Don't Kill the Mellinger

Columnist Sam Mellinger's thoughts on sports and other important stuff

Twitter Tuesday: The Butler-Hosmer issue, betting on the Royals, Dyson vs. Jamaal and more

09/02/2014 11:16 AM

09/02/2014 1:33 PM

Eric Hosmer’s return to the Royals went about as well it could have, but there is an issue here that is only going away if Josh Willingham ends up on the disabled list.

Hosmer made an error in the second inning, but helped wash it away on the next batter with a nice stretch to finish a double play. He had a line drive single and hit a ball hard to the 410 sign in center field in four at bats. He also stole a base. The Royals won. It was, all things considered, a very good return.

But it also means the Royals have to deal head-on with an issue that’s been percolating ever since Hosmer went out with a hand injury, Billy Butler replaced him at first base, started raking, and the Royals started winning.

Butler has said over and over again that he feels better at the plate when he plays first base, and the numbers back him up. He missed two or three plays in his month-plus of playing first base, but was mostly good. If nothing else, he earned himself some money by proving himself capable of playing more in the field for whoever signs him after the Royals almost certainly pay $1 million to decline his $12.5 million option for next year.

But the Royals are playing meaningful games, so that contract stuff can wait. For now, they need to figure out the best way to spread out the plate appearances for the first base and DH spots in the lineup and last night’s — Hosmer at first, Raul Ibanez at DH — can’t be the regular plan.

Butler cooled at the plate a bit in recent days, but if nothing else, the last month or so was a reminder that the Royals’ best version of themselves includes Butler hitting line drives. Sitting him against a guy he homered against a week ago seems like a strange plan.

With the regular caveats about injuries and Yost and the coaches knowing far more about specific tendencies or patterns than any of the rest of us, it seems logical that the Royals’ best plan might be to play Butler at first and Willingham at DH against lefties, and Hosmer at first and Butler at DH against righties. Mix and match as necessary, but this general plan would keep Butler in the lineup, ease Hosmer back in, and keep Willingham fresh. If one of those guys gets abnormally hot or cold, you adjust as necessary.

But it’s long been obvious that this team needs offense to win, and the handling of the first base and DH spots is the clearest way for Yost to make sure the Royals have as much offense as possible.

He’s held Butler to a different standard all season, but the Royals need the best version of Butler these last four weeks.

This week’s reading recommendation is the spectacular Don Van Natta Jr. on Jerry Jones, and the eating recommendation is the sausage pizza at Pizza Bella.

Also, if you haven’t already, you should enter The Totally Official DKTM 2014 Chiefs Over-Under Challenge. Win food, and beat your friends.

As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

I don’t. I mean, hate to bring logic into this, but we’re all just guessing.

I hear from a lot of pessimists, and it always feels like they’re speaking more about the franchise’s sorry history than the team with two three-time All-Stars, the best defense in baseball, and a very good pitching staff.

I hear from a lot of optimists, and it always feels like they’re speaking more about the 24-6 run from late July to late August that reset the season or the general hopefulness that you sometimes have to carry to root for a team.

Me, I think this team has a lot of talent. I think it’s incredibly valuable to have a balanced rotation like they do, a great defense, and three ridiculous relievers you can use for the last nine outs. I have some questions about their collective ability to perform under pressure, questions that become louder after this past weekend, but I also think if they can build some success this week it could carry them a long way.

Gun to my head, I think I’d bet on the Royals to make the playoffs. I love that defense, love the pitching, and I think the offense will continue to be inconsistent but provide enough to win some games 3-2 and 4-3. I also think a lot about the other teams in the race, and the fact that there are no boats without holes here.

But I’m also an optimist by nature, so who knows, that could be part of it, too. I know it’d be fun to write about a playoff race, and I would love for the fans here — who’ve given so much more than they’ve gotten over the years — to be able to feel what it’s like when every inning, out and pitch feel like the most important thing in the world.

It would also sort of tie up one of the cooler stories in baseball with Alex Gordon, who grew up just down the road a Royals fan, was drafted by his hometown team, compared (favorably) to his childhood hero, called a bust by many, sent to the minors to learn a new position because the team was out of ideas, and then came back as the game’s best left fielder and brought glory back to his hometown team.

How great would that be?

But, anyway, this is a very long way of answering No, I don’t know how this season will end. I’ll have fun finding out, though.

Bovada had the Royals at 16/1 to win the pennant, and 4/1 to win the division. I’m probably forgetting some variable, but that means your tickets are worth $160 and $40.

Using Baseball Prospectus’ projections — currently 65 percent to make the playoffs, 49.5 percent for the division and 3.3 percent to win the whole NSFW thing — those tickets are worth around $12 and $20.

In other words, if I were you, I wouldn’t sell.

