30 Players, 30 Teams – The Forgotten Royal

Alex Gordon has had a pretty good career by most accounts. He’s in his 12th major league season, all with the same club, a team that’s located mere hours from his hometown of Lincoln, NE. He had one of the two most memorable hits from the Royals’ World Series title in 2015 – his game-winning homer in Game 1 against Jeurys Familia. He’s made three All-Star games and has won five Gold Gloves, befitting his reputation as an excellent defender. While his career .753 OPS isn’t overwhelming, there would be a lot of players that would love to have his career. And yet …

Gordon entered the professional ranks with a lot of hype as the second player (after Justin Upton) taken in the 2005 draft, and the first college player taken, a stud third baseman from the University of Nebraska. He hit the majors after just one full season in the minors, making his major league debut in 2007. I vividly remember being excited to see Gordon in the 2005 Arizona Fall League – we saw a game out in Surprise that featured a top-four in the batting order of Howie Kendrick, Gordon, Brandon Wood and Billy Butler. In the “can’t predict ball” portion of the game, of course it was Matt Tupman that went deep twice in the game.

And that was somewhat symbolic for Gordon, as once he hit the majors he didn’t quite fulfill the expectations that come with being the #2 overall pick. Don’t get me wrong, he held his own, with a .725 OPS in his rookie season and then .783 in Year 2. But then a hip injury that required surgery in Year 3 really stalled his career. He was out three-plus months and then struggled upon his return. Year 4 in 2010 brought both a demotion to Triple-A Omaha and a position change to left field. As it turns out, however, that position change was a positive move for Gordon, as he became a Gold Glove caliber outfielder.

Gordon has his two best years in 2011 and 2012, his age 27-28 years, with .878 and .823 OPS’s respectively. From 2011-2014 he won four consecutive Gold Gloves and twice earned votes for the AL MVP during that span (21st in 2011, 12th in 2014). Even in his best years, however, Gordon’s best skills have left him as an under appreciated player. It was his ability to get on-base and play great defense that made him valuable to the Royals, and less valuable to us in the fantasy realm. His best power season was 2011, when he hit 23 homers and slugged .502. His next best slugging percentage for a single season is .455, and he has an underwhelming .414 career slugging percentage.

Gordon had the good fortune of becoming a free agent after the Royals’ 2015 World Series win, and in the glow of that victory and the desire to “keep the band together” for one more run, the Royals ponied up and re-signed Gordon, giving him a four-year, $72 million deal. It hasn’t worked out all that well. The Royals were 81-81 in 2016, 80-82 last season and have fallen off the map this year, dropping all the way down to 45-92 upon seeing many of their mainstays depart via free agency and trades. Gordon has struggled during this term, especially in 2017 when he dropped down to a .608 OPS. At this point he’s a legacy cost to the Royals – too expensive and not desirable enough to others to trade. He’s making $20M this year and will do the same next year. There is a mutual $23M option with a $4M buyout for the 2020 season too.

Gordon entered this season as an afterthought – he was taken in just one of the 35 NFBC Main Event leagues (which consist of 15 teams, 30 rounds) in the last round. At one point in my Main I picked him up after having a slew of OF injuries, but for the most part he’s resided on my bench – I’ll use him when another player is hurt, or if he has four games and another OF has two in a Mon-Thur stretch. But I didn’t consider writing about him until he was popping up regularly in August with decent lines. For the month he ultimately hit .254/.354/.400 with 15 R, 15 RBI, four HR and five SB. Alas, most of it was on my bench, but he’s now an asset I fell less sheepish about rostering.

Citing his August numbers is certainly using selective endpoints, rather than a suggestion that he is going to be high on our radars for next year, or that the Royals will be able to flip him in the offseason as part of their teardown-and-buildup process. Still, I’m rooting for him to maintain this sort of level.

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