Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Royals should have pinch hit in ninth, NFL Draft and expectations at Mizzou

Mellinger Minutes: What's wrong with the Royals' offense?

Watch Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger discuss the Royals and other local sports topics from his Facebook Live broadcast on Tuesday, April 11.
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Watch Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger discuss the Royals and other local sports topics from his Facebook Live broadcast on Tuesday, April 11.

This was buried under a dozen bigger stories from the Royals home opener, but in the ninth inning, with A’s lefty Sean Doolittle throwing aspirin pills by Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, I thought Ned Yost made a mistake letting the lefty Brandon Moss hit with two outs.

Cheslor Cuthbert was available to pinch hit, and typically hits lefties well and with power. This was a mistake by the manager, seen in real time, not with second guessing, and even if it wasn’t the column on the day the Royals honored Yordano Ventura, it was worth asking about.

Moss is off to a miserable start, Cuthbert homered the other day, you get the platoon advantage. Come on. Why not?

Then Yost gave a perfectly reasonable explanation.

He said that with the wind howling like it was toward right field, he liked Moss’ chances of getting a ball in the air and carrying, sort of like what happened with Khris Davis’ homer earlier in the game.

I still disagree. Moss hit 25 of his 28 homers last year against righties, a 150-point difference in his slugging percentages. Cuthbert hits lefties much better, and to me the longshot of a home run in that situation with Terrance Gore at first isn’t as important as positioning yourself for the best chance of a hit.

So, yeah. I still think they should’ve pinch hit with Cuthbert.

But Yost thought of something I didn’t, and I’m glad the question was asked.

This week’s eating recommendation is the shrimp spiedini at Garozzo’s, and the reading recommendation is Marjie Ducey on college basketball referee John Higgins putting his life back together.

Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and as always, thanks for the help, and thanks for reading.

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost answers questions following his team's home opener loss to the Oakland Athletics on Monday, April 10, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium.

We don’t think of it like that. We can’t get up for certain games, because that means letting down for others. They’re all important, and as professionals, I think we all take pride in giving our best every time out. We don’t want to let down our editors, our co-workers, our readers or most importantly our families.

We can’t control how others view it, but we can control how we prepare, how we focus, and how we execute our sentences.

Alternative answer: Yes, of course events like a home or season opener are more fun. More energy, more possibility, more optimism, and from a completely pragmatic sports columnist point of view, more things to write about.

I don’t think that means necessarily “getting up” for the game, not in the literal sense, but I think that answers the spirit of your question.

I say this a lot, but I like my job and am aware that I’m lucky to have it. There is not a game I go to that I’m not excited, at least on some level. This is still a job, and some days are better than others. Some days it’s harder to be away from your family, some days you’re just in a bad mood, some days you’re sick.

But, still beats having a real job.

Stranger things have happened?

Look, I haven’t agreed with the strategy at second base from the jump. Raul Mondesi is a terrific talent, and even while overwhelmed at the plate has found ways to make an impact. They needed up losing the game, but he turned a double play that no other second baseman in the organization could’ve made at Houston on Sunday, and a sac bunt that scored a run.

But keeping him on the big-league roster right now has always felt like the wrong move both in the short and long term. There are at bats in Class AAA Omaha, where he could build some confidence, and pitch recognition. In the meantime, the Royals have three other options who can all help to varying degrees.

If Christian Colon isn’t playing second base, I’m not sure what value he has on the roster. Whit Merrifield can, at the very least, not hurt you defensively and offer flexibility with other spots. Cheslor Cuthbert, at least in theory, can help you offensively.

Mondesi makes the defense better. I don’t know who could argue that. But that’s less important at the moment with Paulo Orlando in right field than it will be when Jorge Soler is off the disabled list.

So, yeah. This organization has earned trust, obviously. Mondesi had a good spring. Maybe challenging him like this proves to be the right move.

It just seems, to me, not to be serving either of the Royals’ goals right now. He’s not ready to help them with his bat in the big leagues, and he’s not developing the way he might with some time in the minors.

Hosmer, with the caveat that it would depend on which teams are contending, and what their specific needs are.

The Cubs would presumably have more interest in Cain than Hosmer, because they have Anthony Rizzo at first. The Orioles would have no room for Hosmer, with Chris Davis at first and Mark Trumbo DHing. But the Red Sox are playing Mitch Moreland at first, and have Jackie Bradley in center.

You get where this is going.

Two points that you didn’t ask about but I’ll say anyway because this is the Mellinger Minutes, dammit:

▪ I think the Royals are good, or at least good enough that they won’t be sellers at the trade deadline.

▪ But if they are out of it, I believe Dayton Moore will set aside personal feelings and be open to trading any or all of them.

