Here's the catch for the Royals with free-agent outfielder Alex Gordon: Re-signing him would be a hedge against other Royals stars leaving in the future. But re-signing him also could make it more likely that some of those players depart.
Five prominent Royals -- first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and closer Wade Davis -- are eligible to become free agents after the 2017 season.
Hosmer and Moustakas, as Scott Boras clients, are unlikely to sign extensions. Davis' price, if he remains a dominant closer, figures to be extreme. Escobar and Cain, as up-the-middle defenders, also could be expensive.
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Of course, a lot could happen over the next two seasons, but Gordon represents the first financial challenge for the reigning World Series champions. Calling it a "test" would be an oversimplification, when so much else is involved.
Only two free-agent position players have signed multi-year contracts this offseason for more than $20 million guaranteed -- outfielder Jason Heyward and infielder Ben Zobrist.
Gordon, who turns 32 in February, remains among the unemployed, but seemingly in a more secure position than most. Rival executives and agents say it all the time: "He can always go back to the Royals."
Yoenis Cespedes does not appear to have that option with the Mets. Justin Upton certainly does not have it with the Padres. But the Royals are leaving the proverbial light on for Gordon, hoping that no other team will pay him enough to abandon the comfort he enjoys in Kansas City.
The Cubs' agreement with Heyward on Dec. 11 did not, as many anticipated, trigger a run on free-agent outfielders. The market for Gordon remains unclear, but the Royals remain in position to move on him if the opportunity arises.
The team has made only modest additions thus far, replacing Ryan Madson by signing Joakim Soria to a three-year, $25 million contract and bringing back right-hander Chris Young on a two-year, $11.5 million deal. But the Royals still need a starter to replace Johnny Cueto. And they need to find two outfielders, considering that Alex Rios is a free agent along with Gordon.
The question for the Royals with Gordon is the same as it is for every team with free agents: How much is too much?
A five-year, $100 million contract -- the price for Gordon that some predicted when the market opened -- likely would be beyond the Royals' comfort level. But even a lesser deal -- say, four years, $76 million -- might be a reach.
Only the Royals know where the sweet spot is. The problem with their pursuit of Gordon is that they could be damned if they do and damned if they don't.
When I proposed solutions to the stagnant free-agent market on Sunday, I neglected to include the possibility of certain players signing short-term deals -- say, for one or two years.
I still don't see it happening.
A one-year contract might make sense for some free agents, considering the weakness of next year's market, but it probably is not an option for those who received a qualifying offer. Teams would be reluctant to sacrifice a draft pick to control a player for one year, even though they could recoup the pick by sticking that player with a QO offer again next offseason.
Cespedes, who is not attached to a pick, might be a better candidate for a one-year contract, but he is not going to give up on the idea of a lucrative multi-year deal easily -- nor should he, given the number of teams that need a player of his caliber, and the number that still have money to spend.
Teams, if they could sign a free agent to a two-year deal, might be more willing to lose a pick -- and the player would gain the advantage of hitting the market again before the great class of 2018-19 takes center stage.
Then again, such a player would be two years older the next time he became a free agent, and the projected class of 2017-18 hardly looks barren.
The hitters could include Hosmer, Cain, Moustakas, Todd Frazier and Carlos Gonzalez. The pitchers could include Tyson Ross, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, who at that point will be preparing for his first full season after Tommy John surgery.
One other factor to consider: The collective-bargaining agreement expires Dec. 1, 2016, and the rules for qualifying offers could be modified in the next CBA. The current system, though, is likely to remain in place through next offseason, forcing teams to plan accordingly.
AROUND THE HORN
● The Dodgers are staying in touch with the Marlins on Jose Fernandez, but it remains difficult to imagine the teams matching up on a trade unless Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria decides he wants Fernandez gone.
The Braves' big return for Shelby Miller only heightened the Marlins' expectations for a Fernandez deal, sources say -- and the Marlins had high expectations from the start.
Adding to the degree of difficulty: The question of how many innings Fernandez will pitch in 2016 and beyond.
"Makes it hard to price it correctly for both sides," one source with knowledge of the talks says.
● The Athletics' reported agreement with free-agent righty Henderson Alvarez on a one-year, $4.25 million contract takes them out of play for free-agent lefty Scott Kazmir, sources say.
The A's can control Alvarez through 2017, and he will compete for a spot in the rotation with two other pitchers coming off injuries, right-handers Jesse Hahn and Jarrod Parker.
Lefty Sean Manaea, acquired in the Ben Zobrist trade, is a candidate as well.
● The Padres, even after sending a sizable contingent of club officials to Japan in November, will not be a factor in the bidding for Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda, sources say.
The idea of the trip, according to sources, was for the Pads to introduce themselves in a market where they previously had only a minimal presence.