Here is something I believe to be true, despite nearly all evidence so far: the Royals are a good, if flawed, major-league baseball team.
Here is something I also believe to be true: that may not matter.
The Royals ended their nine-game losing streak Monday night. Jorge Bonifacio committed aggravated assault on a baseball, banging it to a place normally reserved for Miguel Sano, and Eric Hosmer hit the Hosmer-est home run of all — line drive, absolutely crushed, to left center.
#VargyPitchedAGreatGame, three relievers struck out five and allowed no hits over three innings, and the Royals won for the first time in 12 days. Achieved their highest run total in 17 days. Danny Duffy pitches Tuesday night. This is all good.
But it’s hard not to wonder if it can matter. That’s an awful thing to think on May 2, but consider the following paragraph:
The Royals won just seven games in April. To get to 90 wins, they would need to finish 82-56. That’s a 97-win pace. The 2015 world champs won 95 games.
The 2013 team was pretty good. We don’t think much about that, because of what happened the next two years, but it’s true. Hosmer broke out, Billy Butler was still good, Sal Perez made his first All-Star Game, and the Royals allowed the fewest runs in the league — terrific defense, James Shields and Ervin Santana at the top of the rotation, Greg Holland, Luke Hochever and Kelvin Herrera at the back of the bullpen.
If you can take out May of that year, the Royals went 78-52. That’s a 94-win pace. The Tigers won the division that year with 93 wins. But the Royals were 8-20 in May, and finished 86-76. Third place. Six games out of the wild card.
You know, the 2016 team was pretty good, too. We don’t think much about that, but it’s true. Danny Duffy was a star, Kendrys Morales was a force after a slow start, Ian Kennedy was more than solid, and Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera were terrific.
If you can take out July of that year, the Royals went 74-62. That’s an 88-win pace. The 2014 American League pennant winners won 89 games that year. But the Royals were 7-19 in July, and finished 81-81. Third place. Four games out of the wild card.
The Royals are far from out of it. Nobody is out of it on May 2, particularly not with two wild cards. The Royals have 138 games to play. Who’s to say what might happen?
But the 2012 A’s were the last team to be bad enough to lose nine straight, and good enough to make the playoffs.
That was a weird team. They were five games under .500 at the end of June, and then finished 57-26 — that’s a 111-win pace.
That team had six pitchers start at least 15 games, none with an ERA above 3.86. The bullpen was solid, and Yoenis Cespedis, Josh Reddick and Chris Carter made for a dangerous middle of the lineup.
I don’t know. Maybe the Royals can do something like that. It’s possible.
But highly unlikely.
This is nicely done.
The Chiefs — the Chiefs — trading up to the top 10 to select a quarterback — a QUARTERBACK! — who can do things like this and this and this and this and especially THIS would be the most potentially ground-shifting development in Kansas City sports in decades if the Royals didn’t morph from 310-losses-in-three-seasons to their very own parade.
I won’t pretend that I’ve seen all the coverage or reaction, but one thing I haven’t seen addressed as much as it deserves is what this will show about Andy Reid.
He has this reputation as a quarterback guru, and good for him, but we’ve also spent the last four years watching the team be limited at least in part because of Reid’s handpicked quarterback.
Now, they’re comparing the new guy to Brett Favre, while denying they’re comparing him to Brett Favre.
I want to be clear. I like Alex Smith more than most in Kansas City. I think it’s possible to win a Super Bowl with him, if everything else is operating at maximum efficiency, and the options that offseason were brutal — the top two quarterbacks selected in that draft were E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith.
Maybe it’s true that Reid and Smith have made the most of their time together, but the offense with Patrick Mahomes is going to look a lot different than the offense with Alex Smith.
My guess is that it’ll still include a lot of short passes, and screens, but the planned downfield passing has to go way up. When Smith scrambles, he tends to drop his eyes and try to run. When he does throw on the run, it tends to be short, and to receivers who are running his same direction.
When Mahomes breaks the pocket, he tends to do it with his eyes downfield, and enough arm that anyone on the field is a threat. That’s going to be the biggest factor in his favor.
There are a thousand subtle things that Smith does well, and that are mostly overlooked. My guess is that’ll stand out in the preseason, when Mahomes plays, and even in the first stages of his career, assuming he takes over in a year or two.
But if Mahomes can get close to Smith’s mastery of those subtleties, he’ll make a handful of plays every game that Smith is just incapable of.
