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What would it cost to keep Alex Gordon in Kansas City?

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We're talking serious Meche money here.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like just just the other day Alex Gordon was assuring the Royals front office and fans that he'd happily pick up his 2016 player option, but as we learned recently, Gordon isn't quite sure of that anymore. His 2016 player option is for $14 million, and at that rate he'd likely be underpaid.

Over the past four seasons Alex Gordon has been worth 22 wins, seventh best in all of baseball in that time frame. That's even with Gordon having a "down" season in 2012. Meanwhile he's been paid roughly $30 million over that time, certainly a nice paycheck to have but a far cry from players like Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and Adrian Beltre. All players who've been worth similar value since 2011 as Gordon.

So the time has now come for Gordon to be paid closer to his true value. Now, he's not going to get a contract like Miguel Cabrera or Robinson Cano, but he should stand to make more than $30M over his next four year span after this season.

First some things about Gordon to peg his value.

Despite his recent surgery, he's hardly ever injured.

Date On Date Off Transaction Days Games Side Body Part Injury Severity Surgery Date Reaggravation
2014-07-10 2014-07-18 DTD 8 4 Right Wrist Sprain -
2014-06-19 2014-06-20 DTD 1 1 - Not Disclosed -
2013-07-04 2013-07-06 DTD 2 2 - Hip Contusion - -
2013-02-25 2013-02-28 Camp 3 0 - Low Back Stiffness - -
2012-09-20 2012-09-20 DTD 0 0 - Hand Contusion - -
2011-09-22 2011-09-29 DTD 7 6 - General Medical Illness Flu - -
2011-08-24 2011-08-24 DTD 0 0 Right Elbow Contusion HBP - -
2011-07-18 2011-07-19 DTD 1 1 - Foot Contusion Foul Ball - -
2011-07-04 2011-07-05 DTD 1 1 Left Knee Contusion HBP -

Gordon hasn't hit the disabled list since his thumb injury in early 2010. His games played since 2011:

2011: 151

2012: 161

2013: 156

2014: 156

Alex has played in 96% of the Royals regular season games in the above span.

Gordon derives a lot of his value through defense and some baserunning

There was much "guff" this past season about defensive metrics which may have been triggered by at one point Gordon had a higher fWAR than Mike Trout, the general consensus best player in baseball.

Here are the top position players, by fWAR, from 2011-2014

Name Team wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Mike Trout Angels 165 27.1 189.5 10.3 29.1
Andrew McCutchen Pirates 153 10.6 172.1 -0.2 27.2
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 170 -10.5 208.5 -48.9 26.5
Robinson Cano - - - 140 1.5 127.1 11.6 24.3
Ben Zobrist Rays 125 7.2 85.7 43.7 23.2
Adrian Beltre Rangers 138 -2.6 106.1 25.3 22.7
Alex Gordon Royals 123 15.9 88 30.9 22.3
Dustin Pedroia Red Sox 116 0.6 50.4 65.9 21.8
Jose Bautista Blue Jays 155 3 145.2 -21 21.2

Gordon ranks 2nd to last in that group in offensive runs and wRC+. By the defensive metrics, Gordon is the 3rd best by defensive runs above average + positional adjustment (DEF). It's fitting that the two players defensively ahead of him are second basemen, a position that rewards good defensive players more. How about narrowing it down to just outfielders and left fielders

Outfielders

Name Team wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Mike Trout Angels 168 26.1 187.8 12.1 28.8
Andrew McCutchen Pirates 153 10.4 173.5 -0.1 27.3
Alex Gordon Royals 124 15.8 90.7 32.2 22.7
Jacoby Ellsbury - - - 120 24.9 78.3 37 20.3
Jose Bautista Blue Jays 156 2.4 127 -19.5 18.3
Carlos Gomez Brewers 118 15.2 53.9 54.6 17.9
Matt Holliday Cardinals 144 2.9 124.1 -33.6 17.5
Ryan Braun Brewers 148 8.3 126.9 -27.6 17.4
Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 149 -12.6 112.7 -18 17.4
Jason Heyward Braves 113 13.1 45.4 46.5 17

So here Gordon is the third best outfielder on this list by DEF, falling far behind Carlos Gomez (a centerfielder aka higher reward for being good) and Jason Heyward (who's spent time at both centerfield and right field).

Now if we remove the positional adjustment, Gordon sees a bump.

