With Alex Gordon potentially on the shelf for a few months, what are the Royals' best options to replace him?
The Royals suffered a significant blow in their 9–7 win over the Rays on Wednesday night, when Alex Gordon injured himself running into the leftfield scoreboard in Kauffman Stadium and needed to be carted off the field. Soon after he was removed from the game, the team announced that he had suffered a left groin strain and would receive an MRI, with a trip to the disabled list likely.
Chasing a fly ball hit over his head by the Rays' Logan Forsythe in the top of the fourth inning, Gordon could not decelerate quickly enough to avoid colliding with the scoreboard, which is not padded. He made a couple of awkward steps as he slowed down—it produced fears among observers that he had suffered a severe knee or ankle injury—then crumpled to the ground while Forsythe, who had slowed as he reached second base, circled the bases with an inside-the-park home run. Gordon flung away his glove and lay on the ground for several minutes while the Royals' training staff attended to him. He was visibly in pain as they helped him into the cart and buried his head in a towel as he was driven off.
Gordon's teammates appeared quite shaken up as well, and one can hardly blame them. The 31-year-old leftfielder rates as the team's most productive hitter, with a 136 OPS+ on a .280/.394/.459 slash line and 11 homers. He was one of four Royals voted into the AL's starting lineup for next week's All-Star Game in Cincinnati. Thanks in part to his strong defense in leftfield—he's won four Gold Gloves, last year's AL Platinum Glove and three Fielding Bible Awards—he's been the sixth-most valuable player in terms of WAR since the start of the 2011 season:
|7||Dustin Pedroia||Red Sox||26.4|
|9||Jose Bautista||Blue Jays||24.4|
If there's good news beyond the avoidance of worst-case scenarios, it's that general manager Dayton Moore has just over three weeks before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline if a long-term replacement is needed. The Orioles' Delmon Young, admittedly the antithesis of Gordon in the field, and the Pirates' Jose Tabata were recently designated for assignment by their respective clubs, while the Reds' Marlon Byrd and Jay Bruce could be available, as could the Brewers' Carlos Gomez and the Padres' Justin Upton, though the latter is mired in a .183/.293/.258 slump since June 1.
Ben Zobrist, who could fill in any one of a number of positions given his versatility, is a particularly attractive option if the A's put him on the market; if acquired, he could fill the gap in leftfield then shift over to second base in place of the struggling Omar Infante. With the exception of the first two players, none of them will come cheap, however, and acquiring them could limit the team’s options if it wants to upgrade the rotation as well. The severity of Gordon's groin strain is unknown, but via The Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough, he could be out for months according to manager Ned Yost. However, "The training staff said the muscle did not detach from the bone," which would seem to eliminate a worst-case scenario along the lines of Nomar Garciaparra's 2005 groin injury, which required surgery to repair and knocked him out of action for three and a half months.
If the Royals do decide to cover for Gordon’s injury in-house, Jarrod Dyson (.273/.321/.434) is likely to see the most playing time, though Paulo Orlando (.242/.278/.400) could figure in as well. Among the outfielders at Triple A Omaha, Reymond Fuentes (.302/.359/.419) and Moises Sierra (.286/.350/.364) both have major-league experience; the latter hit .243/.296/.383 for the Blue Jays and White Sox in 449 PA over parts of three seasons. Whit Merrifield, who was removed from Omaha’s game on Wednesday night shortly after Gordon’s injury, is another option. A 26-year-old 2010 draft pick who has played every position but pitcher and catcher this season, he’s hit .288/.347/.392.
As for the immediate aftermath of the injury, Dyson replaced Gordon and quickly gave his teammates a big lift by helping to extricate them from a bases-loaded, one-out situation by throwing Brandon Guyer out at home to complete a double play on a John Jaso fly out, though the two-run fourth inning had given the Rays a 3–2 lead. The Royals rallied for five runs in the fifth against Chris Archer, and Dyson provided yet another boost in the sixth with a two-run inside-the-park homer of his own, running the score to 9–3 and making this the first game in more than 18 years to feature inside-the-park homers by each team. The last time it happened was on May 26, 1997, when the Cubs' Sammy Sosa and Pirates' Tony Womack both did so.
The Royals did wind up surrendering four more runs after Dyson's homer, three of them in the ninth inning, but they hung on to lift their AL-best record to 49–33 and maintain their AL Central lead over the Twins at 4 1/2 games.