This winter, outfielder Alex Gordon appears likely to start a new chapter of his career, and his impending foray into the free agent market could result in his departure from Kansas City. The cases of Gordon and Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward will be worth watching in part for what they’ll tell us about teams’ willingness to offer big contracts to players whose value derives in part from outstanding corner outfield defense.
Gordon’s current four-year, $37.5MM deal with the Royals appears likely to end after the season. He has a player option for 2015 that was initially valued at $12.5MM, but has now climbed to $14MM due to performance escalators. Last season, Gordon said that he intended to exercise it, although he has since backed down somewhat from that stance, and he told the Kansas City Star last spring that he and the Royals were not discussing an extension.
Gordon seems to love playing in Kansas City and the Royals seem to want to keep him, and the recent resurgence of fan interest in the team could give them a bigger budget with which to do so. Gordon will be 32 in February, however, and he’ll likely receive long-term offers from other organizations that could carry him into his mid to late 30s. That’s a risk the small-market Royals might not be willing to take, particularly since they haven’t done so already.
Gordon has been out since early July with a groin strain, although he has begun a rehab assignment and should be able to play in September and in the playoffs. When he returns, he’ll continue a 2015 offensive season that has been among the best in his career so far. He’s hitting .279/.394/.457 in 312 plate appearances, demonstrating a typically well-rounded offensive game that features average, power and plate discipline.
Gordon has also been a key part of the Royals’ outstanding team defense. His defensive numbers are down somewhat from last season, although they’re still very strong. UZR says Gordon has been 6.9 runs better than the typical left fielder this year, down from the 25 runs above average he accumulated in 2014, although in twice as much playing time. Defensive Runs Saved, meanwhile, credits Gordon with four runs this year, as compared to 27 last year.
Overall, Gordon still rates as a terrific defensive left fielder, and it would perhaps be unwise to read too much into a one-year drop in his fielding numbers. His defense is, however, likely to decline during his next contract as he slows down and loses range. We might already be seeing signs of that this season, in which he’s only stolen one base after swiping at least ten in all of the previous four years.
Nonetheless, Gordon is at least as worthy of a big contract as, say, Shin-Soo Choo was when he signed a nine-figure deal with Texas after a big year in Cincinnati. Gordon will be a half a year older than Choo was at the time of his deal, and he doesn’t have the .423 on-base percentage Choo did in 2013. But Choo had rated very poorly on defense in the two seasons leading to his contract, whereas Gordon is markedly above average even in an off year. As a group, fast and athletic outfielders tend to age fairly well, maintaining much of their offensive value even as their speed and defense decline. So while Gordon seems very likely to decline over the course of his next deal, he appears likely to remain productive as a hitter.
While next offseason’s class of hitters isn’t particularly strong overall, it does include a good class of outfielders. The three top names (Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes) are all younger than Gordon. Heyward, who has the advantage of heading into the free agent market at age 26, seems likely to land an enormous contract, and so should Upton, who will be 28. Cespedes, meanwhile, has boosted his stock with a terrific season, and MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes suggested in a recent email that Cespedes was a candidate to receive a seven-figure deal.
Heyward, Upton and Cespedes rank Nos. 2, 3 and 6 in Dierkes’ latest Free Agent Power Rankings, with Gordon at No. 7. As Dierkes notes, Gordon’s age likely caps his next contract at six years. Choo, of course, got seven, but perhaps last year’s market suggests teams are somewhat less willing to hand out such long contracts. Pablo Sandoval got five guaranteed years last winter and Hanley Ramirez four, and even those contracts, like Choo’s, look unfortunate now.
Gordon’s defensive ability gives him an edge on those players, however. He’s a better hitter than Sandoval was as well. It remains to be seen whether Gordon will be able to top Sandoval’s guaranteed $95MM, but he should be able to at least get close. Before the season, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star pointed to Hunter Pence’s five-year, $90MM deal with the Giants as another potential template. If a team were willing to offer a sixth year, Gordon’s contract could easily top $100MM.
It will also be worth watching to see if Gordon takes a somewhat smaller, or shorter, offer to stay with the Royals. It’s no shock that the Casey Close client has gone back on his very surprising announcement that he planned to pick up his team-friendly 2016 option, but that Gordon said that in the first place suggests strongly that his preference would be to remain in Kansas City. The Royals might not be able to offer the kind of big-money deal Gordon could get elsewhere, and they’ll have a number of difficult decisions in the coming years as players like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas all approach free agency themselves. But they perhaps could offer enough to convince Gordon to stay.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Gordon is having an injury plagued year that’s seen his defense decline and is going to be 32 before the start of next season. Giving him 100+ million seems like a terrible idea and I’m not really sure which teams would want to get in on that. Maybe the Angels.
Injury plagued? He’s had one injury that’s caused him to miss time.
Missing a third of the season to an injury, would be an injury plagued season.
What part of “year” did you miss?
He pretty much meets all the Angels criteria for a big free agency expenditure.
All you have to do is look at the available free agents every year, teams have allocated funds – they will spend it – which means he’ll be paid; paid well.
Obviously a great player. One thing to note is that players aren’t compensated as much for their defense compared to players who are known for their offense.
Tell that to the Heyward fans.. They are dead set on him getting a $200m contract this offseason.. There has been a few debates on that here on the mlbtr comment section..
