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Lesky’s Notes: Thank you, Alex

After 14 years in Kansas City, Alex Gordon is hanging it up and what better way to remember his great career than with a bullet point in a weekly column?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

I thought Alex Gordon might retire before the 2021 season. I don’t think I was ready for him to retire before the end of the 2020 season, though. I don’t know. It just seemed like we’d have some down time and then somewhere in mid-November, there would be an announcement and a press conference and all that. And then the guy just blindsides us all with this decision that is absolutely probably right for him and for the Royals, but still just sucks.

Gordon represented hope for a downtrodden franchise. And then represented redemption for a franchise desperately in need. And then he represented the tying run in the bottom of the ninth in Game One of the World Series and hit a majestic home run that nobody in Kansas City will ever forget. The last few years haven’t been his best, but I’m going to miss watching him run down fly balls in left and marvel at how beautiful that swing is when it’s beautiful. Every time Gordon made a great play in left, and sometimes even a routine one, my mother, probably the biggest reason that I’m as huge of a baseball fan as I am, would say three words: “Thank you, Alex.” It fits perfectly with Gordon. He’s unassuming and quiet and all of that, and for 14 years wearing that Royals jersey through good times and bad, all I can say right now is this: Thank you, Alex.

  • I’m sure there’ll be a ton of words spewed on the internet over the next days, weeks and months about where Gordon ranks in team history. As far as position players go, there’s a clear cut top two for me in George Brett and Amos Otis, but there are a handful of others who can sit in that number three spot. By bWAR, Willie Wilson ranks third and Alex Gordon fourth. By fWAR, it’s the same, but the gap is a little bit smaller. I think I’d be inclined to rank Willie a touch higher than Gordon, but once you get past those top two, I’m of the belief that you’re splitting hairs. Regardless, I believe that sometime in the next three seasons, we’ll see the Royals add Gordon’s number four to the Hall of Fame (and probably Ned Yost’s three too, if we’re being honest) and a statue will go out, likely in left field. There’s a lot of talk about what that statue should be with most believing it’ll be him rounding first base in the 2015 World Series, but one thing that might be cool too is his classic dive on a sinking line drive that he ends up catching. Either way, it’ll be fitting for a guy who spent his entire 14-year career with the Royals. I hope after he enjoys his Minsky’s pizza on Sunday and takes some time for himself that he takes an active role in the organization similar to some of the previous greats. There are far worse things than for players to see a guy with his work ethic hanging around and showing them how it’s done.
  • After going 4-for-4 last night, Adalberto Mondesi is on the verge of his season numbers getting to a respectable level. Okay, maybe being on the verge is a little bit of an overstatement, but he has hit .320/.363/.547 in his last 19 games to raise his average by 51 points, his OBP by 56 points and his SLG by 113 points. He’s also stolen 14 bases on those 19 games, which is a pace of about 120 for a full season. I highly doubt he could keep this up for an additional 105 games, but I can’t think of anyone on the team who wishes more that he had a little more time to bring those numbers up to where he would like them to be. When it’s all said and done, we can look back on this season and realize that Mondesi simultaneously slumped for nearly half the season and also only 25 games. Yes, that’s a long slump but a guy like him is going to have peaks and valleys because of his inability to control the strike zone. Still, the last 19 games are exactly why you don’t move on from a guy for a slump during a pandemic season. I mentioned last week the benefit he could see from working with Mike Tosar and I stand by that, but I’m happy he’s at least ending his season well. It can’t be a bad thing for him to go into the offseason feeling good about himself after being so down all season.
  • Another player who should be feeling great about himself is Salvador Perez, who was having a really nice season before hitting the IL with his blurred vision and now is having a truly fantastic season. He’s hitting .451/.462/.980 with 7 homers and 20 runs batted in. That’s in 12 games, and the Royals are 7-5 since he’s been back and averaging nearly five runs per game. It’s a small sample and all that, but we were talking about how hard Perez was hitting the ball before he got hurt and it’s been even crazier since. Of course, his comeback has made for an interesting question for the team moving forward. Salvy is entering the final year of his contract in 2021. I’m guessing he’s a Gordon type in that he’ll stay with the Royals for a fair contract, but should the Royals be giving a fair contract to a catcher entering his age-32 season who might be coming off a career year (assuming he can keep this up to some extent next year)? The answer is probably not. So do they actually look to move Salvy this offseason? I think that could be the smart play here, but I also don’t see any way that happens, especially without a minor league season to see the progression of MJ Melendez. But the mention of Melendez along with them talking up Sebastian Rivero and Cam Gallagher having a nice season offensively makes you wonder if the Royals might fare just fine without their franchise stalwart. But like I said, they’re not moving him regardless of if it’s right or wrong, so I don’t want to litigate that. In the last 15 years, 67 catchers have had at least 300 plate appearances in any of their age-32 to 34 seasons. Just eight of them slugged above .450. Eight had an ISO of .200 or higher and just 16 were above .175. I fully expect we’ll see a three-year contract extension for Perez, and his year off his knees plus a ton of this season not crouching might help things, but if they insist on it, I would push for two years, but definitely wouldn’t go more than three.
  • The American League playoff field is almost all set now with the Toronto Blue Jays clinching and the Astros magic number down to one. The Twins have surged to the top of the Central, and the White Sox, by virtue of finishing 2-8 against the Indians might end up as one of the wild card teams after falling from the top of the division. That team is 21-3 against the Royals, Tigers and Pirates (which is very impressive) and 13-20 against everyone else. They’re fun and exciting and any team can get hot to make a postseason run, but I’d bet against them in October. I’d also bet against the Blue Jays. They can really hit, but I just don’t see that pitching holding up. The A’s have to be considered as the most likely to get upset in the first round because, well, they’re the A’s. I don’t think the Indians have enough offense, but their pitching sure does intrigue me. The Twins are kind of in the same boat as the A’s, but I really like their starting pitching and they have some big time arms in their bullpen. Plus, even though their offense hasn’t been as good as it was last year, I think they’re better than they’ve shown. It feels kind of weird, but I think the Twins might be the team to beat in the American League. I’m not sure I’d love their pitching in a full season, but in this short year, guys like Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Michael Pineda can be lethal. And even though we’re still waiting on that Jose Berrios breakout, what better time than the postseason?