Almost by definition, being a sports fan means willingly giving up on logical thought, and actually, we can probably drop the first word of this sentence. Not almost by definition. In many ways, the definition of being a sports fan is the, umm, willingness to leave reality behind.
It might be the best part of sports, really.
This comes up because the Giants are in town, and the Royals’ first dozen games — that’s 7.4 percent of 162, or slightly more than the equivalent of one NFL game — have mostly created machine gun fire of hot takes around Kansas City:
The Royals are sunk, Eric Hosmer stinks, why does Dale Sveum still have a job, on and on. Please feel free to add your own, or your neighbor’s.
This is some of the fun in sports, when you think about it. Where else can you freely and often intentionally overreact without consequence or incident? If anything, griping about the local team is a good way to start conversation.
But as the Giants come in for two games — and, of course that one-man parade prohibition named Madison Bumgarner is pitching at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday — this is a reminder of how silly this makes us sometimes.
Because if there is any team in major American professional sports where fans have patience and perspective even in the storm of a season, it’s the Royals.
Less than three years ago, the Royals were under .500 in July. A (handsome, if awkwardly coiffured) local sports writer was told to do the physically and morally impossible for writing a column that did not call for the firing of general manager Dayton Moore.
Across town, many fans and media members climbed over themselves to come up with the most creative way of expressing the sentiment of the day — fire the manager, blow it all up, force the owner to sell, and scream a lot.
Eric Hosmer broke his hand shortly before the trade deadline, which passed without a major move by the Royals — more screaming — but with at least one club official privately challenging that the players have the front office’s back.
Many of us openly laughed when manager Ned Yost shrugged off a slow first three and a half months that he must’ve known had his job in danger by declaring the Royals “a second-half team.”
It all looked darker than the dead of night, is the point, and then the Royals finished 41-23, which turned into that epic Wild Card Game, which turned into a sprint to the World Series, which ended with that popup against Bumgarner in Game 7.
The Royals swept the Giants in August of that summer, and that may have been the most important moment of that second half. It was the first time they projected for a playoff spot. Attendance was the highest for any series of the season to that point other than the opener.
As much as any other point in the season, at least until the eighth inning of the Wild Card Game, this was when fans began to believe.
And it all felt so dead just three weeks earlier.
Everything that happened afterward has made that moment easy to forget. The Royals shuck a generation of failure by winning the pennant and showing a city how to love baseball again. The next year, they went virtually wire-to-wire in the American League, winning 95 games and the world championship with a string of thrilling games highlighted by coming back from four down with six outs to go in an elimination game at Houston.
By then, the Royals weren’t a cute story. They were a bad-ass baseball team that refused to die.
You would think some of this would stick in our brains, right?
We have recent and personal evidence of a team starting 48-50, and ending in the World Series. We have recent and personal evidence of a team turning a hypothetical 2 percent chance of victory into an eventual parade down Grand.
This wasn’t some fairy tale from a different time. Babies conceived the day of the parade — and, let’s be honest, babies were conceived the day of the parade — are not yet walking.
I don’t know how the Royals will do this season. You don’t know how the Royals will do this season. They could make the playoffs, or they could be trading some of their best players in July. These are uncertain times.
But let the Giants’ return be a reminder that we are still four months from the point of the season when the 2014 Royals took their swagger, which means four months to lose our minds about developments that may not mean a dang thing.
I’m purposely saying “we” here, too, by the way. I thought that 2014 season was sunk when Hosmer’s hand broke.
Anyway, this week’s reading recommendation is Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta on how Raiders owner Mark Davis won, and the eating recommendation is the tater tots at Rockhill Grille.
I am paid American currency for typing words about sports. My whole life is a gimmick, dude.
As I type these words, the Royals are batting .210, which ranks last in the American League, and the starters’ ERA is 2.31, which ranks first in baseball.
This is not a risky statement: neither will hold up over 162.
But a little context to just how awful/terrible those numbers are: no individual American League pitcher with at least 25 starts had an ERA below 3.00 last year, and no qualified individual hitter was below .220*.
* That was Alex Gordon, by the way. Alcides Escobar ranked last with a .642 OPS. This is why I kept saying improvement from the Royals offense would have to come from the guys who were here last year, not from Soler or Moss or Mondesi.
The offense is a problem, obviously. They continue to strike out too much, not walk enough, and despite ranking sixth in the league with 15 home runs rank next-to-last with a .347 slugging percentage.