Now, if we’re not just talking about trades...


Hosmer’s value is going to be a fascinating thing to see quantified, but if the Yankees and Red Sox are among the teams looking for first basemen this winter, the price will likely be higher than the Royals are comfortable spending.

Cain will be 31 on Thursday, and guys who’ve had careers like his — late bloomer, no major payday yet — typically want the biggest contract. The Royals can’t be giving big contracts to aging center fielders with histories of leg problems.

And Escobar, well, you know.

Moustakas makes a lot of sense, on a few levels. He has become such a big part of this team’s personality, and attitude. He’s a very good player — a winning player, in the parlance of some in the game — who won’t turn 30 until the end of next season. Seems like enough to work with there.

The feeling I’ve sensed is that Moustakas* hasn’t been interested in talking about a long-term deal. I want to be clear that I’ve never heard that directly from him. I’m speculating a little here, reading between lines.

* Agents work for players, not the other way around, but it’s worth mentioning that Moustakas’ agent is Scott Boras.

But it does make sense, from his point of view. His trade value dipped hard after his ACL tear, and he can bet on himself to have a big 2017 and hit the open market with some momentum. If nothing else, it’s a much clearer negotiation after a healthy 2017 than it would’ve been as he’s rehabbing from major knee surgery.

This could end up as much a personal decision for Moustakas as business. If the money is similar, he’ll have an interesting choice. He could stay in Kansas City, where he’s been successful, and is comfortable, and would be with the organization that believed in him and that he helped give a parade. If he played the bulk of his career here, he’d almost certainly be a team Hall of Famer, and remembered as one of the greats.

Or, plenty of other teams could use a proven third baseman, too. One of them could be the Angels, who play a short drive (depending on traffic) from where Moose grew up.

So, Moose makes a lot of sense for the Royals. But maybe the Royals don’t make as much sense for Moose.

I’m probably being too obvious here, but a team at the Sprint Center.

We’ve talked about this before here, but Kansas City was agonizingly close to poaching the Sonics from Seattle.

We probably would’ve had them, too, if the arena was built a little sooner, if Hurricane Katrina happened a little later, if we had a billionaire interested in financing it, or a company — say, someone like AEG — with a serious interest in landing a team in Kansas City.

It’s hard for me to separate the two sometimes, but both professionally and personally, I would love this so much. A winter/spring sport to get into like that would change Kansas City and the local sports scene in so many ways. It would be great for downtown.

I say all this with the understanding and appreciation that we’re lucky to have the teams we have. If you were starting everything over, divvying out pro sports teams from the ground up, it’s much more likely that we’d lose a team than gain one.

Milwaukee, New Orleans and Buffalo are the only markets smaller than Kansas City with two teams in the four biggest leagues. Orlando, Sacramento, Portland, Raleigh, San Diego, Hartford, San Antonio and Columbus are bigger than KC with one or zero major pro sports teams.

And doing it by the four traditional leagues — MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL — makes us look even better, because it doesn’t count the significant impact of Sporting, or Kansas Speedway, or the omnipresence of college sports here.

So, no. Not having a team at the Sprint Center is not something I’m going to spend a lot of time complaining about.

But it sure would be fun.

OK. I’ve got one for each team or school, and I know I’m going to skew recent.

Chiefs fans of a certain age will argue with you forever about the Christmas Day playoff game in 1971, when Jan Stenerud missed three field goals, and the Chiefs lost at home in overtime.

If the Chiefs win that game, they probably beat the Colts in the conference championship, and certainly give the Cowboys a better game in the Super Bowl. If that happens, it’s two Super Bowls in three years, and the history of the franchise is different.

Another way the history of the franchise would be different? This one is a layup, and topical this month — the Chiefs drafted Todd Blackledge seventh overall in 1983, ahead of Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.

Who knows how good they could’ve been — this wasn’t the only mistake the Chiefs made around that time — but it’s safe to say “better.”

The obvious answer for the Royals would be the ending of game seven of the 2014 World Series, because then we’re talking about back-to-back champions, but to me there’s a more interesting answer.

What if they draft Francisco Lindor instead of Bubba Starling in 2011? How much better might the Royals have been a year ago? How much better might their present and future be now?

If Kansas beats VCU in the 2011 Elite Eight, it would’ve been the best team at the Final Four, and the opinion of Bill Self in the NCAA Tournament would be different.

Bill Snyder saved K-State from the Ron Prince mistake, so the answer in Manhattan is a better relationship between Frank Martin and the administration. I know I’m on my own here, but from being around Frank a little bit back then, I have some doubts about whether he’d have stayed at K-State long-term, and knowing where the program was when he left, I have serious doubts about how well he’d have been able to maintain the success there. But it shouldn’t have ended the way it did.

