The Red Sox have a brand new front office and are coming off a very disappointing season, meaning the story lines for the upcoming offseason are aplenty. How will Dave Dombrowski deal with a fully stocked farm system? What will the Red Sox do to address the hole at the top of their rotation? Is that the only starter they’re going to acquire? Will they be able to find a team that’s willing to take on Pablo Sandoval and/or Hanley Ramirez? How in the world will they rebuild their atrocious bullpen? Will there ever be an end to these rhetorical questions? Will they find a job opening for Bobby Valentine? The possibilities are endless.
The most fascinating of all the story lines this winter, though, could be how they address the outfield. While the team tore through the league over the last couple months of the season as they made their season slightly more respectable, the fan base fell in love with the Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo trio.* There’s good reason for this excitement, too, as these three combined for a successful and exciting combination that produced big numbers in often flashy ways.
*The group has a collective nickname that will not be used by this author, and he encourages you to abstain as well.
With that being said, it’s hard to shake the feeling that rolling with this outfield heading into 2016 is just appealing to small sample success. As inevitable as it’s felt since the end of the season, Boston doesn’t have to enter next season with these three. It’s something I outlined here, specifically talking about Rusney Castillo. As the World Series is upon us and offseason rumors start to slowly roll in, it’s looking more and more like going after Alex Gordon could be the best move for the future of this outfield.
Gordon is quietly one of the better stories in the league, one that didn’t really get the attention he deserved until the Royals suddenly became competitive in 2014. He was selected with the second overall pick in 2005 and maintained top prospect status throughout his run through the minors. He debuted just two years later, and struggled for a long time in the majors. By the time 2011 rolled around, he was looking like a significant bust. However, he broke out that season, turning himself into one of the best corner outfielders in baseball and giving fans around baseball hope for their slowly developing top prospects.
Gordon broke out in the 2011 season, turning himself into one of the best corner outfielders in baseball and giving fans around baseball hope for their slowly developing top prospects.
Offensively, Gordon has turned into one of my personal favorite types of hitters, one that relies on patience and doubles. Since that breakout, he’s hit .281/.359/.450, an overall line that’s been roughly 20 percent better than the league average. He’s drawn a walk in 9.6 percent of his at bats (the league-average is roughly 8 percent), and he’s averaged 40 doubles in that span. There is solid over-the-fence power in there, too, as he’s hit at least 19 home runs three times in the past five years.
Looking specifically at this past season, not much has changed, as it was basically a stereotypical Alex Gordon season in 2015. A groin injury caused him to miss his first significant chunk of time since 2010, but in the 422 plate appearances he was able to accrue over the season he put up a .271/.377/.432 slash-line, good for a .299 TAv. Overall, he ranked 31st of the 211 players who came to the plate at least 400 times last season. So far, he has shown virtually no signs of decline despite the fact that he’s just finishing up his age-31 season.
As impressive as his bat has been over the last few years, his real calling card is his defense. There is some controversy over how valuable left field defense really is, and while there is merit to these arguments, the Red Sox found out the hard way that a left fielder has to at least be competent out there. Gordon is more than competent, as he’s arguably the best defensive left fielder in all of baseball, combining good range, a strong arm and smart play with the glove. Defensive metrics can vary wildly from player to player, but every metric agrees that Gordon is tremendous out there. Part of the reason people love the Betts, Bradley, Castillo outfield is their defensive potential, and the group wouldn’t lose anything with Gordon thrown into the mix.
So, with all of those positives on Gordon’s resume, one would assume that he’s looking at a massive pay day this offseason. However, at this point that isn’t clear. Nick Cafardo looked at some upcoming free agents in his Sunday Notes column, and got this quote regarding the bidding war.
“One of our GMs indicated that with Gordon entering his age-32 year, he wouldn’t give him more than three-year deal at $36 million-$38 million. The Royals may be able to retain him if they want.”
Obviously, this is just one general manager’s opinion and this doesn’t necessarily mean that the price will be this low for the soon-to-be 32 year old. However, Gordon does appear to be a guy that could be overshadowed by the likes of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and a compensation-less Yoenis Cespedes. It’s possible that the price gets out of control, especially if he has a big World Series, but right now he is looking like a potential bargain for a guy that’s played like a perennial All-Star for five years.
If the Red Sox did decide to go in this direction, there would clearly be some consequences on the rest of the roster. Mookie Betts is safely slotted into center field, but someone has to be pushed out in favor of Gordon. What happens with Castillo and/or Bradley? Honestly, this shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, as the duo could either form a deadly platoon, or the Red Sox could try to capitalize on their hot finishes in the trade market.
The other issue would be that free agent money is presumably being put aside for pitching help, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Luckily for the Red Sox, they have that fully stocked farm system mentioned at the top of this post. Dombrowski will be able to dip into a deep pool of prospects to acquire virtually any young ace who could become available over the offseason. If they don’t find a deal they like, they should be able to spend money on both. My quick math has them with roughly $40 million to spend if they’re truly willing to get back to their 2015 payroll, meaning they should very well be able to fit both Gordon and a top-of-the-rotation arm into that equation. The Red Sox are not the Rays, and signing Gordon shouldn’t stop them from addressing other needs.
All of this depends on how the market develops, but if it goes the way it’s looking right now, the Red Sox need to be all over Gordon. As exciting as their end-of-season outfield was, there is still a lot of uncertainty in that outfield trio, specifically with Bradley and Castillo. Adding someone like Gordon, who has been one of the most dependable all-around outfielders in baseball, gives the Red Sox a better lineup and a better defensive alignment. If the market grows at an unforeseen rate and he commands a 6-year deal for an AAV nearing $20 million, they can go in a different direction. But if it stays in the vicinity of four years and roughly $15 million per year, Boston can’t let that kind of bargain slip away.
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