Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Are the Chiefs for real? And what should the Royals do this winter?

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith congratulated running back Jamaal Charles (right) after Charles’ 39-yard touchdown run on fourth and 1 in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith congratulated running back Jamaal Charles (right) after Charles’ 39-yard touchdown run on fourth and 1 in the fourth quarter Sunday. The Kansas City Star

One of the things about being into sports that non-believers don’t always understand is how your body clock gets tied into the seasons.

Like, I think for a lot of people, when the leaves change it means that fall is here. The first snow fall (this Saturday?) or maybe the first time it’s cold enough to make a fire, that means it’s winter. But I don’t think I’m alone in always tying the changing seasons to the changing, um, seasons. When the college basketball conference tournaments are coming, that’s spring to me. When the Royals play their home opener, that’s summer to me. When the Chiefs go to training camp, that’s time for my annual astonishment about how early it feels.

This year was a little different, and I know I’m not the only one. Being in a town where the baseball team has made a habit of being out of it by August and certainly September means a more seamless transition of fall sports, straight into football.

I wish I could find it now, but right after the Royals lost the World Series, someone tweeted to me something like, "Now that the Royals are mathematically eliminated, who looks good for the Chiefs in training camp?"

There’s a lot to that.

It feels in some ways like a month of our usual lives was just sucked out and replaced with an entirely different one, right?

The game in Buffalo was the Chiefs’ first of the season where the entire week came with the Royals’ season over. That was the ninth game of the season.

It was great, and the most fun I’ve ever had in this job. I don’t really have a point here other than, hey, this is pretty weird, right?

This week’s eating recommendation is the tacos at Los Corrals, and the reading recommendation is the infuriatingly good Eli Saslow on what makes Demaryius Thomas go.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for your help. Let’s do it:

There are some similarities in these teams, like your boy Vahe has pointed out. The most functional similarity, to me anyway, is that the Royals won and the Chiefs are trying to win with styles that are very opposed to the accepted styles of their sports.

This is fairly self-explanatory, I suppose, but the Royals are all defense and relief pitching in a sport that’s typically been ruled by home runs and starting pitching. The Chiefs are all defense and stud running back and short passing game in a sport that’s typically been ruled by offense and quarterbacks and lots and lots and lots of points.

And, you know, I gotta tell you. I just deleted about two paragraphs shooting down your theory here, mostly on the grounds of a first impression, but the more I think about it, the more I think you’re on to something here. The Chiefs looked dead early, dominated in stretches, but made each of the important plays, particularly with its defense.

The big difference – and I mean no disrespect to Ned Yost, who we’ll talk about more here later – is that the football coach should get a lot more credit than the baseball manager. Most of that is the nature of the sports, but, well, we’ll get more into this later.

Oh, hi!

I still don’t think you’re the coach of the year, though. Bruce Arians, Jim Caldwell and Mike Pettine are significantly ahead. No offense. I respect the mustache.

Strange situation there. He’s typically looked more comfortable as a safety, but he does have 4.36-speed and just absolutely dominated a game on the road against a good opponent. The Chiefs matched him up with Sammy Watkins, and did it on purpose, and I don’t care that Watkins probably wasn't playing at 100 percent because of the groin injury. Parker was terrific in coverage, and made the play of the day in tomahawking loose the fumble by Bryce Brown, and I can’t be the only one who wondered if Andy Reid didn’t see that and think, somewhere in that brain of his, It doesn’t suck being on the OTHER side of a Bryce Brown fumble.

Parker had a couple plays that he needed to clean up in the Jets game, but overall I’ve thought he’s played pretty well all season. Buffalo was his masterpiece, but the Chiefs have to love what they might have there. He’s been cut a thousand times in the NFL – including by the awful Raiders and the Seahawks, who come to Arrowhead on Sunday – which means he’s exactly the kind of player John Dorsey can make a reputation with. The Chiefs need speed, all over the field, so he’s a good complement to what they have around him. It’s also nice to have a player who can shift back and forth between safety and cornerback, and I type that knowing that the fan consensus is to have him at safety.

