In early 2016, the Kansas City Royals extended the contract of Alex Gordon for another 4 years and an additional $72 million.
At the time, there was hesitation, but mostly it was met with postive reaction. The problem with free agent contracts, however, is that you are more often than not paying for what a player has already done, HOPING they can continue to do the same. In the case of Alex Gordon, it has been a disaster.
So far, Alex is 210 games and 825 plate appearances into his new deal. During that stretch, he has managed a paltry .210/.302/.347 (MY EYES MY EYES!!) slash line. If his .649 OPS weren't already bad enough, the hits just keep on coming as he is actually seeming to regress more. This season, Gordon is sitting with a .580 OPS and is hitting .194/.286/.294. To put that in laymen terms, Chris Getz hit .248/.305/.295 during his 4 year stint with the Royals. That's right……Alex Gordon has signed a monster contract, and turned into the offensive equivalent of an aging Chris Getz….or maybe even worse.
As they have done with many deals in the Dayton Moore era, the Royals have also back loaded the Gordon contract so that $44 million of the guaranteed money comes in the final 2 seasons of the deal. That means so far we have only spent about $20 million for Gordon to suck in TOTAL the last year and a half. But over the next 2 and a half years owe the remaining $32 million.
So uhhhh……..What does that mean?
I dunno. For one…he isnt going anywhere for a while. For two…….I dunno.
It is not completely unheard of that a team simply cut bait with a flailing player, as the Red Sox recently did with a struggling Pablo Sandoval, letting him walk yet owing him a remaining $49 million. The difference is, Gordon is one of the Royals own. A "native son" if you will. Pablo was an implant that disappointed from the very beginning. Gordon will no doubt get a longer leash than Sandoval was given, in part due to the fact Gordon at least has the capability to help a team on defense.
Which brings us to another point….defense. As pointed out previously, defense and not offense is often the first thing to go in aging players. So far, Baseball Reference and Fangraphs do not seem to think Gordon's defense has fallen off much, or even at all. With the Royals defense first minded philosophy, Gordon's glove is his meal ticket to remaining in good graces with the brass. This same line of thinking is what continued to get Alcides Escobar what seems like 12 years worth of consecutive starts. With the Royals front office, good defense will keep you playing. But….. What happens if that also changes as it almost HAS to with a player entering his mid 30's?
Pretty much the only answer is that Gordon find a way to get better offensively. The hope is that he may still have lingering issues stemming from his broken wrist. That could also be the worry however. There were many who thought the type of wrist injury Gordon suffered could be enough to permanently hamper his swing speed, which certainly looks to be a possibility.
During the second half of 2016, Gordon did at least manage to not HAMPER his team by posting a .239/.319/.426 line in the final 66 games and hitting 10 home runs in that stretch. While a .745 OPS is nothing to write home to Mom about, it is a respectable line that when paired with his Gold Glove caliber defense is enough to make a valuable player. This is also a long enough stretch of "OK" to make an optimist think it is possible that even with a slower swing, Gordon has the ability to be a useful offensive piece.
Over the last 47 games, Gordon has managed a .681 OPS. While that isn't awful, it also begs the argument that if we are having to cherry pick stats to find .681 OPS baseball as our "silver lining" then there really isn't much to talk about is there.
The effect Gordon's lack of production is having on the Royals is immeasurable by realistic standards, but using WAR as a tool, Fangraphs lists Gordon as being worth 6.4 WAR during the Royals 2014 World Series Run (Baseball Reference has it at 6.6) and this season, they have Gordon listed at -0.1WAR.
Given those numbers, it would seem fairly reasonable to assume that at the halfway point of the season, the difference between 2014 Alex and 2017 Alex is around 3 wins. The same distance they currently sit behind the division leading Cleveland Indians.
The good news is, it is never too late. The Royals are still very much in the hunt, and Alex still has plenty of time to help push them to a playoff spot. The scare is that after a year and a half of decline, does he possess the ability to do so? Royals fans better hope so….or it might be a long and expensive 2 and a half more years.
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