Mizzou has a bunch, perhaps most notably Quin Snyder over Bill Self, or Otto Porter going to Georgetown, but sometimes I wonder whether the Border War would still be alive if MU had held onto that 19-point lead in the last game at Allen Fieldhouse. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but I know Self a little bit, and it would be much harder for him to refuse playing Mizzou if he’d have lost the last game — particularly at home.

Sporting’s answer is fairly easy, in no small part because the franchise hasn’t made many mistakes since the rebrand, but it never should’ve aligned with Lance Armstrong. The franchise realized it. Too late, but still. Realized it.

The answer here would’ve been firing Peter Vermes, when that was a strong possibility. Their faith and patience has paid off, as Vermes has proven himself to be a terrific leader, a rare combination of CEO skills and the ability to work in the granular details that often make the difference.

First of all, let’s all agree that if a basketball program is disappointing by regularly making the Elite Eight that basketball program is pretty dang good.

I understand that this is one of the Internet’s worst places to take things literally, but the idea of Kansas as a choking dog basketball program is way overstated. We did this a little recently, but by the numbers, Bill Self should’ve been to four Final Fours at KU by now. He’s been to two. That’s on him more than anyone else, but it also in some ways uses his success against him, because he’s a No. 1 seed most years.

But, anyway. None of that answers your question.

Devonte Graham will start alongside Malik Newman, a transfer from Mississippi State who likely led the nation in scout team shot attempts this past season.

I don’t expect either to be as good as Frank Mason, obviously, but that’s a pretty good starting point for one of the best backcourts in the country. Udoka Azubuike will be back, and I know he didn’t play much before the wrist injury, but he has a chance to be a special player — first-team All Big 12, and a lottery pick, if it goes right.

Svi Mykhailiuk has a decision to make, but internally the program believes Sam Cunliffe can do some of the same things. Lagerald Vick showed he can be a solid starter. Billy Preston is a top-10 recruit.

The point is that KU will be good, again. The favorites in the Big 12, again. But I suspect you know that, and are playing on the overdone meme of KU as a choking dog. Which, in that case, fair play to you.

There it is!

You can take the Mizzou program out of the mid 200s in RPI, but you can’t take the history of disappointment from Mizzou fans.

Expectation management is going to be impossible, for a few reasons. Some of it is that Mizzou and new coach Cuonzo Martin want those expectations, because it means excitement, and interest, and coaches at major college sports are bound much closer to the marketing department than at the professional level.

He and others in the program will be saying all the right things as the season comes near, but it’s hard to walk this back.

Also, this is going to be a really fun story. Not just locally, but nationally. You know that this will be a stop now for Sports Illustrated and ESPN and the rest, to tell the story of a program that’s been Norfolk Stated and Frank Haithed and Kim Andersoned and now has a legitimate shot at going from 27 wins total the last three years to the NCAA Tournament.

Depending on how the rest of recruiting goes, and player development, and a thousand other factors that are often lost in the hype machine, this could be the kind of team that hangs around in the top 25 and expects to play on the tournament’s second weekend.

It may all crumble, of course. And that’s not a Mizzou thing. That’s just a sports thing. The development of freshmen is unpredictable, meshing them together with what’s in the program could be difficult, and nobody can predict injuries.

But, at the very least, it’ll be fun to watch.

Well, here I need to be careful, because I’m not sure who qualifies for “no one knows about.” The answer used to be Slap’s, but word is out on that place now.

The first place that comes to mind is Johnny Jo’s, because it serves what I think is the best pizza in Kansas City from a tiny place in the sort of location you have to know about to see, but then I go to Yelp and see it has 139 reviews and a 4 1/2 star rating.

I feel like people know about Wings Cafe, and Happy Gillis, and the pork tenderloin sandwich at Kitty’s Cafe.

So let me land on M&M Bakery, a place I first saw on the way to the sports complex one day. The sandwiches are great — I usually get the Hook ‘Em Up — and I sometimes stop for a donut on the way to Chiefs games, depending on my route.

I know I tend to take questions here too literally, but one thing that’s hard about 2017 is finding a place that nobody knows about. If you serve good food, people find out. Wife and I went to Jarocho a few weeks ago, and it was so good I was embarrassed I’d never heard of it.

Gates is probably the answer, just because you can see their reaction to the HI MAY I HELP YOU! greeting. When I was in high school, my girlfriend and I drove to Gates one night, and I was so excited for this. I hadn’t eaten all day. All the ribs and burnt ends for me.

