The Chiefs begin their OTAs Tuesday, and normally this is as noteworthy as what I had for breakfast* but it’s a little more important this year with the presence of Patrick Mahomes.
* Peanut butter and jelly on toast.
This is Mahomes’ first opportunity to work with veteran players, and in a league built so that every practice snap is somehow both important and overstated, represents one more step in what the Chiefs hope will be (at least) a year-long redshirt behind Alex Smith.
It is a plan that makes perfect sense. I’m all in. The Chiefs know they can win with Smith, and they also know they’re limited by Smith. Mahomes is a spectacular talent, though very raw, so it figures that the more time they’re able to give him to learn and refine, the better he’ll be when he plays in games that matter.
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Except, well, I did not realize until reading this that no quarterback drafted in the first two rounds since 2006 sat for his entire rookie season and then turned into a long-term franchise quarterback. In the piece, the terrific Andy Benoit notes that the only two quarterbacks who sat their entire rookie years and started even 48 games were Colin Kaepernick and Chad Henne.
Now, some of the reasons for this do not apply to the Chiefs. And the biggest reason may be the only reason that matters: most quarterbacks drafted that high join teams whose quarterbacks stink, so it’s hard to sit the more talented player for a whole year.
But it’s also harder than ever before to actually develop a backup quarterback. The current CBA includes heavily reduced practice time — both during the season and offseason — which has disproportionately affected the backups.
Coaches and players talk a lot about “mental reps,” and Mahomes will do the best he can to learn from watching Smith and the “1s.” But that’s no substitute for actually taking the snaps and making the decisions, for learning from your own mistakes and successes.
The Chiefs may be in position to give more snaps to Mahomes than a typical backup. This will be Smith’s fifth year with the Chiefs, and with coach Andy Reid. A system is a living and breathing thing — it’s never completely static from one year to the next — but by now Smith knows the plays and schemes well enough to coach them himself.
Smith turned 33 this month. Thanks to protective rules and other factors, quarterbacks are playing longer and longer, and Smith keeps in tremendous shape. Still, there could be an argument that Smith sitting out a few more practice snaps might not be the worst thing in the world for him — though it would add to the awkwardness of the quarterback depth chart.
No simple solutions exist here, and these are mostly good problems. Mahomes will have to make the most of whatever limited opportunities he has in practice, but the Chiefs will also be trying to figure ways to give him the most. That starts this week.
One quick note. Many of you know my mom died recently. She was awesome. Response from so many readers and friends and strangers has been overwhelming, a genuinely cool part of a very difficult time.
So, with that in my mind, I am adding something this week that I plan on continuing as long as my bosses want me to do 5,000-word Q&As with the readers I’m lucky to have. At the end of this, I will include something positive and personal. Something that I’m thankful for. Something that makes me happy. Something that helps. Could be as shallow as a good TV show, or as meaningful as a best friend.
I’d love for you to do the same. Here, in the comments. Or on social media, through Twitter or Facebook. If you want it to be more private, email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because amid the grief, it’s been cool to see and feel the connections we’ve made through these years and these words. I want to honor that, and celebrate that. Maybe we can learn from each other, or at least feel good with each other.
As always, thanks for the help, and thanks for reading.
We can, have, and will continue to talk about the reasons. I’ve heard baseball people wonder if the core group was too satisfied after 2015, or whether they put so much into the rise from 2013 to 2015 they just didn’t have anything left. I’ve heard baseball people wonder whether Yordano Ventura’s death ruined the vibe.
I’ve also heard baseball people talk about guys getting old quick, and stretching the bullpen too far, or that the specific way the Royals won — speed, athleticism, power arms, sensational defense, and pure relentlessness — always had a short shelf life to work in cohesion.
They could prove me wrong. But to me, the next two months are all about positioning for the trade deadline. That means an outsized importance on the performances of tradeable pieces like Jason Vargas, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Kelvin Herrera.
One more time: they could prove me wrong. Turning this into one more playoff appearances would not be this group’s most surprising accompaniment. The roster is full of capable players.
I just ... don’t see it.
I just ... don’t see how this group in this season under these circumstances can turn this battleship around and get into the playoffs. They won four in a row last week, and seem to be generally playing a bit better recently, but they still have the worst record in the American League.
They still don’t have nearly enough offense. The bullpen is somewhat thin. The rotation was supposed to be the best in years, but they’re a guy short.
This is sort of a quiet period before the trade action picks up next month and especially in July. So there is plenty of time to do this.