I think the $200mil contract talks have more to do with his age. If Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez can both make around $20mil AAV, I think Heyward deserves around that much as well. factor in $20m AAV on what could be a 10 year deal and there is your $200mil. I personally see him getting in the 8/170-9/180 range, but $200mil would not surprise me
My thing is with so much of his value tied up in defense what happens if he wrecks his knees in a couple of years and his defense falls of a cliff? I am not doubting the fact that he is a $20m+ a year player but I am doubtful a team is willing to give him that for 10 years based mainly on defense.. The argument I hear the most is “he hasn’t entered his prime yet” when his offense is questioned.. The only thing he has that gives him a shot at $200m is his age but I just don’t see that as enough for a team to risk that much money on a player whose best offensive season was his rookie year.. I see him getting a Porcello type contract because of his age and then hitting the market again when/if his offensive prime occurs.. Regardless, I am definitely going to state he will not break $150m.. If I am wrong I will eat a ton of crow and admit my ignorance on all things Heyward when his new deal is announced here on mlbtr this offseason..
I can’t wait to see which team gets burned by giving Heyward $200m. Definitely won’t be the Cardinals though. I think they make a serious run at Alex Gordon
The Cardinals aren’t going after Gordon. They have plenty of outfield options if Heyward signs elsewhere
I seem to say it alot, but Gordon is probably more likely than most to stay with his current team. I have to imagine the Royals have been planning for his impending free agency as well. He’s a bit like Joe Mauer is in his situation in Minnesota. Gordon grew up a Royals fan in Nebraska, so KC is home to him for all practical purposes. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s a 100% lock to stay in KC…but I’d say his odds are higher of staying than typical free agents.
Agree. He’ll still make decent money but not as much as if he leaves. If the R’s were still in the dumps with no glimmer of hope, I could see him packing his bags but he’s been around through the tough years and the near future is looking bright. A couple more years until that team gets shaken up from free agency but no reason to leave yet. People try to make the argument that the R’s let Butler go but we all wanted him gone. He’s a fan favorite off the field but on the field, he contributed next to nothing in terms of full-time DH’s go. I see Gordo staying in KC at a moderate discount. If he does leave though he’ll wanna stay in Lincoln if he’s in Nebraska. Probably only place he won’t get boo’d out of lol
Butler leaving wasn’t only logical given his contract desire….it was good sense. Butler would be a massive hole in that DH slot now…and they’d probably be on the hook for another 15-20m had they resigned him.
I’ll bet both Gordon and Heyward stay where they are this off-season. Particularly if the Royals go deep in the playoffs. Their window isn’t open THAT much longer, and they’ll want to keep the gang together and have the ability to do that. And as far as Heyward goes, the Cards have the money and they’re better at producing pitchers than position players. Upton and Cespedes are wide open though. Angels will grab one for sure (unless they trade for someone).
I could see the Red Sox getting him, would seem like a “win the World Series next year” type of move. Also the Cubs; they could pay him $20m+ for 5 years before they need to start paying Bryant and some other guys big money.
The Red Sox will not be chasing Gordon.. Their OF is set even if they manage to unload Ramirez.. The Cubs are set on corner OF too with Schwarber and Soler.. Unless they deal Montero and move Schwarber to catcher which I don’t see happening.. The Cubs need a CF for next year.. I would like to see them trade Lester to the Yankees for Ellsbury.. Big contract for big contract.. The Cubs would get their CF and the Yankees could move Gardner to CF.. Then bring up Judge for LF
The Cubs aren’t gonna trade Lester for Ellsbury. It makes no sense whatsoever. Ellsbury skill-set shouldn’t age well.
I am sorry to say that the Royals are one team that I don’t pay as much attention to as I should.. That being said would it be fair to make a comparison of Gordon to Gardner in New York? They seem to be similar players with Gardner being a bit younger.. I know Gardner probably took a big home town discount when he signed his extension, especially since Ellsbury, who is also a player of the same mold, got that huge contract out of New York.. I think just about everybody saw Gardner as trade bait until he signed that very team friendly contract.. I am hoping Gordon initially saying he was going to exercise his option shows that the dollar amount isn’t as important if he gets to stay in KC.. Maybe KC could offer him an extra year or 2 of guaranteed money more than other teams will.. Something like 7/$98.. Less AAV more years.. He seems to be really happy in KC and the fans seem to love him.. So, I am hoping a small market team can actually keep one of their stars for their entire career.. Its a shame we don’t see it more..
Gardner may have taken a big discount, but he wasn’t going to come close to Ellsbury’s contract. Ellsbury got paid for his two monster years whereas Garnder’s really only had one and it was a few years before he signed that extension.
Why on earth would he sign that deal? He can probably get a 5 year deal in the same neighborhood this winter.
I’ll compare Gordon to Mauer in Minnesota. Not in sheer ability..but club presence and respect. When I hear Gordon discussed as a player..this is an element that isn’t always brought up. He grew up in Nebraska idolizing George Brett..long drives to the stadium from there. He’s a former #1 pick for them….If a player plays an entire career in a single uniform…big if I know… It’s guys like Mauer and Gordon
Don’t forget, they’re also the ones that convinced him to move from 3B to OF and made him the player he is today. Guys like Gordon and Mauer respect and appreciate the little things like that.
Gordon also stumbled out of the gate in his career…and many were calling for a change of scenery. I believe the Jays were highly interested in him…but the Royals held him.
Out of place Met fan
Every Royals related post mentions pending FA, yet omits Escobar who could be the most difficult to resign.
What was Texas thinking when they signed Choo? Looking at some of the big contracts and the lack of production those players are providing, I’m wondering how much longer MLB owners are going the vault for these guys. The Cubs gave Lester $25 mil a year, the Sox media still lament his loss in a big way, yet he’ll be lucky to reach 10-12 wins.
Lucky for Jon Lester, there isn’t anyone that matters to him that cares how many Wins he finishes the season with.