This is not a call to panic. Eric Hosmer is going to hit. I know I’m increasingly alone on this, but I believe Gordon is going to hit. Paul Orlando is horrendous right now — 5 for 39, with no extra base hits, 12 strikeouts and one walk — but he’ll be replaced by Jorge Soler soon enough. Brandon Moss is going to hit.
This is one of the worst offenses in baseball right now, but by the end of the year, I think they’ll be closer to the middle in the American League.
The pitching could stay. Not at this level, but it’s a good group. I believe Danny Duffy is a star, Ian Kennedy is terrific when on, Jason Vargas’ early returns from Tommy John surgery have been incredible, and there’s enough depth to fill out.
I realize I’m taking the optimistic view here on pretty much all of this, but I believe it all.
Think about it this way: The Royals have, basically, three guys hitting out of nine* and they have won half their games.
* That may be generous with Lorenzo Cain. He’s had a lot of soft singles, and not much power, in that .350 average. I do like the plate discipline, though. He’s swinging at pitches outside the strike zone less often than ever.
The offense was always going to start slow. It’ll heat up.
Well, yeah. That’s why I wrote this.
Two points I want to make:
▪ I believe the Royals should be playing Whit Merrifield at second base. I am constantly surprised how often baseball people use spring-training performance to see what they want to see. Mondesi was terrific in the spring, but has yet to prove he can produce against minor-league pitching, let alone major-league pitching. If it went right, the Royals could’ve given Mondesi a month or three in Omaha to develop and build confidence. They also could’ve potentially pushed his free-agency back a year, which is important, because...
▪ I tend to believe the Royals are right about Mondesi, that he has a chance to be a star. He is, to borrow a scout term, very toolsy. I’m glad he hit that homer last week, 436 feet to dead center, because I think it was easy for fans to roll their eyes when the Royals talked about his power. It’s real. Mondesi is a switch-hitting natural shortstop who very well could be a 30-30 guy fairly soon in the big leagues.
OK, so all that said, I hope you read the whole column but here’s an interesting line from Ned Yost, when I asked if he was taking a similar approach with Mondesi that he did with Alcides Escobar in the early years — throw him in, and let him sink or swim.
“A little bit,” Yost said. “A little bit. At least for the first month. Give him a fair first full month, and see where we’re at at the end of that. It does take some time.”
I do believe I speak fluent Ned-ese, enough to know he would not have mentioned “give him a fair first full month,” without that meaning something.
The Royals could afford to let Escobar fail in the big leagues, because the franchise was at a very different point back then. Yost arrived in 2010, and club officials always talk about wanting to win every game, but if they’re honest they’ll admit that 2010, 2011, and even 2012 to some degree were always about 2013 and beyond.
Now, they are trying the incredibly difficult multitask of making 2017 about 2017 and beyond.
So they can wear it with Mondesi, to a point, but he has to help them out in one or preferably two ways: be the organization’s best option defensively, and show enough with the bat to get by.
I’m writing this Tuesday morning, so the Royals haven’t announced anything officially yet, but it looks like Whit Merrifield will be called up. It’s only nine games, but he is making an absolute mockery of Pacific League pitching: .412, four doubles, three homers, and a .794 slugging percentage.
This could mean less time for Mondesi, but Paulo Orlando has been unplayably bad — .128/.171/.128 — so Merrifield could merely be an instant upgrade in right field before Jorge Soler returns.
Either way, we’re about halfway through that one-month mark for Mondesi, and he’s hitting .125/.152/.219. The bar is lower for him offensively, because he can move runners with bunts, make plays defensively, and an investment in him now could help turn him into a star later.
But it’s not that low.
Again, I do tend to agree with the Royals, that he might be a star someday. But part of trying to juggle development and winning is that there are no scholarships at the big league level. Guys have to produce.
Look at Matt Strahm.
The list of players who’ve gone over a 120 OPS+ at age 25 or younger in the last five years — as Hosmer did in 2015 — is essentially an exclusive list of baseball stars:
Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Buster Posey, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew Mccutcheon, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Manny Machado, and more.
The only cautionary tales are Dominic Brown and Yasiel Puig. Hosmer has already had a better big-league career than each.
Hosmer is loaded with talent. He wasn’t as good last year as his 25 homers and 104 RBIs would suggest, but I will bet you my house against a pack of Starburst jelly beans* that Scott Boras will mention Hosmer hit 17 homers on the road last year — suggesting he’s a 30-40 home run guy in a different ballpark.
