The imminent return of Alex Gordon, one of the greatest KC Royals of all-time, presents a double-edged sword for the organization.
When the KC Royals shifted Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier to the outfield a couple of weeks ago, we wrote about it possibly signaling that the team already knew the status of the Alex Gordon situation. Shortly after designated hitter Jorge Soler was signed to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan dropped a bombshell:
No further comment was provided by Flanagan nor the organization, but he’s one of the most tapped-in and well-respected sources out there. Judging by the tweet, it appears that the seven-time Gold Glove winner will return for a 14th season. Gordon will give things at least one more shake as he enters his age-36 season.
After putting together a five-year stretch in which he was one of the best outfielders in all of baseball, the Royals signed Gordon to a lucrative four-year, $72 million deal. The contract came with a mutual option for 2020 that the team declined after an up-and-down four seasons.
Last season, we saw the best version of Gordon since the ink dried on his contract. Posting a .266/.345/.396 line with 13 home runs and 76 RBIs, he managed to stay healthy and play 150 games. Hitting at close to the league average level and winning yet another Gold Glove despite losing a step in the outfield, Gordon provided himself with the opportunity to go out on top.
Instead, he looks to be headed back into the fold. A fan favorite and a tremendous clubhouse presence returns to the team, in addition to a solid baseball player. While there are some positive takeaways to take into account here, there are also certainly some negatives.
With Merrifield and Dozier slated to log significant innings in center field and right field, respectively and Gordon patrolling left, that makes Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips the odd men out. 2020 was supposed to be the year one or both of them got consistent playing time in an effort to determine whether or not they belong in the club’s long-term plans. Due to the recent shakeup, they’ll be relegated to No. 4 and No. 5 outfielder status in the best case.
On top of that, speedy outfield prospect Nick Heath has generated some buzz surrounding the possibility that he could make the 2020 Opening Day roster (or at least be promoted early). Our Mike Gillespie is high on Heath and notes his speed as a legitimate threat. With so many bodies competing for a finite amount of spots at the MLB level, Heath’s growth could be stunted.
Khalil Lee was also a name on the long list of guys that could log playing time in the spacious outfield at Kauffman Stadium before this development. Lee has flashed potential and is the Royals’ No. 4 prospect. His ETA of 2020 may still be accurate, but at what cost?
Alex Gordon is undoubtedly good for the KC Royals. He’s a tremendous leader and a positive influence in the clubhouse. With that said, the organization seems to be focused on building for the future. Bringing back an aging outfielder when there are a handful of younger players seeking to make their cases is a risky move. We’ll see how it unfolds over the course of the 2020 season.