. Additionally, Gordon, who is on pace to steal 97 bases this season, has only been caught stealing three times so far (12.5 percent caught-stealing rate).
Gordon’s ability to single-handedly bolster the Dodgers can’t be ignored, much like Puig first demonstrated when he was called up to make his debut last June.
He put his game-changing prowess on full display on Saturday, when he orchestrated an offensive surge that led the Dodgers to snap a three-game skid and beat the Giants 6-2 in Dodger Stadium.
After singling in the Dodgers’ first at-bat of the game, Gordon stole both second and third base, giving the meat of the lineup a chance to drive him in. They didn’t, but that didn’t stop him from having a big impact on the Dodgers offense later in the game.
In his third at-bat, Gordon worked Matt Cain, who had managed to hold the Dodgers scoreless through five innings, for a leadoff walk. He then stole second and later scored the first run of the game on a double play off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez. Kemp then evened the score at 2-2 with an RBI single that wouldn’t have happened without Gordon starting off the inning well for the Dodgers.
An inning later, Gordon slapped a double down the left field line with two outs that scored catcher Drew Butera from third and nudged the Blue Crew ahead of the Giants 3-2 late in the game. He then scored on an ensuing ground-rule double from Puig.
In all, he manufactured three runs in critical junctures of the game nearly all by himself. A manager should always find a way to pencil in a player that has that much influence over a game.
Which then brings about another dilemma to the Dodgers. When Guerrero proves he’s ready to be called up to The Show, what will they do?
Regardless of whether or not Gordon continues to perform at his current stellar rate, will they put him on the back burner and bring Guerrero in as their everyday second baseman?
The Cuban sensation has already made a good impression on the Dodgers in Triple-A after a mediocre display in spring training. After 26 games, Guerrero is hitting .337 with a .392 on-base percentage, four home runs and 18 runs batted in.
He still has some work to do at second base, where he is learning the ropes after playing shortstop for all of his life, but he’s on pace to be called up in a month or two if he continues to develop at his current rate.
Will the Dodgers stick with Gordon, who has improved tremendously and has established himself at the big league level, or Guerrero, who has loads of potential but has no experience in MLB?
Gordon is hitting for average and can steal a base in the blink of an eye; Guerrero is hitting for power and average but has limited experience facing major league pitching and may be a liability in the field.
If the Dodgers' future decision relied solely upon risk-reward, then Gordon would be the obvious choice if he can continue to buoy the offense as he has done so far in the leadoff spot.
Nevertheless, the Dodgers didn’t sign Guerrero for $7 million a year to stay in the minors or ride the pine, which could very well lead them to supplant Gordon with Guerrero at second base merely for monetary reasons.
Which leaves Gordon with little room for error. The moment he falls into an offensive slump may trigger his demotion from the starting lineup.
However, if Gordon continues to hit above .300 and steal bases like a bandit for the majority of the season, it makes little sense to make Guerrero the Dodgers’ starting second baseman, regardless of the economic discrepancy.
If the Dodgers’ true goal is to win baseball games, then an offensive force like Gordon should remain in the starting lineup, even if Guerrero continues to thrive and develop in the minors.
Yet, it's difficult to tell what would be considered common sense for a team that is now commonly driven by cents.