Alex Gordon-Royals Reunion Shows Stars Don't Have to Leave to Win Free Agency

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 6, 2016

Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon takes batting practice during workouts for baseball's American League Division Series, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Houston. The Houston Astros host the Royals in Game 3 on Sunday. The best-of-five games series is tied 1-1.  (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)
Associated Press

Free agency is great when it works, and it doesn't only work when a player signs a record contract or when your favorite team grabs the biggest star in the game.

Free agency works when a player gets to play where he wants the most and the team gets to keep the player it wants the most. It works when a small-market club can energize a region, win a World Series and still have a chance to go after another one.

The Kansas City Royals were never going to be able to keep every player who took them to the top, but they've kept the one they really wanted this winter. And by signing left fielder Alex Gordon to a four-year, $72 million deal, which Jeffrey Flanagan of first reported, the Royals proved free agency can work for everyone.

OK, so maybe the process is not working all that well right now for the St. Louis Cardinals, but no Royals fan is going to feel sorry for the Missouri team that so often gets what it wants.

The Royals were an ugly mess for so many years, but they got to the top by doing almost everything right. They got the right management team and the right players, and they put together an organization that no one wants to leave.

They targeted this window to win, knowing some things had fallen into place and that they couldn't keep this group together forever. Soon enough, the bill would come due, with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis all eligible for free agency after the 2017 season.

Alex Gordon has been a Royal for more than a decade, and he's not leaving now.
Alex Gordon has been a Royal for more than a decade, and he's not leaving now.Dave Weaver/Associated Press

So the Royals threw everything they had at winning now. They went all out after Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, giving up prospects even though they knew both players would almost certainly be half-season rentals.

The Royals weren't going to keep Cueto or Zobrist, and there was plenty of doubt whether they could keep Gordon. Just a few days ago, one club official expressed hope but also caution, saying the Royals would have a good chance unless the bidding got to $100 million.

Apparently, it didn't get there—perhaps because of the number of outfielders on the market (Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton remain unsigned) or because Gordon will turn 32 in February.

He still gets a contract that easily breaks the club record (Mike Sweeney and Gil Meche held the old record at $55 million). He gets $18 million per year (only 10 outfielders in the game make more, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts).

And he gets to live where he wants and play where he wants. Gordon grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and has homes both there and in Kansas City. He went to school in Lincoln at the University of Nebraska, signed with the Royals as the second overall pick in the 2005 draft and has never gone anywhere else.

He first showed up as the third baseman who was going to be the next George Brett, and then he became an outfielder who was loved by scouts and analytics folks alike. He's superb defensively, and offensively he fits perfectly in the Royals lineup.

When he suffered a serious groin strain early last July, some worried the loss might ruin the already promising Royals season. I wrote the next day they were strong enough to get by without him, and sure enough they went 31-18 in the 49 games he missed.

By keeping Alex Gordon, the Royals kept alive hopes for another celebration.
By keeping Alex Gordon, the Royals kept alive hopes for another celebration.Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

Losing him now would have been much more costly.

The Royals have more young talent on the way, but they have no one like Gordon to step in after a winter where they will likely let their other starting corner outfielder, Alex Rios, leave via free agency. In an American League Central that is looking increasingly competitive after winter moves by the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, the Royals will be challenged to stay on top.

Retaining Gordon reinforces the idea they're willing to try. By keeping the contract reasonable and short enough, they may even have a better chance of retaining some of those post-2017 free agents, too.

There's no guarantee any of them will want to stay as much as Gordon did or that free agency will work out as well for the Royals then as it has now.

But that's two years down the line. First, the Royals get more chances to win with this group—chances to extend a window that easily could have closed soon after those hundreds of thousands of fans showed up for the World Series parade.

That day, not knowing whether he was saying goodbye, Gordon picked up the microphone and thanked "the best fans in the world."

Two months later, there's no need for goodbyes.

This time, free agency worked.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.


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