With the Chicago Cubs coming off of the year that they had — what with that whole contending thing and that part where they reached the National League Championship Series — the general perception is that they’ll be getting hot and heavy with nearly every big-name free agent out on the market. Of course, how closely perception and reality will align remains to be seen as the winter really gets underway.
As that happens, serious talks could come to fruition in the right situation (i.e. David Price). For some (including and especially yours truly), there is a hope that Alex Gordon could represent the impact move that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer seem primed to make. He’s been connected to the Cubs in a couple of different recent reports, so this certainly isn’t something out of the realm of possibility.
Early projections had him in line for a very favorable three-year, $36-38 million type of deal, though it’s unclear where those initial figures came from. They have since inflated, however, with five years and $90 million seeming like a more accurate estimate.
With that cost, not to mention how Gordon would fit from a personnel standpoint, reviews are mixed as to just how good an addition he could be to this Cubs team. So let’s examine both sides of the “Alex Gordon: North Sider” coin.
Why he’s a fit
There are two areas in which the Cubs would love to improve this offseason, at least as far as their position players are concerned: defensive play and the ability to make regular contact. Gordon fits the bill in relation to both of those criteria.
There isn’t any question about Gordon’s ability to play a great left field. Having officially ditched third base completely following the 2010 season, he has been one of the better defensive outfielders in the game since 2011. In the time since, only Jason Heyward has posted a higher UZR (91.0) than Alex Gordon (67.2). In fact, Gordon’s figure there — while trailing Heyward by quite a bit — was 15 points higher than the next closest player, Carlos Gomez.
He’s flashed great range, with 438 Out of Zone plays made over that span (3rd among OF) to go along with his 94 Defensive Runs Saved (2nd). He has an absurd 66 assists over that same stretch, including seasons of 20, 17, and 17 from 2011 through 2013, respectively. That’s the best in baseball. The primary reason those tallies declined in 2014 and 2015 was simply that runners stopped trying to test him.
From an offensive standpoint, Gordon brings a whole lot of what the Cubs lack, especially in terms of their ability to make contact. Only Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Chris Coghlan, and the likely-departing Dexter Fowler posted contact rates over what Gordon (78.3%) produced last year. His career percentage is at 78.1, as he was a remarkably steady hitter throughout his tenure with the Royals.
He doesn’t have the same penchant for hacking that a lot of these Cub hitters have, either. Only Dexter Fowler demonstrated a more patient approach at the plate than Gordon’s 42.9% swing rate last year. While Gordon doesn’t necessarily mash like some of his would-be teammates (his .161 ISO bested only Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, and Castro), he’s a well-rounded player both in the field and at the plate. His ability to hit all over the lineup, bring a patient approach, and make regular contact would be a welcome presence for this Cubs team.
Why he’s not a fit
For starters, Gordon is locked into a left field spot, unlike Jason Heyward, who could be deployed as a centerfielder if it came down to it. With Kyle Schwarber and even Kris Bryant in the mix, the Cubs aren’t in a position where they absolutely need to acquire a left fielder, and especially aren’t in a situation where they need to shell out big money for a position that isn’t of the utmost importance.
But the long and short of it, at least in terms of why Alex Gordon might not be wearing blue pinstripes in 2016, goes back to his age and the type of contract he’s going to receive. Gordon will be 32 before the season begins. Defense declines, so the expectation is that within the next three to four years, he’s going to be a far cry from the player we currently see shagging balls out in left.
A potential five-year deal for a player who’ll be 37 when that contract is up? Sounds a whole lot like something Theo Epstein spoke out against in his introductory press conference when he first took over as president, declaring that the Cubs wouldn’t be paying for past performance. Not to mention the fact that he’s coming off of a season in which he was severely limited due to a groin injury, appearing in only 104 games.
That’s not to say that Alex Gordon is done where he stands. Far from it. He’s still a player who could absolutely help the Cubs, who would love to improve that defensive element is imperative and cut down on unproductive plate appearances. Gordon brings both of those to the table. On a three-year deal, one with a reasonable dollar amount, Gordon is perfect. Trouble is, he’s likely to be seeking more than the Cubs want to give in terms of both time and money.
What’s more, Kyle Schwarber can be taught left field…at least to an extent. But to be honest, upgrading defensively at that position is really more of a luxury, especially when you’re looking to bring in player who’s so locked into that one spot. And when that guy is set to turn 32 before the 2016 season gets underway and is looking for what is likely to be a five-year deal, it makes sense for the Cubs to allocate those available dollars elsewhere, whether in their pursuit of David Price or retaining/replacing Dexter Fowler.
As much as it pains this Alex Gordon fan to say it, I fall on the “not” side of this argument.
*Statistics via FanGraphs