MARINERS SIFTING THROUGH POSSIBILITIES AMID CANO FALLOUT

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   SEATTLE — It’s been a few days now since the bombshell news surfaced regarding Robinson Cano’s 80-game suspension for violation of Major League Baseball’s drug policy.

   As the dust settles…what happens now?

   The Mariners are without their All-Star second baseman until Aug. 14 and, should they reach postseason for the first time since 2001, Cano will be ineligible to participate.

   Center fielder Dee Gordon is now taking ground balls at second base, his old position, and general manager Jerry Dipoto is vowing to “definitely look outside” the organization “to augment the team” at second base or center field.

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   If Jerry is on the prowl, that effectively makes some sort of trade/signing/waiver claim a matter of time. He is widely regarded as the game’s most prolific wheeler-dealer. It’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t come up with something.

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   Cano’s suspension came two days after he suffered a broken bone in his right hand when hit by a pitch in Detroit. That injury, apparently, wasn’t as bad as initially feared. Dipoto said Cano was expected to return in two-to-four weeks.

   To bridge that gap, the Mariners summoned veteran infielder Gordon Beckham from Triple-A Tacoma to serve as Cano’s primary replacement. There were no plans, at that time, to return Gordon to the infield.

   “I think for the long-term future of this ballclub,” manager Scott Servais said prior to Cano’s suspension, “Dee Gordon is our center fielder.”

   Servais now says Gordon will return to the infield at some point during this weekend’s series against Detroit.

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   For what it’s worth, barring a trade that nets an impact center fielder, I think the Mariners should leave Gordon where he is unless they plan to keep him at second base once Cano returns. (And I don’t see how they can do that.)

   The difference between an outfield in which Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia draw regular duty doesn’t seem a significant upgrade over one in which those two split time in left while Beckham and utilityman Andrew Romine play second base.

   It’s a debatable point, certainly, and I know others, including the Mariners, believe it’s a no-brainer to move Gordon back to second base. They believe he’ll have no trouble returning in a few months to center field, and they might be right.

   For me, though, Gordon shows a growing comfort level in center field. I wouldn’t mess with that development at this point given the lineup alternatives, particularly if the plan is to put Gordon back in center in mid-August.

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   One aspect of Dipoto’s trade history is he specializes in out-of-the-box thinking.

   Getting Gordon with the idea of shifting him to center field is just one example. The previous year, acquiring Jean Segura, then a second baseman, to fill a hole at shortstop is another one.

   Trying to guess Dipoto’s targets is a fool’s game, which of course means I can’t resist it. I did a quick survey among a handful of scouts and front-office contacts regarding which second basemen and outfielders might be available.

   Let’s be clear: These are players who MIGHT be available. Whispers and rumors, and pretty thin at that, coming weeks before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. There is NOTHING at this point to connect any of them to the Mariners.

   With those qualifiers, here’s what I heard:

   The most intriguing name is the longest shot in the group and a player whose mention still pains Mariners fans: Adam Jones, a five-time All-Star whom the Mariners selected in the 2003 MLB Draft before trading him away to Baltimore.

   A couple of sources told me they believe Jones might be available because he’s in the final year of his contract (making $17.3 million) and the Orioles are in a rebuilding mode. 

   Jones, 32, would be a rental and isn’t the player he once was, but the cost might still be a better high-level prospect than the Mariners currently have available.

   One point in the Mariners’ favor is they now have nearly $12 million in available payroll because Cano forfeits his salary during his suspension.   

   Other outfield possibilities that surfaced from sources include Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati), Denard Span (Tampa Bay) and Jon Jay (Kansas City).

   As for second basemen, two drew a mention from multiple sources: Scooter Gennett (Cincinnati) and Whit Merrifield (Kansas City). If available, Merrifield is an interesting possibility because he can play other positions.

   My best guess? I fully expect Dipoto to come up with someone who wasn’t mentioned by anyone I surveyed.