Alex Gordon is a Royal once again. The star left fielder has re-signed with Kansas City to the tune of $72 million over four years, and suddenly the Royal lineup looks that much better once more. Dayton Moore was dangerously close to rolling into Opening Day with a starting corner outfield corps of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando, but he has now fixed that problem by retaining the incredibly valuable Gordon.
For a while, it seemed as if Gordon would wind up in the clutches of some other team, and Royals fans would be left holding the bag. Except that bag would be empty because of the hole in the bottom of it, and all the money that had been in the bag was gone and blown into the wind while David Glass stood in the distance pinching pennies. The one free agent signing that Royals had made before today was to bring Joakim Soria back into the fold, and while they technically gave Dillon Gee a minor league deal, they were coming dangerously close to taking a 2015 Mets approach of signing one old guy and shrugging off the rest of the winter. Gordon was a signing that needed to happen, but one that nobody expected to come to pass.
Happy to be dead wrong about Gordon. When the offseason started, I didn't know anyone in baseball who thought this would happen.— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) January 6, 2016
That's because despite two successive runs to the World Series, the most recent ending in a victory, the Royals still play in the smallest of markets and have an owner that has a reputation for being perhaps a bit too overzealously conscious. In fact, Gordon's deal is the largest ever handed out by the Royals. Yet it doesn't immediately cripple the team's financial flexibility.
Sources: Gordon salary in 1st yr of four-yr, $72M deal is lower, giving #Royals chance to make other moves. Deal also includes deferrals.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 6, 2016
Lowering the cost of the first year, as well as deferring some of the money, allows the Royals to do a few things. First and foremost, it allows them to possibly address right field. Orlando is a good enough player. He's got fantastic wheels and plays good defense. He also managed only a .269 OBP in 2015, which isn't going to cut it for a starter. Retaining a smidgen of financial flexibility could allow Moore to execute a trade or to sign a low-cost option in the vein of Austin Jackson.
Secondly, the deferrals down the road create future payroll space for the assuredly sizable cost of paying the Kansas City core the money that's coming to them in salary arbitration and possible extensions. This young roster is only going to get more expensive as time goes on.
Gordon is also a really, really good player. He's been worth 25.2 fWAR since 2011, and he's totaled 94 defensive runs saved in left field during that span. Both figures lead all left fielders during that time frame by a wide margin. Though he was limited to just 104 regular-season games this past season after running into a wall, Gordon still managed to produce 2.8 fWAR and a 122 wRC+. He's elite in every sense of the word.
Though he'll be playing out this contract into his age-35 season, there's little reason to believe that Gordon's production will run into a brick wall any time soon. His defense is already so ridiculously good that even as he inevitably declines, his defense still projects to be at least soundly above-average. He also hits well enough to justify his presence in a corner outfield spot, regardless of how well his glove work may be.
By re-signing Gordon, the Royals have also taken him away from two of his other main suitors. Both the White Sox and Tigers, both in the AL Central with the Royals, were rumored to be in hot pursuit of his services. The Tigers may very well be one good left fielder away from being true contenders, and the White Sox desperately need someone besides Adam Eaton to even pretend to be able to play defense out on the grass. Gordon would have been a windfall for both teams and subsequently a net negative for Kansas City. Moore has accomplished the reverse.
Additionally, he's gained a serious amount of trust from Royals fans. Letting Gordon go elsewhere would have been a true bodyblow to the fans' morale, and the calls for Glass' head would get louder and louder once more, with feeling. The very same disappointment currently felt by Mets fans for letting Yoenis Cespedes walk away would start to take root in the stands at Kauffman Stadium. It's the last thing that a team wants to do to a fanbase still high with victory and the feeling of the Commissioner's Trophy still on their fingertips, the breathless wonder of that day at the parade still fresh in their collective memory.
Alex Gordon is back home where he belongs, in Royal baby blue. His contract is undoubtedly a massive steal and a windfall from a pure business perspective. But more importantly, he's not a Tiger, he's not a White Sock. The band is still together.
Royals fans have assembled at Union Station to celebrate the Alex Gordon news. pic.twitter.com/2heSe9bFAP— Royals Review (@royalsreview) January 6, 2016