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KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF Alex Gordon to a four-year, $72 million contract, with a mutual option for a fifth year. [1/6]

Nebraska’s Highway 2 sneaks quietly southeast out of Lincoln, covering the soft miles through the green and grass-covered Platte River basin with scarcely a two-laned whisper before crossing the muddy Missouri river near Nebraska City and passing, for the briefest moment, into Iowa, there to collide rudely with I-29 just a few miles across the border. That highway—newer, by far, than its junior colleague, and loud in its four-laned pomposity—follows the Missouri south for a little less than 150 miles before entering the county seat of Jackson County, Missouri, from the north. That town is called Kansas City, and they play baseball there.

That’s a path Alex Gordon has traveled many times in his 31 years, and also just once, in the long run: from childhood in Lincoln, to teenage brilliance at Southeast High School (where he hit .483, with 25 home runs, in his senior year), to university just a few miles down the road (where he led the Cornhuskers to a Big 12 title, and won more baseball awards than it is seemly to mention here, all at once), and then into young manhood on the feeder teams of Kansas City’s big-league ballclub—Wichita, Surprise, Omaha—before growing into his brilliance in Kansas City itself, and last year leading that team finally to the promised land.

Baseball, George Carlin said, is a game about coming home. In choosing to finish his career with the Royals—and, make no mistake, that’s the decision that was made this week—Gordon has found a way to make that simple statement into a benediction. It’s therefore difficult to evaluate this deal on the usual terms, with dollars per WAR and projections and all that, because no other team could have signed Alex Gordon to a four-year deal worth $72 million, and it’s unlikely that Gordon would have let any other team try. This, for a man who was already a millionaire many times over (remember the contract extension in 2012?) turned out to be an offseason all about hanging his hat, for good, in the place that has always been home.

That’s not to say that, from the Royals’ perspective, this is a deal justifiable only by sentiment and nostalgia. Quite the contrary, in fact: this deal makes the Royals better today, tomorrow, and for a passel of tomorrows to come. Putting aside the production that the team can expect over the next four years—PECOTA thinks it’ll be about 11 wins, all told—the structure of the contract (it’s reportedly heavily backloaded) will allow the team to expend additional resources in 2016 and 2017 to supplement a core that’s already produced two pennants and a title in three years of honest contention. You can call it spending at the right part of the win curve, if you like, or you can call it stepping on the neck of your opponent when he’s already down on the ground. It’s the same thing in the end. The Royals were already good, and this deal makes them better.

That’s good news for the denizens of Kansas City, because despite the patina of inevitability that I’ve layered over Gordon’s decision (in preparation for later narrative-building) it wasn’t immediately obvious, in November, that things would turn out this way. There were always a number of plausible suitors for Gordon out there, including (at various points) the White Sox, Cardinals, Giants, Cubs, Orioles, and Tigers. I’m guessing that, had any of those teams signed Gordon instead of Kansas City, we’d be talking about a guaranteed fifth year and a total value upwards of $90 million. Those would be interesting deals to cover, and there are a number of universes in which we might be covering them right now.

But we aren’t. And that, I think, is a testament to the power of home. At $7 million a win, inflating at half a million annually, Gordon should produce about $85 million worth of value over the life of the guaranteed contract, which—when you subtract the value of the draft pick the Royals just gave up by making the signing at all—suggests the deal will end up being just about even money for Kansas City, when all is said and done. But I don’t think that’s the case, either. The Royals aren’t just buying Alex Gordon, Player, this week. They’re putting the finishing touches on Alex Gordon, Icon, soon to join the statues of Brett, Howser, and White in the outfield at Kauffman, and that’s worth a lot more than they just paid. And not in dollars.

Thank you for reading

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Deadheadbrewer
1/07
What a lyrical transaction analysis--great reading! Had Willa Cather written about baseball, perhaps it would have sounded like the opening paragraph.
rianwatt
1/07
That's really an extremely nice thing to say. Thank you!
Ogremace
1/07
Reminiscent of the glory days of TA at the hands of Christina Kahrl. Nicely done.
znadel
1/07
I also had to keep looking back at the byline to make sure I was not reading something written by Christina Kahrl, which I consider to be the ultimate compliment.

However, I don't understand the deification of Gordon. My guess is that his performance over the length of the new contract is most likely to qualify him for the "Hall of Pretty Good" rather than a statue. I can't remember too many LF with have such a high degree of their value wrapped up in their defense still maintaining their valuable in their mid-30s.
rianwatt
1/07
Hey there, and thanks for the compliment! My guess is Gordon ends up outside Cooperstown as well; I'm just suggesting he'll end up as a Royals legend. Probably wasn't clear!
rianwatt
1/07
Thank you very much, that's a high compliment.
cmellinger
1/07
Wonderful article. Now I have to try to find the George Carlin baseball piece somewhere. It's in the one comparing baseball and football, I suppose.
rianwatt
1/07
Thanks! This might help:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhN1ExFCXNA
jspirk
1/07
Well done sir, well done.
rianwatt
1/07
Thank you, and thanks for reading!
jhardman
1/07
Fabulous Transaction Analysis article.
rianwatt
1/07
Glad you enjoyed it!
oldbopper
1/07
Just a wonderful article. It captures a fundamental question I have had about baseball players. Every star has made more money than he or his great, great grandchildren will ever need but it seems to me that a few more dollars are more important than becoming that iconic figure that will be remembered forever in "his" hometown. Am I a fool to think that feeling of admiration and affection, like David Ortiz's special connection with Boston, isn't worth more to a man's happiness than a few superfluous dollars. I applaud Alex Gordon for his decision and I hope I will be there when his statue is dedicated in Kansas City.
rianwatt
1/08
Agree in totality.
Dodger300
1/08
Not only was this article beautifully written, but it was spot on tracing the many trips I made from the city of my birth to spend a weekend (and occasionally a full week) enjoying ball games at the closest major league park.

Thank you.
rianwatt
1/08
I'm very glad to have gotten it right. I've only driven a portion of it, and then only once.
timber
1/08
Kansas City isn't the seat of Jackson County. Independence is.
rianwatt
1/08
My understanding (though I could, of course, be wrong) is that both cities share the title:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_County,_Missouri
timber
1/08
But if it's on the Internet it must be true! :)

I live in Kansas City. Believe me, it is not the seat of Jackson County.

Loved the article anyway. I should have already said that!
darthack2661
1/09
This was very, very well written. Cheers bro, well done.