Plenty of time to talk about all of this.
Weird week in Kansas City, by the way, and not just because it rained for like a thousand consecutive hours*.
* Wife was out of town this weekend, so I was solo with the kids, and kept thinking about how different the Kansas City I love right now is compared to the one I loved five or 10 years ago. For instance, 2007 Sam thought people were missing out about Caddyshack and Mutual Musicians Foundation, then 2012 Sam thought people were missing out about Le Fou Frog and the City Market, and now 2017 Sam thinks the best places in the world are Science City and Wonderscope. What they say is true. Life comes at you fast.
There has not been this much defeatism around the Royals since July 2014, and there has not been this much optimism about the Chiefs’ future since Reid and Dorsey took over.
Plenty of time to talk about both.
So ... let’s do it?
OK, glad this was asked, because I think a lot of what I’m seeing is entirely missing the point, and — full disclosure — that includes this poll on our website.
There is no rush to this decision.
Matter of fact, it is not feasible for this decision to be rushed.
I know there was the report by the terrific Ken Rosenthal about the Nationals being interested in Kelvin Herrera, but “have interest” is one of those read-the-fine-print terms in trade talks. Lots of teams would “have interest” in Kelvin Herrera, because Kelvin Herrera is awesome.
I can tell you that the Nationals and Royals have not talked about a trade involving Herrera, or anyone else.
There is a rhythm to these things, and not to say there are no exceptions, but teams don’t normally start exploring with any seriousness until late May, or into June.
The Royals could announce to the baseball world that they are open for business — if they do, might I suggest a full page color ad in the Kansas City Star? — but that doesn’t mean anything until and unless they find teams to work with.
Those other teams don’t normally become serious about trades until later in the season, and there are always complications with trades. Baseball teams are generally much more hesitant to deal young players now than ever before, and you have to find trade partners with matching needs.
The Mets could be a match for Mike Moustakas, for instance, but they also stink, so are they going to be aggressive with a move?
In that way, this could turn out to be a good thing. The worst outcome would be contention at the deadline, but not making the playoffs, then watching the stars you hung onto sign somewhere else while you make a qualifying offer and hope for a compensation pick sometime in the future.
The Chiefs showed themselves to be horrible at losing, earning the No. 1 pick the year after Andrew Luck’s draft. The Royals, if such a thing can be said, would better serve themselves to stink now rather than later.
If that’s the way it goes, the Royals could position themselves for a relatively quick rebuild by trading Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and anyone else who might bring back significant young talent.
If you can bottom out this year — the Royals have the fewest wins in baseball at the moment — you’ll be picking at the top of what looks like a promising 2018 draft with a farm system boosted by the deals you’ve made.
Kansas City may have a bit of a complex after so many failed rebuilding projects in the past, but there can’t be many places where fans would have more reason to believe. It would, ostensibly, be the same leadership group working with more confidence and a better understanding of how to make it work.
It’s not ideal. But this has always been the better path to a championship than this nutso let’s-win-now-but-also-build-for-the-future-while-freezing-payroll plan they’re currently working on.
This is one of those times I’m going to mention that nobody should tell you how to feel, or how to be a fan. If you want to be angry now, be angry. There is too much talent on this team to be this bad.
But I do look at it differently. This is, for the most part, the group that gave Kansas City its greatest sports joy in a generation, and considering the 29 years that preceded 2014, maybe ever.
Alex Gordon stinks right now, but he also hit that homer off Familia. Eric Hosmer stinks right now — the homer Monday night was encouraging — but he also hit that triple in the Wild Card Game. Alcides Escobar stinks right now, but he was also the MVP of the 2015 ALCS.
This team stinks right now, but it’s also the team that gave us Sept. 30, 2014, and the comeback in Houston, and Lorenzo Cain scoring from first on a dang single, and Wade Davis on both sides of the rain delay, and Hosmer’s dash home in Queens.
Depending on where you draw the finish line, sports stories rarely end well. Athletes get old, executives stop innovating, and ticket prices go up. That’s how life works. This group was never going to win together forever, no matter how much fun that would’ve been, and if they never win another game they’ve given Kansas City plenty.
None of that makes last place feel any different. You can’t have the 2015 World Series on a second screen loop while you watch the 2017 Royals.
This is something I say a lot, but sports makes us compartmentalize more than most places in the world. Cheer for an athlete, even if you suspect he or she may not be fit to babysit your kids. Cheer for a team, even if you think they made a dumb trade or should lower prices.