* My gawd those are delicious.
He’s a very good defensive player — yes, I can read advanced metrics, too — with an impeccable record and reputation in the clubhouse and community. The biggest moments of his career happened in the playoffs, and as much or more than anyone else, his has been the face of the Royals’ rise.
He is what baseball people often call “a complete player” at a time when baseball people are valuing such a thing as never before.
This is not a case for Eric Hosmer as the best player of his generation. He needs to produce this year, especially, and so far he’s been pretty bad. His range at first isn’t great, and he hits too many ground balls.
But he’s a really good player, who is still just 27 years old, and in major-league baseball, really good young players get paid a lot of money.
Last year, Ian Desmond signed for $70 million over five years. Desmond was 31 years old, coming off a .782 OPS and 104 OPS+. His best season was 2012, when he went .845 and 125+ for the Nationals. He does not have Hosmer’s reputation on defense, or the playoff moments.
Hosmer will be three years younger, and even if he merely hits to his career averages this year, will be coming off more recent success than Desmond was.
So, with all that, let’s just say Hosmer signs Desmond’s contract through the same age at the same money. Doing so would mean ignoring the inherent inflation in baseball contracts, and mean that the team would be signing three more prime years than the Rockies got with Desmond, plus a plug-and-play team leader and better defender.
That contract would be for eight years and $112 million.
I don’t know what Hosmer will get. It could be more than that, it could be less. He could have a huge year and get six years for $130 million, or he could get hurt and do a one-year prove it deal for $15 million.
I have no idea.
But the thinking that he has no chance at a $100 million contract is just not based in reality.
Alright, a week or so out from the draft, time to talk quarterbacks!
I say 35 percent, and 22 percent.
Both numbers are probably higher than they should be, but a few things are going on here, some of which we talked about on the Border Patrol:
The fact that the Chiefs have not drafted a quarterback in the first round since 1983 is engrained in the heads of fans and anyone else who follows the team, but it has very little to do with the men currently running the franchise.
This will be the 34th draft since Todd Blackledge, but only the fifth since Andy Reid and John Dorsey took over. They had nothing to do with the previous 29, and before you talk about Clark Hunt being an extension of his father, please think about whether you really believe Clark or Lamar have ever told a GM or coach who to draft.
Before joining the Chiefs, Reid and Dorsey each spent high draft picks on quarterbacks. The first thing they did together in Kansas City was get a quarterback. They have consistently brought in prospects. They are aware that quarterback play is important.
I just keep thinking about all the reasons the Chiefs have to draft a quarterback. It makes so much sense, and since you mentioned trading up, the Chiefs have the inventory of picks to make a move if they want.
You’d still take the field, because there are 21 other positions on the offense and defense, and we all understand they can rework Smith’s deal to bring the cap number down, but this is absolutely the best path — and this is the most important part — if the Chiefs see a quarterback they like.
Unless it’s Kizer, because that guy is going to flop.
But I think you’re asking about other positions, too, in which case I’ll give you a top five:
2. Cornerback. Marcus Peters is a stud, and after that the Chiefs could use some depth. But, also: you can never go wrong drafting corners early, because you always need corners, and the good ones tend to go early.
3. Nose tackle. Dontari Poe is gone — the right move, in my opinion — and the Chiefs could use some depth on the interior defensive line.
/Big drop off/
4. Inside linebacker. Derrick Johnson is at the point where you need to think about the next Derrick Johnson, and any human who can help stop the run is a human who would be a welcomed employee of the Kansas City Chiefs.
5. Tight end. This isn’t a big need, beyond depth, but the guys behind Travis Kelce are all forgettable, so as much as Andy Reid and Alex Smith like to use tight ends, this could be a place to add a weapon.
I know a lot of people would probably have running back in here somewhere, but to me, those guys are usually available later in the draft. Also, if I was in charge, I’m not sure I wouldn’t use a pick on a receiver before a running back, even with Tyreek Hill’s emergence.
I think Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West can get you through a year, and that doesn’t account for adding to the position through free-agency. Jeremy Maclin took a step back last year, and I believe in Chris Conley, but some more talent there wouldn’t be a bad thing.
We live a few short blocks from a high school, and I like to take the kids down to watch games there sometimes, but I assume that doesn’t count.
When the Royals opened the season in Minneapolis, my wife and brother in law came along. They went to the baseball game, hung out while I worked, and then we stayed an extra day to catch a Wild game the next night.
