A self-described defensive liability at third base struggling with confidence, Alex Gordon turned his baseball career around with a transition to left field that has made him one of the most decorated Kansas City Royals players in franchise history.
Gordon bolstered his legacy as one of the best defensive players in the game with his seventh Rawlings Gold Glove in 13 major-league seasons Sunday night. The award also marks Gordon’s third consecutive honor as the American League’s best defensive left fielder.
All seven of Gordon’s Gold Gloves have come since the 2011 season. He converted to the outfield in 2010.
The most recent honor came in the same week’s span that the club named Mike Matheny its new manager and the same weekend Gordon became a free agent. The Royals declined a $23 million mutual option on Gordon’s contract Friday. Gordon quipped during a conference call Sunday night that he’s now “unemployed.”
Gordon, 35, has not announced whether or not he intends to retire or come back for another season.
Gordon, a 2005 first-round pick of the Royals, spent the majority of his time in the majors playing for manager Ned Yost, who retired at the end of the season.
Gordon followed the Royals’ search for Yost’s successor this offseason.
“It was pretty exciting to see Matheny get it,” Gordon said. “I loved his press conference. We really didn’t know much about him, because when he was with us — I heard him in his press conference saying that he wanted to stay away from us and not be a distraction. Just hearing his press conference and his attitude, it was pretty inspiring. Hearing that stuff kind of gives you that itch to want to play again.”
Gordon said talks with the club about his future have just started, and he also said he spoke with Matheny over the weekend.
Gordon beat out finalists Robbie Grossman of the Oakland Athletics and Andrew Benintendi of the Boston Red Sox for his latest Gold Glove.
Gordon also won Gold Gloves in 2011-14, 2017 and 2018 and garnered Platinum Glove honors in 2014 as the best overall fielder in the AL. He won Wilson Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2014, 2017 and 2018.
His seven Gold Gloves rank second in Royals franchise history behind only former second baseman Frank White (eight).
This season, Gordon committed just one error — a throwing error on May 18 — in 276 chances during 1,260 innings, the fewest errors in as many chances by a left fielder in the majors since 2013, when he had one error in 341 chances.
Gordon logged the second-most putouts of any left fielder in the majors this year: 268, the most in the AL. His seven outfield assists tied for third-most among all big-league left fielders, and he also turned two double plays as an outfielder.
According to Fangraphs, Gordon’s Ultimate Zone Rating (3.2) this season ranked first among AL left fielders and second in the majors behind only St. Louis’ Marcell Ozuna (5.7).
Gordon made changes to his daily routine as well as adjustments at the plate during the 2018 season in order to maximize his performance as he’s gotten older. He’d begun to question whether he could consistently play at a high level in his mid-30s.
“I’m obviously not playing the way I used to play; there’s been a decline,” Gordon said. “Over the past year and a half, I’ve kind of answered those questions for myself — not for anybody else. It was just more for myself.
“I’ve been pretty satisfied with how things have gone personally over the year and a half, just how I’ve felt out there competing against the best in the game. Especially a young man’s game now. It’s been gratifying in that way.”
Since his move to left field, only one other outfielder, Nick Markakis (2,918 chances, 14 errors), has more total chances and fewer errors than Gordon (2,788 chances, 18 errors).
Gordon also credited former Royals major-league coach and minor-league instructor Rusty Kuntz for turning him into a high-caliber outfielder after having been a “busted” third baseman.
“Life presents challenges all the time,” Gordon said of his conversion to the outfield. “That was just one of those moments where I took it as a challenge and just put my head down and started working hard at trying to get back to the player I knew I could be.”
Familiar faces honored
Former Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain, now with the Milwaukee Brewers, won the National League Gold Glove as a center fielder, and former Royal Zack Greinke won the NL award as a pitcher for his defensive exploits before being traded to the Houston Astros.
Cain, a defensive standout with the Royals, had not previously won a Gold Glove.
Major League Baseball announced the 2019 Gold Gloves in an awards show broadcast on ESPN. MLB players and managers voted on the honors in their respective leagues. They were not allowed to vote for members of their own team.
“It was actually more satisfying for me to see him win one than me,” Gordon said of Cain. “I just think he’s deserved one for a long time, and to finally get one was pretty satisfying for me. My whole family was cheering for him.”