And so I think it’s possible to be frustrated by one group in one moment of time, while remembering the thrill they gave you not too long ago.
You are all clearly among the smartest people on the Internet for spending some of your day here, so I don’t need to tell you that draft grades are, with very-very-very-VERY few exceptions, completely stupid.
I would also point out that anyone who gives the Chiefs a C or lower can easily justify it. They did not help the 2017 team much. We can talk about injuries, and I guess that’s fine, but even assuming Derrick Johnson returns at full strength* the inconvenient truth is the Chiefs stunk against the run even before the injuries.
* AGAIN, even though he’s 2 years older than the last time he did this, with less time for the rehab.
So, if winning the next Super Bowl was the only thing that mattered, the Chiefs would’ve stayed at No. 27, taken inside linebacker Reuben Foster, and used the rest of the draft to better address immediate needs on the defensive line, secondary, and backfield.
Instead, they will likely play three consecutive seasons without this first-round pick, and the draft class will be largely defined by a quarterback who is at best a developmental guy and at worst a trick-shot artist.
But I do understand the lower grades.
Here in Kansas City, we see this through a bit of a different lens. The Chiefs not only drafted a quarterback in the first round — FINALLY — but they took a guy who can make throws for which there simply is no defense.
That’s not always true about the first-round pick, but when you trade up 17 spots, into the top 10, to take a guy ... then, well, yes. That draft class will be defined by the quarterback.
Which means we won’t even begin to have an idea about this class for at least two years.
No, not at all.
And here is a point I want to make about that: the Chiefs aren’t the only team drafting more for the future than the immediate.
The NFL is a long way from the NBA, where they’re all taken purely on potential, but it is moving in that direction.
Not all teams can afford to do this, but the Chiefs are better positioned than most to do this.
They have a roster they know they can win with, and will almost certainly have one of the lowest rates of turnover of anyone in the league. If you trust your coaches, and the roster isn’t getting too old — the Chiefs are two for two here — then you can use your draft choices for development projects and trust the men you already have to win.
Again, it’s a risk. Because teams that consider themselves close to the Super Bowl can zero in on particular needs to chase the trophy. The Chiefs could’ve gone that route, and may regret it if the run defense turns out to be a fatal flaw next season.
But anything you do in the draft is a risk, and as far as these things go, I agree with the Chiefs’ approach.
If you’re looking for any draft pick to put you over the top in year one, you’re probably looking at a flawed plan.
But here, for the Chiefs, Reuben Foster would’ve been a terrific choice. He fits a need, both positionally and strategically, and would’ve immediately helped the team’s greatest weakness — run defense.
I love Foster. He has a long list of red flags, and I don’t want to dismiss any of it, but he is a special talent. There is a thought among some NFL personnel evaluators that Alabama players tend to be overrated because they’re surrounded by so much talent, and can burn out quickly because they’ve been pushed to the limit already.
But all that said, Foster has an advanced football mind, and a nastiness that football people tend to love.
I’m not here to tell you Foster would’ve been the difference, but if you’re solely focused on winning this next season, that would’ve been the move — again, with the rest of the draft focused more on immediate impact than long-term development.
Alex Smith will be fine.
You know, the last time Smith’s team drafted its quarterback of the future, Smith lost the conference championship in overtime because of two fluky special-teams turnovers.
You can knock Smith for a lot. And I’ve been fully on board with looking for his replacement. But if you question his mental toughness, you’re simply not paying attention.
Smith has been through as much professional adversity as, basically, any NFL player you can name. He was drafted by a dysfunctional organization that immediately switched coordinators on him every year, and he once missed a season because the team doctor butchered the surgery.
He was the ideal teammate when they lost the conference championship game even though he played well, then the next year lost his job because of a concussion, but was by all accounts a terrific partner in helping his replacement. He came to Kansas City, and has basically been ripped by most from the beginning, including a knock on his playoff performance even though he went for 378 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions and the offense scored 44 points.
Through all of that, he has never complained, even indirectly. You can’t find anyone who says he is anything other than a great teammate.
So, yeah. I think he’ll be fine with a quarterback nobody expects to play in 2017 sitting behind him.
You guys, I don’t think it’s a lock that Mahomes is the starting quarterback in 2018.
