Royals Win Again, Keep Alex Gordon

Two weeks. Two weeks is all it took. Shortly before Christmas, it looked like there was almost no chance Alex Gordon would return to Kansas City. He had too big of a market, and the Royals were sticking with too small of an offer. The Royals themselves were thinking about alternatives, more affordable replacement outfielders, but they made sure to stay in touch. Gordon remained the top priority, and the Royals were willing to be patient. Now it’s safe to say it worked out for all parties involved.

The terms: four years, reportedly, worth $72 million. There’s no opt-out clause, and the contract is said to be somewhat backloaded, to give the current Royals a bit of additional flexibility. Now that we’ve gotten here, this appears to be a tremendous deal for the team. And I suspect Alex Gordon knows that. I also suspect he doesn’t care, because this one’s about more than just money.

As Dave quickly reviewed, an objective analysis would peg Gordon for a four-year free-agent contract worth something more like $90 – 100 million. You could make a pretty strong argument for signing Gordon for a fifth year, as well. Granted, you can’t just leave out that the Royals are giving up a would-be compensation draft pick, which matters some, but this is a market that guaranteed Mike Leake $80 million. The last several years, Gordon has been one of the best everyday players in the game. The only real negative is that he’s in his 30s, but he’s still not 32, and he works to keep himself in incredible shape. Had Gordon lingered on the market longer, he probably could’ve done better than this. Maybe he already turned down something better than this. But that’s just with guaranteed money in mind, and this way Gordon gets to stay where he’s been. He gets to remain with the organization that developed him, the organization that he saw genuinely go from the bottom to the top. This is the organization that will one day retire Alex Gordon’s number. The situation proved almost too comfortable to leave.

To be clear, Gordon could’ve left. This wasn’t an inevitability — if the Royals lowballed Gordon, and never budged, he would’ve gone to another team. This wasn’t Gordon re-signing for anything, and the Royals had to stretch beyond their own limits of comfort. This was still a business decision, and there was a limit to how much of a discount Gordon would’ve been willing to accept. But you have to think there’s some discount here, with Gordon’s loyalty coming into play. And now, for the rest of Gordon’s career, people will be able to talk about the time he had a chance to bolt, but stayed in place. This is going to be good for the story of Gordon’s career, and considering he’s been guaranteed $72 million, on top of all the money he’s already earned, well, a story provides immeasurable lifetime value, and at some point the dollars blur together. Gordon got enough from the Royals to make the union content, and the deal comes with so many other benefits. Even if the Royals never win it all again, they’ve built what they wanted to build, with Gordon at the center. They’re positioned now to try to do it again.

The Royals are a mid-payroll team, so they can’t afford to have too much money tied up in top-of-the-line free-agent contracts. They need to be more efficient than the Dodgers, which is why it’s particularly helpful for them to keep Gordon at a relative bargain. This helps keep their window extra window-y, and in the immediate, Gordon fills what was otherwise a gaping hole. The division is going to be winnable again. The league is going to be winnable again. The Royals just did what they wanted to do with a roster a lot like the current one. Gordon provides a jolt to keep the Royals fearsome, and now they’re looking to improve the rotation, too. They can do that, with some of the Gordon savings.

Just as a player, Gordon’s been a solidly above-average hitter for five years. He’s a lefty with pretty much no platoon split, and he didn’t show any red flags after returning from wrist surgery last season. He did have his first major injury in a long time, missing a couple months with a strained groin, and when Gordon returned he didn’t quite look like himself in September. But he looked good in the playoffs, and he’s Alex Gordon, so he should remain a good hitter and a good defender.

Obviously, he will age. He’s already started. Last year he stole just two bases, and he didn’t hit a triple. He’s unlikely to be an elite baserunner again, and he’s unlikely to maintain the extent of his defensive range in left field. But there are two things: one, Gordon shouldn’t hit the wall all of a sudden, and two, a lot of his defensive value is actually tied up in his arm, which has been the third-most valuable in the outfield of the past decade by both UZR and DRS. I don’t know how outfield arms age, compared to range, but my sense is that they should age better. Gordon should keep base coaches aware for the foreseeable future.

