Washington Nationals 2013 Off-Season Targets: Alex Gordon
This past weekend there were rumors that the Royals were scouting James Paxton of the Seattle Mariners ahead of a potential trade for a hitter. One of the names that came up on the Royals side was Alex Gordon. A Seattle/Kansas City trade holds little interest for Nationals fans, but Alex Gordon is someone who could help the Nationals. Trading young players with years of control left on their contract is becoming the new way that small markets build, but I have to admit I am not sure a minor league starting pitcher who pitched at most 106 1/3 innings last season with a AA BB/9 of 4.1 is worth a .269/.348/.439 left fielder.
What Nats fans can figure out from the rumors of Paxton for Gordon is what it might take for the Nationals to get Alex Gordon. In a world that made sense it would take a package along the lines of Danny Espinosa, Tyler Moore, and Alex Meyer, but we do not happen to live in a world that makes sense and with a known price to beat the Nationals can take Espinosa out of the deal and if the Royals still want a 2B they can offer Lombardozzi instead. Moore would give the Royals an outfield replacement for Gordon that will be cheaper for longer and may not provide much loss in power. Meyer then would be the pitching prospect in lieu of James Paxton.
Alex Meyer finished this past season at high A and is poised to start 2013 at AA, but he does have a couple advantaged on Paxton. He pitched more innings in his first professional season than Paxton ever has and he walked fewer people while striking out just as many, and if the Mariners are trading Paxton it is because they don't believe he has as good a future as Danny Hultzen or Taijuan Walker. Whereas if the Nats are trading a pitching prospect it is because they have Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann at the major league level. To a team in the Mariners position prospects are a necessity, to the Nationals they are a luxury.
Giving up Espinosa for Alex Gordon makes sense as he would provide a 30 run swing in outfield defense for the Nationals when comparing his 10.3 UZR/150 to Michael Morse's -20.4 UZR/150. From defense alone that is an upswing. Much like with Josh Hamilton the ability to re-sign Adam LaRoche impacts how much of an upgrade Gordon would be. If LaRoche is re-signed then it is 30 more runs prevented on defense and if he isn't it is more around 20. Still an upgrade but not nearly the same as if LaRoche is retained and perhaps not enough to justify giving up Espinosa.
Defense isn't the only value Gordon adds. He has found his place in the outfield and the last two seasons has OBPs of .376 and .368. This is a player capable of leading off and allowing Jayson Werth to move back to fifth in the batting order, a position he admits is more comfortable for him.
Now this is all assuming that Espinosa would have to be included in the deal and if Dayton Moore and if the Royals were smart they would insist on it. Of course this is a Royals team that is debating moving Gordon for James Paxton and not much else. If that is the price then a package of Moore and Meyer should be enough to get the deal done and if the Nationals can do a deal like this without removing in starters from their line-up this goes from a good idea to a no-brainer. Gordon adds defense, a lead-off option, and doesn't alter the dynamic of the offense all while being under team control until after the 2015 season.
Gordon isn't the type of difference maker that Hamilton is, but he is a lot cheaper and would not interfere in the signing of a free agent starting pitcher. So while the signing of Hamilton would more than likely eliminate a deal for Zack Greinke or Dan Haren trading for Alex Gordon would keep it intact. Improving the outfield defense should be a priority for the Nationals. It was one of their few weaknesses in 2012, and being able to make a move that not only accomplishes that goal but doesn't damage the offense or remove the possibility of signing a free agent starting pitcher. If the Royals truly are looking to trade Alex Gordon and the price is as low as rumored trading for Alex Gordon makes too much sense for the Nationals not to do it.