Following Sunday’s emotional sendoff for Ned Yost, the Royals must transition from regular season into decision season. A managerial hire, deciding whether to retain players, targeting free agents, it’s all on the horizon.
This winter, veteran left fielder Alex Gordon’s future looms over all of the typical late fall and early winter decisions. The six-time Gold Glove winner (one Platinum Glove), three-time All-Star and 2015 World Series champion will spend at least the next few weeks contemplating retirement.
Gordon, a face of the franchise along with catcher Salvador Perez, holds a significant place within the organization. A former No. 2 overall pick and career-long Royal who grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, Gordon served as a table-setter for the franchise’s last rebuilding cycle both in his development and his move to the outfield to make room for Mike Moustakas.
Now, Gordon’s decision whether to return for what will be his age 36 season could be a table-setting type decision as the Royals look ahead to 2020.
“I told myself at the beginning of the year I didn’t want to make a decision until the season was over because I wanted to focus on having a good year and making this team better, not really focus on ‘I know my contract is up, I know I’m old,’ stuff like that,” Gordon said.
Gordon has said all along he’d wait until he was out of the daily grind before he’d make any decision. He didn’t want the season’s physical or mental toll — a second consecutive 100-loss finish — to overwhelm his thought process.
“I don’t want to say I’m not going to play and want to come back later,” Gordon said. “If I say I’m not going to play, I want to be done, or say I’m going to play and be all in. So I just want to make the right decision.”
Gordon, still a muscularly chiseled specimen at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, just finished the final year of his four-year, $72 million contract, but there’s a mutual option for next season worth $23 million.
Financially, it makes sense for the Royals to decline the option, and Gordon has acknowledged that his return would likely be contingent on a renegotiated one-year deal.
There’s been no indication that Royals and general manager Dayton Moore wouldn’t re-sign Gordon if he decides not to retire, and he has already made it clear he doesn’t want to play for any other franchise.
Yost’s retirement, while emotional for Gordon, won’t sway his decision significantly.
“It does factor in a little bit, but still this organization has meant everything to me, Dayton has meant everything to me,” Gordon said. “It’s not like just because Ned is leaving it’s going to have a yes or no answer on that.”
Gordon slashed .266/.345/.396 this season with 13 home runs, 31 doubles and 76 RBIs, and he produced 1.4 wins above replacement. His career averages prior to this season were .258/.339/.415 with 14 homers, 27 doubles and 55 RBIs with a 2.9 WAR.
After three consecutive years of fighting injuries and declining offensive production, he bounced back this season following changes to his workout regiment as well as adjustments to his hitting mechanics.
Despite referring to himself as “old,” Gordon finished the season encouraged and feeling as though he “can still produce in this league and play well.”
Gordon has also continued to speak optimistically about the team’s potential to win more games next season.
On Sunday, Yost substituted for Gordon while in the field with one out in the fifth inning of the season finale.
That gesture by Yost allowed the crowd at Kauffman Stadium to give Gordon a standing ovation as he received a hug from his replacement Ryan O’Hearn and trotted to the dugout. He waved his cap to the cheering fans.
“I haven’t talked to Gordy about (retirement),” Yost said after the game. “I have no idea what his mindset is, I really don’t. I purposely haven’t asked him because I just don’t want to know. It’s his decision. Him and Jamie will make that decision, I think, as the winter goes along.
“I personally think that Alex Gordon is going to win another Gold Glove. I wanted the opportunity for our fans to recognize his style of play, every single day he just goes out and give everything he has. … He’s such a great leader.”
Gordon ranks among the top 10 in franchise history in hit-by-pitches (first), walks (third), homers (fourth), doubles (fifth) and hits (sixth), runs (sixth) and RBIs (sixth). His six Gold Gloves are the most of any active outfielder and second in club history behind Frank White’s eight.
Since his debut in the majors in 2007 as a third baseman, Gordon has played in 1,703 games over parts of 13 seasons. The only other Royals players with 13-year careers with the club have been George Brett (21 years) and White (18 years).
Anyone aside from Gordon playing left field on a daily basis would undoubtedly be a jarring sight for fans and players alike.
“I’m not even going to think about that, man, because then I’ll start choking up,” Royals veteran pitcher Danny Duffy said. “That’s my guy, bro. I got his back no matter what decision he makes.
“I’m going to respect his privacy. If he needs anything, he knows I’m here. If he needs any advice, he knows I’m here. That’s our captain, man. That’s our captain. I respect the hell out of that guy. I hope he comes back. Whatever decision he makes, it’s his decision and it will be the right one.”