We can do something really simple. The last four years, Gordon has been an outfielder worth 18.6 WAR. Over the last 30 years, there have been 23 outfielders worth something within 2.5 wins of that between the ages of 28-31. Between 32-35, those same outfielders averaged 12.5 WAR. These are just the simplest possible Gordon comps, but if you projected Gordon to be worth 12.5 WAR over the next four years, you’d expect him to sign a contract worth about $100 million. You see the value right there. Gordon might not age as well as Jim Edmonds, but he doesn’t need to come even close to that.

The Royals would be happy if he aged like Mike Cameron, or maybe even like Randy Winn. Cameron’s 32-to-35 years were worth 12.5 WAR. Winn’s were worth 11.0, and Winn never really had an arm. To be totally truthful, in the long run the Royals might not really care that much at all about how Gordon ages, considering what they’ve already accomplished. That part of the story has been written in ink, but no one wants Gordon to collapse. And no one should expect Gordon to collapse. He’s too good and too committed, and the Royals love the example he provides. Mike Moustakas might be the most recent Royals player to turn his career around, but Gordon was the model for Moustakas. It’s not a bad idea to keep these players around, even if they weren’t as valuable as they are.

Gordon is a lifetime Royal, whose story is the story of the Royals, and in just about every way, he’s the perfect player for the circumstance. He’s a role model and an All-Star, local and beloved, a player who helped build a champion and a player who will help try to build another. It’s obvious to see what the Royals get out of this, and it’s a little differently obvious to see what Gordon gets out of this, too. He gets a lot of money, but he also gets to stay put, and he’s positioned himself to mean as much to the Royals organization as, say, Yadier Molina means to the Cardinals. There are fewer and fewer of these players these days, and while free agency is of course a player benefit, it also means we don’t see many players who stay. Those players just have a different feel about them, while they’re active and after they retire. Gordon has maybe given up some millions of dollars to effectively make himself a Royal for life. There’s a chance that, at some point, he might wish he had those millions of dollars. But he’s always going to have money. Money you can’t ever spend to undo a break-up.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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TKDC
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Member
TKDC
4 months 18 days ago

If he didn’t just get a no-trade clause outright, he’ll earn it halfway through 2017, when he becomes a 10/5 guy. I’m not sure how much that matters to him, but it’s something.

walt526
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walt526
4 months 18 days ago

“two, a lot of his defensive value is actually tied up in his arm, which has been the third-most valuable in the outfield of the past decade by both UZR and DRS. I don’t know how outfield arms age, compared to range, but my sense is that they should age better. Gordon should keep base coaches aware for the foreseeable future.”

I wonder if this is partly due to reputation minimizing the number of challenges to a great arm. That is, we don’t know that a guy no longer has a cannon-for-an-arm because 3rd base coaches are making the decision not to run based on scouting reports from past year(s). We see this with catchers, so it would make sense that it would also be true for outfielders.

jayhawkjac
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jayhawkjac
4 months 18 days ago

Yeah I think Gordon’s assists were down last year because nobody was running on him. Kind of a Yadi principle. Not sure how measurable it is.

Kang Ho
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Kang Ho
4 months 18 days ago

UZR’s ARM component does give credit for how often runners attempt/don’t attempt to take the extra base among other things.

See:

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-fangraphs-uzr-primer/#4

jdbolick
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Member
4 months 18 days ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if Gordon took a slight discount to stay, but I would be extremely surprised if he turned down an extra ~$10 million or a fifth year. Who knows how accurate “reports” are, yet the suggestions were that Gordon’s market wasn’t as hot as he and his agent had hoped. This appears to be more evidence that while teams appreciate defense, they don’t value it at quite the level that defensive WAR does.

tuna411
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tuna411
4 months 17 days ago

So you think a player who has or is going to reach $100,000,000 in career earnings should care about a tenth of that money vs being happy and on a winning club? Sorry, if I had the money the established players have, I would do exactly what alex.gordon just did…ie, take less and play where I am happiest.

Dooduh
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Dooduh
4 months 18 days ago

Strange he didn’t get at least what Hunter Pence got 2 yrs ago but that one year age difference came into play.

The FA market isn’t as free-wheeling as it once was… that much is clear.

Jason B
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Jason B
4 months 17 days ago

Eh, it’s plenty free-wheeling for SP and RP.

Dave T
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Dave T
4 months 16 days ago

True, but those markets will always be a little different than for position players, with the result that the market for FA pitchers usually is deeper.

