Re-signing Alex Gordon was an important move for the Kansas City Royals and their chances in 2016. But it may have been more important for the impression it left on Royals fans and the baseball world in general: the days of small market Kansas City being pushed around by big budget teams may be over.
For weeks, the only reports about Gordon and the Royals seemed to be about how little of a chance the outfielder had of returning to the only team he’d ever played for. He was supposedly the target of every team with an opening in the outfield, from the Giants to the Cardinals to the Cubs. It was assumed that he’d price himself out of the Royals’ budget and he’d be wearing a new uniform once April rolled around.
But the outfield market stalled, the major names weren’t signing anywhere, and the Royals took advantage. With teams seemingly preferring shorter term deals for the big corner outfielders, Gordon turned back to Kansas City and received a four-year, $72 million contract that will likely keep him there for the rest of his career. It’s a good deal for Gordon, but it might be a better deal for the Royals. And not because they likely got a small home town discount, either.
The Royals had been shut out by their own free agents the past few offseasons, starting with James Shields last year and continuing with Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist this winter. Shields proved to be expendable, and it remains to be seen how much Kansas City will miss Cueto and Zobrist. But the perception was that for all of their success on the field, the Royals simply couldn’t compete on the free agent market.
Losing Gordon would’ve been an even bigger blow, considering his status. He’s arguably the face of the franchise, a homegrown player who struggled badly at first, changed positions, and somehow became one of the best players in the game at his new position. He’s a fan favorite, and it would have been a PR disaster if the Royals let him walk after winning the World Series. Being seen as cheap isn’t the look you want after finally winning a championship.
But now, the Royals can point to Gordon and show their fans that they’re committed to keeping their championship team together and taking advantage of the window they have. They have two more years before they have to deal with the free agencies of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, so their dangerous lineup should be a force for at least that long. And even though they’ve lost Shields and Cueto over the past few years, they have enough pitching depth to keep them near the top of their division. Plus, they’ve also been linked to a few of the remaining free agent starting pitchers.
Bringing back Gordon, though, should give hope to Royals fans that they may be able to keep their core together beyond 2018. They’re such a good team, it’s not a stretch to imagine them as an American League power for the foreseeable future. And deeper playoff runs means more revenue, which means they may be willing to extend their payroll when the situation calls for it. Doing so with Gordon proves that the Royals recognize the situation they’re in.
It used to be almost a given that high-priced, talented players in a small market like Kansas City would bolt for greener pastures once their contracts were up. The Gordon signing, however, shows that the Royals have the resources to keep their own stars. Their reputation might be changing, and that’s bad news for the rest of the American League.