Then we walked in, and she just froze at the greeting, and we ended up somewhere else, probably effing Chili’s or something* and it legitimately made me mad at her for a while**.

* I believe strongly that Chili’s is best-in-its-class, but even that endless basket of chips and salsa is a letdown after you’ve spent the day dreaming of delicious barbecue.

** I ended up marrying her anyway, like 15 years and a few twists and turns later.

The only problem with Gates, and I hate saying this, is that the food can be inconsistent. I’ve had a disproportionate amount of my favorite barbecue meals at Gates, and a disproportionate amount of my most disappointing.

So you could go to Joe’s, since that’s probably the most famous at this point, and your friend would be able to say he ate at a gas station. Or LC’s would be a fine choice, for the food and also the ambiance.

But I might go with Slap’s, actually, now that I’m thinking about it. Neighborhood joint, way smaller than it should be for how good the food is, I enjoy the sort of roulette wheel aspect of them simply running out of food at some point in the afternoon, and it’s still new or unknown enough that your friend can go back home and say something like, “Yeah, but I went to the real spot.”

That was an important win against Colorado on Sunday.

That was a good opponent, particularly defensively, and Sporting (at least temporarily) got out of a scoring slump early and then often.

With the roster turnover, and the way Peter Vermes runs his team, you would expect Sporting to be better late in the season than early. We’re not even midway through April yet, so maybe this is just a blip — nobody should’ve been freaking out if Sporting lost, say, 3-1 the other night — but it’s at least a promising blip.

There was a really nice connection when Gerso Fernandes cashed a buildup, and Dom Dwyer beating Tim Howard on a surgically executed shot. Those are the types of goals Sporting is likely to need.

What if I told you I’ve eaten grasshoppers? And on purpose?

It was at this place in Houston — terrific, by the way — and I was with a dozen or so friends, and if you’re with a bunch of friends and grasshoppers are on the menu, you order grasshoppers.

They really didn’t taste like much.

Super crunchy, which was weird, and since you know what you’re eating you kind of want to spit it back up, but your friends are watching, and really, they don’t taste like much so you make sure you have enough sauce and then wash it down with a beer.

Well, obviously this was sent before the home opener.

But, with 10 homers through seven games, the Royals are #OnPace to hit 231. The team record, sadly, is 168. To put that in perspective, 22 teams hit 168 homers or more last season.

Yeah. I know, right?

This team has a chance at 168. They hit 147 last season. Kendrys Morales (30 homers) is gone, but Brandon Moss hit 28 in 2016. If everyone did what they did last year, the Royals would probably go over 168 based simply on more power from a full season of Mike Moustakas and the difference between Jorge Soler and Paulo Orlando in right field.

But despite the Royals long history of trying to show otherwise, 168 is simply not a big number of home runs for a team.

If you’re looking for excitement, for the Royals, that’s always been in terrific defensive plays — do really have to call them “five star” plays now? — and speed and pitching.

Home runs are great, but unless you have a guy capable of hitting 40 it’s not something you can really rally around.

* Spoiler alert, the Royals don’t, at least not with half their games at Kauffman.

We went over this last week, but for the Royals to be good, they’re going to need Danny Duffy to be great, and Ned Yost to pick the right reliever on the right night, and Raul Mondesi to develop, and Alex Gordon to get his groove back, and their other homegrown stars to be stars.

If all that happened, they’d be plenty entertaining.

Then again...

Look, few people are more consistent about #SmallSampleSize than me, and so even as I will point out we are roughly 4.3 percent of the way through the season,* I do think we’ve seen enough to at least wonder if PECOTA finally got it right.

* This is a really clumsy analogy that I sometimes use anyway, but that’s equivalent to the late third quarter of an NFL team’s season opener.

There are real baseball reasons this team was always a candidate for a slow start, but like Russ and I talked about in the pregame video yesterday, I think it’s important for them to avoid a prolonged early struggle.

This group has generally shown itself to be better late in seasons than early, and I’m not sure they have the margin for error to come back from a significant deficit in the standings.

We are one week into the season. That’s a relative blink. So much can change. The Royals have lost two games in a row. On Sunday, they probably win if Kelvin Herrera doesn’t hang his third best pitch to a guy who couldn’t hit his best two pitches.

And on Monday, the Royals probably win if the wind was blowing a different direction — blowing strong toward right field, it carried Khris Davis’ ball over the right-center wall, and knocked down Sal Perez’s ball at the left-field wall.

If those outcomes are switched, the Royals are 4-2 with a four-game win streak and we’re saying different things.

So, no. This is not time to panic. Won’t be for a while. But you’re right, what we’ve seen so far is not improbable, and a week into the season we have more to be concerned about than optimistic.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger