What seemed like a foregone conclusion at the start of the offseason — Alex Gordon would not play for the Kansas City Royals in 2016 — is no longer a foregone conclusion. Alex Gordon is returning to The K for four more years and $72 million. His new contract will not pay him that much more than what he would have earned next year without electing to use opt-out clause in his previous contract.
There are quite a few ways to view the return of Gordon to the only team for which he has ever played. You can say his decision to re-sign with the Royals only came because he is turning 32 in February, thus generating very little interest on the open market from the deep-pocketed teams. Perhaps you think he’s just not actually worth all that much to most teams — a contact-hitting left fielder who has never driven in more than 100 runs in a season. Cite his serious groin injury last season if you must. There is only one way to look at this new deal.
Alex Gordon returning to Kansas City is a win for the little guys in baseball.
Now, how fair is it to keep viewing the Royals as the little guys? They are, after all, coming off a World Series win and have been to the Fall Classic two years in a row. That being said, they were never supposed to be able to keep their star. Mega TV deals trump the ability to pack a medium-sized stadium night after night. Despite playing to an 88.2 percent capacity crowd every night, fifth-highest in the league, the Royals actually ranked only tenth overall when counting total number of butts in seats. They will earn only $20 million per year in television revenue through 2019. The St. Louis Cardinals, roughly three hours away from the Royals, have a $1 billion deal with Fox Sports Midwest.
The recent trend in baseball has been for teams like the Royals to lock up their young stars as soon as they hit the big leagues. Witness Salvador Perez‘s five-year, $7 million deal or Yordano Ventura‘s five-year, $23 million deal signed last offseason. Both players have option years that will ratchet up the overall compensation, but over the life of the contracts, Perez and Ventura will earn far below open-market value. Small-market teams have been able to use these early-career extensions to slow the flow of talented players to the New Yorks, Los Angeleses, San Franciscos, Chicagos, and Bostons of the world. Until now, however, that’s all the extensions have been — a stop-gap measure. The big names always end up somewhere else when the cheap contract runs out.
This signing means more for the Royals, and should mean even more for their fans. Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Wade Davis will all hit free agency in the coming years. Will they all be as easy to lock up as Gordon? Perhaps not. A special set of circumstances have kept the market locked up this winter. The big guys in the NL West loaded up on pitching. The Cardinals do not typically spend big on free agents, despite the fact that Gordon would have been the perfect fit for their lineup. Gordon just may not be fully valued by organizations outside of Kansas City. He hardly approach the initial, estimated $100 million value.
At the end of the day, it is impossible to predict how Cain, Hosmer, and Moustakas will treat their free agencies. The return of Alex Gordon should give the Royals and other small market teams throughout the league hope. Build something special, and your big free agents will have a hard time leaving. The grass is not always greener on the other side. The lights not always brighter in the big city. The Royals have built something special in Kansas City, as have the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. It does become hard to leave a good thing behind, and Alex Gordon may be helping to start a trend of one-home superstars. Only time will tell how much of a win for the little guy this move turns into.