Looking to shore up an outfield and add a veteran presence to a young lineup, the Kansas City Royals recently signed the 35-year-old Alex Gordon to man left field. The Royals weren’t very good last year—only 59 wins—and don’t project to be very good next year, either. But after a few down years, Gordon had a good year last year, parlaying a wRC+ of 99 and a WAR (per Fangraphs) of 2.0 into his one-year contract with the Royals for next year. And, overall, the contract won’t be too much of a big deal; it’s only 2.7% of the Royals’ total payroll.
There’s a catch here. If you’ve got a good memory and have read the title of this here blog, you probably already know: those numbers weren’t Gordon’s. They were Scott Podsednik’s.
Now, Gordon and Podsednik could not possibly be more different players. Podsednik was a late-blooming, slap-hitting journeyman outfielder who played for eight teams in his big league career. Gordon was a college star and a hyped prospect from day one, a Royals legend, a surefire Royals Hall of Famer who has only played for Kansas City.
As such, it may be impossible to separate the emotional resonance of Gordon’s return from the baseball reasoning behind re-signing him. That is undeniably part of the reason why he’s back at all. But I just can’t stop thinking about how impossible it is to ignore just how similar this signing was to Podsednik’s in 2010.
In 2020, the Royals are attempting to rebound from a terrible year just as they did in 2010, when they were coming off a 2009 that was a burning tumbleweed in the wind other than Zack Greinke’s weekly domination of whatever poor team faced him. Neither team looked to be any good; in 2010, the Royals lost 95 games, a total that’s probably comparable to what’s gonna happen in 2020.
And yet, general manager Dayton Moore decided to devote a few percentage points of the overall payroll to an aging left fielder near the end of his career. The year before joining the Royals, Podsednik was worth 2 WAR, a bounceback from the previous few years where he basically played at replacement level. Ultimately, Podsednik was serviceable in Kansas City; Scotty Pods hit 5% above league average and was worth 0.7 WAR in 95 games with the Royals before Kansas City shipped him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The return was a pair of humans who played baseball and had names. So it goes sometimes.
Gordon’s $4 million salary is a similarly small portion of the total payroll (it’s about 5% of the about $80 million total right now). Like Podsednik in 2010, Gordon is coming off a bounceback year in 2019 in the hitting department after a few years of being pretty awful. Like Podsednik, Gordon will be the elder statesman of the Royals, as he’s entering his age-36 season. And of course, like we’ve already covered, the Royals are going to be similarly, soul-suckingly bad for Gordon’s one-year deal just as they were for Podsednik’s.
When we watch Gordon this year, we’ll be witnessing the swan song of one of the greatest Royals of all time. It will be his 14th year in the big leagues, all of which in Kansas City. If you can focus on that, it will be fun. Gordon is the comfort food you love to eat when you’re having a bad day. Even if the food isn’t as good as it used to be made, it’s still a comfort when you need it most.
But Gordon is what he is: an aging athlete who will be a below average player, an aging athlete being paid eight times as much as a younger player with more upside, an aging athlete who will be long gone by the time the Royals next sniff respectability.
The Royals just signed Scott Podsednik again in guise of Alex Gordon. Whether or not you can see Gordon or Podsednik will determine how you feel about it—because the end result on the field will likely be identical.