With the news that outfielder Alex Gordon is returning to the Royals, another of this offseason's top free agents is back with the team everybody assumed he would be leaving. For the Orioles, the news that Gordon is off the board narrows their options, though of course it's an open question how seriously they were ever considering the soon-to-be-32-year-old.
A more interesting and potentially more significant question to answer will be whether Gordon's contract signals that teams in general are not going to open up their wallets for this season's position player talent as much as was initially expected. That could reverberate in a big way towards the Orioles retaining Chris Davis, or adding a free agent like Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, at a lower cost than had been expected.
The contract predicted for Gordon at the outset of the offseason was for five years and $105 million. Not only did Gordon not get five years, but he didn't get the $21 million average annual value (AAV) either. Of course, at $18 million AAV, he won't exactly be starving in the offseason.
It's possible that Gordon took a bit of a hometown discount, or even a significant one, in order to remain with the Royals, the only team for whom he has ever played. That could prove to be the case. The kinds of people you'd expect to wax rhapsodic as if this was the truth are already doing so. If we later learn some team had offered a fifth year to Gordon, or a larger AAV over four years, that would be telling.
Maybe there wasn't a five year deal out there at all. Gordon may have gotten the maximum dollar amount he could while also returning to the Royals. One report from late last week about the White Sox interest in Gordon suggested they wouldn't be going over three years for Gordon. Now, this could be a reporter saying something irrelevant. It could also be a signal that there were a number of teams that were holding at three years for Gordon and when the Royals added the fourth year, he went back to them.
Gordon is coming off of a season in which he batted .271/.377/.432 over 104 games. That on-base percentage would have looked nice here, one must admit. A groin injury cost him about two months and probably also cost him what would have been his fifth consecutive Gold Glove in left field. MLBTR notes that Gordon "did take a step back on the bases and in the field," suggesting that the groin injury may have been connected. Maybe it was, but that's because it's harder for professional athletes to keep themselves in game shape once they cross the big 3-0.
The Orioles rumored dalliance from last week with Cespedes was another suggestion that there is an overall pulling back on free agent dollars. Cespedes, at the beginning of the offseason, was predicted to get a six year contract worth $140 million. Maybe he's finding that sixth year, or even a fifth year, hard to get. Maybe no one is approaching that AAV. It's hard to imagine the Orioles going there, but if Cespedes' price tag is falling, the O's being linked to him makes a lot more sense.
Maybe what happened with Gordon and the Royals is that the two sides came together to work on a deal that was fair to both sides, considering both risks going forward and past performance. It was less than Gordon sought, but still the largest free agent contract that franchise has ever given out.
Gordon's not represented by Scott Boras, which complicates things in hoping the O's could figure out the same sort of thing with Davis. Even more complicated is that the O's offer that was on the table was for seven years and about $150 million; it's tougher to imagine Davis signing here for a "good" price for both sides if he finds no one else going near that price and the O's then attempt to reduce their own offer.
Contrast that to the Royals, who at one time had been reported to be stubbornly holding around a $48 million, four year deal for Gordon. There was room for those two sides to move towards one another and still have a good deal for both sides. The same can't quite be said for Davis and the Orioles.
The date for pitchers and catchers to report to begin spring training is just over six weeks away. Things will have to start happening before too much longer. Gordon's contract with the Royals could be what starts to clarify the market for everybody else. Time will tell what the Orioles make of it.