Alex Gordon was in the same draft as three players with $100 million contracts - Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki.
In fact, the Kansas City Royals selected Gordon ahead of all three, making him the second overall pick in 2005.
Gordon, 28, had a rockier ascent than his more heralded peers, but last season he finally reached their level, producing a career-high .879 OPS and winning a Gold Glove in left field.
The question now is whether the Royals can keep him long-term.
Gordon might not command $100 million – his track record is shorter than those of Zimmerman, Braun and Tulowitzki. But he almost certainly will want more than $55 million, the previous club record shared by Gil Meche and Mike Sweeney.
Negotiations for an extension are in the early stages, but expected to intensify later this spring, major-league sources say.
The Royals might prefer to wait and see if Gordon can repeat his stellar 2011 season. But by next off-season, Gordon will be only one year away from free agency and perhaps more eager to test the open market.
Future payrolls are another concern for the Royals, particularly as their young players mature.
First baseman Eric Hosmer will be eligible for arbitration in 2014, third baseman Mike Moustakas in ’15 – seasons in which Gordon would earn big money under a new deal. The Royals’ payroll this season, projected to be $57 million by the Kansas City Star, again will be one of the game’s lowest.
Still, Royals general manager Dayton Moore long has identified both Gordon and designated hitter Billy Butler as foundation pieces in the team’s rebuilding process.
Moore said that the Royals needed both Gordon and Butler to develop into successful players, then become long-term assets who would help ease the transition of their younger hitters to the majors.
A little over a year ago, Butler signed a four-year, $30 million contract with a club option for 2015, covering his arbitration years and potentially his first two years of free agency. Gordon is further along in service time, earning $4.775 million this season in the third of his four arbitration years.
He persevered through injuries, minor-league demotions, even a change in positions from third base to left field. If the Royals lose him, they might need to replace him with a player from outside the organization, a player with no feel for the team’s recent history, no real commitment to the franchise.
Either way, the team is in a tough spot, certain to pay a high price.