But I do believe it’s possible to think two things at once:
First, this group and the rise they represent will be remembered fondly forever in Kansas City. They literally changed a city’s relationship with a sport. Hosmer, Moustakas, Colon, Davis, Holland, Gordon, Cain, Perez ... there are a dozen, at least, who should never pay for another meal or drink in Kansas City.
Second, if it indeed plays out that the run is over, Dayton Moore and the Royals front office need to act ruthlessly and without emotion in breaking the roster apart if it means acquiring talent that will be of better use in 2019 and beyond.
The last time the franchise did this, it took 29 years and way too much pain and failure to get back to the postseason. Particularly in today’s landscape, there is no reason it should be even close to that long.
I don’t know how to answer this. In some ways, I think this is what baseball is really like. Look at the team the Royals beat in the 2015 World Series.
The Red Sox went last place, world champs, last place, last place from 2012 to 2015. The Astros went from 111 losses to the playoffs in two years. The Tigers won the division four straight years, then finished in last in the fifth year. The Rays had six straight winning records and four playoff appearances from 2008 to 2013, and haven’t finished higher than fourth since.
So I don’t know that what the Royals are doing is outside the normal scope of what other teams in the sport do.
The key now — again, assuming the Royals don’t save this season — will be making sure it’s a relatively quick bounce back up the standings.
Lower, for sure, but I’m not sure how much lower than a lost season that doesn’t include a fire sale.
I mean that literally — I’m not sure how much lower.
Could be much, could be slight. I don’t think there’s anyway to know that. The Royals think about attendance constantly. Baseball operations officials receive an email the day of every home game with the projected attendance, and how that number compares to past seasons and around the league.
Because of how baseball divides the money, local revenue is critical to the Royals. The potential impact on attendance — and, down the road, on the next TV contract — will be considered in every major move and strategic plan the team has.
But, again. I just don’t know how anyone can be sure.
On the list of things that have gone wrong so far for the 2017 Royals, I don’t think Chris Young makes the top 10, and just to test this theory, let’s make a list of The Top 10 Things That Have Gone Wrong So Far For The 2017 Royals:
10. Eric Hosmer. This may not be fair, because by now, Hosmer’s numbers are fine. His .308 batting average would be a career high, and he’s getting on base more than in any of his previous six big-league seasons. But I’m including him here, 10th, because he was horrendous for the first three weeks, and that’s when the Royals really struggled, and he should be their best hitter.
9. Raul Mondesi. If this is unfair, it’s only because the Royals put him in an unfair position as the opening day second baseman. It should’ve been Whit Merrifield all along, for lots of reasons.
8. Alcides Escobar: The following is a comprehensive list of the regular big leaguers with a worse OPS than Escobar:
(This above line is purposely left blank)
He’s never been a good hitter, but he’s also never been this bad. His OPS is .438. The worst OPS by any regular hitter in the 21st century is .545. Also — and nobody wants to talk about this — his defense is now closer to merely good than very good, which matters a lot when he’s not hitting.
7. Kelvin Herrera. This is another entry done mostly based on expectations. He’s really only had a hand in losing three games — two blown saves, and one loss. Compared with nine saves, it’s not a terrible record. But he’s getting beat on secondary pitches, and with a lessened bullpen in front of him, the Royals needed him to be closer to Wade Davis than Roberto Hernandez.
6. Power. This team was supposed to hit more home runs. This team is ninth in the American League in home runs, and dead last in slugging.
5. Pitching depth. Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas have been, mostly, terrific. Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria and Mike Minor have been, mostly, very good. They’ve had some good innings from others. But Yost hasn’t had the options he’s had in the past, and the rotation has generally been inconsistent after the top two, and not able to go deep in games, which means depth matters more.
4. Jason Hammel. A major transgressor in “pitching depth.” He’s made eight starts, and been good twice, and OK once. He’s been bad or worse five times, including three of his last four. Maybe it’s not his fault. Maybe he’s a middle reliever masquerading as a starter because the Royals needed someone. But it’s still a problem.
3. Matt Strahm. This was the first major obstacle for a team without the depth to deal with many obstacles. They needed him to lock up the eighth, which would’ve allowed Joakim Soria to do the seventh — Soria’s been pretty good this year, though people don’t seem to care as much as they did when he was bad last year — and get the bullpen better aligned. His underperformance has blown to bits a key way the Royals thought they could win.
2. Bats. Woooooof. They are dead last in runs, doubles, hitting, on-base, slugging, OPS and total bases. They are merely next-to-last in hits and walks. No team is going anywhere but high in the draft with that kind of production.
