Alex Gordon has been a staple in left field for a decade. Only four players in Major League Baseball have played more innings in the outfield than Gordon since 2010, and none of them have played more of them for a single team than Gordon has. But the winds of change are inevitable when it comes to that pesky truth of life called aging. Gordon is on a one-year deal, and while it’s possible he could sign another short deal with Kansas City next year, Gordon’s eventual departure is only part of a larger outfield overhaul.
Since 2018, the first year of the Royals’ current period of extreme suckitude, the top of the outfield innings leaderboard reads like you might think: Alex Gordon, then Whit Merrifield, then Jorge Soler. But many players in the rest of the list are no longer with the organization. Notably, one of those players includes Brett Phillips. And of also obvious note is who the Royals have traded for, just this year—Franchy Cordero and Edward Olivares.
General manager Dayton Moore also had something very interesting to say about Olivares (emphasis mine):
“When you look at some of our outfielders that are going to be competing for spots in the future,” Moore said, “we’re very left-handed dominant, which is fine. If we’re going to be dominant on one side, I’d rather be left-handed. But we needed to get more of a balance there. … We felt Edward Olivares was a guy that made a lot of sense for who we are right now and what we plan to look like in the next one to three years.”
It would be folly to draw too much information from a single statement, but it is such an interesting one precisely because of who has played the most in the outfield this year. Merrifield is right-handed. Soler is right-handed. Dozier is right-handed. And Bubba Starling and Ryan McBroom, too, are right-handed. Combined, those five players account for 51% of all outfield innings and nearly three quarters of all non-Gordon outfield innings.
So why are the Royals too left-handed? Consider the following players, their ages, and their handedness:
- Franchy Cordero, 26, left-handed
- Nick Heath, 26, left-handed
- Khalil Lee, 22, left-handed
- Kyle Isbel, 23, left-handed
- Michael Gigliotti, 24, left-handed
All five of these players are good athletes that are good defenders and could play Kauffman Stadium’s spacious center field. All five are lefties. And, it goes without saying, Gordon is a lefty, too; if he re-signs with Kansas City, he will also count as a lefty.
So what does this say about Dozier and Merrifield, the two obvious right-handed bats in the outfield? Well, both share one thing in common: versatility. They also share another thing in common, too, which is that other players have pushed them elsewhere. But Sunday’s start against the Chicago White Sox was Dozier’s third start at first base in the last four games, and Nicky Lopez’s struggles could result in less playing time at second and more playing time for Merrifield.
As for Starling, it’s pretty clear that his ceiling is one as a fourth outfielder, and it is also pretty clear that he is next in line to go should Isbel and Lee start knocking at the door.
Whether it’s next year or the year after, Gordon won’t be around anymore. The Royals will suddenly have a lot of innings that they’ll need to give to other players. And with the infield’s struggles, those current outfielders may slide back to infield positions, thus creating even more outfield innings.
In other words, while 2020 has been the Year of the Rookie Pitchers, next year might be the Year of the Outfield Prospects. It should be fun.