It was great.
People say this all the time, but they say it all the time because it’s true: hockey in person is so much fun. The speed, the sounds, the build-up, the creativity, the shift changes, the subtleties, it’s just a terrific product.
A few minutes before I saw this question, actually, I was looking for dates we might be able to take at least the kids to a Royals game. The T-Bones usually play an 11 a.m. game at some point, which is nice for at least three reasons: works well for the kids’ nap schedule, isn’t the hottest part of the day, and they serve pieces of pizza as big as my toddler’s torso. Last year, he had two.
I have a feeling a Sporting KC game, if we could make it work, would blow his mind.
I hope by the end of the year we’ve taken the kids to baseball, soccer, basketball, football, and hockey games.
The spirit of your question, I think, had more to do with things like the Wild game. But I’m at the point where every minute I’m not working revolves around the kids, somehow.
▪ Do not plan on going anywhere near the stadium, before or after the game. Stay downtown, or near Westport or the Plaza. Hang out there, when you’re not at the game.
▪ Bring more beer than you’ll drink, find the best smelling tailgate around, and make friends. Compliment the city, and the food. Kansas Citians are suckers for compliments about their city and food. You’ll be rewarded with lots of cooked meats.
▪ If you’re at a Chiefs game, don’t talk mess, particularly not to a drunk man in a jersey and/or facepaint. That could go very badly very quickly.
▪ If you’re at a Royals game, take a lap around. It’s a beautiful setting, lots going on.
▪ The College Basketball Experience is worth a few hours.
▪ Same with the Nelson-Atkins.
▪ If you’re going to get barbecue somewhere, don’t believe anyone who says you just have to go to a particular place. There are lots of great places.
▪ But don’t feel like you have to eat barbecue, if you’re not into barbecue. There are lots of great places around town, many of which do not even have wood chips on the premises.
▪ Don’t get confused by State Line Road. It’s really not a big deal. Google Maps will tell you “Welcome To (Kansas/Missouri)” when you cross, but nothing’s different, other than a few cents on gas prices and the bars tend to stay open a little later in Missouri.
Nobody wants to hear this, but some of it is he’s just getting better luck. Balls aren’t bouncing off gloves for doubles, or game-winning runs. He’s getting terrific defense behind him, and making plays of his own defensively.
Again, nobody wants to hear that, but it’s true. It’s part of this.
Part of his bad 2016 was on him, too, because he wasn’t good enough and then at some point he seemed to lose confidence.
Toward that end, mostly, I just see better command. He’s throwing his curveball less, his change-up more, and has all but scrapped his cutter. He’s getting more swings and misses, and improved command means he’s getting hitters to swing at his pitches more often, rather than having to put something in the strike zone behind in the count.
Rustin wrote more about this, with Dave Eiland noting better mechanics and confidence. This is only six innings, so just like we note the small sample size with Brandon Moss and Eric Hosmer and other hitters struggling, we need to keep it in mind with the positives*.
* Except for Danny Duffy. That guy’s going to be awesome all year.
But, yeah. Looks much better, which, particularly with Strahm trying to figure it out in Omaha, is essential.
Rustin wrote about this, too. Herrera is throwing too many sliders, particularly right now, when it’s not working. But I wouldn’t want to see him scrap the pitch, because it was good for him last year, and in the 2015 playoffs, and could be a very good pitch for him to complement the fastball.
The two that have been hit for homers this season each deserved to be homers. The one to Jake Marisnick was a bad idea executed poorly — Marisnick had no chance against Herrera’s fastball — and the one to Rajai Davis was just a terrible pitch.
It’s hard for closers to “work on stuff,” because they’re always pitching with the game on the line, but I’m glad Herrera seems to still have confidence in the pitch. He might be well advised to use it more judiciously, at least until he has a consistent feel, but it’s been a good pitch for him before.
They did, and it would.
They actually wanted to sign Greg Holland even when his arm was still in a sling. They wanted him to remain in the organization, be with the team, and rehab with their trainers.
Holland opted to rehab on his own — or, I believe more accurately, with Scott Boras’ medical team — and signed with the Rockies. The deal is for $7 million guaranteed this year, with $3 million in incentives, and a vesting option that could be worth as much as $14 million next year.
That’s probably more than the Royals would’ve spent, and Holland would’ve had to make himself comfortable with one of two roles — competing with Herrera for the closer’s job, or taking the eighth inning in front of Herrera.
