LF on the shelf: Gordon up for grabs
Most of the top free-agent pitchers are off the board, but the outfield market has developed far more slowly. Among the outfielders facing an uncertain future is Alex Gordon, the World Series hero who spent the first nine years of his career with the Royals. Where will he land? To help figure it out, MLB.com asked its reporters who cover the teams that have been prominently linked to Gordon -- the Royals, Tigers, Giants and Angels -- to give their best assessment, complete with a "Gordon Likelihood" score on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being "he's coming here."
The Royals have said from the minute the postseason ended that their priority would be bringing Gordon, the face of the franchise and the longest-tenured Royal, back for 2016 and beyond. But finances are tight, and general manager Dayton Moore has indicated numerous times that he needs to plan for the overall future as well -- a subtle reminder that the Royals may not be able to afford to tie up future payrolls on an aging player (Gordon will be 32 in February) when they also have to think about contract extensions for such younger players as center fielder Lorenzo Cain and first baseman Eric Hosmer. There have been unconfirmed reports that the Royals have put a four-year offer on the table in the range of $12 million to $15 million per year, though it seems likely Gordon's market value will be significantly higher, perhaps too high for the Royals' budget.
Moore has indicated that the Royals' payroll will not rise "significantly" from what it was on Opening Day 2015 (about $113 million). With pending arbitration cases possibly pushing the budget toward $108 million, and with the Royals in search of a starting pitcher, squeezing a sizable Gordon contract into the equation would seem challenging, to say the least, though it is possible that owner David Glass will provide more flexibility.
The Royals could find a corner outfielder via trade, possibly acquiring a younger player whom they could control for several years. They have been linked to the Reds' Jay Bruce, the Rockies' Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson, and the Marlins' Marcell Ozuna. Look for the Royals to remain patient and seek the best value, as they tend to do every offseason. As Moore said earlier this month at the Winter Meetings regarding the asking prices of such free-agent outfielders as Gordon, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes, "The truth is, the music is going to stop, and there won't be enough chairs for some of these guys."
That is generally when the Royals pounce.
GORDON LIKELIHOOD: 4
-- Jeffrey Flanagan, Royals beat reporter
Like Jason Heyward's move from the Cardinals to the Cubs, Gordon signing with the Tigers would have the double impact of addressing Detroit's biggest positional question while subtracting from the division-rival Royals' strength. In some ways, Gordon -- a left-handed hitter and an outstanding all-around defender when healthy -- could actually be a better fit for the Tigers than Cespedes. But despite owner Mike Ilitch's statement that he doesn't "care about the money," Tigers baseball people insist they don't have the payroll space (they're up against the luxury tax threshold, a line they haven't crossed since 2008), with GM Al Avila telling a Detroit radio station the payroll situation "would be pretty ugly" if they added Gordon or Cespedes.
With the Royals lurking, it's tougher to see Gordon's market shifting toward the Tigers than Cespedes'. Though Ilitch has a history of swooping in for late signings, consider Detroit more lurking than talking for now.
GORDON LIKELIHOOD: 4
-- Jason Beck, Tigers beat reporter
Gordon almost perfectly fits the Giants' description of what they want in a left fielder: athletic, solid defensively and possessing enough pop at the plate to find AT&T Park's spacious gaps (and occasionally hit one over the wall). But having spent a small fortune on free-agent right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, the Giants might have to get creative to find payroll room for Gordon, as signing him could put them up against the $189 million luxury tax threshold, a figure they exceeded in 2015.
GORDON LIKELIHOOD: 4
-- Chris Haft, Giants beat reporter
Gordon has long been considered an ideal fit for the Angels because of what he provides and because of his price tag (relative to other big names). The Angels are in desperate need of help in left field, where in 2015 they received a .529 OPS that was tied for the fourth-lowest mark in Major League history at the position. And ideally, they'd plug in a left-handed power hitter -- to balance Mike Trout and Albert Pujols -- who plays elite defense, just like Gordon.
But it may be a pipe dream. Owner Arte Moreno recently told reporters that his club is about $4 million below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold -- their spending limit these last few years -- and would "probably be out" on such big-name free agents as Gordon, Upton and Cespedes. Right now, Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry -- both out of options -- are set up to platoon. It may end up that way.
GORDON LIKELIHOOD: 3
-- Alden Gonzalez, Angels beat reporter
THE "MYSTERY TEAM"
As we learned from Zack Greinke's last-minute decision to sign with the D-backs, you can never count out the "mystery team."
The Orioles' corner outfield situation is fluid, with Hyun-soo Kim, Nolan Reimold and L.J. Hoes the current options, but none of them is an impact player. If the O's can't find common ground with Chris Davis, they will have some payroll flexibility. Texas has Josh Hamilton in left, but he's had trouble staying on the field, and the Angels are paying the majority of his salary the next two years, so the Rangers could pounce on Gordon if they felt the price was right and wanted to shift Hamilton into a OF/DH/reserve role.
The White Sox have also been linked to Gordon, but with Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia both under team control at least through 2017, it's likely one of them would be traded to open up an obvious spot for Gordon.
GORDON LIKELIHOOD: 3