MLB Rumors: Why the Red Sox must sign Royals OF Alex Gordon
Photo Credit: Jill Toyoshiba, The Kansas City Star
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Red Sox are being mentioned by baseball executives as a potential landing spot for Royals OF, Alex Gordon, who is expected to opt out of his contract following the World Series and become a free agent this winter.
We know how much Boston appreciates October clutch. Although Gordon is no David Ortiz, he did something in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 2015 World Series that neither Ortiz nor anyone has done since Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series:
Alex Gordon is going to be 32 years old at the start of the 2016 season, which will be the tenth of his professional career. He has spent his entire career with the Kansas City Royals. In addition to two World Series (2014, 2015), Gordon also has three All-Star selections (2013, 2014, 2015).
Over his nine years with Kansas City, Gordon developed the reputation of being a grinder, being durable, and for playing hard. Between 2011 and 2014, Gordon appeared in 151 games, 161 games, 156 games, and 156 games. In 2015, after suffering a strained groin muscle, Gordon spent two months on the disabled list. He still played in 104 games, and was on pace for a career year.
Many will look at his age and be concerned the Red Sox would be receiving a player on his decline. However, the numbers say otherwise. There is no better indicator for predicting the future numbers of a prospective free agent than looking at his recent ones to see if there are any upward or downward trends.
For example, Pablo Sandoval, who joined the Red Sox as a free agent in 2015. His performance this past season was predictable, as it was consistent with his recent trend of sloping downward. Look at Sandoval's BA/OBP/SLG/OPS/OPS+ between 2011 and 2014, which were his last with San Francisco, compared with his numbers in year one with the Red Sox:
2015: .245/.292/.366/.658/76 Based on those trends, it was clear the Red Sox were receiving a player on his decline.
With regard to Alex Gordon, the numbers suggest the complete opposite. Take a look at his last four seasons with Kansas City, including this year where he only played in 104 games:
With regard to his defense, Alex Gordon has consistently been one of the better left fielders in baseball. He has plus-arm strength and plus-plus-arm accuracy. In 2015, he did not commit an error in 104 games last year. Over his past 3500-plus defensive innings in left field, he only has three errors. As Fox Sports' Rob Neyer wrote at the end of the 2014 season:
Yes, it can be difficult to believe that Alex Gordon is really among the most valuable fielders in the game. Not to mention one of the most valuable, period. It can be difficult to believe that Gordon would be nearly as valuable – according to our newfangled metrics, I mean – if he played center field rather than left, or that real center fielders wouldn’t be just as valuable as Gordon if they played left field.
II. THE RED SOX PROJECTED 2016 STARTING OUTFIELD
Photo Credit: Jim Davis/Boston Globe Staff
CF Mookie Betts
Considering what we saw from Mookie in 2015, it is incredible he only recently turned 23-years old. Since the earliest he can become a free agent is 2021, he is going to be playing center field at Fenway Park for at least another five seasons. at which point he will be 29 (remind you of anyone?).
In 2014, the Red Sox signed Castillo for 7 years/$72,500,000 following his defection from Cuba. The final year of the contract is a player option worth $14,000,000. Given his performance to date, you can expect Rusney to exercise that option and remain in Boston through the 2020 season.
At 28, Castillo is coming off the heels of his first full year of baseball in the United States. Unfortunately, due to a litany of injuries keeping him off the field at different points of the season, many wonder if he is even capable of playing 140 to 150 games per year.
In 2015, Castillo spent some time in Triple-A Pawtucket, and appeared in 80 games for the Red Sox. Rusney finished last year with 5 HR, 29 RBI, 54 SO, 13 BB, and a .253 BA, and except for one stretch of games, really struggled to put together consistent at-bats the plate.
As for his defense, he is a plus-defender at all three outfield positions. He spent most of last season in left, but that was primarily due to the presence of Betts and Bradley. He has one of the better arms in baseball, which was seen by many as a perfect fit for Fenway's RF dimensions when he first signed with the Red Sox back in 2014.
Jackie has easily been one of the more frustrating Red Sox position prospects in recent memory. Most notably, the dramatic differences in his offensive production between Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston.
However, there was one thing the Red Sox have never had to worry about with Bradley: his defense. Capable of playing all three outfield positions, there is no better defensive player in baseball today. Based on that alone, it was only matter of time before Jackie was a starter in the Major Leagues, but the Red Sox wanted that to be with them. They gave him an opportunity in 2013 and 2014 to demonstrate he could be anything but a liability at the plate, and he was unable to:
2013 - 95 AB, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 31 SO, 10 BB, .189 BA
2014 - 384 AB, 1 HR, 30 RBI, 121 SO, 31 BB, .198 BA
The 2015 Season
During the first half, Bradley spent most of his time down in Triple-A Pawtucket, but did make a few appearances in Boston, which saw him go 4 for 30 (.133 BA) with 10 strikeouts. In July of the second half, he started three games, and went 1 for 10 (.100 BA) with 3 strikeouts. At this point in the season, Jackie had 5 hits and 13 strikeouts over 40 at-bats. Contrast that with his numbers in Triple-A: 282 AB, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 44 K, .305 BA.
Then came August, where over 23 starts, Bradley went 28 for 79 (.354 BA) with 24 strikeouts and 11 walks. 17 of his 28 hits were for extra bases, including 8 doubles, 3 triples, and 5 home runs. He also drove in 24 runs. Between these offensive numbers and his gold glove level defense, he flashed the potential to be one of the more complete players in baseball.