In Colorado, he’s the closer — and is perfect through seven save opportunities.
Makes perfect sense that he’d go there.
This is a bit like the Ben Zobrist situation after 2015. The Royals would’ve loved to have had Zobrist, but knew it wasn’t going to happen once the Cubs got interested. Zobrist is from that part of the country, wanted to play there, joined a loaded roster, and the Royals are not going to win a bidding war against the Cubs.
It’s not enough for one side to be interested.
Makes a lot of sense, but he did pull of the rare feat of actually losing the introductory news conference with many when he talked about a contract extension for Bruce Weber.
We don’t need to rehash the Weber stuff here — this is a column I wrote recently — but that’s going to be an issue that follows Taylor. Weber is still in that awkward middle ground, where he hasn’t been bad enough to be fired, or good enough for full-throated support, so an extension would need to be structured in a correlating way.
But that will work itself out, one way or the other. The most important thing Taylor will do — and it’s not even close — is prepare to transition to the next football coach. Bill Snyder gets to decide when to walk away, and along with Tom Brady and Halle Berry is among Father Time’s strongest challengers at the moment.
This is delicate, for a hundred reasons, perhaps most prominently three:
▪ Snyder is a legend, and he’s humble, but he also knows he’s a legend.
▪ The last time they did this, they went away from Snyder’s wishes, it turned into a disaster, and he came back to clean up the mess.
▪ He wants his son to be the next coach, and this, um, is not an opinion that’s widely shared.
That means the decision is either going to capitulate to Snyder, tick off Snyder, or require lots of diplomacy with Snyder. That’s a difficult thing to walk into.
Taylor seems to have all the credentials, and by every account I’ve heard, is a terrific leader and good man. I like the hire, but it’s always a lot different before the bullets start flying.
Speaking of Taylor...
Scott clarified he means this in the sense of how long Taylor will be at K-State, and the future of the Big 12.
I think so.
Actually, I strongly believe so.
The fault line between the power five and everyone else can be vague, and some schools like TCU and Utah and Rutgers have leaped to the safe(r) side. At least so far, nobody has been shoved the other way.
If the Big 12 finally blows up, K-State and Iowa State would be among the nervous schools. Conference realignment has made the fact clear that television markets get priority, and it’s logical to see that K-State could be vulnerable there. Kansas State’s athletic budget is near the bottom of Big 12 schools.
But it’s always seemed likely to me that realignment would lead to four super conferences, with Big 12 schools “merging” with the Pac-12, Big 12, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences.
But even if a few drop off, I would think that schools like Washington State, Rutgers, Iowa State (sorry, Ames, I love you), Colorado, and Oregon State would have at least as much reason to worry as K-State.
One thing a power-five administrator told me recently that I keep in mind: schools like Texas and Alabama and Michigan need schools like Washington State and K-State and Mississippi State, because they need the wins. If it’s just the 20 richest schools playing each other, Nos. 11-20 aren’t going to be very happy.
K-State has a lot going for it. Good attendance, facilities, financially solvent, and MHK’s daily flights to Dallas and Chicago on American make it easier to recruit.
I’m smart enough to know we’re all pretty dumb when we try to predict realignment. But I think K-State will come out of any upcoming realignment on the safe-ish side of college sports.
Fishing is, under the right circumstances, among the best possible ways to spend a day. If you’re with friends, and one of them happens to know what they’re doing, and the fish are biting and the weather is nice and the beer is cold and the cigars are going, a day fishing can be one of the best days of the year.
I’ve come to appreciate fishing later in life. I never did it much growing up, or even into adulthood, until my father-in-law invited me on a trip he does in Minnesota. I’ve known this man for 25 years, but he made me wait until I actually married his daughter, which I will always respect, and I spend 51 weeks a year looking forward to the trip.
But it is not a sport, not particularly close, and I would argue that even things like video games, bowling, and darts are closer to being a sport than fishing. There’s a subtle skill to it, I recognize that fact, from where to put the boat on which day to what line and bait to use, and so many other factors.
But, generally speaking, if you can do something while drinking your fifth beer without significantly impairing your performance, you are not playing a sport.
Put another way: if you can actually get into worse shape while doing something, you are not doing a sport.
Except this was Saturday, and I was on my way back from Costco, running late for a 1-year-old birthday party, searching for eggs and pepperoni and mini bagels, and might’ve stared weirdly, shook your hand, and asked if you knew where the fly swatters were.