1. Alex Gordon. This makes me sad. I’ve always liked Gordon, loved his story, and admired his perseverance and attitude. Also, he’s continued to play very good defense. But, man, the hitting. He’s been awful. He was an enormous disappointment last year, and has so far been even worse this season. He’s on the biggest contract in franchise history, and he currently has the second-worst OPS in baseball*.
* Yes, ahead of only Escobar.
So, we can talk about Chris Young, and that’s fine. He’s been bad. But he’s not on a huge contract, was never a critical piece of this year’s team, and other than two (short and bad) starts, has not given up a lead or go-ahead run in any game.
Replace him with a league average pitcher, and the Royals have still had a bad year. Heck, replace him with the 2015 version of Chris Young, and the Royals have still had a bad year.
Signing Hosmer is the most likely unlikely move.
If Hosmer’s production does not demand a lifetime wealth type of contract, he could decide to do a one-year, prove-it contract, and in that scenario maybe the Royals make sense. He knows the environment, wouldn’t have to adjust, would be comfortable. The Royals would do it for obvious reasons — they love his character, his talent, his example, his everything.
At least in my estimation, this remains unlikely, because the Yankees are going to need a first baseman. Other rich clubs could also join the negotiations, and the Royals are not going to win a negotiation with the Yankees.
You will probably hate hearing this now, but there is a 90 percent chance that if the Cubs had not signed Jason Heyward two winters ago they would’ve signed Gordon, because they liked him, needed the position, and outbidding the Royals would never have been a problem.
If we can eliminate the noise of Gordon’s struggles from this comparison, that scenario could still happen with Hosmer. If a richer club wants him, that richer club is going to outbid the Royals.
Also: if Hosmer does do a prove-it deal, my guess is he’d rather do it in a stadium where he didn’t need to clear 387 dang feet to hit a home run in either gap.
But, yes. It’s possible.
We got into this a little the last time we gathered here in this Internet space, though that was more about possible names than picking anyone specifically.
I am operating under the assumption that Ned Yost will retire after this season. I always want to be clear when I say that: this is simply my own speculation, based on nothing I’ve heard speficially from Ned or anyone else. I just believe he has a great life after baseball set up, and his affection for this job has always centered around working with a group of players that is starting to age out. He will turn 63 in August. I believe him to be financially set. It just make sense to me.
Anyway, if Ned does retire, Ibañez would be as good a guess as any for the job, and perhaps the best guess.
A new manager in 2018 would be taking over a more difficult job than even what Ned took over in May 2010. Ned, at least, could see all the pieces in the minor leagues. The next Royals manager will not be taking over the club with the best farm system in baseball. The next Royals manager will have more expectations at the big-league level, with the minor league help further away.
Ibañez, if he wants the job, would figure to be a terrific fit. He is universally respected, both for his brain and his heart. He’s never been a manager before, so I guess there’s some projecting going on, but it would be surprising if he had trouble relating to younger players or veterans.
He knows the game plenty, has the kind of reputation required to put together a good coaching staff, and would presumably be terrific with media and fans.
If I’m right about a few things — that the Royals don’t make the playoffs, more openly embrace a rebuild, and Ned retires — then Ibañez would be my first call.
But I can’t say I have a good feel for whether he’d do it. He has five kids, a job with the Dodgers, and made more than $65 million in his playing career. Managing is a grind. He may decide he doesn’t want it.
I was just talking about this with a friend!
I believe the applicable term here is “Chiefy,” as in:
“It would be very Chiefy for the Chiefs to have a solid roster and coaching staff, more consistency than any point in decades, and then go something like 5-11 the year they traded away their first round pick,” so they would not even get the customary benefit of a bad season.
I mean, it’s all there. Alex Smith gets hurt, forcing the Chiefs to play a rookie they’ve said over and over and over again is not ready*, which means an offense forced to adjust to a quarterback different in almost every conceivable way, which screws with timing and confidence and a hundred other things.
Then the Bills, picking high in a draft that football people are already saying is rich with quarterback talent, use the Chiefs’ pick for their next franchise quarterback.
I’m not saying that’s how this will go. I do believe in 11-5 and the playoffs.
But I am saying you probably nodded your head or at least pictured everything in this answer happening.
This is a spectacular question. Well done, sir.
You’re basically asking about Houston’s knee, Hill’s sophomore slump and Alex Smith’s health.
The biggest potential answer here is Mahomes’ pass attempts. Even in the Smith-Reid-Dorsey years, when Smith has been (mostly) healthy, the backup has attempted 38, 28, 2, and 55 passes.