You probably don’t want to hear that, and probably don’t want to hear this, either: I don’t think he should be a lock to be the starting quarterback in 2018.
One of the benefits to taking this approach at quarterback is you don’t commit yourself to anything. You live with the guy for a year, and if you believe in him, you can go with him. If you think he needs another year, you can give him another year.
Smith’s performance, and the team’s performance, will have a lot to do with it. Which is how it should be.
If Smith is great, and pushes the ball downfield more, and the team plays into the AFC Championship Game or Super Bowl, you’re not going to be in a rush to switch quarterbacks.
There is no question that Mahomes has more talent than Smith, but Mahomes is also a 21-year-old who is skipping his senior year to be in the NFL. There’s no rush here. The Chiefs owe it to themselves to get this right, which means giving Mahomes the best chance at success.
Whether that’s this year, next year, or sometime after.
I truly believe this is going to be one of the defining fights in sports over the next few decades.
At some point — and it may begin as soon as the next round of CBA negotiations for various leagues — the fees for TV rights are going to go down or at the very least grow at a slower rate.
So much of what professional sports leagues do has been predicated on continuing growth in rights fees, and when that stream begins to slow it’s going to necessitate some difficult decisions.
Do you increase ticket prices? Further increase so-called premium seating? Explore more “exclusive” fan experiences? Go to an on-demand TV model?
Leagues might be able to make up some of the “lost” revenue in other ways, but if we’re being honest, when NFL teams are charging admission for training-camp practices we are nearing the end point of new revenue sources.
Maybe I’m wrong about some of this, or even most. But if I’m just a little bit right on the general direction things are going, it will set up a major fight between owners and players.
Basically, it’s going to be a fight over who wears the revenue loss.
My guess is the NFL owners will win, because they always do, and that the NBA will be fairly well positioned because of the way they divide money already.
Baseball, however, could be in for a long and potentially destructive fight. There is no salary cap, and no dividing of revenue between owners and players on a percentage basis.
Players and agents already suspect collusion on the part of owners in some cases, and generally believe owners don’t spend as much as they could or should in most cases. The relationship between players and owners had been strong, but has begun to erode in more recent years. It’s generally believed that the players were had in the current CBA negotiation, and that the next one could turn nasty.
This is not a great time for baseball to have to deal with a slowing down of its biggest source of revenue, in other words.
Again, this hasn’t happened yet. And maybe it won’t. But it’s easy to see how we might get there from here.
Speaking of cord-cutting...
Makes me sad.
For the obvious reasons, sure. In many cases these are friends who’ve been laid off, and in more cases these are terrific journalists who love their work and need to now find different ways to feed their families. Any lay off in any industry at any time makes me sad. But, yes. This one hits closer to home.
But it goes beyond that. Layoffs in journalism, and certainly sports journalism, are not new. We’ve been through it, both at the Star, and in newspapers. Radio stations have done it. TV stations have done it. ESPN and other national outlets have done it, too, though it does seem like this round was worse than most and got more attention than most.
When Jayson Stark is let go, I mean, come on. For as long as I can remember, Jayson has been a beacon for our profession. His combination of smarts, enthusiasm, humility, curiosity, respect, and talent is a example that the rest of us should strive to emulate.
He was far from the only painful cut, too, though I’d like to stop naming names because this could go on forever and I don’t want to leave anyone out.
This business is much different than it was when I got into it, and much different than it was even five years ago. There are no sure things, no lifetime appointments.
I am fortunate in so many ways, and I hope none of what I say here gives any other impression. This is, literally, the job I dreamed of having when I was a kid. The two men who had it before me were journalism heroes of mine, guys I read growing up, and part of why I wanted to get into this business.
I’m also fortunate to work for and with so many talented people at The Star. If you watch any of the A-Team videos, or listen to the podcasts, I am sure it comes across but I’ll say it here anyway: Terez, Vahe, and Blair are some of my favorite people in the world. I genuinely have fun working with them, look forward to spending time with them, and feel empowered and challenged in all the good ways by their talents.
That’s the most visible example of a larger truth. We are sincerely fortunate at The Star to have so many dedicated and selfless people.
I bring all of this up because I am sure many who were just laid off at ESPN felt the same way, and I am sure that many who’ve been laid off in other places at other times felt that way, too.
It creates this inconvenient truth that we are all — no matter how much we love our jobs, or our coworkers — are operating more as independent small business owners than ever before. And that’s the undertold part of this that I dislike more than any other, and the part that my specific situation has thankfully allowed me to avoid.
