The Royals Real Problem with Extending Alex GordonFollow @RoyalsBlue_com
Dayton Moore has been sitting pretty close to the top of the mountain for the last several months. With a World Series appearance (AND NOW WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP!!) and the ending of a brutal 29 year playoff drought, he has the Kansas City Royals sitting in an enviable position. Manageable payroll coupled with a young nucleus of players who are complimented with serviceable veterans has the Royals fanbase excited that this might possibly be the beginning of something.
The process was long but maybe we have arrived.
So the first thing all General Managers want to do when they "got it" is to make damn sure they KEEP it. With Dayton ensuring his 2015 opening day starter remains in Royals Blue for many years to come, a signal has been sent that he intends on winning, and winning with many of the young players that are here now.
Ventura will hopefully be the beginning of a series of signings. Maybe Danny Duffy is next. There is already some rumor that quite possibly Salvador Perez could be inked to a longer contract. These are the types of moves a fanbase loves to see, locking up young talent and avoiding the "talent dumps" Royals fans are used to.
But there is one other matter with a deadline for decision quickly approaching. Alex Gordon is playing out the last year of his current contract under team control and has 1 player option for 2016 for $12.5 million. He has hinted in the past, (then wavered somewhat) that he would pick up that option. It would seem financially foolish for Gordon to accept a 1 year deal for an amount that will be less than the going rate for an average major league player, but, nonetheless he said he would.
Now lets pretend he doesn't. That brings us to the issue of contract negotiations. Without speculating, it will most likely require the largest contract in Royals franchise history to keep Alex Gordon patrolling left field for the next 5, 6 or 7 years.
The EASY answer to all of this is "of course, what are we waiting for." Most casual fans would blast the Moore regime if they were to pass on Alex Gordon and allow another team to lavish millions on our Gold Glover. The Glass family would receive another round of criticisms for being cheap and pinching pennies instead of looking towards the best interest of the club.
But what if the best interests of the club is to let him walk? Now hear me out.
We have witnessed Alex Gordon do phenomenal things on a baseball field. He has made highlight reel plays, won consecutive Gold Gloves the past 4 seasons and all the while played above average offensively. With 100 being the mark for an average player, Alex Gordon has posted a 121 OPS+ combined for the last 4 seasons. He briefly had an MVP push last year when his WAR numbers were among the best in the game. Simply put, for the last 4 seasons Alex Gordon has been spectacular.
So what is the problem you ask? These last 4 years were in the prime years of any ballplayers career. They spanned Gordons 27-31 seasons. Baseball Prospectus gives us the chart below showing the graphing of values of players as they age. I recommend reading the article as it is quite in depth.
As you can see, typically around the age 28 season players begin to decline. This isn't a for sure thing of course, but one thing that always wins in baseball is father time. Alex may be able to put off substantial decline longer than most, but someday his chart will follow this same path. The question isn't if, only when.
Much of Gordon's value the last 4 seasons has been aided by his defense. According to Baseball Reference, he has accumulated a total of 24 WAR with 7 of that due to his glove. Its this fact that worries me most.
Many players have been able to push back the clock offensively, some often staging a late career renaissance. With Alex's commitment to fitness and the discipline he has shown in remaining in top physical and mental shape will no likely aid him as he ages. But even the best in the game decline defensively with age. Almost without exception.
Pulling out just a few random outfielders of note here, you can see production values of players through their age 31 seasons. (Courtesy of fangraphs.com)
As you can see, with most of this list, Alex doesn't even really belong, but for the sake of argument we will just call him a "late bloomer" since he played 3b so many years. Does this actually work? No, but lets throw him a bone and say he belongs in this group defensively. As you can see, some of the greatest defensive outfielders of all time did exactly what you would expect great defensive outfielders to do. They saved a pile of runs defensively.
What about AFTER age 31?
Now we are seeing what happens when players get older. For other comparisons, according to baseball reference Andruw Jones went from racking up 25.7 defensive WAR in his years before age 32 to actually COSTING his team wins in the seasons following. Barry Bonds who had the *benefit of age defying substances throughout his career went from accumulating 9.0 WAR defensively in his first 10 years in the league to being worth a mere .7 from age 32 on. Alex Gordon has a total of 6.5 defensive WAR up to this point in his career. **ALLEGEDLY!
Its no secret that older baseball players simply don't perform as well. The problem with that is that much like prospects, fans and front offices almost always overvalue "our guys." Most Royals fans don't even associate Alex Gordon with playing in his age 31 season, or that he would be looking to sign a contract starting at age 32.
Looking a a comparison of WAR before and after, there seems to be at least a SHRED of hope that even with defensive abilities declining, they can still provide enough value offensively to be a good player. Kenny Lofton still managed to be a positive player in both aspects.
The problem is now, we are trying to look for outliers and comparisons instead of facing the inevitable truth. Alex Gordon may still be a great player from 32 and older….but the odds sure are against it.
Small market teams have to play the odds in their favor. The biggest problem with free agency is more often than not players are paid for what they DID instead of being paid for what they are GOING to do. Look at the contracts of the players above. Almost all made a huge chunk of money at the later stages of their careers, simply because they cashed in on a contract AFTER they had amassed a reputation as an elite player.
So what do we do? By no means does this mean we should close the door on signing Alex Gordon. It seems as though Gordon is a big fan of staying a part of this club, and nothing would make me and many other fans happier than to see him retire in Royals Blue. There would need to be a give and take on both sides for that to happen though. Gordon would need to take less than he would for another club, and Kansas City would certainly have to pay more than common sense would dictate a small market club paying to a free agent on the wrong side of 30.
It can happen. It hopefully WILL happen. But if it doesn't happen, and Gordon signs a massive contract with another club, just remember that maybe what Glass and Dayton had in mind was the best interest of the club and not pinching pennies. A budget is a budget no matter what, and in order for a single player to take up a sizeable percentage of it, it just plain has to make sense.
This season will tell a lot about what will happen with Alex Gordon. With any luck at all, he (foolishly) exercises his option for 2016 and we can put off having this conversation for another year. **Gordon declined his 2016 Player Option
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