In some ways, it seemed like the prodigal son had returned. But in reality, he never left. Alex Gordon flirted with free agency this winter, but in all reality, he never really seemed like he belonged there. After all, he is the promise that paid out. After all, consistency has always been Gordon’s greatest asset. Throughout his life, he has known two locations as his baseball home: Nebraska and Missouri—Kansas City to be more exact. He grew up in Lincoln, went to the University of Nebraska and made a stop at Omaha for a bit of minor league ball in route to his future kingdom in Kansas City.
Once he met his reservation in KC just a few years after being drafted, he became one of rare players that from day one of his professional career, when he was crowned the future of the Royals franchise when he was selected with the second overall pick of the 2005 draft. The then third baseman instantly was decreed the ‘next George Brett’ by association, position and side of the plate he stood on.
However, that was not the path – nor position – that Gordon was destined to make his way at. Now eight years later, he stands as a much different man than he was intended to be, and that is more than alright. As a three-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove recipient and most importantly, one-time World Series champion, Gordon has firmly delivered on his promise to not only be a pivotal player in the franchise’s lineage, but to also usher in what is on its way toward being the greatest era of Royals baseball ever.
However, moving back to November, it seem as if it would be but a part of his story. The financially conscious Royals, whose previous high water mark contract was a $55 million pact with former ace-by-association only Gil Meche, were not the type of team that seemed likely to meet the growing price tag carried even by its franchise cornerstone. So as the final out of the World Series was recorded, Gordon instantly became a man out place.
He was not like the majority of his big name contemporaries on the market, most of which had spent their recent days as hired guns and/or mercenaries in the name of another team looking to make the bridge to the championship level. Jason Heyward spent one summer in St. Louis while Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton had played for two to three different teams in the past year alone. No, Gordon was a cornerstone without a foundation to fit into. So not surprisingly, his trip throughout free agency was much more rumor than substance; this was a man that wanted to find his way home, but was not quite sure how.
The myth of the ‘hometown discount’ is hefty one. Regardless of what the team had achieved, Gordon had done more than his part in earning his reward on the market. He had weathered five out of six seasons that ended with 90 losses during the start of his career before the team finally broke its decade-long streak of losing campaigns in 2013. His effort was the central cog in bringing the Royals up to speed as well. While now the nucleus of the Royals was being drafted and grown throughout the minor leagues as consolation for the Major League club’s struggles, Gordon was going through the trials of reinventing his game and also the struggle of putting up annually impressive performances, with little show as a reward.
He signed a $37.5 million extension to stay put with the only organization he had known in 2012, a contract whose value fit the comfort zone of his front office, but also one that he quickly out grew. In that same season, Gordon won the second in his streak of four consecutive Gold Gloves, and also launched an MLB-best 51 doubles, and the next season he made his All-Star debut.
It was anticipated that what could accompany Gordon’s rise would also be a ticket to ride to newer and more expensive surroundings. But that was not what came to be in the end. Gordon never swayed in his intent to be a lifelong Royal, however he did ensure that the team would sweat it out to make sure that he was has recognized on the payroll as he was around the game, relatively.
In January, he inked a $72 million deal to continue to roam the KC outfield, possibly through 2020. On the heels of the seismic number of contracts that were awarded around the game this winter, it could be said that Gordon perhaps still took the hometown discount in a way.
Yet perceiving his incumbent status in Kansas City as being a ‘hometown discount’ is off the mark. There is much to be said about him continuing to be a Royal. Not in a naïve fashion regarding taking less money to stay put as some sort of misdirected claim towards being ‘loyal,’ for loyalty is a two-way street and the Royals recognized this as well. His production on the field is what makes him worthy of now inheriting the title of the wealthiest man in team history, because sentiment is good and well, but sentiment alone does not make one worthy of becoming an exception in the way that Gordon has. Because, for as much as they rewarded him for his on-base percentage, run production and smothering defensive abilities, they also paid for the leadership he has provided thus far and in years to come, as well as being able to provide a statesman for team and having been a good solider in war that has seen extreme highs balanced off by comparable lows.
In the upcoming years, this Royals team will deconstruct, as many of the core components of it now do not make the same decision as Gordon did, and depart for those more lucrative lands. And when all is considered, that is okay. More talent can (and will) be acquired, but an Alex Gordon is a once in a generation type of presence for this team, and will be remembered as such.
Maybe in the end Alex Gordon has become George Brett after all. He is not going to have 3,000 hits, hit .391 or head to Cooperstown on 98 percent of the ballots as the greatest Royal of all did. Instead, he has gone about meeting that impossible expectation by being a beacon of both production and consistency, in a place that had little positivity in either column before his rise among prestige in the game. Alex Gordon IS the Kansas City Royals, so it is only right that he suited up on opening day with the now golden Royal logo atop his head. As both as a defending champion of the now, but also a steadfast sign for the future as well.
I'm a firm believer that the closest I've gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I'll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and 'Live From The Cheap Seats'.