Name Team wRC+ BsR Fld Off WAR
Mike Trout Angels 168 26.1 11.1 187.8 28.8
Andrew McCutchen Pirates 153 10.4 -9.3 173.5 27.3
Alex Gordon Royals 124 15.8 60.4 90.7 22.7
Jacoby Ellsbury - - - 120 24.9 29.5 78.3 20.3
Jose Bautista Blue Jays 156 2.4 0.1 127 18.3
Carlos Gomez Brewers 118 15.2 47.7 53.9 17.9
Matt Holliday Cardinals 144 2.9 -9.2 124.1 17.5
Ryan Braun Brewers 148 8.3 -5.8 126.9 17.4
Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 149 -12.6 5.4 112.7 17.4
Jason Heyward Braves 113 13.1 68.5 45.4 17

Gordon overtakes Gomez by some margin and goes almost head to head against Heyward for best outfielder in baseball prior to the positional adjustment.

By left fielders only

Name Team wRC+ BsR Fld Off WAR
Alex Gordon Royals 124 15.8 60.4 90.7 22.7
Matt Holliday Cardinals 144 2.9 -9.2 124.1 17.5
Ryan Braun Brewers 160 10.9 0.9 119.2 16.1
Starling Marte Pirates 119 12.6 17.8 37.9 8.5
Alfonso Soriano - - - 111 -6.6 20.5 14.9 7.5
Carlos Gonzalez Rockies 121 10.8 -7.4 46.2 7.4
Yoenis Cespedes - - - 118 4.3 14.5 27.8 7.3
Michael Brantley Indians 119 10.3 -6.3 38.1 6.7
Brett Gardner Yankees 99 11.9 28.9 10.1 6.7
Martin Prado - - - 115 2.1 18.4 20.9 6.5

Something we all are aware of, Gordon has hands down been the best left fielder in baseball for some time. The difference between Gordon (#1) and Holliday (#2) is the difference between the 5th best left fielder and the 30th best left fielder.

Now Gordon isn't a prolific base runner, but he's an average or slightly better base runner. By outfielders he's about the 20th or so best base runner from 2011-2014 and there's great value in not being bad at something.

Now, the above isn't to say that Gordon can't hit though. He has a 123 wRC+ from 2011-2014 (aka 23% above league average) which puts him at 22nd among outfielders in that span and 48th best in all of baseball. He's certainly an above average hitter, but his defensive marks produce a large part of his value.

For instance, here are some similar hitting left fielders as Gordon:

Name Team wRC+ Def WAR
Bryce Harper Nationals 125 1.1 9.5
Alex Gordon Royals 123 30.9 22.3
Starling Marte Pirates 123 4.9 9.7
Michael Morse - - - 123 -68.6 2.5
Josh Hamilton - - - 122 -28 11.3
Carlos Gonzalez Rockies 122 -19.7 10.3
Melky Cabrera - - - 122 -34.6 9.9
Josh Willingham - - - 122 -51.6 6.3

Alex Gordon stands out there, being worth double the next guy in Josh Hamilton (a former MVP in that span). As you can notice though that he's by far a better outfielder than any similar LF hitters.

One thing the market has borne out for us is that teams don't pay highly for defense, or more importantly they pay more for offense. Chase Headley just received a four-year $52 million contract despite being one of the best players in baseball the past few seasons since most of his value is defensively driven. Andrelton Simmons (considered maybe the best defensive player in baseball) received a 7-year $58 million contract, albeit he is not yet eligible for free agency. Meanwhile some of the largest signings and extensions have come from poor defensive or bat first players like Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton, or the perpetual employment of David Ortiz as DH by the Red Sox.

For 2015, Steamer projection Gordon to be worth 4.4 wins while ZiPS is on a similar page of 4.3. The FanGraphs fans are slightly more bullish on Gordon with a 5.2 win 2015. While this is important for the precedent of his 2016 contract, we only need to focus on what Gordon might do in 2016 and on.

As mentioned earlier Gordon has had pretty excellent health, but he'll also be 32 in 2016 and signing him for let's say four years would likely be covering most of his decline. Now defensive metrics are the most volatile metrics so it's not unreasonable to think in 2015 Gordon may not be worth 3 or 4 wins, but Gordon has shown that he's one of the better defenders in baseball by both the eye and "brain" test.