But here’s something: I’m not convinced Mahomes will be the backup. I could see the Chiefs signing whoever is the 2017 version of Nick Foles. I could also see them — particularly if it was just a one- or two-week injury — going with Tyler Bray.
Peter King wrote that Mahomes will start “some,” and he’s seen more football than I have, but I believe the Chiefs will do everything the can to prevent that from happening. I could see him starting the last game of the season if it won’t impact playoff positioning, but other than the obvious injury caveat, that’s about it.
Every single thing the Chiefs do with Pat Mahomes in the next year needs to be about 2018 and beyond. Anything they do with him this year — which could’ve been his senior year of college, or even junior year if he’d have redshirted — needs to sacrifice now for later. That’s the best way for this good gamble to work. Maybe they get to the point they believe he could benefit from some garbage time snaps, but even that would require either making him the No. 2 — again, I’m not convinced they want that — or carrying three quarterbacks on game days.
So, for now, I’m going to assume the Chiefs insulate Mahomes from taking a snap in 2017. Now we’re talking about Houston and Hill. Houston is hard to figure. If he’s healthy for 16 games, he should probably have between 10 and 16 sacks. But he has only been healthy for 16 games three times out of six.
The tendency is to say that Hill won’t score 12 touchdowns again, but honestly, I’m not sure he won’t. Assuming he continues to work, he’s not getting any slower, and the Chiefs were so cautious about how much exposure they gave him we may see him used in new, more, and innovative ways in 2017.
If he can refine his route running, he will become much more dangerous, not just because it means more for the defense to cover, but it will make his deep routes more effective.
This is weird. The first time I saw the question on Twitter, my instant reaction was Mahomes first, Houston second, and Hill third.
But with a few minutes of thought, I think I’m Hill first, Houston second, and Mahomes third.
One disclaimer: if Mahomes does indeed begin the season as the backup, then he’s the answer to this question. Because backups almost always throw more than 20 passes.
Had a few questions along this line. I haven’t talked with Self about this, but there might be something to the undervalued assets line.
With transfers — particularly with grad transfers — you’re trading upside for certainty. KU obviously had holes in its front court last year, with Udoka Azubuike’s injury and Carlton Bragg’s underperformance.
Kansas will have some stars next year, and another chance at a championship. Azubuike should be one of the best players in the country. I expect him to be all-league-ish and a lottery pick. Devonte Graham will be a star. Billy Preston is a top-10 recruit. Malik Newman will be a double-figure scorer. Same with Lagerald Vick. Svi Mykhailiuk has a decision to make.
So if the strategy is to best surround that core with pieces you know will be there, and can be relied upon, then accepting a lot of transfers is a sound path.
Jack Whitman averaged 10 and 5 at William & Mary last year. You’d figure he can eat up some minutes and not hurt you. Self has said he thought Newman was the best guard in his high school class. Sam Cunliffe is a good shooter and OK athlete.
The other transfers — the Lawson brothers from Memphis, and Charlie Moore from Cal — will be eligible the season after next.
But, generally speaking, two things to keep in mind. First, if you’re not working in the transfer market you are not working in a market deep with talent. Also, I’m not sure Self made a conscious decision that, “Hey, I’m going after a bunch of transfers now.”
It’s like when a school signs a few one-and-dones, and people say it’s a strategy shift. No. There is a 95 percent chance that coach has always recruited one-and-done talent. He just happened to sign more of them now.
Transfers are a little different, because they take up a scholarship in a year they’re not playing, and it requires a bit more long-term planning. But it’s a similar idea.
My guess is that Self could be a little more open to transfers as a way to fill out the middle parts of the roster, but this is much more likely a coincidence of the transfer market fitting his needs.
One other advantage of transfers: non-grad transfers have a year of practicing with the team before playing, so the transition to games should be smoother. Everyone at Kansas knows what Newman is capable of, for instance, because he’s been gunning on the red team during practice since last fall. He knows the sets, knows his teammates, and those kinds of things can be a significant help.
My backyard burger game is really coming into its own recently. Grilling burgers used to be a sort of afterthought, something we did if we didn’t have any other ideas. I prioritized quick over quality, thinking there wasn’t that much difference.
Well, I vowed that 2017 would be different. So I’ve developed a proprietary seasoning* and made sure the burgers are properly chilled before going on the grill, which I make sure is properly hot. Don’t forget the thumb print. Flip once. Buns and cheese in the toaster oven, the whole operation timed to come off simultaneously. Pre-cut tomato and pickle. Onion on the grill if possible.