Following August, Bradley played in 31 more games. He was obviously unable to match the level of production demonstrated in August, but very few would be able to. Instead, over his final 102 at-bats of 2015, he had 22 hits (.216 BA) and struck out 32 times. On the plus side, he continued to flash power (4 HR) and run-production potential (17 RBI).
These months represented the best of Jackie Bradley's young career. However, his performance failed to address two key areas of concern related to his ability to consistently hit Major League pitching. For one, while he was a .320 hitter at Fenway, he batted .186 on the road. Additionally, while he finished the year batting .306 against LHP, his batting average was .221 against RHP.
If you subtract August from the equation, Bradley finished with .190 BA in 2015, which is awfully consistent with the .189 BA in 2013, and .198 BA in 2014. These averages account for 621 of his career 700 at-bats.
Nonetheless, the Red Sox want to pencil him in as the team's 2016 starting right fielder because of what he did in the other 79 in August?
III. WHY BOSTON MUST SIGN ALEX GORDON TO BE THEIR STARTING LEFT FIELDER IN 2016
A. The Red Sox cannot rely on the bats of either Rusney Castillo or Jackie Bradley, Jr.
While the Red Sox know what to expect defensively from an outfield of Betts, Castillo, and Bradley, what can they expect the trio to do at the plate? Would it be wise for the Red Sox to go into next season with a starting outfield in which two of it members have yet to produce sustained success at the plate for more than a single month?
As it relates to Castillo, he has yet to demonstrate the ability to even stay on the field, let alone consistent production at the plate when he is on the field. With regard to Bradley and his 700 professional at-bats, take away the 79 from last August and he is a career .190 hitter.
Given the track records, or lack thereof, of both Castillo and Bradley, the Red Sox would be relying on the 23-year old Betts to carry the offensive load of next year's starting outfield. Although I believe Betts is talented and mature enough to handle such pressure, what if he sees a decline in his second season similar to the Xander Bogaerts? Given the organization's three last place finishes in four seasons, can they afford to enter the 2016 season banking on a 23-year old and his one-year track record?
B. This is why President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, and General Manager, Mike Hazen, need to do the following two things:
(1) package Jackie Bradley, Jr. with a handful of prospects and make a trade for the ace of the 2016 starting rotation
Bradley, with four more years until he becomes a free agent, offers a ton of value to prospective teams. At a minimum, anyone that trades for him will be acquiring the projected favorite for the Gold Glove in CF each of the next four seasons. At most, they would be receiving a player who can also hit for average and power. Over the final two months of 2015, Bradley had a respectable .276 BA, and hit 9 home runs, which would be good for 27 over 162 games.
Although that stands in contradiction to what he did over his first 519 Major League at-bats, it represents exactly the type of offensive player he was in college, in the Minor Leagues, including his 2015 season at Triple-A Pawtucket, and even Spring Training in 2014.
Therefore, there is no doubt some General Manager out there will see Bradley as a Gold Glove defender, with another four years of affordable control, who can reach his offensive ceiling, as demonstrated in August of 2015, if he simply had a change of scenery.
I do not believe Jackie Bradley, Jr. can be the centerpiece of a package that brings Sonny Gray or Chris Sale to Boston, but I do think he can be the shiny piece next to the centerpiece. Given the reputation he has defensively throughout the league, and his offensive surge at the end of 2015, his trade value will never be higher than it is now.
**For those who find themselves agreeing with my logic in signing Gordon, but wondering why we do not trade Castillo instead, look no further than his contract.**
(2) sign Alex Gordon to a four-year contract
In 2016, Gordon would play left field, where he will be a perfect fit given his strong arm and even stronger accuracy. Most importantly, his presence will reduce the pressure on Betts to replicate his 2015 performance. Castillo would move to right field, where he is more than capable of playing at an above-average level. By signing Gordon, who has made the All-Star game each of the last three seasons, the Red Sox will be able to go into 2016 with a lot of confidence in terms of what they can expect defensively and offensively from two-thirds of their starting outfield.
The Red Sox are also going to have to continue preparing for life after David Ortiz. As much as I have learned it is never wise to doubt Big Papi, it is unlikely he is going to play another four years. Alex Gordon provides insurance beyond next season at the DH position. And who will be replace Gordon in the OF when that happens? The 21-year old ESPN's Keith Law recently ranked as the 14th best prospect in all of baseball: Manuel Margot.
Margot finished the 2015 season at Double-A Portland, which is where he is likely to start next season. At 21, he is currently the same age as Mookie and Xander when they made their debut with the Red Sox. Therefore, assuming he continues to play at the same level he has been, he should be ready for his call-up to Boston no later than 2017.
IV. MY BRADLEY-FOR-ACE TRADE AND ALEX GORDON CONTRACT
a. The Trade Offer: Henry Owens, Jackie Bradley, Devin Marrero, Sam Travis, and Michael Kopsech for Sonny Gray
b. The Gordon Contract: 4 years/$60 million
Questions for Readers: do you want the Red Sox to sign Alex Gordon? If not, are you comfortable with a 2016 OF of Betts, Castillo, and Bradley? Why? If you agree the Red Sox should sign Gordon, what's your contract offer look like? If you agree the Red Sox should use Jackie Bradley to acquire an ace for the rotation, what does your package look like?