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Alex Gordon's Contract: Should Royals Question Outfielder's Long-Term Success?

Should they or shouldn’t they?

While most Kansas City Royals fans are wondering when the team is going to lock-up Alex Gordon for the long haul, it’s important to note that it wasn’t that long ago that he was considered a bust. As recently as 2010, Alex Gordon hit .215 and slugged only .355 that led to a miserable .671 OPS on the year. While 2011 was a revelation of a season and one that deserves celebrating, it’s not unreasonable to believe that doubts could still exist on the part of the team’s front office as they consider whether to sign Gordon to a long-term deal or not.

Last year, of course, Gordon was the Royals most valuable player. While other hitters like Eric Hosmer made good on their top prospect status, even his numbers couldn’t touch Gordon’s strong season across the board. Given a full year’s worth of plate appearances and coming into his own at 27 years of age, Gordon finally became the major league hitter most believed he would become.

Specifically Gordon hit .303 with an .879 OPS and finished No. 21 in the MVP voting for the American League. He also won a Gold Glove award for the first time. He hit 23 home runs and stole 17 bases and now that he’s entering his prime years, he could potentially be an anchor in both the outfield and the heart of the order.

But what if he doesn’t fully blossom? What if he falls back even a bit to more moderate status? The millions he will demand for a long-term contract could become an anchor on a team that’s been positioning itself for a certain stretch run with a certain financial picture to follow with so many prospects on the way. To lock up Gordon to millions knowing that other options could be coming could offset the franchise’s plans.

But those looking at Gordon’s metrics for next season and beyond believe the Royals will be just fine if they lock him up for the long haul. Steve Garrity of Rant Sports writes:

Will Alex Gordon regress in 2012? Putting everything together a lower batting average is basically assured – .275-.280, but his higher contact rate, lower strike out rate and improvement across the board power wise including a .200 isolated power average, 40 points above his career average (slugging – batting average) – Bill James suggest changes in isolated power take on meaning around 550 plate appearances, Gordon had 688- suggest he should be able to put up similar numbers to what he did in 2011.

David Golebiewski over at Fangraphs believes that Gordon might settle down a bit after a breakout last season, but he also believes the Royals have no reason to worry:

Alex Gordon won’t turn back into a pumpkin in 2012. His contact and power gains, as well as his sneaky-good wheels, make him a good bet for a .270-.280 average, an OBP in the .350s a slugging percentage north of .450 and 15 or so steals. But what you have to ask yourself is, how high of a pick are you willing to pay for production that might be similar to Michael Cuddyer circa 2011? Gordon is a quality player, but he’s in a bigger pool of talent now as an outfielder and won’t come cheap with fond memories of 2011 close at hand and his previous prospect pedigree. You’ll never hear the word bust associated with Gordon again, but superstar would be stretching it, too.

While Wil Myers is on the way, the other corner where Jeff Francoeur currently plays is the likely place where he will settle. Another power bat like Bubba Starling is years away and the Royals have no obvious contender for Gordon’s spot in the line-up or outfield if they were to let him go or trade him. Locking up Gordon now looks like the team’s best, and surest, bet.