According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon will decline his player option for the 2016 season. The contract option would have paid him $12.5 million in 2016, but Gordon is expected to test the waters of free agency in search of a more lucrative multi-year contract. Heyman reports that the Cubs, White Sox, Orioles and Astros "are among teams rumored to have interest," while the Royals are hoping a four-year offer may be enough to retain the Lincoln, Nebraska native.
Gordon might be the best defensive left fielder and one of the best outfielders baseball has seen in recent decades, if not longer. The free-agent-to-be has accumulated more Defensive Runs Saved than any left fielder in Major League Baseball since 2003 (when the metric was first introduced) despite playing fewer innings at the position than most others. He also has the highest UZR/150 among all left fielders in that time frame.
Gordon initially said that he planned to exercise his player option, but that was in August of 2014. He has since hedged his bets on that statement, telling the Kansas City Star before the 2015 season that, while he would like to stay in Kansas City, he was unsure whether he would exercise the team-friendly option. With more money now on the table and the Royals potentially unable to meet his demands, could the Tigers swoop in and steal a star from their divisional rivals?
Who is he?
Gordon has won Gold Gloves in each of the past four seasons and is just one of very few major league players to post over 6.0 wins above replacement (fWAR) in multiple seasons recently. He ranks ninth among all position players and tops among left fielders in the major leagues with 25.1 WAR since 2011. While Gordon's defense sets him apart from his peers at his position, he has also hit .281/.359/.450 for an .809 OPS and a 123 wRC+ with 89 home runs, 362 RBI and 52 stolen bases over the past five seasons.
Gordon will no doubt receive a qualifying offer from the Royals -- a one-year, $15.8 million contract offer -- which he will decline in favor of seeking a multi-year contract. Kansas City may struggle to compete for his services on the free agent market, where estimates of his value range from $36 million over three years to $75 million over five seasons. If Gordon continues to produce the way he has been, he would be well worth those prices. At a salary of $14 million in 2015, Gordon is currently the Royals' only player earning an eight-figure payday.
Why should we care?
Gordon could be uniquely valuable to the Tigers because of his position in left field -- where Yoenis Cespedes has left a gaping hole in the outfield -- and in the lineup. Gordon's defense and his left-handed bat would provide maximum benefit in Comerica Park. Additionally, if the Tigers sign Gordon, they would be stealing one of their chief division rival's best players for years to come.
The Tigers ranked dead last in the American League in runs scored after the All-Star break in 2015. While Miguel Cabrera's injury was certainly a reason for that, trading Cespedes to the Mets was also a big factor. The Tigers posted a wOBA of .347 against left-handed pitchers, but their .317 wOBA against right-handers ranked eighth among AL clubs. Victor Martinez is the only established left-handed power bat remaining on the team, and Gordon would help to balance that lineup.
Why should we stay away?
There are a few reasons to be wary of giving Gordon a long-term contract. He will be 32 years old when the 2016 season starts, so a five-year contract carries some risk. While he played in over 150 games each season between 2011 and 2014, he spent eight weeks on the disabled list with a strained groin this past season, limiting him to 104 games. As a qualified free agent, the Tigers would have to give up their second round draft pick to sign him if he gets to free agency.
There are not many starting caliber left fielders available on the free agent market, and those that are would either be very costly, such as Cespedes, or not terribly exciting in terms of offensive production. Gordon, while still expensive, might be just right, provided the Tigers can also address their other priorities this winter, which are pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Giving him a big contract would likely limit their spending options, though.
Will he end up in Detroit?
I would love to say yes, but there are a few obstacles to clear before Gordon could become a member of the Tigers. There is no reason to doubt his desire to remain with the Royals, and a hometown discount may truly be in play. Also, Tigers general manager Al Avila has made no bones about the fact that his priority this winter is the starting rotation, followed by the bullpen. He has not mentioned left field, nor the offense in general, despite the severe second half plunge that the Tigers offense took after the trade deadline. There will be multiple suitors for Gordon, but events would have to play out just right to land him in Detroit.