In a historic agreement, one that establishes a new benchmark in Royals franchise lore, the team signed a four-year, $72 million contract with outfielder Alex Gordon, a deal likely to ensure that the team’s cornerstone will finish his career in Kansas City.
Months after authoring comeback after comeback on the way to a world championship, the team engineered one more upset. Gordon, a vital presence in the clubhouse and on the field, rejoins a club hoping to capitalize on the prime years of budding stars like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
“At the end of the day, my heart has been, and I think always be, in Kansas City,” Gordon said during a news conference at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
Before this winter, the team had never given a financial package worth more than $55 million. The average annual value of Gordon’s deal is $18 million, but the Royals’ front office structured the contract so the majority of the money will be paid to Gordon during his final two seasons.
The Royals did not enter this winter as the favorites to re-sign Gordon. The team allowed him to elect free-agency without engaging in serious discussions about an extension during 2014 or 2015. Some rival executives believed Gordon would receive a five-year contract worth upwards of $80 million to $100 million.
“I was very concerned at this time last year that we might not be in a position to have Alex here,” Moore said. “At the end of the day, we talk about all the sentimental reasons – that’s all important, and those are decisions from the heart – but the bottom line is Alex is here in Kansas City because we believed he can continue to help us win.”
And because an inflated market never materialized. Gordon turns 32 next month, underwent wrist surgery last winter and missed a sizable portion of last summer because of a severe groin strain. A large part of his value stems from his defensive ability, and most teams view left field as a less than essential position.
The Royals do not. General manager Dayton Moore built a two-time pennant winner on the back of his outfield defense, the fleet-footed cadre capable of handling the sizable expanses of Kauffman Stadium. To left field, Gordon will return. Moore has said Jarrod Dyson, perhaps platooning with Paulo Orlando, can handle the rigors of an everyday role in right field.
Gordon posted an .809 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2015. Since 2011, he has averaged 18 home runs, 35 doubles and 72 RBIs per season. He smashed a game-tying home run off Mets closer Jeurys Familia in Game 1 of the World Series in October, a moment that resonated with Moore.
“That’s one of the biggest hits in the history of the Kansas City Royals,” Moore said. “Off one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. He’s here because we believe he can help us win.”
To re-sign Gordon, the Royals needed to be creative. Gordon will receive $12 million in 2016, $16 million in 2017, $20 million in 2018 and $20 million again in $2019. The contract also contains a $4 million buyout clause for a $23 million mutual option in 2020.
The front office finished this offer on New Years’ Eve, Moore said. He instructed assistant general manager Jin Wong to approach Gordon’s agent, Casey Close, with the package. The two sides hammered out the details this week.
“We knew what they were expecting, at the time,” Moore said. “I felt after doing the numbers and projecting them out, with the other goals that we desire with our current roster going forward, that we could make it work.”
The Royals are still hopeful of signing another starting pitcher, but they have already handed out a sizable chunk of money this offseason. The team re-signed Chris Young on a two-year, $11.5 million deal and brought back reliever Joakim Soria on a three-year, $25 million deal.
On multiple occasions this offseason, Moore referenced the need for financial flexibility. After 2017, the team will see Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, reliever Wade Davis and shortstop Alcides Escobar all reach free-agency. The Royals wanted the ability to reach extensions with these players.
That ability may be compromised by Gordon’s contract. But it also keeps open a window for a team with a championship core and a championship pedigree.
“I’m hoping for the next four or five years, we can be competitive,” Gordon said. “And I think we will be.”
Gordon’s tenure in Kansas City predates the arrival of Moore. The Royals chose him out of the University of Nebraska with the second pick in the 2005 draft. When Moore arrived a year later, he spotted three assets in Billy Butler, Zack Greinke and Gordon.
Kansas City flipped Greinke to Milwaukee for a trade package that included Cain and Escobar. The Royals let Butler walk after 2014. Gordon will remain.
Heading into 2016, Gordon ranks eighth in the team’s record book in hits, seventh in runs, seventh in doubles, seventh in homers and ninth in RBIs. All of those numbers will rise in the coming years, now that Gordon has decided to return.
“When I walked in the locker room, it just put a smile on my face,” Gordon said. “Because at the end of the season, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do that again. Today was definitely a special day.”