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Alex Gordon Gets Royally Rewarded

Word broke late Friday afternoon that the Royals and 28-year-old left fielder Alex Gordon reached a contract extension. The skinny on the contract is that it’s a four-year deal worth $37.5 million, with a player option for 2016 that can bring the total value to $50 million even. The contract buys out two years of team control and an additional two of free agency, and breaks down to $6/$9/$10/$12.5, and negates the $4.775 midpoint, arbitration-avoiding deal the two parties agreed to in early February.

That’s quite an accomplishment for the former number-two overall prospect who racked up his share of miles commuting the 190 miles down I-29 between Omaha and Kansas City. It’s no doubt the culmination of a frustrating five years in which Gordon attempted to fulfill the preposterous notion that he was potentially the next George Brett. Before last season, Gordon was way more Mark Teahen than he was any former legend. Apparently it didn’t occur to many who made the comparison that Brett debuted at 20, was a regular at 21, and a star by 22. Gordon, on the other hand, made his pro debut at 22.

They played the same position, so what?

Nonetheless, just a year ago Gordon was a 27-year old former prospect whose flame had withered to a flicker. His career triple-slash sat at .244/.328/.405, and was coming off his worst season offensively, for a club that couldn’t decide if or where he belonged. Arguably, Gordon’s ascent began in last season’s spring training, as he absolutely obliterated Grapefruit League pitching to the tune of a .353/.470/.750 triple-slash with six long balls. He also took to left field with aplomb, as he was awarded a Gold Glove for his efforts and was — outside of Brett Gardner — the best left fielder in the junior circuit.

Props to the Royals for sticking to their guns, as teams were calling on Gordon to see what it might take to pry the youngster out of Kansas City. The Royals insisted it would take a prime prospect, and were rewarded handsomely for said patience.

So where did Gordon experience the most growth in his rates which spurred him to this revival? Consider:

Year Line Drive Rate GB/FB K% BB% Contact% BABIP
2007 19.5 0.85 22.8 6.8 74.9 0.303
2008 21 0.66 21 11.6 76.8 0.309
2009 14.3 1.04 22.8 11.1 77.5 0.276
2010 23.2 0.96 22.1 12.1 77.8 0.254
2011 22 1.03 20.1 9.7 78.8 0.358

To be completely honest, nothing really stands out, with the exception of the dreaded BABIP, which checked in 44 points above his current career mark. Without any real concrete evidence of a tangible bump, is that likely to come down? Well, it would seem so. Oftentimes a guy will hit more line drives to boost that BABIP, but in Gordon’s case, I wouldn’t rule out that he finally just got a chance to play regularly — this wasn’t the first time, however — and settled into his position in left as well. While I wouldn’t rule it out, I wouldn’t bet on it, either.

I am, however, a bit surprised that anyone with a below average contact rate — Gordon was about two percent below the league average which is typically 81ish percent — was able to pull a .303 batting average. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve the contract or anything; the Royals only really have Wil Myers knocking down the door anytime soon among OF prospects and the club has another “howdedodat” in right in Jeff Francoeur. But I may have waited just a bit longer to see if Gordon was for real.

It’s the the second biggest contract the Royals have handed out since the Gil Meche and Jose Guillen deals (Zack Greinke‘s 4/$38 million prior to ’09). I’m a big proponent of extending your own guys rather than spending in free agency — even when the dollars are exactly the same — but without considering that, I think this one will work out a bit better for the club.

For a little further perspective, colleague Matt Klaasen had a couple good pieces on Gordon’s 2011 campaign. Spoiler alert: He nails the first three years of the contract.