That was quite a turnaround, huh? From whining about more fans not showing up to theorizing that the big crowds — which were always coming — essentially freaked out his hitters and caused a losing streak.

The Royals are 4-8 in front of 30,000 or more fans at home, which is a small enough sample size that it may just be a coincidence but also enough games that you can’t help but wonder if there’s something to it.

This is a small part of what I was talking about earlier, about having some questions about how this team would perform under pressure into September. There are certain guys you won’t worry about.

I think Gordon is a machine who basically just wants to play baseball, workout and eat broccoli. I don’t think he cares much about who’s in the stands. James Shields has been there and done that. I’d trust Jason Vargas, I think. I’m buying into Danny Duffy, and willing to give Yordano Ventura the benefit of the doubt (though there are still questions about how he’ll hold up physically). Omar Infante has been around long enough that he should be fine. But even those guys come with their own questions, and there’s basically no way to know about anyone else.

Billy Butler, for instance, has (by far) the best track record of any hitter on the team but there are some baseball people (including some within the organization) who think his struggles earlier this season came at least in part because he was pressing in a big season.

I don’t know. The Royals are (still) set up to where they can prove any doubters entirely wrong. But they have to know people will be keeping an eye on them here.

So, Charles ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2008. De’Anthony Thomas ran a 4.34. Dyson has said in the past he is in that same range.

I’d take Thomas, actually, and for no other reason than he’s the youngest of the bunch. Bet on those young legs.

As for how to make it happen, I have a feeling Dyson would be willing to race just about anyone, actually.

We’re all friends here, right?

I did put you in my mouth, and I didn’t like you. Sour beers just aren’t for me, I’ve decided.

I’m a pale ale guy, Belgium beer guy, and stout guy. IPAs are fine enough, but starting to become a good idea taken too far. I don’t follow these things close enough, but is there an IPA backlash?

While we’re on the subject of beers, I’m waiting for the craft beer movement to give the world more non-IPAs. I can’t be alone here.

I’m sure I’ve broken this rule at times, but generally I like to live my life in a way that ignores these types of spelling and grammatical errors with the very notable exception if they come in an attempt to insult — especially if they come in an attempt to insult someone’s intelligence. In those glorious exceptions, I believe the offending party deserves every last bit of mockery that comes his or her way.

But other than that, I don’t know, I find it pretty easy to read over these things. Chances are, the person doing it does not write for a living. I suppose there’s a threshold in there somewhere, that if the errors are distracting and hard to get through, sure, we move on.

But if I’m playing the role of grammatical/spelling police, I’m waiting for the major drug bust. I’m not hiding over a hill running a speed trap.

Why do people think this? I wrote about Perez after his three hits and three RBIs last night, and somehow did not mention his contract, but of course that’s always part of his story.

It really is incredible: he’s 24 years old, and signed for the next FIVE seasons for a MAXIMUM of $18.5 million. When he signed that contract, I wrote that the Royals should smoke a cigarette, but I’m not sure I thought it would be THIS much of an asset, at least not this early.

The Yadier Molina comparisons are the ones you always hear about, and as excellent as Perez is defensively, Molina is better. But it’s also true that Molina did not have even an average adjusted OPS until he was 26. He did not have consecutive such seasons until he was 28 and 29. Perez did this his first two years in the big leagues.

But, guys, that contract isn’t going anywhere. This is not the NFL. There are no holdouts. Gil Meche’s amazing $12.5 million gift aside, guys do not give up money when they underperform their contracts and teams don’t add on money when guys outperform contracts.

Maybe this is a product of Kansas City being such a football town that so many Royals seem to think Perez’s contract is going to be reworked, but it’s not going to happen.

One more thing about Perez, though. He got to the big leagues so early that he can play out this atrocious (from his side) contract and still be a free agent after his age-29 season, at which point he may well sign a nine-figure contract somewhere.

This guy believes.

She does, too, and Boom Yosted would be a great fantasy team name. I don’t know who you want to name your kid after — congrats, by the way! — but I do know the Smokeshow has been trying to find a Perez onesie the Little Man. I told her last night, Perez will be around long enough she can probably wait to buy a kids’ medium.

I see where you’re going, but I don’t think this is happening. That 2003 team, I think we all knew even when it was going on that it wasn’t real. I mean, that team started Runelvys Hernandez on opening day and signed Jose Lima, sight unseen, from an independent league to start games in the big leagues.

The Chiefs have real talent. Jamaal Charles, most notably, but also Justin Houston and Dontari Poe and Alex Smith and Eric Berry and Tamba Hali. Not to mention a very good coach.

Besides, the 2003 Royals faded like a cheap t-shirt down the stretch. They finished 83-79, and in third place. Last year’s Chiefs made the playoffs.

If what you’re getting at is that the 11-5 will look like an oasis surrounded by crappy records like 2-14, I see what you mean. I don’t think the Chiefs will be very good this year. Seven wins is as many as I’d feel comfortable predicting. I think they’re more likely to go 6-10.

