Giving Extensions

Since the Royals’ game has become developing good-to-great players and then keeping those players around to build a strong team, there is a consistent focus on signing important contributors before they hit free agency. It’s been happening fairly often in recent offseasons, from Joakim Soria to Zack Greinke to Billy Butler. It seems like there’s always another player to sign, and with Eric Hosmer and the rookies (great band name, by the way) getting close to that point, it could go on seemingly forever.

Well, this year’s candidate is Alex Gordon, if you haven’t read the reports on it before. I love Gordon (not as much as Kevin Scobee does, but still). I really enjoyed watching him “break out” in 2011. And I’m fascinated to see how that continues into 2012. There’s just one question that I’m wondering.

How do you know when to give a player an extension?

It’s a hard question to answer and sometimes, to certain fans, a hard question to ask. When you break through the pure fan pride and cut down to the logical part of your brain, you realize that it’s a question you have to ask. You can’t extend every player. Every player that you want to extend might not be poised for that long term success. As such, while I love Gordon’s step forward in 2011, how do we know that will continue?

This isn’t meant to get into a statistical nightmare of a discussion regarding projections and how we know.* You can project and hypothesize all you want, but you never truly know. So, what makes us want Gordon around for so long when we don’t know if he can keep up the production? After all, we’ve only seen one full season of true, honest-to-goodness Major League success. At least with Greinke, we saw a bit more before the extension. Butler had two full seasons of strong hitting. When the Royals extended Soria, he had already thrown two dominating seasons. So, what makes us want to sign Gordon to a four- or six-year contract when he hit .215/.315/.355 just last season?

*Just brought to mind the Moneyball (movie) quote: “I’ve sat at those kitchen tables with you and listened to you tell those parents ‘When I know, I know! And when it comes to your son, I know’. And you don’t. You don’t!”

I’m sure we can all find examples of how such a contract did or didn’t work out. There are a bunch of examples both ways. But it never quite tells you when you are right to make a deal and when it’s being too bullish. All that you can really do is look at the player, see if he shows signs of not continuing his success, hear what he says, and feel your gut opinion. We can look at projections all we want (which suggest Gordon will fall back a bit, of course), but they don’t really tell you anything other than what a person or many people think of that player’s future.

Well, I’m not a scout. I know a few things to look for with players, but I’m by no means a professional. I tend to rely on stats because, well, they’re easier to grasp and give me a good, quick way to understand a player’s production. But if I were a scout, I could probably stand here and tell you how Gordon will or won’t be worth his contract in the next several seasons. As it is, I can just tell you things like “Alex swung the bat more in 2011 than 2010, but not more than the rest of his career” and “Alex made more contact outside the strike zone than usual, but the same amount in the zone.” Still, none of that tells you too much going into 2012 (well, nothing hugely substantial).

Basically, I feel like this all comes down to trust. Do you trust the organization to correctly evaluate a player after one year of success and sign him long term? Or do you worry that the team might not be understanding the true value of that player? I know we’ve had some struggles with trusting the Royals front office to make the right decision lately, but at some point during an increase in team success, you have to accept that they might just know what they’re talking about, even when there’s not a long history to back that up. Is now the time for that?

To be honest, I’ve wanted an extension for Gordon this whole time. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sit and ponder these questions from time to time. Removing statistical projections from the equation, how  do we really know what we’re getting ourselves into?

I guess it all comes down to one word: faith. Faith in that player. Faith in the organization. And faith in your own gut feelings for knowing when certain players should stick around. You just gotta have faith.

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Tags: AL Central Alex Gordon Baseball Billy Butler Dayton Moore Joakim Soria Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals MLB Royals Zack Greinke

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