1. Alex Gordon was never the ideal target for the White Sox. He's far older than the rest of their core, more of an immediate boost to the 2016 team than a long-term solution, more of an all-around stud than the pure offensive injection the lineup desperately needed, and more than anything, just plain-old more essential to the Royals than to anyone else.
If you appreciated what the Royals did the last two years, the uniquely cohesive elite defensive unit with an offense that specialized in turning every tiny problem into a crisis, it's sort of nice to see him return to Kansas City. He's the best representation of what these Royals have become, a hero of their championship run, and will now have an uncompromised legacy with the franchise he turned around. It's nice, and a far more ideal role for him than the catalyst as the Sox return to contention.
2. So Gordon's return to Kansas City, even on a below-market, four-year, $72 million deal isn't individually disastrous (there are still two Wild Card spots, and the Royals' shaky rotation could always fell them one of these days), it only moves the needles in unfriendly directions for the Sox.
The Royals weren't going to be able, or be willing to find a suitable Alex Gordon replacement. Now they don't need to. Try to find solace in how much the Royals have to pay Gordon in 2019 when he's snaring Todd Frazier line drives for the next two years. They are better now by the difference of an All-Star player over a replacement player.
And while Gordon was not the ideal White Sox target, he was a major option in the corner outfield market. Without him, there are less targets for the remaining bidders to focus on, and by going back to the Royals, Gordon didn't even take a big-budget team like the Angels or Giants out of play. With no recent mention of the Sox being in on Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes is pretty much the only All-Star level outfielder they're still in play for, which would seem to suggest there is a very good chance they do not wind up with one at all, just due to sheer probability, not Sox frugality fatalism.
3. That said, this is hardly a feel-good story.
The three-year cap is fun posturing until it's being reported as why the Sox lost out on a marquee free agent who wound up returning to a divisional rival. In a world where Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton are within reach and can fit in the Sox budget, taking a hard stance to not invest in more than three years with Alex Gordon could be a shrewd stance. In our current world where the free agent market is a black box and it's impossible to really know who are the leading suitors for Cespedes and Upton or what offer the Sox have put out, this is disquieting evidence in the column that the Sox three-year limit might be for real.
Which is bad. Neither Cespedes nor Upton has any real reason to accept a three-year deal. Gordon may have taken a hometown discount and not set the market very aggressively, but still got four years. Sticking to a three-year deal means the best the Sox can really hope for is Dexter Fowler, and he should be asking for more too.
4. Gordon's signing did get the outfield market unmoored a bit, but in odd and confusing ways.
Taking a short deal to re-enter the free agent market in the next year's weak field makes sense if a player is coming off a down year production-wise, or not one of the top-5 targets in the entire free agent pool. Upton and Cespedes are neither. There's no doubt this outfield market has behaved extremely oddly and teams might as well throw crazy ideas out and see what sticks, but there's just no reason at all to think that these two guys should accept short-term deals.
5. While obvious the TCS stance has been for the Sox to maximize their aggressiveness in this window of opportunity, the three-year limit, especially in this weird market, probably leaves them extremely capable of Denard Span, or even Dexter Fowler. If they are not looking to completely launch Avisail Garcia--a mistake, in my opinion--and Span's hip is working--boy we're really piling on the qualifiers now--he complements Garcia's platoon splits and could not only spell Eaton in center field, but is probably his superior in the field at full-strength. On the flip side, Fowler murders lefties, which is the Sox didn't do in any capacity last season and could help cover up how completely useless LaRoche is against him and paper over the problems that would result if Melky repeated his 2015 in that respect.
In the unsatisfying world of "fit" signings over big, glorious replacements, there's a lot of help available for the 2015 Sox situational maladies once you can stop weeping over what could have been.