The market for Gordon is necessarily limited to teams with a need for a LF (or maybe RF if they think he can move there easily due to his arm, despite playing only 25 innings there in his MLB career).

By contrast, almost all teams can use a top of the rotation or mid-rotation starter. That bumps the #5 starting option to a swingman role in the bullpen, or leaves him in AAA if it’s a prospect. Given the rate of pitcher injuries, odds are that #6 starter will pitch something like 50-100 innings the next season anyway.

It’s similar for RP’s, at least late inning power arms, especially as some teams look to emulate the Royals with multiple shutdown relievers to cover the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Look at the Yankees adding Chapman even though they already have Betances and Miller. That was a trade not a FA signing, but same idea of having multiple shutdown relievers. Like with SP’s, it’s bumping the worst bullpen arm and realizing that you’re likely to need to call up 1 or 2 AAA relievers at some point during the season due to injuries anyway.

Metsox
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Member
Metsox
4 months 18 days ago

Mike Trout’s Discount laughs at Alex Gordon’s discount

TangoAlphaLima
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TangoAlphaLima
4 months 18 days ago

Do you understand the difference between a free agent and a player who is under team control for the first 6 years of his career before hitting the free agent market?

fredsbank
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fredsbank
4 months 17 days ago

No, please explain it.

Moar Baesball
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Moar Baesball
4 months 17 days ago

Do you understand the difference between the greatest start to a career in baseball history and Alex Gordon?

ashlandateam
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ashlandateam
4 months 18 days ago

Gordon has literally everything in KC – the dude is financially set for life, is in a city that couldn’t love him more, is close to his family and childhood home, and coming off back to back World Series trips and a ring. There really isn’t anything professionally or even personally that he could improve on. Now that the ink is drying on the contract, it seems a little crazy that he would have ever thought to go somewhere else.

TKDC
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Member
TKDC
4 months 18 days ago

When it seemed possible that he could get $50 million more, that thought was not crazy at all.

ashlandateam
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ashlandateam
4 months 18 days ago

I mean, I guess. But look – at the end of this contract, his career earnings will be over $110 million.

So let’s say he went to Anaheim for the $50 mil figure. Two options:

– Stay close to home, in a city you love, in front of fans for whom you are a hero, in a state with low taxes, where you retire with one team, are on a playoff team (and champion) from the last two seasons for $110 million for your career.

– Go far from home, in a city you don’t know, in front of fans for whom you’re no higher than fifth on the ‘fan favorite’ chart (Trout, Pujols, Calhoun, Weaver), are in a state with high taxes, where you retire without a city celebrating you, are on a team that missed the playoffs last year and was one and out two years ago for $160 million in your career.

I understand that the human side is ignored a lot of times. But unless there was a falling out with the club (like in the case of Pujols), I’m not sure what amount of money could have made it worth it for Gordon to leave. He’ll be this generation’s George Brett this way; what’s the price on becoming a franchise icon? And that’s to say nothing of the off the field side for him.

If Gordon hadn’t already banked $40+ million (and was basically set for life), then it might be a different conversation. But the dude doesn’t need whatever another team could give him above and beyond what the Royals did. And given that, all the extra parts of being a lifelong Royal come into play big time.

tkn
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tkn
4 months 17 days ago

I’m not sure Pujols’s decision to sign with the Angles was due to a falling out with the Cards, unless you consider it a falling out every time a player signs with a new club that offered a better contract than his old club.

ashlandateam
Member
ashlandateam
4 months 17 days ago

Word with the local media in St. Louis/Missouri was that Pujols left for Anaheim because of perceived slights from the Cardinal FO to him. It wasn’t about money, as the tax difference between California and Missouri made up for the difference in the contract offers anyway.

That’s at least how it was presented locally.

tkn
Member
tkn
4 months 17 days ago

I too recall Albert (and his wife on the radio) suggesting he was slighted by the Cards. But if memory serves, the basis of feeling slighted was that the initial offer was too low. So to your point, perhaps there was a falling out, but only in the sense that the Cards’ offer wasn’t good enough.

ashlandateam
Member
ashlandateam
4 months 17 days ago

Yeah that sounds right. Also, there was a matter of a no-trade clause and some other things in the contract that weren’t financial (I think). It was spun as ‘Albert left because he felt disrespected, though if respect is measured in finances, it’s just a different way of saying ‘he wanted more money.’

fliparip
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fliparip
4 months 18 days ago

“He gets to remain with the organization that developed him, the organization that he saw genuinely go from the bottom to the top.”

