A royal blue cast safeguarded the surgically repaired right wrist of Alex Gordon as he stood inside an elevator in the bowels of Bartle Hall. He was a few minutes late for a panel discussion at the team’s FanFest on Saturday afternoon. His timing was appropriate, at least, for his itinerary this spring — when he will be slightly behind the schedule of the rest of his Kansas City teammates.
As he recovers from a January operation to repair an injury he managed for the second half of 2014, Gordon has eased into his offseason routine. He can ditch his cast on Feb. 9. He estimated he would only miss a week of spring-training games. He expects to man left field when the Royals open their season on April 6 at Kauffman Stadium against the White Sox.
But the route has yet to be mapped, he said. Both Gordon and Royals officials has emphasized caution as they chart the return of the two-time All Star left fielder.
“We really don’t have a timetable,” Gordon said. “We’re just going to see how it feels. Obviously, it’s spring training. So we don’t want to rush anything. If it feels good, we’ll be aggressive with it. But if it’s not feeling good, we’ll take it slow.”
The coming season figures to be a momentous one for Gordon. He can become a free agent next winter for the first time in his career. Gordon has indicated he intends to pick up a $12.5 million player option for 2016 — a prospect which rival officials feel is dubious.
If he opts for free agency, the list of interested suitors figures to be sizable. Gordon has transformed himself into one of the game’s most useful players. Part of his appeal is his stability. He has averaged 156 games per season since 2011.
Even after the addition of free-agent Alex Rios, the Royals lack depth in the outfield. Their lone replacement with big-league credentials is Jarrod Dyson. Otherwise the team must sift through minor-leaguers like Lane Adams, Jorge Bonifacio and Paulo Orlando.
So manager Ned Yost has committed to implementing Gordon gradually into game action.
“We’ll just take it slow,” Yost said. “We’ll see how he feels. We’ll play him one day. Then we’ll give him a day off. Play him another day, five or six innings, then give him a day off. We’ll just see how he’s doing.”
The organization considers Gordon its cornerstone. He overcame a slew of hurdles in his development process and emerged as a homegrown star. Yet his current condition increases the pressure on the team’s younger players.
Before 2014, the club’s two most reliable offensive performers were Gordon and Billy Butler. Now Butler dons the green and gold of Oakland. Gordon enters the season as an uncertainty. The burden of production shifts to players like Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain.
“Guys like me and Sal are definitely going to have to step up,” Hosmer said.
The surgery stemmed from an injury Gordon suffered in July. He sprained his wrist sliding shortly before the All-Star Break. Gordon sat out the game, but never landed on the disabled list. He dealt with the condition for the rest of the season.
“If anything, it wasn’t really painful,” Gordon said. “It was just a constant popping sensation.”
Gordon actually hit better in the second half than he did in the first, with a .798 on-base-plus-slugging percentage after the All-Star Break, better than his .772 first-half mark. But much of that output stems from a superlative August, when he hit nine of his 19 homers and cast himself as an MVP candidate.
That praise departed after Gordon batted .190 with only six extra-base hits in September. He posted a .688 OPS during the team’s World Series run. The pain returned during a series of offseason workouts. The technical term for the procedure was a wrist extensor retinaculum repair.
“Short story, they just fixed a tendon that was not where it was supposed to be,” Gordon said. “I could go into details, exactly what they did, but it was pretty much a tendon that they needed to fix. Luckily, when they opened it up, they didn’t see anything that they didn’t expect. So that was good. They cleaned it up. Everything went well.”
Gordon missed two weeks of workouts because of his initial, cumbersome cast. He switched to a more manageable model after a fortnight and resumed his training. He has been able to lift weights without incident.
So when his teammates convene in Surprise, Ariz., in February, Gordon will stand slightly apart. But he plans to rejoin the group by the time the season begins.
“We need to make sure that he’s in good shape, ready to go,” Yost said. “And you don’t want to rush something like that. Because in spring training, you’ve got plenty of time to make it work.”