I was planning on making this a bullet-point “Royals Today” post, but instead I want to clarify my post on Alex Gordon and Mark Teahen in light of the general reaction in the blogosphere, which seems to boil down to, “Rany’s a moron.” That's probably true, but I don’t want you to base that opinion on just one column.
- There have been some comments that I’m leaning on a statistical metric to hammer Gordon’s defense, given that Baseball Prospectus rates his glove this year at a woeful 18 runs below average. I should make this clear: I wrote the entire post without even knowing what his defensive statistics were. I looked up his numbers at the end and was surprised to find they were as bad as they were, but I had already made up my mind that his defense was trending downwards based on personal observation. I may be wrong – I am not a scout – but given that I started the year with the belief that Gordon was an above-average third baseman, I don’t think I would have changed my mind without overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When the Royals were in Chicago last month I attended two games at U.S. Cellular, both times sitting in the upper deck between home plate and third base, which gave me a terrific bird’s eye view of his reaction times and range. It wasn’t pretty.
- I’ve seen a lot of comments that Gordon would be a disaster in the outfield given his frequent struggles with infield popups. That may be true, but I would submit that chasing popups and catching fly balls are different skill sets – outfielders don’t usually track balls that are hit almost completely vertically, while simultaneously trying to feel their way around baserunners, other infielders, the dugout steps, and fans in the first row. More importantly, I think this is something Gordon can improve with, you know, practice. Maybe he can’t handle the outfield, but I think the Royals have to try him there first, because moving him to first base wastes his talent and blocks other good hitters.
- And finally, I want to make it clear: I am not saying that the Royals should move Gordon off of third base. I am simply saying that the Royals are moving him, or at least strongly considering doing so. Moving Teahen back to third base is an incredibly strange move to make unless the Royals are serious about finding a replacement for Gordon at the position.
I mean, does anyone else think it’s weird that, two years after the Royals told Teahen that he was being moved off of third base permanently to make way for their new phenom, they’d go back to him and say, hey, we’d like you to play third base for a few weeks while our not-so-phenomenal phenom is on the DL? Billy Hall has struggled at third base for the Brewers this year, but they didn’t ask Ryan Braun to move back to third base. When Evan Longoria got hurt a few weeks ago, the Rays didn’t move Akinori Iwamura back to third base. Teams don’t move an everyday player from one position to another mid-season just to cover for an injury for a few weeks. But we’re not supposed to raise our eyebrows a little when Teahen moves from the outfield to third base?
I can think of two recent examples that resemble this situation a little. The first was earlier this year, when the Tigers opened the season with Miguel Cabrera at third base, and Carlos Guillen – who had played mostly shortstop, but had dabbled at first base the last few years – at first. Barely three weeks into the season, Jim Leyland decided to give voice to the whispers that had been following Cabrera for the past year – namely, that he had outgrown third base. Overnight, the two switched positions, and Cabrera is unlikely to play anywhere other than first base for the remainder of his 7-year contract.
The other example that comes to mind is when Chipper Jones, who moved from third base to left field to start the 2002 season, abruptly moved back to third base on
The point is, teams don’t have their starters change positions willy-nilly – these moves tend to be permanent. Gordon is no Cabrera, but like Cabrera his body may be growing too thick to play third adequately – and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because those body changes may also help him hit for more power over time. Teahen is no Chipper, but if Bobby Cox was comfortable with moving Chipper – who was never a great defensive player – back to third base after a two-year sabbatical, you have to figure that Dayton Moore would be comfortable moving Teahen back there as well.
Should they move Gordon? Like most good questions, the answer is, “it depends.” It depends on who replaces him at third base: whether Teahen is a defensive upgrade, and if he isn’t, then whether they can find another third baseman this offseason. (Or, perhaps more likely, whether
It depends on where they move Gordon. If the Royals move him to first base, without ever giving a shot to Kila Kaaihue, they will be making a mistake. But in the outfield, the Royals have just one good player (DeJesus) along with one marginal player who has to play because he’s getting paid $12 million a year and will go on a three-state shooting spree if he’s benched (Guillen). The Royals have a ton of good fourth outfielder types – Gathright, Maier, Costa, the ubiquitous Teahen – but no other starter-caliber options, whether in the majors or in the high minors. If Gordon’s offense continues to develop, his bat will carry any position. And it’s possible that, freed of the defensive demands of a more difficult position, Gordon will be more likely to reach his offensive potential.
I think the ideal solution here is that the Royals grab a shortstop over the winter; I know everyone and their mother is pining for Rafael Furcal. If the Royals can grab Furcal or someone of his ilk, move
I don’t know what the answer is, and frankly, neither do the Royals. That’s why Teahen’s back at third base – so that the Royals can evaluate whether he’s the answer or not. If he’s not, then they’ll probably spend all winter evaluating options from outside the organization, and deciding whether they can afford them.
Maybe the answer is that Gordon is still the team’s best option at third base in 2009, and maybe he’ll be there on Opening Day. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that his return there is a foregone conclusion. It’s simply impossible for any of us to know who’s going to be at third base next year. How can we, when it’s pretty clear that the Royals themselves don’t know?