Well said Jeff ! As a KC native, and die hard fan through all the lean years, that line brought tears of joy. We are so proud of our Royals!

Paul22
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Paul22
4 months 18 days ago

More evidence that teams just don’t want to pay much for players known mostly for their elite defense, especially those in their 30’s. Gordons a nice player but a 113 OPS+ over 3 years shows he is not an elite hitter, and he is in his declining years

I expect the working formula is dollars(million AAV) = 6.5 X offensive WAR + 2 x defensive WAR (incl pos adj). Heyward got more because his projected offensive WAR is expected to increase due to his young age.

Owen S
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Owen S
4 months 17 days ago

“…one, Gordon shouldn’t hit a wall all of a sudden.”

What an unfortunate choice of metaphors.

Jon C
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Jon C
4 months 17 days ago

Lose lose situation. Royals get a player who will be less than league average offensively by 2017, and Gordon leaves money on the table.

mcbrown
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mcbrown
4 months 17 days ago

We don’t tend to talk about players’ “brand value”, because for the most part it probably doesn’t matter, but in the case of someone like Gordon I think the value of his personal brand is enhanced significantly by staying in KC, and that has real value both in the present (endorsements) and down the road (broadcasting gigs, appearance fees, memorabilia, organizational roles, etc.).

I suspect he gave up very little – if anything – in real economic value by staying put.

troybruno
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Member
troybruno
4 months 17 days ago

100% agree with this… have looked for some analysis of post-retirement earnings / opportunities and found nothing of use. I suspect that team lifers do much better post-retirement. would love links if you’ve read anything.

phaddix
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Member
phaddix
4 months 17 days ago

Very good call. I think we also substantially underestimate the reality of taxes and cost of living. Let’s say a 5th year was off the table and the best Gordon could have done was 4 years / 78 Million – so an increase of $6M.

After taxes that difference drops to $3.6M. When you factor in the cost of living differences between a larger market such as Chicago or LA vs. KC not to mention any costs associated with moving that difference is quickly eaten up.

And given your thoughts on endorsements and future career opportunities while it might appear that Alex took a “discount” in terms of real world income he probably still took the most lucrative offer.

KCExile
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KCExile
4 months 17 days ago

If you think $3.6m is eaten up by moving costs and cost of living, I’m not sure you really appreciate how much a million dollars is. Additionally, players don’t all live in the city in which they play.

Dave T
Member
Dave T
4 months 16 days ago

At the top-end of the real estate market, which someone like Gordon can afford, it’s certainly possible that the difference in housing prices between KC and a market like NY or southern California could be a few million dollars.

It’s similarly true that direct “moving costs” obviously aren’t that high, but if a player and his wife have built their expensive dream home in a mid-size market that could easily end up with a seven-figure loss trying to sell it. The market depth for $5+ million homes in an area like KC or St. Louis isn’t that great, so trying to sell one is often no easy feat.

In Gordon’s particular case, I believe that his offseason home is in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s also my understanding that he and his wife both have family there. It’s easy to think that playing a 3 hour drive from there in KC appeals to him a lot more than playing halfway across the country, for both financial and non-financial reasons.

phaddix
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Member
phaddix
4 months 17 days ago

When you are talking about less than $1m per year yes living costs would have an impact. Is there some marginal gain – certainly but enough to justify the non-financial costs of uprooting your life – not so sure

Bryon
Member
Bryon
4 months 16 days ago

I’m not sure there were better offers out there. While we may never know the details of any offers Gordon received, what we do know is the outfielder market has been slow to move. This implies teams needing an outfielder are either comfortable promoting AAA prospects, are indifferent about which FA they sign and want the best deal, or simply don’t have the remaining wherewithal to play at the high rollers table.
The only rumors surrounding Gordon were that KC offered something like 52m/4yrs which I doubt since the deal he signed was approx. 50% greater, and that the chi Sox wouldn’t exceed 3yrs.
I just simply don’t believe there was a 5yr 9 figure deal to be found, and so in terms of actual dollars and person utility, Gordon took the best offer.

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