In many ways, Alex Gordon is the anchor of this group of Royals that is now two wins from a World Series title. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft was deemed the Chosen One as he came up in the minors, but in the big leagues, he buckled under the weight of those expectations, and required years to fulfill them.
Yet fulfill them he has. Gordon’s immense ninth-inning homer in Game 1 added a signature moment to the resume of someone who has become one of the game’s top players over the last five years. He combines the ability to get on base, hit for a lot of doubles, and play spectacular left field defense in the giant stretch of lawn in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. Since 2011, according to Fangraphs, he’s been worth 25.1 Wins Above Replacement, the ninth-highest mark by a position player in the big leagues in that time.
In the same span, Fangraphs suggests he’s saved 67.2 runs relative to an average left fielder, the third highest Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in the game in that span, behind only Braves shortstop wizard Andrelton Simmons and Braves/Cardinals rightfielder Jason Heyward.
The 31-year-old stands on the cusp of free agency. And Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that executives around the game have identified the Red Sox as one potential suitor for the free-agent-to-be.
On the surface, that comes as some surprise given the suggestion by Red Sox president of baseball Dave Dombrowski earlier this month that the Red Sox feel “primarily” set in their outfield with Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Rusney Castillo.
That said, the uneven performances of both Bradley and Castillo raise questions about what, exactly, the team can project from those two going forward. Further, Sherman raises the possibility that the Sox could seek to sell high on Bradley after his offensive numbers were elevated considerably by one scorching month that stood in contrast to the rest of his big league track record.
However, the possibility of pursuing Gordon – unless it was with an eye toward having him play right field instead of left at Fenway – is made tricky by one reality: Fenway Park is not Kansas City.
The Sox hoped that Hanley Ramirez might be able to follow Gordon’s path as someone who made a strong transition from the left side of the infield to left. That plan blew up, with Ramirez’s discomfort with Fenway’s dimensions fairly obvious.
Yet the concern about someone like Gordon at Fenway would be different. The Sox have a painful history in recent years of seeing players with tremendous defensive pedigrees turn into poor performer’s in their home park’s left field. Jacoby Ellsbury was broken in two by his move to left in 2010 (in Kaufmann Stadium, of all places). Carl Crawford went from an elite defender to a drastic disappointment when going from the expanse of Tropicana Field to Fenway. Yoenis Cespedes has graded as a well above-average in Oakland, Detroit, and New York – but a poor one at Fenway, where he seemed visibly uncomfortable in the shadow of the Wall.
The pattern hasn’t been singular. Bradley, for instance, has dazzled wherever he’s played the outfield, including in left at Fenway. Castillo made a strong initial transition to left at Fenway.
Still, as Evan Drellich (then with MassLive.com) explored in a 2013 conversation with Red Sox analysts Bill James and Tom Tippett, there’s a very real possibility for Fenway to erode completely an elite defender’s most valuable skill. In that vein, it becomes a bit harder to imagine the Red Sox pursuing Gordon with the same vigor as another club that would be able to capitalize on the chance to turn the four-time Gold Glover loose in a wide open area.
That’s not to dismiss the possibility of the Sox pursuing an outfielder this winter. While an outfielder isn’t the team’s most glaring need, a team that finished in last for two straight years needs to consider all avenues for upgrades. But the uniqueness of left field at Fenway does complicate the question of how roster upgrades might be most efficiently and effectively achieved.