Can Strange-Gordon win SS job? Ask Larkin

Reds infielder, Hall of Famer have worked out at position for last decade

February 23rd, 2021

Veteran infielder has had a longtime friendship and offseason working relationship with Reds legend and Hall of Fame shortstop . But in deciding to sign a Minor League contract with Cincinnati this month, Larkin did not really figure in the equation.

“I get to play. I’m going to get an opportunity to show what I can do and play baseball. That’s all I wanted,” Strange-Gordon said Tuesday from Reds camp in Goodyear, Ariz.

It’s not just an opportunity to play, however. It’s an opportunity to play shortstop on a team with a rather glaring vacancy. Strange-Gordon came up as a shortstop for the Dodgers, but he hasn’t played the position full time since 2013.

In 2014, Strange-Gordon transitioned to second base for Los Angeles and played the same position with the Marlins from '15-17. With the Mariners from '18-20, he was a utility player with only 11 starts at shortstop over the last three seasons and just two starts last season.

“I played second base because that was the only way I could get to the big leagues at the time with the Dodgers,” Strange-Gordon said. “It was the only way I could break in and solidify myself as a big leaguer. [Shortstop] has always been my position. I’m just happy to finally get to play it or get the opportunity to play it.”

Strange-Gordon, who turns 33 in April, will earn a base salary of $1 million this season if he makes the club out of camp.

The Reds were unable to sign a free agent or trade for a shortstop after not retaining Freddy Galvis after last season. Prospect Jose Garcia was rushed to the big leagues from Class A Advanced but would benefit from more development back in the Minors. Strange-Gordon, Kyle Farmer, Alex Blandino and Rule 5 draftee Kyle Holder will also get consideration.

Strange-Gordon and Larkin have worked together each winter in Orlando, Fla., for about a decade.

“He's an outstanding young man. He's a family man,” Larkin said last week. “He's highly motivated. He was in a very tough situation this past season with the Seattle Mariners and didn't get much of a chance to play, but had a very positive impact on some of the young players in that organization.

“I think coming from that situation, coming into a situation where there's an open opportunity, I truly think [he] could play shortstop at the big league level, and be a very good shortstop at the big league level, but he could also play a very good second base at the big league level, a very good center field at the big league level. He's just that kind of athlete.”

A two-time All-Star and the Major Leagues’ active steals leader with 333, Strange-Gordon won a batting title and a Silver Slugger Award in 2015 with the Marlins but has not provided much offense recently. In '20 for the Mariners, he batted .200 in 33 games as a part-time player after he batted .275/.304/.359 with 22 steals over 117 games in ’19.

Seattle declined to pick up Strange-Gordon’s $14 million option after last season. He last worked out with Larkin a couple of weeks ago.

“I’ve been working out with Barry since my rookie year, when I was actually still playing shortstop,” Strange-Gordon said. “I’ve been working out with him, exclusively at shortstop with him, the last 9-10 years. Even in the winter, I’m practicing at short, getting ground balls.”