|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.
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