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On Alex Gordon

It seems that we still need to talk about Alex Gordon. We've all got the basic arch of the Gordon story down: semi-local guy, high draft pick, destroys minors, standing ovation at his first at bat, subsequent struggles and injuries. A dark cloud seems to follow this guy around and it seems like he's always in the middle of bizarrely bad things. It appears that he's fallen out of favor with many casual or mainstream fans, and the whispers about his personality just won't go away.

If I was to stress one single thing about Gordon right now, I would identify uncertainty as the overriding theme. This is not an entirely bad thing.

  • The last year of reliable information we have about Gordon is 2008, when he hit .260/.351/.432 with a wOBA of .344. There's really no point in citing 2009, one way or the other. I know it's starting to feel like Gordon has been around forever, but he really hasn't. He just hasn't. He's played two seasons + about three weeks. He's come to the plate 1373 times in the Major Leagues. Billy Butler, by comparison, is nearly at 1600 PAs (1576).
  • Gordon is entering his age 26 season, as a position player. People throw 26 out there like it signals that he's done developing, but that simply isn't the case. Considering that many of the core problems with Alex's game: pitch recognition, platoon issues, handling off-speed stuff, etc., are exactly the kinds of marginal skills that need time and experience to develop, you could make a very good case that he still has room to grow. He's not, say, Mitch Maier, who pretty clearly has a defined ceiling that isn't far from what he's at now. We're at least two years away from saying, "well, that's who he's going to be," yet people act like what he was in 2007-8 has already defined him.
  • What the Royals need to do is play Gordon, consistently, at the American League level. On the whole, especially at the higher levels, minor league offense is more advanced that minor league pitching. More specifically, the pitchers that Gordon struggles with are almost non-existent in the high minors, because everyone who has anything like a non-fastball is gone. Gordon needs to continue to see Major League pitching and hone his skills. (Now his current injury rehab is a separate issue, and I'm not sure the Royals aren't botching the situation by calling him up now.) If the Royals turn Gordon into a platoon player, they're doing themselves a disservice.
  • The Royals should not trade Gordon right now. They aren't going to get anything of value back in a "we're giving up on this guy trade". He's making $1.15 million this season, and because of the arbitration system, unless he just absolutely freaking blows up, he's going to be reasonably priced. Moreover, the Royals have no one to replace him and he's not blocking anyone. Alberto Callaspo had a nice 2009 (his age 26 season, btw) but let's not go overboard, he hit .300/.356/.457, only slightly better than what Gordon did in 2008, when he was 24. The Royals may have waited too long on trading Callaspo, but you don't solve that problem by trading away Gordon.
  • We need to embrace the uncertainty of the situation. For some reason, many people love to dream about the future of guys in High A, but after a player's rookie year in the Major Leagues, we go hard in the other direction, eager to put a ceiling on a player as quickly as possible. The Royals aren't, or at least shouldn't be, at a crossroads yet with Alex Gordon, even if it seems like they are. Yes, Gordon didn't arrive as an instant star right away. Boo Hoo. Guess what? It wouldn't have mattered anyway. If anything, I'd rather have Gordon be a late bloomer with a lower price tag, if that means he's contributing to a competitive team during Zack's final years here. 2010 is an opportunity for the Royals to get Alex healthy, and get him more experience. And honestly, this may make the 2010 a little worse, depending on how bullish you are about Callaspo playing third. That shouldn't matter.

    Right now, here are the legitimate position player assets that we can be certain will be Royals in 2011-12: Billy Butler. We have to see if Gordon will be a part of that future.