Using his 2015 projection, $8M per win in 2015 plus 5% inflation and a standard half-win decline, Gordon would look something like this:

Year Age fWAR Value
2015 31 4.5 $  36,000,000.00
2016 32 4 $  33,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $  30,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $  27,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $  24,310,125.00
2020 36 2 $  20,420,505.00
2021 37 1.5 $  16,081,147.69
2022 38 1 $  11,256,803.38

Gordon could decline faster than that of course, and then those values would be lower. Mike Cameron was a defensively well regarded outfielder (albeit mostly in center) and had excellent age 32-36 seasons with three of them being worth ~4 wins.

Here's Cameron vs Gordon from age 27-30

Name Team G PA wRC+ BsR Off Fld Def WAR
Alex Gordon Royals 624 2754 123 15.9 88 59.2 30.9 22.3
Mike Cameron Mariners 610 2528 113 13.1 56.2 44.6 53.2 19.3

Gordon the better hitter and Cameron the better fielder once you include the positional adjustment but by FLD/UZR Gordon better than Cameron. So maybe this strengthens Gordon's aging chances since he has some better ground offensively if/when his defense begins to decline. Now of course this is just a one player example and the odds more likely against what Cameron saw. A similar case may be Randy Winn as well.

So what are some possible contracts for Gordon? We can use some recent examples of both free agent signings and extensions.

Jacoy Ellsbury - 7/$148M

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2015 31 4.5 $  36,000,000.00 $  12,500,000.00 $  23,500,000.00
2016 32 4 $  33,600,000.00 $  21,142,857.00 $  12,457,143.00
2017 33 3.5 $  30,870,000.00 $  21,142,857.00 $    9,727,143.00
2018 34 3 $  27,783,000.00 $  21,142,857.00 $    6,640,143.00
2019 35 2.5 $  24,310,125.00 $  21,142,857.00 $    3,167,268.00
2020 36 2 $  20,420,505.00 $  21,142,857.00 $      (722,352.00)
2021 37 1.5 $  16,081,147.69 $  21,142,857.00 $  (5,061,709.31)
2022 38 1 $  11,256,803.38 $  21,142,857.00 $  (9,886,053.62)

Ellsbury was one of the largest names in the 2014 signing class and was known for his power, speed, and fielding ability. Likely we shouldn't expect Gordon to reach this.

Shin-Soo Choo - 7/$130M

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2015 31 4.5 $  36,000,000.00 $  12,500,000.00 $  23,500,000.00
2016 32 4 $  33,600,000.00 $  14,000,000.00 $  19,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $  30,870,000.00 $  14,000,000.00 $  16,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $  27,783,000.00 $  20,000,000.00 $    7,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $  24,310,125.00 $  20,000,000.00 $    4,310,125.00
2020 36 2 $  20,420,505.00 $  20,000,000.00 $        420,505.00
2021 37 1.5 $  16,081,147.69 $  21,000,000.00 $  (4,918,852.31)
2022 38 1 $  11,256,803.38 $  21,000,000.00 $  (9,743,196.62)

One of the more curious signings, Choo was an OBP machine. I think we're still too high for Gordon here.

Hunter Pence - 5/$90M

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2015 31 4.5 $  36,000,000.00 $  12,500,000.00 $  23,500,000.00
2016 32 4 $  33,600,000.00 $  16,000,000.00 $  17,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $  30,870,000.00 $  18,500,000.00 $  12,370,000.00
2018 34 3 $  27,783,000.00 $  18,500,000.00 $    9,283,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $  24,310,125.00 $  18,500,000.00 $    5,810,125.00
2020 36 2 $  20,420,505.00 $  18,500,000.00 $    1,920,505.00

This is probably a reasonable range for Gordon. Offensively the past four years Gordon and Pence have been the same (123 vs 125 wRC+), but Gordon has been a much better defender at a slightly more premium position.

Yasmany Tomas 6/$68.5M

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2015 31 4.5 $  36,000,000.00 $  12,500,000.00 $  23,500,000.00
2016 32 4 $  33,600,000.00 $    2,000,000.00 $  31,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $  30,870,000.00 $    4,000,000.00 $  26,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $  27,783,000.00 $    6,000,000.00 $  21,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $  24,310,125.00 $  10,000,000.00 $  14,310,125.00
2020 36 2 $  20,420,505.00 $  15,500,000.00 $    4,920,505.00
2021 37 1.5 $  16,081,147.69 $  17,000,000.00 $      (918,852.31)

This one isn't really a good fit though. First he was an international free agent with no MLB experience. Secondly Tomas received a considerable signing bonus, has multiple player options, and a qualifying option clause.

