It’s been a little over 48 hours since the Cubs signed Jason Heyward. That’s notable, because for a signing that was supposed to signal the falling of the dominoes, the opening of the floodgates, the breaking of the dam, or whatever the hell your metaphor of choice is for the opening of the currently stagnant outfield market, it’s not happening. Not yet, anyway.
And that lack of movement is making everyone a little twitchy. At least around these parts.
What is going to happen with Alex Gordon? Where is he going to sign? Do the Royals even have a chance?
This is a nervous time. If you don’t bite your fingernails, I suggest you start. This is the eighth inning, Game Four, ALDS nervous time.
If you believe the words coming out of One Royal Way the last couple of days, it looks like a long shot that Gordon will return. The first trial balloon floated by the Royals brain trust was the feeling that even if they didn’t add an outfielder to the current roster, they would be OK. Lately, the discussion has turned to finances. While I’ve been operating with the unfounded expectation that payroll would increase along the lines of the 2015 increase, it appears I may have been a tad optimistic.
So even after two World Series runs, the team does not intend to alter its business model to accommodate the rising price of free agents. The Royals exited Nashville still in search of another outfielder and another starting pitcher, but Moore stressed he did not expect the team’s payroll to accelerate a sizable amount past last year’s Opening Day mark of about $112 million.
“Just because clubs are spending money, a lot of money, doesn’t mean that they are good business decisions,” Moore said. “I don’t know what other clubs are doing. I just know what we do. We’re trying to make sound business decisions, along with sound baseball decisions. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Instead, we are left to play everyone’s favorite guessing game: “What exactly does Dayton Moore mean?” In this episode, we parse the word “sizable.” Is that $2 million? Is that $10 million? Is it bitcoin?
Backtracking a moment, Moore’s quote is spot-on. Spending cash does not always equate with good business decisions. In baseball, it seems like a lot of the time, it’s the opposite. Spending money is kind of hellfire to the wind, sailor on leave, let’s see how many Jagerbombs we can do school of thought. Moore won’t apologize for the Royals playing in a small market and having a budget. That’s actually part of what I like about being a fan of this team. Yeah, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are sexy names, but adding them just because they are available is some kind of insanity.
Except bringing back Alex Gordon isn’t insane. It isn’t questionable. It’s good baseball sense.
Recently, there’s been media chatter that the Royals aren’t interested in extending themselves for Gordon because they’d like to keep their core intact beyond the 2017 season when they become eligible for free agency. The Core has been defined as Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas.
Take a moment to wrap your head around that.
For starters, to insinuate Alex Gordon is not part of The Core (which is what the Royals – and by proxy Mellinger – is doing by not including him in the group listed) is straight up insanity. Certifiable. He’s been more valuable that all four of those players over the last four seasons. Only Cain has been better the last two. I would think – and I’ve been writing – that it makes all sort of sense to bring Gordon back for five years just so you have the opportunity to keep this group together for the next two. Sabermetricians scoff at the idea of “windows,” but I really don’t think there’s much debate here. The Royals have a great chance to win over the next two seasons. Without Gordon in the lineup, and without a comparable replacement, their chances will success will decrease.
Second, if you think the Royals have a chance of extending all four of The Core, you’re smoking something stronger than Trevor Vance’s turf. Hosmer and Moustakas are Scott Boras clients. They are most assuredly hitting the open market. Besides, are you sure you want to give a bunch of cash to Moustakas? I mean, I’ve done a 180 on him (or maybe more like a 90. Maybe a 45. I’m still trying to decide) but I’m going to see more than half a season where he hit the ball the other way before I’m buying. The idea of an extension for him has to keep Royals executives up at night, because a scenario exists where it would make more sense to just toss a pile of cash into a paper shredder.
It sounds like Hosmer is intent on maximizing everything. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see him at first base in Yankee Stadium after they wipe the Tiexiera contract off the books. You think Gordon is expensive? Wait until Cain edges toward the market if he continues to play the way he has over the last two seasons. I suppose you could get Escobar at a decent rate, but come on… He’s not the guy of the four you’d want to build around.
Saving money today for the possibility of cashing in on a long shot in 2017 is not good business sense. Not when it weakens your team for the next two seasons.
As I’ve said all winter, the years on free agent contracts have gotten out of control. Imagine your comfort zone on a contract length, then add a year. That’s where we are now with free agency. This is the price of doing business. It’s not great for a team like the Royals, but if they are going to keep this run going, this is the new reality.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Part of The Process was about moving players through the minor leagues and providing the big league club with a pipeline of talent. Uhhhh… That’s not happening anymore. The organization has whiffed on the last few drafts. Badly. The 2010 and 2011 drafts which should be providing players at this moment, were horrific. There’s a very real possibility the Royals will need to flip some of their core in order to restock a system that has been failed by the draft. When the Royals extended Gordon before the 2011 season, they figured they would have his replacement lined up in the system by the time he walked. Instead they are talking up Jarrod Dyson, Paulo Orlando, Brett Eibner, Reymond Fuentes, and Jose Martinez. OK.
I want to add one final thing to this post: It’s fine to criticize or to be unhappy with some of the moves the Royals will make ahead of the 2016 season. Truly. Yes, they won a World Series and for that we will be forever grateful. They won on their terms, which is awesome. The Process took longer than we would have liked, but ultimately The Process worked. Vindication for The Process.
Still, it’s worth remembering this is the same group that signed Omar Infante to a four year deal with an option for the fifth. It’s also the same group that thought Alex Rios was a viable answer in right field. Now, to be fair they were wildly successful with Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez and I guess that’s the point. There will be successes and there will be failures ahead. There will be bargains and there will be some nasty contracts. Some good trades and some flops. No front office is perfect. So this is something I don’t understand: The KC media would like to give everyone associated with the Royals a pass. They won back to back AL pennants! They won a World Series! While this group should absolutely receive bouquets and hosannas for a job well done, that doesn’t mean they get a free pass. That doesn’t mean everything they do is correct or above reproach.
It’s a tricky space we now inhabit. Criticize, and it looks like you are either ungrateful for the success, or stupid to the fact baseball is back in Kansas City. But if the Royals throw years and money at someone like Gerardo Parra and the radio and print guys respond to the criticism with, “They just won a World Series,” well, that’s just some lazy analysis. Yet that won’t prevent that kind of analysis from happening. It’s OK to celebrate a title and not like some of the moves.
Do the Royals get a pass for the moves they will make in the immediate future? I hope not. Each signing or trade should continue to be examined on their own merits, just the way they’ve always been held to the light. And hey, some analysis of signings and trades will be wrong, too. The front office doesn’t have exclusivity on hits and misses.
Will they get the benefit of the doubt? I think given the success of the last couple of seasons, that’s fair. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have an unfavorable opinion of something.
This brings us back to Alex Gordon. I’m convinced it would be in the Royals best interests to bring back their best player and go all-in for the next two seasons. Yes, it will cost five years and around $90 million, but that’s a cost I’m comfortable with. A contract like this isn’t without risks, but of The Core, Gordon is probably the player who carries the least amount of risk on receiving a large deal. His consistency and his work ethic are points in his favor.
I expect a resolution to come at some point this week. At least before Christmas. Hopefully, it’s one that can be positive for everyone.