But I know it’s out there.
Look, I hope none of this comes off as me inviting sympathy. That’s not what I’m after. No matter what, I’ve been able to pursue and do the job I’ve always wanted to do, to support my wife and kids with work that I genuinely enjoy for the most part.
The industry is changing, and has been for a long time, but the same could be said about a lot of jobs. It’s up to all of us to adapt and thrive, or not.
The employer-employee relationship is only sustainable as long as each side agrees it’s in their best interest. If I wake up tomorrow and decide there’s something else I want to do, or that I have a better opportunity somewhere else, I’m gone. If The Star looks at its books and decides I’m no longer helping the team, I’m gone.
If I take another job, or go into a different field, the same will be true.
Unless you are independently wealthy or have some other similarly awesome setup, the same is undoubtedly true for you.
So maybe it sucks, but it’s life.
Young journalists and students reach out, asking if it’s worth it. This happens a lot, but definitely has happened more recently. I tell them all the same thing:
This job can stink. It may not be for you. If you need to make a lot of money right away, if you are going to be discouraged by deadlines, or people saying no, or having to work nights or weekends while your friends have fun, then this may not be for you. And if that’s how it is, you should find something else to do, because this is the kind of job that can be miserable if you don’t love it.
But if you’re OK with the downsides, and think that meeting incredible people, being able to tell their stories, to have a voice in a city or industry, to be able to watch incredible games and moments as part of your job, to travel to exciting places and make great memories you’ll have forever ... if those kinds of things interest you, then this is one of the best ways to make a living that I can think of.
Unless you’re independently wealthy. Then you should do all of those things in the previous paragraph, without having to deal with any of the things in the paragraph before it.
Oh, I’m not going to get that granular, but I do want to point out how encouraging Sporting’s start has been.
Just one loss in eight games, two points behind Portland in the Western Conference with a game in hand.
There was a time they couldn’t score, but they’ve gone for three goals in two of their last four, and have allowed the fewest goals of anyone in the league.
It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that they’re doing this in a transition year, with significant roster turnover. The biggest names remain — Besler, Dwyer, Feilhaber — but the rest of the roster includes loads of new names, and at least early in the season, the results have actually ticked up.
It’s hard not to think of the Royals here, and how one of our pro teams appears to be handling its transition so well and the other one, well, isn’t. Any direct comparison between the teams is unfair, for lots of reasons, including the different financial setups and general level of competition in the leagues. But, yeah. It’s still hard not to think of it.
This is, in many major ways, a testament to Peter Vermes. He’s always wanted the culture and system in Kansas City to be bigger than any player or even group of players. Lots of coaches talk about things like that, but few are better at executing.
We can all nitpick. Sporting has scored just one goal in four road games, for instance. But the results have been encouraging, particularly when taken in context.
The NBA is better because basketball is more accessible to more of us. It’s easier to watch from a distance, which in places like Kansas City, is the only way to watch.
But I suspect that if Kansas City ever got an NHL team* and that team started winning playoff games, it would capture people here in a way that a basketball team simply could not.
* HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! SAM’S GOT JOKES!!!!!!
People say this all the time, but they say it all the time because it’s true: live hockey is so damn fun, and live playoff hockey is a different level. The unpredictability, speed, and suddenness of those games come to life in person, and in the playoffs.
Good grief do I wish that AEG actually landed that team they promised-but-didn’t-promise.
I had never thought of this until reading your question, but he does seem much more like a Self player than a Williams player.
The main memory I have of Williams coaching Pierce were the moments Williams just yelled from the sideline: “PAUL! DO SOMETHING!”
Seemed like more times than not, Pierce then scored.
I don’t know how many players in college — particularly guys who stayed more than a year — you could look at and with more certainty believe would be better pros, but Pierce was always that guy for me.
His draft is pretty hilarious, looking back:
1. Michael Olowokandi
2. Mike Bibby
3. Raef LaFrentz
4. Antawn Jamison
5. Vince Carter
6. Robert Traylor
7. Jason Williams
8. Larry Hughes
9. Dirk Nowitzki
10. Paul Pierce
You can make different arguments for different positions, but how about Taylor-Williams-Hughes going immediately before two Hall of Famers?
It’s almost as if men who are paid millions of dollars to evaluate talent are, in the truest sense, guessing.