Sustaining annual success in professional sports is a hard craft to master, especially when it’s involving a small market organization. Over the past two seasons, the Kansas City Royals have smashed every expectation and preconception that’s been set out for them. A run of unprecedented fame, one that’s now achieved back-to-back trips to the World Series, and this year ending with a championship. Much reason for the franchise’s long-awaited fame was the use of a roster compromised of still-inexpensive homegrown talent.
Talent, that has now trickled down to up-and-coming players like Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas, who are now prime-time talent. With a majority of the Royals’ franchise players in the process to experience the final years of their contracts in 2016 and 2017, (only exception is Salvador Perez, who is locked under team control until 2019). There’s a good chance that Hosmer’s gold glove defense, Moustakas’ dependable hitting, and Cain’s expendable range in the outfield will seek more money long-term. This is a decision that GM Dayton Moore will have to make, because in all likelihood, a handful of Kansas City’s blossomed stars will walk away once these contracts are up.
However, while the Royals’ payroll is still ranked 17th in the majors, it significantly rose after deals made with Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto during mid-season. Even though Cueto is presumably gone, GM Dayton Moore will have to pay quantity amounts to bring back utility man Zobrist for three or more years, this qualification also holds true in regard of outfielder Alex Gordon.
Gordon, who is now currently the longest tenured Royal, has experienced nine full seasons in Kansas City. No question, out of all the minor league talent that the Royals have groomed to promise. Gordon is the one who means the most to the franchise. A 23-year-old who was drafted from Nebraska, was granted unreasonable expectations from the start, but has since improved every season and grew into a star in years’ time.
As of now, Kansas City is looking at an incomparable solution to retain its most prized left fielder. However, this bears a drawn out set of examples, that both share negative and positive correlations. First thing, if the Royals let Alex Gordon walk, it will create a huge deficiency offensively and defensively. Much as Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando might be able to cover left field, neither possesses Gordon’s presence at the plate. Gordon sported a healthy OBP of .377 in 2015, whereas Dyson supplemented .311, and Orlando .269. Although Gordon’s day of ever batting around .300 is gone, his consistency overpowers that of Dyson’s and Orlando’s.
There also is some likelihood Dyson and Orlando will platoon in right, to cover the departing Alex Rios. So, in a case like that, the Royals would need to replace Gordon through a trade or free agent acquisition. There clearly are free agents on the market of Gordon’s caliber, but it would cost the Royals as much or more to sign one of them as it would to retain Gordon. The Royals could also bring in a mid-level free agent, as they have done in the past.
Unless they dramatically over-perform, however, this would be a downgrade at the position. The Royals cannot afford a downgrade if they want to win with the current group they have. As for a trade, its difficult to imagine a non-deadline deal that nets a player like Gordon. Even assuming the Royals could find a suitable trading partner. This then begs the question: who would they be willing to give up? There is talent at the minor-league level in the form of interior infielders such as Raul Mondesi and Cheslor Cuthbert, and even outfielder Bubba Starling may breed interest. But the Royals will need these players in 2018 and 2019 as their next star players, when Hosmer and company might head for the exits.
Keeping Gordon gives the Royals the best chance to win now. Yes, they will need to pay him more than they have ever paid anyone. In addition, this sort of contract is unprecedented for this team. But there are no real precedents for the situation in which the Royals now find themselves. This isn’t a rebuilding franchise. This is a winning franchise, that intends to pursue consistency for the next several years. In order to keep winning, the Royals must retain its best players. Retaining Gordon keeps the core team together and in contention for two more seasons.
This last point is significant: by the Royals retaining Gordon, the core team, that just won the World Series is still in an unbelievably high magnitude of winning it again. There is no reason to think the Royals can’t or won’t win the division in 2016 and 2017 and make a deep run in the playoffs. The situation is far different now than in prior years, when even making the playoffs was a pipe dream. Then, handing out a big contract would have made little sense. Now, it makes all the sense in the world.
As for 2018 and beyond, when the team may be forced to take a step back. Who better than Gordon to help mold the next generation of Royals. His presence will bring people to the park, even if wins aren’t as plentiful. Is his presence worth $16-$20M per year? Maybe. But there are worse ways to spend money. Kansas City needs its heroes, even in the twilight of their careers.