Or, at least, it was before Buffalo. That game was enormous, in so many ways. Like…

…I mean, let’s not get too far ahead of it here. Thanks to the awful Jets, Jaguars, Titans and Raiders, all but five teams in the AFC are 5-4 or better. The Chiefs, at the moment, own the top wild card spot but don’t get too comfortable – they’re a game ahead of a tie for 10th in the conference.

The Chiefs have put themselves in very good position here, though. They’re 6-3 and haven’t had the privilege of playing the Raiders yet. If we can assume they sweep the craptastic Raiders, they need to find three more wins to secure a playoff spot. Let’s take a look here, using the current betting line for the next game and the hypothetical betting line using this website, which may or may not be legitimate, for the others:

vs. Seattle (Chiefs by 1 1/2)

at Oakland (Chiefs by 16)

vs. Denver (Chiefs by 1)

at Arizona (Cardinals by 2)

vs. Oakland Chiefs by 22)

at Pittsburgh (Chiefs by 3)

vs. San Diego (Chiefs by 8)

Now, the first thing is, I’m not buying these lines, and I can’t imagine the Chiefs get through the next seven games with just one loss. But I include it here just as an example of what’s possible. If they sweep Oakland, say, and then beat the Chargers at home and the Steelers on the road, that’s 10 wins. There isn’t anything on the schedule that’s unwinnable, and even the Arizona game, a brutal road game, looks more palatable with Carson Palmer’s injury.

Of course, there is more to it than these hypothetical games because…

…there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. The Chiefs are an NFL team in 2014 that’s played more than half of a season without throwing a touchdown pass to a wide receiver unless, of course, you count the touchdown pass that Alex Smith THREW TO A WIDE RECEIVER but got batted around, ended up in the hands of a tight end on his back end who then dove into the end zone.

You can read the article here, but I don’t see anything controversial. I mean, it’s true that they have to play better than they did on Sunday to get to the playoffs. It’s true that their "best" win – the annihilation of the Patriots on Monday Night – can be translated by some as the night the Patriots hit rock bottom.

And, like Bedard writes, the criticisms like that feel unfair.

The Chiefs got into the playoffs last year without what you’d call a signature win, and someone does it every year. But I feel like we need to clarify what we’re talking about here.

As a contender in the AFC – which is what Bedard was writing about – it absolutely makes sense to want the Chiefs to beat the Seahawks, Broncos and/or Cardinals before going all-in.

But as a team with an inside track to the playoffs, they can do without.

Consider this path: lose to the Broncos, Cardinals AND Steelers, and the Chiefs can still be a 10-win team. This is shaping to be a strange year, but that’s almost always good enough to make the playoffs.

It’s not just you. I feel like the Bills are a divisional opponent. I haven’t been covering the Chiefs that long, but they’ve played the Bills enough that I feel like I know their personnel a bit, and they’ve traveled to Buffalo enough that I know a back way to the stadium, have grown a fondness for the city, and have a favorite restaurant^.

^ Honestly, the wings are good, but they’re resting on their laurels there. I have the utmost respect for Buffalo in general and the Anchor Bar specifically for what they’ve added to society, but the game done passed them by.^^

^^ Not that I didn’t have a thousand wings at the Anchor Bar.

I tend to like cities with grit – Chicago over Los Angeles, and New Orleans over Miami – but I’ll be OK if next year’s Chiefs schedule includes no games with the Bills.

I tweeted about the horseshoe after Parker’s strip of Brown, but really that was only because Chandler had it in the end zone for a touchdown and lost it for a touchback. If he holds onto that ball, the Chiefs are down 17-3 and it’s hard to imagine them pulling that off.

But with that notable exception, I’m just not sure you can fairly call that a lucky win. The Chiefs took that game. They made the plays. They’re not an overly talented team, obviously. They don’t have the kind of personnel where they can just overwhelm folks. If they’re going to get to 10 or 11 wins, they’re going to have to do it with one or two or three where you feel like maybe you got outplayed.

I don’t know. I feel like the Chiefs played most of last season – obviously, particularly the first nine games – with an enormous horseshoe lodged right up in their hind parts. Just so many things they had no control over, most notably the string of backup (and crappy) quarterbacks they faced. But this year, maybe they’ve gotten a bit lucky at times, but I feel like this is more about a team creating luck than being gifted luck, if that makes sense.

