Alex Gordon is the alternative.
Exactly what kind of secondary option on the free-agent market to someone like Jason Heyward he can actually be, well, every team with an outfield need is still calculating that.
In this era of ballooning market values, teams are still leery about what they consider overpaying for a player, especially one beyond 30 years old whose value is tied into being an elite defender and not a middle-of-the-order bat. This may be why the outfield market, even with Heyward setting the $184 million bar, has become so slow to play out. Gordon has a case to be a nine-figure player, but it appears, as of now, no club wants to make that kind of commitment to him.
Even still, one cannot deny Gordon's place in the game. He has been one of the most valuable outfielders in the American League over the last five years, and for a team not wanting to hand out six or seven years and upward of $150 million, Gordon could be the most attractive alternative.
Gordon’s only franchise to this point in his career, the Kansas City Royals, reportedly have “no chance” of re-signing the left fielder as things currently stand, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. That is because the club’s offer, according to ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (via MLB Trade Rumors' ), would have topped out at around $52 million for four years. Gordon is reportedly seeking a deal that would pay him an average annual value of around $20 million, per Heyman, putting him at or over the $100 million mark over a five-year contract.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for Alex Gordon and what he has done here," Royals general manager Dayton Moore told Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com. "He has been a terrific player. He's played on a championship team. We all appreciate the history of Alex Gordon in Kansas City.
"But it would be reckless and inappropriate to comment on any negotiation," Moore added. "We're just not going to do that."
So, let’s assume the Royals have “no chance” to get Gordon based on those reports. That leaves teams like the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles, according to Heyman. And most recently, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Chicago White Sox have gotten into the mix as they undergo a second roster shakeup in as many offseasons in their attempt to compete in the AL Central:
Sources: #WhiteSox showing interest in Alex Gordon, among others. Gordon appeals for several reasons: Knows division, LHH, defense, makeup.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 22, 2015
The interest in Gordon is multifaceted.
As an offensive weapon, he can hit anywhere in the lineup. Last season for the World Series champion Royals he batted leadoff, second, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, and in the postseason, he occupied four of those spots in the lineup. Since becoming a full-time left fielder in 2011, Gordon has a .359 OBP and has flashed 20-homer potential that could easily be reached if he played his future home games in a more hitter-friendly ballpark.
Gordon stands out more defensively. Since 2011, he has obliterated all major league left fielders in all of the defensive metrics, based on FanGraphs’ formulas. And in terms of all big league outfielders, Gordon’s 94 defensive runs saved are second to only Heyward’s 107.
When it comes to wins above replacement, Gordon’s 25.1 FanGraphs WAR since 2011 is fourth in the majors among outfielders behind Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Bautista, as NBC Sports' Aaron Gleeman noted. That includes the 2015 season when Gordon missed 58 games and spent nearly eight weeks on the disabled list with a groin injury.
Outfielders with the most total WAR during the past five seasons: 37.9 - Mike Trout 32.0 - Andrew McCutchen 27.2 - ALEX GORDON— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) October 28, 2015
Of course, it all depends on how much value a front office actually puts into WAR. While it is a nice catchall kind of statistic, the Baseball-Reference version of it had Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as the third-most valuable player in the American League behind Trout and Josh Donaldson last season. While we should understand Kiermaier’s worth in this day and age, no one is confusing him for the third-best player in either league.
Either way, Gordon is clearly an elite outfielder. And even going into his age-32 season, he figures to age decently—or as well as a 32-year-old on a potential five-year deal possibly can—because of his on-base skills and the fact that he won’t be asked to play center field, as the Chicago Cubs are expected to have Heyward do next season.
There is also the hugely obvious reason Gordon is valuable on this current open market, which also includes much younger and more powerful players like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes—money. Gordon might seek and receive a nine-figure contract, but he won’t reach the heights of what Upton or Cespedes might get, let alone Heyward. We are talking about, potentially, up to $60 million less for Gordon than the other two available free-agent left fielders.
Gordon is an impact player, and as teams are looking to not overpay for position players the way they already have for pitchers during this offseason, he becomes as coveted as anyone still on the market. A team will not have to commit to him the way it will for Upton or Cespedes, and especially Heyward.
For a team expected to contend in the next few seasons, Gordon is the kind of piece to potentially change its fortunes for the better while still providing payroll flexibility. No other player on the market, at any position, can claim that.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.