Curtis Granderson - 4/$60M

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2015 31 4.5 $  36,000,000.00 $  12,500,000.00 $  23,500,000.00
2016 32 4 $  33,600,000.00 $  13,000,000.00 $  20,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $  30,870,000.00 $  16,000,000.00 $  14,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $  27,783,000.00 $  16,000,000.00 $  11,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $  24,310,125.00 $  15,000,000.00 $    9,310,125.00

Some talk at the time that Granderson would have received more had he not been injured his contract season, Granderson was paid very well for what some perceived as a flawed and overrated player with his best seasons behind him.

Nelson Cruz - 4/$57M

2016 32 4 $  33,600,000.00 $  14,000,000.00 $  19,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $  30,870,000.00 $  14,000,000.00 $  16,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $  27,783,000.00 $  14,000,000.00 $  13,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $  24,310,125.00 $  14,000,000.00 $  10,310,125.00

Cruz was rewarded for his offense rather than his defense, but Gordon could certainly see a similar contract as $14M would only be a slight raise over his reasonable 2016 player option.

Nick Markakis - 4/$44M

2016 32 4 $  33,600,000.00 $  11,000,000.00 $  22,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $  30,870,000.00 $  11,000,000.00 $  19,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $  27,783,000.00 $  11,000,000.00 $  16,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $  24,310,125.00 $  11,000,000.00 $  13,310,125.00

Markakis hasn't been nearly as good as Gordon has so we'd likely expect Gordon do beat this deal and by some measure I'd imagine.

It seems like if Gordon continues his current excellent performance he could be in like to receive a Hunter Pence like contract somewhere in the vicinity of 4-5 years and $70-90M, while $100M isn't out of the realm of possibilities either.

Let's play around with some straight line and backload potential deals:

4/$70M Straight

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 4 $    33,600,000.00 $  17,500,000.00 $  16,100,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $    30,870,000.00 $  17,500,000.00 $  13,370,000.00
2018 34 3 $    27,783,000.00 $  17,500,000.00 $  10,283,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $    24,310,125.00 $  17,500,000.00 $    6,810,125.00
Total 13 $  116,563,125.00 $  70,000,000.00 $  46,563,125.00

4/$70M Backloaded

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 4 $    33,600,000.00 $  14,500,000.00 $  19,100,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $    30,870,000.00 $  16,500,000.00 $  14,370,000.00
2018 34 3 $    27,783,000.00 $  18,500,000.00 $    9,283,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $    24,310,125.00 $  20,500,000.00 $    3,810,125.00
Total 13 $  116,563,125.00 $  70,000,000.00 $  46,563,125.00

4/$80M Straight

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 4 $    33,600,000.00 $  20,000,000.00 $  13,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $    30,870,000.00 $  20,000,000.00 $  10,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $    27,783,000.00 $  20,000,000.00 $    7,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $    24,310,125.00 $  20,000,000.00 $    4,310,125.00
Total 13 $  116,563,125.00 $  80,000,000.00 $  36,563,125.00

4/$80M Backloaded

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 4 $    33,600,000.00 $  18,000,000.00 $  15,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $    30,870,000.00 $  19,500,000.00 $  11,370,000.00
2018 34 3 $    27,783,000.00 $  20,500,000.00 $    7,283,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $    24,310,125.00 $  22,000,000.00 $    2,310,125.00
Total 13 $  116,563,125.00 $  80,000,000.00 $  36,563,125.00

5/$90M Straight

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 4 $    33,600,000.00 $  18,000,000.00 $  15,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $    30,870,000.00 $  18,000,000.00 $  12,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $    27,783,000.00 $  18,000,000.00 $    9,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $    24,310,125.00 $  18,000,000.00 $    6,310,125.00
2020 36 2 $    20,420,505.00 $  18,000,000.00 $    2,420,505.00
Total 15 $  136,983,630.00 $  90,000,000.00 $  46,983,630.00

5/$90M Backloaded

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 4 $    33,600,000.00 $  14,500,000.00 $  19,100,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $    30,870,000.00 $  15,500,000.00 $  15,370,000.00
2018 34 3 $    27,783,000.00 $  17,500,000.00 $  10,283,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $    24,310,125.00 $  20,500,000.00 $    3,810,125.00
2020 36 2 $    20,420,505.00 $  22,000,000.00 $  (1,579,495.00)
Total 15 $  136,983,630.00 $  90,000,000.00 $  46,983,630.00