It’s astounding how many ways the Chiefs screwed this up from a public relations standpoint. When he spoke to those of us who were in Buffalo the other day, Clark Hunt apologized for not talking sooner, mentioning the league didn’t give him much of a heads up before the announcement, but c’mon. He can’t do a conference call, at the very least?

The Chiefs need to make it up to fans, and I guess to their credit they say they’re working on a few things. But they knew this was coming, and should’ve had it all prepared for the announcement. At this point, it looks like a reaction to the fan reaction that was entirely predictable, and that the Chiefs say they knew was coming, but if that was true why did they announce it with a 240-word press release they originally planned to be their only comment on the day the news broke?

For an organization that usually errs on the side of trying to control the message WAY too much, this was just a bizarre blind spot.

Another strange thing is that Hunt basically contradicted what club president Mark Donovan said three days before. Donovan had said that moving a home game from Arrowhead to London had "nothing to do with" bidding on a Super Bowl, but then Hunt said it should "take care of our obligation in the short run."

The Chiefs are being purposefully ambiguous here, and my understanding is that the league hasn’t said whether the Chiefs’ home game in 2015 would be credited to a potential and right now hypothetical Kansas City Super Bowl bid. The Chiefs don’t plan on bidding for a game in the next few years, and it’s possible that when they do the league could ask for another home game in London. Obviously, that would irritate the Chiefs, but this explains the ambiguity.

Either way, the possibility of Kansas City hosting a Super Bowl depends on far more things than a game against the Lions in London, enough that this is probably wasted energy and just a sort of Ink Blot Test where people (like me) who HATE the idea of the Chiefs robbing Kansas City of a game can say it has "nothing to do" with hosting a Super Bowl while people (like Hunt) who want to justify the move however they can can cling to it as a guiding principle.

When and if the Chiefs bid on a Super Bowl, they’ll need to spend far more time convincing the league about weather and hotel rooms and market size than whether they need to host another game in London.

But no matter what happens with that, the Chiefs bumbled this decision and announcement a dozen different ways, most notably not having their owner (and NFL International Committee Chairman) available until three days after the announcement, and now going on a week without any word about how they plan to make it up to the fans who fill the stadium and put up $250 million to renovate Arrowhead so that Hunt could make more money off them.

For an organization as image conscious as the Chiefs, this is a bizarre miss.

I’m with you. My body is a disgusting mess. I’m not caught up on sleep, even still. I’ve taken to watching playoff games over in spare moments, and always seem to see things that I either completely missed or didn’t fully appreciate live. Like, and there was no way to know whether it would even matter at the time, but do you remember that Greg Holland – with a wife who was like 8.999999 months pregnant – loaded the bases in the ninth inning of the Wild Card game?

I know I realized that at the time, but that’s one of those things that when you watch again, or think through the game, you sort of think, holy expletive. A bloop single there, and the Royals’ season is over. No Division Series. No ALCS. No World Series. Questions about Ned Yost’s job security have more juice. Momentum about keeping Billy Butler is softened. The Royals have to decide whether they really want to fly a flag that says "playoff participant" or whatever instead of getting sized for American League champion rings.

Honestly. Before last month, the most fun and exhausted I’d ever been working was with the Olympics. But what the Royals did lapped that, in so many ways, so many of them personal for Kansas City.

So I guess this is where we talk about Ned. I’ve been pretty consistent about him over the years, calling him an overall average manager with significant strengths and significant weaknesses. At various times, that opinion has been looked at by a lot of Royals fans as apologist and hater, but I think it’s dead on.

And in this specific instance, I believe your question is addressing one of Ned’s significant weaknesses. But I also believe it’s a weakness he will recognize, or at least one that people around him will help him recognize.

If I was Dayton Moore, the first thing I would do is make damn effing sure I had at least $105 million or more to work with for 2014. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve said this before, but the first thing I would’ve done is grab the mic at the season celebration and ask everyone how The Process tasted, but, you know, different strokes.