* It’s actually just pepper and salt, because simple is best, but I also want to use the word “proprietary” more often.
I’m telling you. My burger game is strong.
But, that’s not what you’re asking. You’re asking about a restaurant, and I totally hijacked the answer to brag about myself and my Weber. Why do you people put up with me.
I like simple and pure. I’m well aware of deliciousness like Q39’s burnt-end burger, or Tannin’s wagyu burger, or Howard’s, or Corvino’s*.
* Which really is terrific, though it’s only available on the late-night menu, and is $8 without fries.
But when I think about a burger, I think about a drive-thru, or at best a place where you order at the counter. The place should be un-fancy, and comfortable. It should also serve onion rings and tater tots, or at least one of the two. You probably see where this is headed.
My favorite burgers in the city* are at Town Topic, Pigwich, and Westport Flea Market. Joe Z and good beer put the Flea Market over the top for first place.
* Full disclosure: I haven’t had the Lunch Box’s burger, but assume I’d love it.
The Royals will be in a downtown stadium.
I wish the answer was an NHL or NBA team, but it’s just so hard to see that happening, even in 15 more years. Market size, corporate sponsorships, local ownership, hockey culture, college basketball ... we just have a lot working against us to land another major professional sports team.
You may or may not have picked 15 years randomly, but the leases for Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums expire in 14 years — 2031. My guess is that the Chiefs stay at Truman Sports Complex, and the Royals move downtown.
That makes the most sense for both franchises, anyway. Football stadiums should prioritize access, and being at the intersection of two major interstates is tough to beat. If the Royals left for downtown, the K could be torn down, and you have even more parking.
This is all especially true for the Chiefs, compared with some other franchises, because of the tailgating culture. It’s one of the best things the team has, and it should be honored and grown.
Moving downtown makes the most sense for the Royals, too. They probably should’ve done it the last time around, but David Glass has never wanted to move, and if the owner doesn’t want to move then the team isn’t going to move. But, not to be morbid or anything, but Glass will turn 82 this year.
Downtown is on a promising 10-year trend, and 81 major-league baseball games a year — plus playoffs? — would be a terrific (ahem) anchor tenant for the area. Businesses downtown would profit. My guess is Royals attendance would increase, too, though some habits would have to adjust.
Bonus guess: I believe Sporting Kansas City will be much closer to the Royals and Chiefs in popularity in 2032 than in 2017.
Also: Royals manager Sal Perez is going to constantly try to get the team out of slumps by wearing is pants backward, or something like that.
And Clark Hunt will be celebrating his 25th consecutive year of owning the Chiefs without laughing in public. And his hair will look exactly like it does right now.
But, speaking of downtown stadiums ...
... I had never thought of this until reading your question. And I don’t think so. At least, not right now. Our oldest is 3, so it’s a little hard for me to imagine what the boys will be like as teenagers, or what we’ll be like as parents, or even what downtown will be like in 13 years.
I know this isn’t the spirit of your question, but in some ways, by then, maybe it’ll be safer. I could probably turn on some notification to know when/if they go somewhere they shouldn’t, and the car will drive itself, so I won’t have to worry about that.
If our kids were 18 and 16, instead of 3 and 1, I still think I’d feel this way. I’m not convinced downtown is more dangerous, for one. Also, I’m not sure whether I’d be cool with them driving themselves to and from a game at the Sports Complex when they’re in high school.
But, jeez, I don’t know. It’s pretty easy to think, “Nah, just trust them, it’s the only way they’ll grow” when this situation is (thankfully) more than a decade away.
My goodness I love this question.
You have to do both. You have to be yourself, control what you can control, and focus solely on yourself. Let go of the results, because that’s not up to you. Once the ball leaves your hands, you’ve done all you can.
But you also need to bring different tools to different jobs. To rob a phrase from another sport, you have to read the defense, and see what will be effective.
Executing the pitch means one thing with your friends in Vegas, and a very different thing with your in-laws at Thanksgiving. A perfectly executed fastball will work nearly every time in baseball, the same way a perfectly executed Ryan Gosling will work nearly every time on a date.
So I guess what I’m saying is, life is generally won by those who can do both. But if you have to choose just one, you’re never wrong being yourself.
Thanks for reading. This week, I’m particularly thankful for the love and support offered by friends and strangers both. I have been overwhelmed with messages, and I think I’ve responded to everyone, but if I missed any I apologize. My mom would love — truly love — that her story prompted others to think about or call their own moms.