5/$100M Straight

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 4 $     33,600,000.00 $    20,000,000.00 $  13,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $     30,870,000.00 $    20,000,000.00 $  10,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $     27,783,000.00 $    20,000,000.00 $     7,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $     24,310,125.00 $    20,000,000.00 $     4,310,125.00
2020 36 2 $     20,420,505.00 $    20,000,000.00 $        420,505.00
Total 15 $  136,983,630.00 $  100,000,000.00 $  36,983,630.00

5/$100M Backloaded

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 4 $    33,600,000.00 $    16,500,000.00 $  17,100,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $    30,870,000.00 $    18,500,000.00 $  12,370,000.00
2018 34 3 $    27,783,000.00 $    20,500,000.00 $    7,283,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $    24,310,125.00 $    21,500,000.00 $    2,810,125.00
2020 36 2 $    20,420,505.00 $    23,000,000.00 $  (2,579,495.00)
Total 15 $  136,983,630.00 $  100,000,000.00 $  36,983,630.00

Honestly... there's a pretty big chance Alex Gordon is wearing a different clubs colors in 2016 if he doesn't pick up his player option. While for 2016 he wouldn't be leaving much money on the proverbial table, he'd be risking injury or poor performance in exchange for a long-term guaranteed deal like one of the above listed examples.

Even if Gordon were to pick up his 2016 player option and assuming he only declines partially, there's another large chance he's in another clubs colors in 2017 as he'd reasonably at this point expect to receive a contract along the terms of some of the above listed ones.

Those are all above the Royals likely range and would all be well above the Royals record contract given to Gil Meche. Let's try that contract:

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 4 $    33,600,000.00 $       7,000,000.00 $  26,600,000.00
2017 33 3.5 $    30,870,000.00 $    11,000,000.00 $  19,870,000.00
2018 34 3 $    27,783,000.00 $    11,000,000.00 $  16,783,000.00
2019 35 2.5 $    24,310,125.00 $    12,000,000.00 $  12,310,125.00
2020 36 2 $    20,420,505.00 $    12,000,000.00 $    8,420,505.00
Total 15 $  136,983,630.00 $    53,000,000.00 $  83,983,630.00

Yeah, that deal would be great for the Royals, but it's also unreasonable to expect. Gordon would be leaving tens, twenties, thirties, and maybe even forties of millions of dollars on that aforementioned table.

I don't think there is a Royals fan out there who doesn't like Alex Gordon, but there comes a time we need to be honest with ourselves. The Royals shouldn't re-sign Alex Gordon.

He'll be too expensive and too old for the Royals to put that many eggs into another proverbial object of a basket. All the examples above are a smooth glide path into decline. Let's ramp that up and use 5/$80 million as our contract.

0.75 win decline

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 3.75 $    31,500,000.00 $    16,000,000.00 $  15,500,000.00
2017 33 3 $    26,460,000.00 $    16,000,000.00 $  10,460,000.00
2018 34 2.25 $    20,837,250.00 $    16,000,000.00 $    4,837,250.00
2019 35 1.5 $    14,586,075.00 $    16,000,000.00 $  (1,413,925.00)
2020 36 0.75 $       7,657,689.38 $    16,000,000.00 $  (8,342,310.63)
Total 11.25 $  101,041,014.38 $    80,000,000.00 $  21,041,014.38

So that's not a terrible contract as the Royals still have a positive net value in the end, but the final two years they are under water.

1 win decline

Year Age fWAR Value Actual Surplus
2016 32 3.5 $    29,400,000.00 $    16,000,000.00 $    13,400,000.00
2017 33 2.5 $    22,050,000.00 $    16,000,000.00 $      6,050,000.00
2018 34 1.5 $    13,891,500.00 $    16,000,000.00 $    (2,108,500.00)
2019 35 0.5 $       4,862,025.00 $    16,000,000.00 $ (11,137,975.00)
2020 36 0 $                            - $    16,000,000.00 $ (16,000,000.00)
Total 8 $    70,203,525.00 $    80,000,000.00 $    (9,796,475.00)

That one would be miserable, and with "Arbitration-geddon" coming up in 2017/2018 (the Royals soon to be large influx of late-stage arbitration eligible players) they would be handcuffed by that deal.

We've likely seen the last days of Alex Gordon as a Royal, if not this year, then next.

Of course though, not owing $16 million to Omar Infante and Jason Vargas in 2017 might help a bit.