Let’s go through the schedule, in what we might as well call the official DKTM prediction for 2014:

Week 1 vs. Titans: if the Chiefs lose this one, people are going to freak out. Win, 1-0.

Week 2 at Broncos: on the bright side, I did find a show I’d like to go to the night before. Loss, 1-1.

Week 3 at Dolphins: if you think the Chiefs will be back in the playoffs, this is a game you probably have to pick them to win. Loss, 1-2.

Week 4 vs. Patriots: I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I believe in Monday night at Arrowhead. Win, 2-2.

Week 5 at 49ers: Colin Kaepernick took Alex Smith’s job, but did anyone else notice that Smith got the better contract extension? Loss, 2-3.

Week 7 at Chargers: Reid has a terrific record after the bye week, but the Chiefs always seem to have problems in San Diego. Loss, 2-4.

Week 8 vs. Rams: Poor Rams. Win, 3-4.

Week 9 vs. Jets: I actually think the Jets will be better than a lot of people, but this is a home game. Win, 4-4.

Week 10 at Bills: the Chiefs won at Buffalo last year, in a game that was as emblematic as any of their charmed season. They caught a lot of breaks. I have a feeling those breaks will be fewer in 2014. Loss, 4-5.

Week 11 vs. Seahawks. Nice of the Seahawks to come by and show the Chiefs what their defense should look like. Loss, 4-6.

Week 12 at Raiders. Poor Raiders. Win, 5-6.

Week 13 vs. Broncos. Poor Sean Smith. Loss, 5-7.

Week 14 at Cardinals. I’d pick the Chiefs if this game was in Kansas City. Loss, 5-8.

Week 15 vs. Raiders. Can only imagine what kind of mess the Raiders will be by this point in the season. Win, 6-8.

Week 16 at Steelers. Another game I’d pick the Chiefs to win if it was at home. Loss, 6-9.

Week 17 vs. Chargers. I’m guessing the Chargers will be playing for something, the Chiefs won’t, and I realize this was the case last year when the Chiefs’ No. 2s should’ve beaten the Chargers’ 1s. Loss, 6-10.

So, anyway, we can be pretty damn sure that’s not how the season will go. But if you follow the NFL pattern, that would set them up nicely to go back up in 2015.

It’s the going rate for a quarterback you can win with, but not usually because of. I made this point in the column the other day, but Smith finished very strong last year and if the defense hadn’t let T.Y. Hilton turn into Jerry Rice we’d probably be talking a lot about how Smith threw for 378 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and led the Chiefs to 44 points without Charles in winning the franchise’s first playoff game since Joe Montana was here.

The contract is more than the Chiefs wanted to pay, at least initially, but it is what the market has established. The salary cap is about to explode, and as Peter King noted the other day, 11.4 percent of the current cap is a reasonable investment for a starting quarterback the team and teammates believe in.

There’s also something fairly obvious here, but I’ll mention it anyway: a big part of Reid’s football genius is his ability to pick quarterbacks, so at the very least, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Well, it is a lot of money. What’s funny about that Romo contract, it was done by Smith’s agent, too.

But next to getting some stability at quarterback, the biggest part of this for the Chiefs, like I wrote the other day, is that it puts them in a much better position to keep Justin Houston through at least 2016.

Smith’s contract may, indirectly, mean that Houston ends up signing his own extension.

This had no place in the column, but something I keep thinking about is that I have my suspicions that the Chiefs would’ve drafted Johnny Manziel if the Browns hadn’t traded into the pick immediately before. This is just my own suspicion here, but I do know that the Chiefs’ front office liked Manziel, and if they drafted him you can’t help but wonder how or if that would’ve changed the Smith negotiations.

This is one of those sports things that’s both irrelevant now and virtually impossible to prove, but I’ll always think about it.

Me too, man. Me too.

The name never bothered me, and if it was up to me, I’d stick with the name after 17 years spent building the reputation. I’m also generally opposed to change in situations like this, though this doesn’t bother me nearly as much as Boulevard selling to Duvel.

I guess my main takeaway is that this is a sign that they’re planning on expanding outside Kansas City, and they want “Kansas City Barbecue” in the name for credibility among folks who will be exposed to those delectable burnt ends and ribs for the first time.

If that’s true, then we have a whole ‘nother topic, mostly about trying to retain charm and quality with massive expansion, but I’ll say this for Joe’s: I’ve never thought the food at either southern JoCo location was significantly different than the gas station conveniently located a short drive from where I sleep.

You can’t help but lose something when you change your name, but I’m not a businessman and, especially if they’re going to expand and/or franchise, I can see how they believe they’re gaining more. But, really, I think all we care about is they don’t change the ingredients or anything about the cooking process.

This week’s Knoda:

 

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