Good news for the Kansas City Royals: Alex Gordon is returning to the World Series champions. The three-time All-Star left fielder has agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal, ESPN's Buster Olney reports.
Stating the obvious, the Royals needed this to happen. Before the deal, the Royals were looking at an outfield of Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando. According to the depth charts and projected WAR totals at FanGraphs, the Royals were looking at perhaps the worst left-field situation in the majors, as Orlando projects as a replacement-level player. With Gordon and his projected 3.6 WAR back in the lineup, the Royals now match the Pittsburgh Pirates for the highest projected WAR total in left field.
Conservatively, this is an upgrade of three to four wins over what the Royals were facing without Gordon. They bring back the player who led the team in on-base percentage the past two seasons and the one many consider the spiritual center of the club, the longest-tenured Royal who suffered through five 90-loss seasons before the club's recent success.
During the World Series, manager Ned Yost talked about what Gordon meant to the Royals. "Everybody in that locker room looks up to him," Yost said. "They see how hard he works and his preparation every single day. He's always just about the first one in the locker room. Everything he does is to be ready to play a baseball game, from the food he eats to the exercises that he does early in the weight room to the preparation before the game. His routine is impeccable. And guys see this. And they see a three-time Gold Glover, they see an All-Star.
"Part of the reason why he's so good is because of that routine. And guys now, over the years you see their routines become more regimented. ... He kind of leads by example in those types of areas."
At an annual average value of $18 million over four years, this is a pretty low-risk deal for the Royals. Jim Bowden had projected Gordon receiving a five-year, $90 million deal, so the Royals get Gordon at the same AAV but with one fewer year. They're paying for his age-32 to age-35 seasons, so the fewer years the better.
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs recently estimated a three-year contract for Gordon should be valued at about $75 million, given his projected future value and the price per WAR on the free-agent market. The Royals end up getting an extra year for less money, which seems to speak to Gordon's desire to return to Kansas City. Perhaps that fourth year sealed the deal; the Chicago White Sox had reportedly been interested in Gordon but only on a three-year deal. Gordon also would have been a perfect fit for the San Francisco Giants, but that would have meant a move to a different league and different park.
Is there a possible downside to the deal? Sure, as any player in his 30s is a risk. The defensive metrics indicated Gordon's defense slipped a bit last year, so he may not return to the 6-WAR player he was from 2011-14. But before last season's groin injury that limited him to 104 games, he had been durable, averaging 156 games per season the previous four years. Given his overall health record and consistency at the plate, I see little risk for the Royals.
Kudos as well to Royals ownership for stepping up. Baseball-Reference had estimated the Royals' payroll at $113 million before this deal, so it's now up to about $131 million, compared to an Opening Day payroll of $113 million last year (and a final estimated total of $129 million). Given 2015's World Series run and a likely revenue increase because of increased attendance figures, it's possible there remains wiggle room to add another in-season acquisition.
History suggests that World Series teams that stand pat are usually making a mistake. After all, when you win the World Series it usually means everything went right, injuries were avoided and a couple of players may have had career years. The Royals have lost Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto, Alex Rios and Greg Holland, with Joakim Soria the only significant addition. But those four players were worth only a combined 0.5 WAR in the regular season -- with 1.2 of that coming from Zobrist. So they haven't added much but neither have they lost much.
Interestingly, the projection systems are once again viewing the Royals as pretenders more than contenders. FanGraphs views the Cleveland Indians as the American League Central favorites right now. Using the site's projected team WAR totals, here are the on-paper projected standings:
Indians: 87 wins
White Sox: 81 wins
Royals: 80 wins
Tigers: 79 wins
Twins: 79 wins
Yes, the Royals have a hole at second base -- expect Christian Colon to get that job over the decaying Omar Infante -- and the rotation has potential issues if Kris Medlen and/or Danny Duffy struggle or fail to deliver bulk innings. Overall depth is certainly a concern. But it seems as though once again the computers are underestimating this club. It's going to be the same Royals team we've learned to appreciate: The great bullpen, the great defense and that Ned Yost magic. I do like the Indians, but bringing back Gordon makes the Royals the favorites in the AL Central.