Off-Day Trade Fantasy: Alex Gordon

We all know that if the Dodgers are making a big splash on the trade market this summer (spoiler alert: they won’t be), it’ll be for a starting pitcher, like Roy Oswalt or Cliff Lee. Or at least that’s what fans would like to believe; in reality, it’s far more likely they go the route similar to last summer’s cheap pick-ups of Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla.

But it’s not fun to try to figure out trade ideas for Oswalt and Lee. We’ve been there, and neither will really be on the market for another month, and even when they are they’ll both see so many competitors that it’s impossible to gauge what kind of return it would take for them. No, since today’s an off-day, we’re going to look at a fantasy deal which could fill a hole the Dodgers have both right now and into the future:

I’d love to try to get Alex Gordon from the Royals.

If you don’t know Gordon’s story, here’s a quick recap. The 2nd pick in the 2005 draft, the Nebraska native and Royals fan destroyed AA at 22 in 2006 (29 homers, 1.016 OPS) and made it to the bigs in 2007. At 23 in the bigs, he hardly had a Heyward-esque debut, with a 90 OPS+ and a lousy (137/41) K/BB mark, though he did hit 15 homers and steal 14 bases.

Yet in 2008, Gordon’s offense improved nearly across the board. His OPS+ rose nearly 20 points, to 119. His BB rate nearly doubled from 6.8% to 11.6%, helping his OBP go from a mediocre .314 to a much better .351. He hit one more home run, despite playing 17 fewer games, and over his first two seasons he hit 71 doubles. At 24, with such a jump in production from his first season to his second, he was primed to be the star the Royals had needed for years (though his defensive, admittedly, was subpar).

But then, the bottom began to fall out.

In 2009, Gordon missed three months after undergoing hip surgery after injuring himself sliding into second base at Yankee Stadium in April. Returning in July, the Royals inexplicably sent him to AAA to make room for Kyle Farnsworth, where Gordon crushed the ball (.928 OPS) before returning to the bigs in September. For the year, Gordon had just a .703 OPS, but showed his health in September by going .279/.359/.471 with three homers in 20 games.

Coming off the nice September, one may have thought that 2010 was Gordon’s breakout year. Of course, it’s hard to forget just how incompetent the Royals front office is, as Gordon was given just nine April starts (he’d broken his thumb in spring training, delaying his debut) before being sent down to AAA to play left field. Predictably, Gordon is once again abusing minor-league pitching to the tune of .359/.486/.641, with 10 homers.

Now, I don’t want to get too deep into the tragedy that is the Kansas City Royals on this blog; you can find much more in-depth analysis on that topic elsewhere. But it’s not like the Royals are overflowing with talent elsewhere, right? This is the same team that has the corpse of Scott Podsednik (.674 OPS) playing left field, with Alberto Callaspo (.299 OBP) at third, yet can’t seem to find a spot for a highly-touted prospect who is torching the minors.

No, really, they can’t:

General manager Dayton Moore revealed over the weekend that the Royals have no plans to recall Gordon any time soon, and manager Ned Yost later echoed those comments:

I don’t want to bring Alex up here right now if he’s not going to play. And we’ve got enough outfielders with [Rick] Ankiel coming up, and that’s going to create another player to put in the mix. To me, he’s better off down there playing every day until something opens up.

Agreed, but here’s a craaaaaaaaazy idea: How about bringing Gordon up and playing him?

Podsednik is a 34-year-old corner outfielder with a .340 slugging percentage and Ankiel is a (currently injured) 30-year-old with a putrid .675 OPS in 141 games since the start of last season. Why in the world would a rebuilding team rather give regular playing time to either of them instead of a 26-year-old former No. 2 overall pick who has been crushing Triple-A pitching for the past six weeks?

So far this season 12 different Royals hitters have logged at least 50 plate appearances and Billy Butler is the only one younger than the 26-year-old Gordon. Meanwhile, Gordon and fellow 26-year-old Kila Ka’aihue rank second and third in the PCL in OPS. Perhaps Moore has abandoned all hope of putting together a winner in Kansas City and is instead focusing on building the Triple-A squad into a PCL contender? (via Aaron Gleeman)

Moore wasn’t there when Gordon was drafted, and he’s already proven himself woefully incompetent on many occasions. For whatever reason, Gordon has fallen out of favor in Kansas City, yet he’s proven that he has absolutely nothing else to show in the minors. Still just 26, and with a solid 2008 and September 2009 under his belt, if the Royals can’t use him, someone else certainly can.

Now think about the Dodgers’ situation in the field. There’s no obvious replacement for Manny Ramirez in left field next year,  because as much as I like Xavier Paul, I’m not dying to see him be an every-day player, and Andrew Lambo torpedoed his chances for 2011 with his drug suspension. At third base, while Casey Blake has been a nice player, he’s also reaching the end of the line at age 36, and I certainly wouldn’t be crushed to see him be the four-corners (maybe just infield corners at this point) power bat off the bench next season which the Dodgers haven’t had in years. With Josh Bell off to Baltimore, there’s no obvious internal answer at the hot corner either, barring the unlikely possibility that Blake DeWitt goes back to third.

Whether you want Gordon to be a third baseman or left fielder is up for argument, but somewhat irrelevant here, since the Dodgers could use either. If the Royals don’t want him, certainly they’d be willing to entertain offers on players they do want, right?

The problem with throwing out names for Gordon is that one of the byproducts of KC’s treatment of him is that I have no idea what their valuation of him is. You’d think a 26-year-old former #1 pick with some major league success who’s tearing up the minors would command a large return, yet you’d also think he’d be in the majors on a lousy team.

So… does Gordon interest you? What would you give up for him, considering the idea would be somewhat of a buy-low deal? The Royals, despite their quality minor league system, need help pretty much everywhere, but a team which has no non-Greinke starter with an ERA+ of even 100 could definitely use some starting pitching prospects.

So here’s a thought, and feel free to say it’s too much, too little, or to add your own: James McDonald, Ivan DeJesus, Jr, and a low-minors mid-level arm for Gordon and Brayan Pena. The Royals desperately need a second baseman, with Chris Getz rocking a 35 OPS+ when he’s not getting hurt and Mike Aviles hardly a solid building block, and DeJesus has his supporters but may not have a home in LA. They get McDonald, who could join a rotation that’s actually been forced to use Bruce Chen three times, and the extra arm. The Dodgers pick up the switch-hitting Pena to serve as minor league catching depth, which they have almost none of right now (and despite the Royals reluctance to use him, he’s OPS’d over .800 in each of the last two seasons in the minors).

Gordon could contribute right away as a lefty bat stepping in for both Manny and Blake (with the side benefit of rendering Garret Anderson even less useful) before hopefully claiming one of the two spots as his own going forward, and the Royals get two ready-now prospects who they can add to the team immediately, in place of an Omaha Royal they seem to be done with – plus a third player they can dream on.

There’s zero chance of this happening, of course. But it’s a fun topic for an off-day.

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