No player on this Royals roster has a more polarizing situation this off-season than outfielder Alex Gordon. With the Royals clearly in a rebuild, it seems on the surface that the 35-year-old Gordon should be a roster casualty going into 2020. The 2005 Royals first-round pick just finished his 13th year in professional baseball, and with a mutual option for 2020 which would only require a $4 million buyout for the Royals to get out of, it appears it would be prudent for Dayton Moore and the Royals to opt out and begin a new era without the former Cornhusker who helped lead the Royals to two pennants and a World Series title in 2015, which included Gordo producing one of Kauffman Stadium’s most memorable moments in Game 1.
Despite his history as a Royal, Gordon probably has only one or two more years left in the tank, and it probably would make more sense for the longtime Royals veteran to sign with a more competitive team, where he would have one last shot to win a World Series title.
And yet, the issue regarding Gordo is a difficult dilemma. Yes, Gordo doesn’t fit on a roster that clearly needs to think younger. Yes, Gordo may fit better on a MLB team that can compete for a pennant or World Series championship. And yet, if he wanted to be somewhere else, it seems likely that would have happened years ago. As much as the losing may frustrate him, it seems like Gordo enjoys being a Royal more than anything, and thus, it’s easy to see why Moore is saying this in the media regarding his future:
There are many Royals fans who feel like bringing back Gordo would be a mistake, that it would stunt the team’s development, and the team would be better suited finding a more long-term option in left field than an-end-of-the road Gordo. However, I believe the Royals and Gordo would benefit from one last year in KC, and here are three reasons why.
Gordo deserves a farewell tour as a Royal
It can be easy to overlook what Gordo has done as a Royal. Back in the dark days, when he was drafted second overall in the 2005 draft, many hailed Gordo as the second-coming of George Brett. After all, he was a Midwest kid who grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, about three hours away from KC, and he played third-base, much like the Royals Hall-of-Famer. However, many have been critical of Gordo’s tenure, as he failed to live up to that Brett comparison: he eventually moved away from the hot corner, and he didn’t have quite the immediate impact like other picks in that draft such as Ryan Bruan, Troy Tulowitzki, and Justin Upton, just to name a few (look at that list…that 2005 draft was LOADED).
And yet, while Gordo may not be a Hall of Famer like Brett, what Gordo has done as a Royal is still pretty impressive, especially when you look at how he stacks up against other Royals throughout history. He has the fourth-highest career WAR as Royal (36.6), behind only Brett, Amos Otis (44.8), and Willie Wilson (42.4). He ranks sixth in games played and plate appearances in Royals history. And finally, he has six Gold Gloves and three All-Star appearances over his 13-year career.
Gordo may have not been Brett 2.0, but he didn’t need to be. When one looks at Gordo’s complete profile, what he has done as a Royal is remarkable nonetheless. He has been one of the most productive Royals in the post-Brett era (Brett retired after the 1993 season), and he’s also been one of the most durable players out of that 2005 Draft class, as he ranks 5th in Career WAR (behind Braun, Tulo, McCutcheon, and Zimmer) and 2nd in games played (only behind Braun).
And for that Gordo needs to be recognized. Gordo deserves a farewell tour of some kind, so that Kansas City and baseball fans all over can recognize how much he has contributed and meant to this franchise. He had immense pressure on him as a local guy from Nebraska, and not only did he handle the pressure, he embraced it. Gordo could have chased more money like Eric Hosmer or found a better winning fit like Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, but instead, he stayed with Kansas City, even though the writing on the wall was that lean years were ahead of him and the franchise at the time of his extension in 2016.
Gordo was loyal to Kansas City and the Royals and that deserves some respect from the Royals faithful, especially in a season where progress may be incremental. Gordo merits a final goodbye season to commemorate his last season at the K, and 2020 should be it.
Gordo is coming off one of his better seasons at the plate
Without a doubt, Gordo has failed to live up to expectations at the plate after signing an extension after the 2015 season. From 2016-2018, Gordo put up a wRC+ of 86, 62, and 89. While he still remained solid defensively after his extension, many felt that 2018 was as good as it was going to get for Gordo offensively, and a slash of .245/.324/.370 didn’t exactly inspire a vote of confidence among the Royals fan base.
