Alex Gordon's days as the Kansas City Royals' leadoff hitter are numbered.
And that could be a very good thing for both Gordon and the Royals.
Gordon, who made an appearance at the Strike Zone in Omaha on Thursday as part of the Royals' annual winter caravan stop, applauded Kansas City's offseason acquisitions of on-base machines Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante.
“Those are great pickups,” Gordon said. “Those are contact guys, high averages, don't strike out a lot. Obviously you think of them at the top of the order.”
Aoki, picked up in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, has posted a .355 on-base percentage in his two major league seasons since coming over from Japan. Infante, signed as a free agent from Detroit, had a .345 on-base percentage last season.
Most project they will be the Royals' Nos. 1 and 2 hitters, with a likely combination of Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Gordon holding down the Nos. 3 through 5 spots. Pencil catcher Salvador Perez into the sixth spot, third baseman Mike Moustakas into the No. 7 hole, put outfielder Lorenzo Cain eighth and figure shortstop Alcides Escobar will hit ninth, and the Royals would be alternating left- and right-handed hitters from the Nos. 1 through 8 spots in the order.
And, they would have Gordon's power — he led the American League with 51 doubles in 2012 and had his second 20-plus homer season last year — in the middle of the order. From there, he could potentially make a run at his career-high of 87 RBIs, set in 2011.
Gordon drove in 81 runs last year, despite making 118 of his 156 starts as Kansas City's leadoff hitter, traditionally a table-setter role. While he hit .255 with a .323 on-base percentage while leading off, he hit .391 in 18 games batting third in the order.
Gordon was Kansas City's leadoff hitter in 81 of the 161 games he played in 2012, and in 89 of his 151 games in 2011.
The former Nebraska All-American from Lincoln Southeast said that wherever he winds up, that's just fine.
“In spring training, you never know what's going to happen with injuries or how guys will produce,” he said. “As of now, Aoki looks like a good leadoff hitter and it looks like I might be slotted down in the order, but I'm just going to go in there and do what they need me to do and I know they will, too.”
The offseason attempts of Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore to put together a roster capable of improving upon last year's 86-76 finish — the team's first winning season since 2003 and just its second since 1994 — included Thursday's apparent re-signing of free agent pitcher Bruce Chen. Earlier this offseason the Royals had picked up pitcher Jason Vargas, in some ways a younger version of Chen.
Kansas City finished third in the American League Central last season, seven games behind Detroit and six games behind second-place Cleveland. The Royals were 5 1⁄2 games behind Tampa Bay for the final wild-card playoff spot.
With their offseason thus far, some think the Royals have done enough to give themselves a chance in the Central against the Tigers (who added closer Joe Nathan and second baseman Ian Kinsler, but lost slugger Prince Fielder and solid starter Doug Fister) and the Indians (whose ace pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, is a free agent). Minnesota has made some noise by signing three starting pitchers — Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey — and the Chicago White Sox signed Cuban first baseman Juan Abreu, but those teams finished 20 and 23 games, respectively, behind the Royals last season.
Have the Royals done enough?
“We felt like last year, in our minds, that we could compete and win that division,” Gordon said. “I don't see why this year is any different. As a competitor, as a person who wants to win, I think we have those guys in the clubhouse.”
One big piece missing from last season is No. 2 starter Ervin Santana, a free agent who pitched better than his 9-10 record, posting a 3.24 ERA in 211 innings. While Santana's asking price reportedly has dropped — from $100 million and five years to $60 million over four years — Kansas City isn't expected to be able to bring him back.
“Adding pitchers — James Shields and Santana — helped us last year,” Gordon said. “It's not looking like we're going to get Santana back, but we still have an ace in Shields.”
Kansas City was 43-27 after the All-Star break last year, pushing the Royals into a pennant race and building momentum for the team to potentially make its first playoff appearance since 1985.
“I think you've got to learn how to win,” Gordon said. “That's what we kind of did last year. We really believed in ourselves every day, no matter who we were playing against.”