There are so many things that could be said about Alex Gordon. His career has saw him play the role of the chosen one, the rookie disappointment, the potential breakout, the bust, and eventually the Gold Glover and Royals player of the year. Through it all Alex Gordon's work ethic has never been questioned. In fact, over the years it is amazing how many off hand comments have been made regarding Gordon's work ethics. It is normal for players to praise a teammate's work habits when asked directly, but in Gordon's case players often go out of the way to emphasize how impressive is his focus.
After Gordon's awesome 2011 campaign, a contract extension was at the top of the off season to do list. The bullet point was highlighted, underline and in bold. Yes, Gordon was coming off his first star caliber season, but the fans and organization had bought in. Given the Royals payroll, it was imperative that the Royals strike quick, considering another season like 2011, would price a potential Gordon extension out of the price range.
Initial speculation often penned a potential Gordon extension somewhere around four years, $36 million. However, some time had passed we heard that the Gordon camp was seeking a much larger figure. In the end, the sides met somewhere in the middle. The Royals wound up guaranteeing $37.5 million to Gordon over a four year period, but took on more risk by granting Gordon a player option that could push the total value of the deal to $50 million. Here is the year by year breakdown:
2012: $6 million
2013: $9 million
2014: $10 million
2015: $12.5 million
2016: $12.5 million*
*denotes player option
It is hard to predict what Alex Gordon will do over the next 4-5 seasons. Baseball Reference most likens him to players like Eric Hinske, Larry Hisle, Milton Bradley, Ray Lankford, Nate McClouth. If Gordon could replicate Hisle's, Bradley,s or Lankford's age 28-31 seasons it would be easy to call the extension a success. If Gordon turns into Hinske 2.0 at least there would be some production back, and if Gordon turns into the second coming of Nate McClouth, well this will probably go down as the worst contract in team history.
It doesn't take a genius to recognize that the most dangerous part of this deal is the 2016 player option. It is the first option of its kind given out by Dayton Moore, and I have to wonder if the option was the final sticking point between the two sides. The option is hazardous because it is very rare that a player picks up the option when the option is fair market value, it is almost never occurs that the player exercises the option when the option is team friendly.
In the typical situation a player option is only going to be exercised, if the player knows he won't fetch a similar amount on the open market. Alex Gordon has already been quoted as saying he views the contract as a five year deal, but if Gordon continues to produce as he did in 2011, there is no way he exercises his player option. This isn't a bad thing, but worst case scenario isn't that Gordon's flops and the Royals are out the guaranteed $37.5 million. From the Royals perspective they just guaranteed $50 million to their lead off man and gold glover.
At the moment, I can tell you that I'm thrilled to be able to go to bed tonight knowing that Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas now have the opportunity to be a part of the same lineup for the next four seasons. Recently, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote a piece discussing the difficulty that the Royals would face in turning young talent into a winner. One of the things discussed was the alignment of windows. The Gordon extension doesn't turn the Royals into a winner in 2014 and 15, but it sure does align the windows closer together.
I could take this opportunity to break down the WAR that Alex Gordon would need to accumulate on a year to year basis in order to justify this contract in the current market. However, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do it because I think all of us have our own opinions on what Alex Gordon will need to do in order to prove his worth. I'm not going to do it, because I believe that whatever the production Gordon needs to achieve, he can surpass.
Gordon finished 21st in the MVP balloting last season and quite frankly, the argument can be made that he deserved to finish higher. It hurt Gordon playing in Kansas City for a team that finished just 71-91. But if the Royals are to take the next step forward, and if the Royals shock baseball in the near future, they won't do so without an MVP candidate. At this moment, Gordon is most logically that guy.
I know there are statistics to point to Gordon overachieving in 2011, and maybe I'm setting myself up for disappointment. However, I truly believe that Gordon is capable of taking another step forward. In 2011, he turned himself from potential bust, to should have been All-Star. In 2012, can he turn himself from reigning Royals MVP to American League MVP candidate? I hope so.