In looking at the Philadelphia Phillies and their needs for the 2016 season, one of the most obvious is in the outfield. Based on his 2015 performance, it is already easy to pencil Odubel Herrera into the center field position. He may be the only absolute starter as we head towards winter.
It is also plausible that with his performances towards the end of the 2015 season, Aaron Altherr has at least made himself the man to beat for one of the corner outfield positions.
One of the benefits with Altherr is that his athleticism allows him to capably man any of the three outfield positions. This should allow the team to be flexible at which spot they choose to deploy him.
That leaves one of the starting outfield positions up for grabs, and the Altherr flexibility allows the organization its own flexibility in pursuing this third piece. In this coming offseason, there are several tempting options available, all of whom would be an upgrade for the Phillies.
One of those options would be Alex Gordon, the left fielder for the American League champion Kansas City Royals. Gordon will be finishing up his latest extension with the team, and will test free agency for the first time in his career.
At a time when his particular skills: an ability to get on base, and to play premium defense, are now being valued more highly around the league, Gordon figures to cash in handsomely this offseason. But is he a fit for the Phillies? Let’s dive in.
First, a brief background on the player. Gordon was the second overall pick in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft by the Royals. This came after he was named the Golden Spikes Award winner, given to the best college player in the country, at the University of Nebraska that year.
Coming into the draft, Gordon was considered the best available college prospect, and was behind only Justin Upton as the best prospect available overall. Gordon tore through the Royals system, winning Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2006, and was regarded as one of, if not the, top prospects in the minors coming into the 2007 season.
It turned out that Gordon broke camp with the team in 2007, becoming the starting third baseman. He finished with decent numbers for a rookie, a .247/.314/.411 slash line with an 87 wRC+, but those didn’t seem to jive with his status as a top hitting prospect in the game.
Over the next few years, Gordon battled injuries and poor performance, earning multiple trips back to the minor leagues. He also struggled defensively at the hot corner, which ultimately led to a position change to the outfield. Beginning in 2011, Gordon moved full-time to left field, which subsequently began a run which has seen him earn four consecutive Gold Glove awards.
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He also picked up offensively at the point of his position switch, batting for a .281/.359/.450 slash line during this time, averaging a 123 wRC+ mark. Defensively, his 94 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) are second only to Jason Heyward over this time period among outfielders.
His numbers, both offensively and defensively, were down in the 2015 season (.271/.377/.432), but that can be attributed to his being injured for much of the season thanks to a groin strain that cost him almost two months of action. He was still a positive force in the lineup, producing a 122 wRC+ in those games in which he played.
Offseason wrist surgery also caused him to be slow with the bat out of the gate at the beginning of the year. He was starting to come on in July, hitting for a .385/.484/.654 line before being felled by the groin injury. Prior to this year, he’s been pretty much injury free, so that part of his game isn’t really in question.
To summarize, Alex Gordon has been one of the more complete players in all of Major League Baseball since 2011, and makes for a very intriguing option for the Phillies and many other teams to consider pursuing this offseason.
When discussing what he might mean to the Phillies, the first thing the front office would have to look at is his defense. It stands out, both in the eyes of scouts and on the stat page. He’s generally regarded as the best defensive left fielder in the game, as evidenced by his Gold Gloves.
While left field might be on the wrong side of the spectrum when it comes to difficulty of position, Gordon impacts the game with his glove, and would be a huge upgrade to the team that ranked dead last in DRS (-92). The big question is: how much does a team pay for defense?
Gordon also performs with the bat, there is no disputing that. The numbers given earlier here testify to that fact. While he doesn’t possess a ton of “over the fence” power, his gap to gap approach still is a worthwhile commodity.
He also has the ability to get on base, something that team a team who might employ at least three free swingers (Maikel Franco, Herrera, Altherr) next year would desperately need.
However, his overall numbers won’t blow general managers away (his career slugging percentage, in particular, is only .435), and cause them to spend money as though it were burning a hole in their owner’s wallets. If rival evaluators were to look at Gordon’s advanced numbers, most of his value is tied up in his defensive play.
His production with the bat would be beneficial to a lineup bereft of production on most days, but that wouldn’t be for which a team such as the Phillies is paying. His defense is what makes him a special player. Couple that with the fact that he will be 32 years old next season, and you have a free agent whose best traits as a baseball player are the ones that could erode quickly.
Were Gordon to sustain another injury to his lower half, that defensive value could slip quickly, and that’s when the overpaying portion kicks in. Of course, that’s assuming Gordon will even get injured. His history of being able to stay on the field shows that he does have the ability to remain relatively healthy for the duration of a contract.
His age is still a little troublesome (I actually did a double take when I saw he’d be 32), but that also might benefit the team. Other teams jockeying for position might be less inclined to offer a four or five-year deal. Yet if the Phillies really thought he’d be the best fit for them, then perhaps they might be a little more comfortable offering that length of contract.
If the team was willing to commit to Gordon long-term, a four-year deal would have to be the starting point. Especially since they aren’t really going to be playoff contenders next year, or maybe even in 2017. Remember, this is a player who has tasted the World Series two years in a row. It would take a lot of money to wash that taste away.
However, if the team were truly committed to adding Gordon, a contract of 4 years and $75 million might get it done. Is that something the team would be interested in? The guess here is that it would not be interested.
Trading Cole Hamels this summer signaled a shift in strategy. The team is getting younger. Adding high-profile free agents now doesn’t seem to be anything that management is interested in. With Herrera and Altherr already in the plans, let’s not forget Nick Williams, the possible jewel of that Hamels trade.
If everything goes right, Williams could be in Philadelphia in 2016 some time. Signing Gordon might only block the only open path Williams would have, unless either of the other two young outfielders failed badly.
Not only does the team have Williams coming, but center fielder Roman Quinn is fast approaching the majors as well. It won’t be in 2016, but he’s another young option the team would block by signing the veteran Gordon. So while the depth in the minor leagues at one point looked bleak, it is getting better.
Those players all have considerable upside. Gordon is going to begin the decline phase of his career, and with what the team is building for, that is a player they can ill afford to carry. So, for now, the best course of action would be to take a pass on signing Alex Gordon.
Next up in this series, I’ll look at some of the second tier hitters that are available this winter, and see if they are of any interest to 2016 version of the Phillies.