However, the Royals vet bounced back this season and showed that he still had something left in the tank at the plate. Gordo finished the year with a .266/.345/.396 slash, posted a wRC+ of 96 (his highest mark in this category since 2015), hit 13 home runs, drove in 76 runs (his highest total since 2013), and accumulated 633 plate appearances (his highest total since 2014). While many felt that 2019 would be the former World Series hero’s last year in Kansas City, Gordo proved that he isn’t done yet, and he can still be a productive hitter for this Kansas City lineup.
What also makes Gordo’s 2019 a bit promising for 2020 is his improvement in some important skill categories, according to Fangraphs data. His BB/K ratio improved from 0.40 in 2018 to 0.51 in 2019, and his strikeout rate decreased to 15.8 percent, which is a career low for Gordon in that category. Furthermore, his contact rate improved from 77 percent to 80.4 from 2018 to 2019, and his swinging strike percentage decreased from 10.6 to 9.3 percent. Yes, Gordo has become more groundball heavy in his late years, as his 1.50 GB/FB ratio in 2019 demonstrated. But his hard hit percentage of 38.9 percent demonstrated that he is at least hitting the ball with some authority (it’s more than 6 percent higher than his career average in that category), even if it didn’t necessarily result in more home runs (his HR/FB rate dropped from 11.3 to 9.2 percent from 2018 to 2019, respectively).
There’s no question Gordo is not the 2011-2015 self that absolutely mashed. However, considering the Royals’ questions offensively when it comes to outfield options currently on the roster (who knows if Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling will hit well enough to justify starting positions in 2020), and the lack of certainty with what the club can do when it comes to free agency this Winter, Gordo may not just be a good sentimental story, he may be one of the better options in the outfield in 2020 offensively.
Gordo will provide the leadership this club needs…both in the outfield and in the clubhouse
Gordo did take a step back defensively in 2019. After being three outs above average in 2017, and two outs above average in 2018, according to Statcast data, the longtime outfielder was three runs BELOW average in 2019. A big issue that stands out is that though Gordo is known for being tremendously committed to staying in shape, he started to show his age athletically a bit in 2019. He got worse jumps on balls in 2019 (went down from 1.3 to 1.6 runs below average, according to Statcast), and his burst went down as well (going from 1.0 to 1.4 runs below average). With more athletic options like Phillips, Starling, and even Whit Merrifield to patrol the outfield, Gordo fails to impress like he once did during his Gold Glove seasons.
However, where Gordo still impresses defensively is his instincts. His route running actually was rated as 0.7 runs above average according to Statcast. In comparison, Whit‘s and Phillips‘ route running was 0.3 runs below average and Starling’s was 1.7 runs below average. So, the outfield would benefit not just from Gordo’s better instincts in the field, but the younger outfielders would also benefit learning from Gordo more off of it as well (especially Phillips and Starling).
And lastly, next year will be new in a lot of ways for this clubhouse. New ownership will take over in a month, and a new manager will likely be announced soon. While Salvy will be back, there aren’t many holdovers from the 2014 and 2015 playoff days. Gordo is not the kind of vocal or charismatic leader that Salvy is, but he is still a veteran that will provide a valuable voice as well as some stability for a team that will be starting a new era in a variety of ways in 2020.
What the Royals should do with Gordo in 2020
The Royals and Gordo have a mutual option for $23 million for the 2020 season. Considering the Royals need to rebuild and restock this roster with better talent (both now and for the future), it would be foolish for Moore to agree to the $23 million option. It is almost certain that the Royals will pay the $4 million buyout to get out of that option, which means that any deal with Gordo will be from scratch.
And yet, the Royals should negotiate a one-year deal of some kind, hopefully in the $8-10 million range. It gives the Royals payroll flexibility to still pursue a free agent or two in order to improve the lineup or the pitching rotation (the latter is the most pressing issue), and it is still a respectable offer to Gordo, who probably wouldn’t get that from another club (I think he gets somewhere in the $5-7 range from other clubs).
A one-year deal for a modest amount? That’s a win-win deal for the Royals, who need to improve in order to recapture Kansas City sports fans’ attention, as well as Gordo, who gets to ride off in the sunset as a Royal in 2020.
Make it happen, Dayton. Let’s see one more year of Gordo patrolling the outfield at the K.