Anyway, I would be incredulous at my boss if I had anything less than $105 million, and I’d be fairly pissed at anything less than $110 million. But after that, when I started looking at my roster, of course I’d be prioritizing a starting pitcher and a right fielder and a DH, but I’d also be obsessed with finding a catcher that my manager trusted to start at least 30 games next year.

That catcher might, actually, be Erik Kratz. I don’t know enough about Kratz to have a real opinion about whether he can start 30 or more games, and I come by that lack of opinion honestly because Ned often seems to think Sal Perez should be gunning for Cal Ripken’s record. If there’s something about Kratz that Ned doesn't like, then I’d go find a catcher that my manager trusts. But no matter what, I’d make it entirely clear that we a wonderfully talented, energetic, respected, talented, and (this is no small thing) club-controlled catcher like Perez does us no good if we run him into the ground like a mule.

I know I’m talking about a Ned Yost who will be justifiably emboldened by success, but I think he’ll be open to this. I think he’ll want to make a real effort to give Perez days off, both at DH and just legitimate days off.

I probably don’t have to remind you that I’ve been wrong before.

I haven’t talked to anyone in the last few days, and don’t know anything I didn’t know when I wrote this column last week. That was more of an insight-about-the-process column, and a look at how much things had changed over the month, than an opinion about what would happen and I wrote it that way on purpose.

I don’t know.

And I don’t think either side has a strong feeling one way or the other, either.

If I had to guess, I’d guess that he signs somewhere else. It’s a big ask for someone to take less money in order to play less, which is probably what it would take for Butler to come back. He’s talked over and over again about wanting to stay in Kansas City, and I absolutely believe he’s genuine. It’s not uncommon for a guy to take (slightly) less money to stay in a place he’s comfortable.

But how many times do you hear of a guy taking less money AND a lesser role to stay in a place he’s comfortable?

If the Royals are serious about wanting to keep the DH spot as more of a rotation – and, for Sal Perez’s sake, Royals fans should hope they are – then unless Billy turns it into 2012 again, he’s going to have to take a lesser role.

If he does end up leaving, one of the nice things about the last few months of the 2014 season is that every time Billy comes back to Kansas City, he’ll be remembered as the guy who helped them get into and then win in the playoffs, not the guy fans were booing earlier in the season.

Well, yeah.

There’s a lot to like about Hunter. He’s adored by teammates, both friendly and hard-working. He’s a legitimate No. 2 hitter, which is a spot the Royals struggled with until going with the Escobar-Aoki-Cain top of the order.

By adjusted OPS, any one of his last nine (9) seasons would’ve been no worse than second-best on the 2014 Royals. He’d also be available on a short contract, and there’s a saying in baseball that there’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract.

But, I don’t know. He’ll turn 40 in July, and you just never know when age is going to take a player’s production off a cliff. And you’re right about his defense. Hunter is, despite his well-earned reputation from his early years, a fairly terrible outfielder at this point in his career.

We all have different opinions about who might work and who might not, but, even considering the money, for the Royals I’d rather have Melky Cabrera, Nick Markakis (will likely re-sign with Baltimore, but if not, is a great fit for the Royals and carries no draft pick compensation) and probably even Alex Rios.

If I was the Royals, I think this would be my offseason checklist:

1. Make damn sure I had at least $105 million for payroll next year and the flexibility to go higher after my team made the owner money last year and is a virtual lock for at least a 10 percent attendance hike in 2015 (with what you know will be raised ticket prices).

2. Starting pitching, and if the medicals are OK, Ervin Santana makes a ton of sense.

3. Figure out the RF/DH situation.

4. Make sure that whether it’s Kratz or someone else, Ned has a backup catcher good enough that he can be talked into resting Perez.

5. Listen to all and engage in many trade talks, particularly ones that involve Greg Holland (a great closer whose trade value may never be higher), and PARTICULARLY do that if the medical and staff reports are optimistic that Luke Hochevar can be close to what he was in 2013.

6. Also, every night between like midnight and 2 or so, I’d drink the best scotch, smoke the best cigars, and watch playoff highlights on loop.

Actually, if I was the Royals, that list is not necessarily in order.

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