The Royals left the Winter Meetings last week with their left-field situation still very much in doubt. Free agent Alex Gordon remains out there with several teams vying for his services including the Angels, Orioles, and (shudder) the Cardinals. The Royals seem interested in bringing back Alex Gordon, but only on their terms. Sam Mellinger gives his take on the negotiations in his Sunday column.
In the last two offseasons, the Royals have backed off negotiations with departing free agents James Shields and Ervin Santana based on initial contract demands, only to see both players settle for much less. Shields’ eventual four-year, $75 million contract with the Padres was still higher than the Royals would’ve likely been comfortable with — and he wanted to be in California anyway — but Santana signed with the Braves for one year and $14.1 million. If a similar scenario happened with Gordon, and the Royals were unable to take advantage because of a midlevel commitment to a lesser player, they would curse themselves and receive justified criticism from the outside.
But they would need the price to drop for that to happen.
The Royals seem to be playing a game of "chicken" with Alex Gordon, hoping for his market to deflate, leaving Gordon to be forced to return to Kansas City on a much cheaper deal. This is pretty evident by Dayton Moore's recent comments to Jeffrey Flanagan.
GMDM on OF market: "...(it) is what it is. Truth is, the music is going to stop and there won’t be enough chairs for some of these guys."— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) December 9, 2015
Alex Gordon is one of the top free agent outfielders on the market along with Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespsedes, Dexter Fowler, and Jason Heyward, who signed last week with the Chicago Cubs. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN writes that Gordon should be in line for a five-year, $75-80 million contract, which seems reasonable considering the inflated market this winter.
The market did indeed deflate for Ervin Santana and James Shields, although both were reportedly seeking $100 million deals which seemed absurd based on their age and track record. Alex Gordon's market value probably is pretty close to $100 million, but there has been no indication, publicly at least, that his asking price is that high.
The Royals were also able to hold the line on Santana and Shields because they had other options. When Santana priced them out, the Royals turned to free agent Jason Vargas who provided similar production. When James Shields priced them out, the Royals turned to free agent Edinson Volquez, who did not prove to be much of a drop off.
If the Royals move on from Alex Gordon, what is Plan B? The remaining free agent outfielders are an underwhelming assortment that includes Gerardo Parra, Austin Jackson, and Travis Snider. There have been recent rumors of the Royals talking trade with some exciting options like Jackie Bradley Jr., Carlos Gonzalez, or Todd Frazier. But those options would require the Royals depleting an already thin farm system. If the Royals want a sustainable organization that can compete past 2017, it would be a curious choice to continue to empty out the minor leagues. As for the internal options, they would be a big gamble for a contender. Jarrod Dyson struggles against left-handers, Paulo Orlando had the second-worst on-base percentage out of all outfielders last year, and Brett Eibner and Jose Martinez have yet to see their first Major League pitch.
Its understandable that the Royals want to re-sign Alex Gordon at the lowest possible rate to preserve long-term financial flexibility to retain other players past 2017. Perhaps all of this rumor-mongering reflects posturing and hardball tactics by the Royals. But the hard-line comes with great risks. The Royals could lose a major impact player with few alternative options left at their disposal. Alex Gordon is not the only one that could be left without a chair when the game of musical chairs is over.