Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Royals surging, Royals trading (?), Kyle Zimmer and Pat Mahomes

The relationship between professional athletes and the people who cheer for them can be endlessly complicated, and we always see this when some football stars skip offseason voluntary workouts.

In Kansas City, it was Marcus Peters, Eric Berry, Justin Houston and Dee Ford skipping at least some voluntary workouts.

Photos surfaced that showed Berry seemed to be in decent shape, but I don’t know that anyone has ever questioned any of those particular players’ work habits. The criticism, to the extent that it exists, usually centers around whether skipping voluntary workouts shows a lack of commitment to the team, which can be code for any number of things.

As humans, we act in our own self interest most of the time. For players, that means a certain level of accomplishment or desire for a new contract can be reason to skip the voluntaries. You don’t see James Winchester or Tyler Bray skipping.

Likewise, for fans, that means we care primarily about these men as athletes. So a few days out of a five- or six-month offseason doesn’t seem a lot to ask. They’re paid well and cheered hard for the trouble, after all.

Personally, I find it hard to care much about whether guys show up. Particularly stars like Peters, Berry and Houston. You never know their reasons. Maybe their best friend is getting married. Maybe a parent is sick. Maybe they just want to watch their kid play soccer. Peters essentially said he wanted to be home, around his family, and that’s good enough reason for me.

Whatever, it’s their life, and they’re judged on what they do during the regular season no matter what happens in OTAs.

But Michael Bennett, the Seahawks star/Go-go dancer, gave the most thoughtful answer I’ve heard about skipping voluntary workouts.

He said, according to beat writer Gregg Bell:

“I like to be a parent. I’ve got daughters. I’m a coach. I’m a teacher at the school. I do things in the community. I try to balance my football life with my actual reality. So, to find that great balance as a human being. I think it’s important as athletes to find that.

“I think a lot of times athletes have a problem when they retire because they build an identity around sports. Then when the sport is gone you are lost. So along this way you’ve got to transition yourself to be able to (live) in civilization. So find different things you can be a part of. Find out who you are.

“That’s why I do (what) I do. I mean, I train harder than anyone in the NFL. So I’m not worried about being in shape or being the best player I can be. What I am worried about is how good of a parent I can be, and how much better a husband I can be.”

First of all: standing ovation.

I love to see anyone, and particularly men, prioritize being a parent and spouse over an employee. It’s far too easy to go the other way, and I know I’ve been guilty of that at times.

This hits me in a personal way, because the work-life balance is the biggest challenge of my life. I am well aware that the truth in that sentence makes me an incredibly lucky person, not just because it means I’m not battling addiction or major health or relationship problems, but because in my specific case it’s a sign that I love both my work and my family.

But, still. It is the biggest challenge of my life, and something I think about constantly.

Bennett is not a professional speaker, and he’s opening up here, so I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but there’s a little too much self-righteousness in what he’s saying.

If he’s trying to claim some nobility for skipping voluntary workouts, that’s an extreme stretch. He’s in a privileged position, and for a lot of reasons, including the example we set for our children, it’s important to work as hard and be as responsible as possible in our work lives.

But the bigger point he makes is something I think we’d all do better to keep in mind. Far too often, far too many of us tend to judge ourselves by our professional lives. In many cases, it’s our most visible selves, the part of us we know is most easily and often judged by others.

That’s why saying it out loud like Bennett is here is important — when he’s retired, he’s not going to care whether he made two Pro Bowls or four. He’s not going to care whether he made 48 sacks or 58.

But he will care whether he was a good father, or a good husband. That he has that perspective now, in the middle of a terrific career that’s made him rich and famous, is admirable.

That he’s expressing that perspective in such a real way is important, because it’s going to help someone else.

This week’s reading recommendation is Mike Vaccaro on the darkest day in Mets history (and the terrific tabloid war that went with it), and the eating recommendation is the P1 at Vietnam Cafe.

Please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

WHAT THE &$&#)@(*&%

For the record, with this and other similar silliness, I’m working under the assumption that we are all adults or at least moderately intelligent children and recognize Alex Gordon leaving Jason Vargas hanging as a joke between teammates and not some flaming example of a feud.

Gordon is not much of a comedian, but this is his move, and in a small effort to make the world a little better I am rededicating myself to staying away from the cheap or intentionally inflammatory brain numb of wondering if Gordon and Vargas actually hate each other.

At some point this fall, cameras will catch what looks like a testy moment between Alex Smith and Pat Mahomes, or Smith and Andy Reid, or Justin Houston and Dee Ford, and we’ll have another round of armchair high school gossip. I am telling you right now I will do my best to stay away from that.

We’re a team, you guys.

Thank you good sir and the same to you if you have procreated!

By the way, you guys, I don’t know when it happened but I am such a damn dad now. I asked for an hour to go on a run, and then to be able to smoke some ribs for dinner with the in-laws. My wife got me a pair of pants, and I’m genuinely pleased with that.

The highlight of my day was the 3-year-old, after yelling that he didn’t like ribs, taking a bite and saying, “I love ribs!” I’m typing these words while wearing a pair of shorts I got from Costco.

What I’m saying here is, you may be dadder than me, but if you want to challenge, you better bring a lunch pail.

Anyway, your question ... like pretty much anything in baseball, let’s stay away from sudden or severe reactions.

The Royals, I believe, are a good team. I believed this when it made no sense to believe it, and I believe it now. They stunk a wretched stink for about four weeks, but since May 7 are 24-15, which is better than everyone but the freakish Astros.

All teams are streaky, and it sure has felt like the Royals have been particularly so over the last few years.

But if I’m right about the Royals being a good team, and not a great team, then carrying around that anvil of a 10-20 start is going to make a playoff spot very difficult to attain.

Let’s look at a few things. All three teams the Royals played on the road trip are currently below .500. The Padres and Giants are two of the three worst teams in baseball.

Even during this recent good run, the Royals have only outscored their opponents by six runs, which you can spin as knowing how to win the close ones but in reality usually indicates a stretch of good fortune.

Danny Duffy remains injured, the Royals are getting little production from the DH spot, Alex Gordon is trending the right way but still has terrible overall numbers, Kelvin Herrera has given up more home runs already than in any full season since 2013, and rules remain in place that require Alcides Escobar to hit when he plays.

Nobody should say this is impossible. Baseball is stocked with parity, and the Royals have good players. The cover charge for a playoff appearance, if you count the Wild Card Game, has been generally lowered to around 87 to 90 wins.

That’s not an enormous stretch. But it does remain unlikely.

Think about this. This 24-15 stretch is the best sustained stretch of the season, by far. But only five teams can make the playoffs, and even the commissioner agreed to not count the Royals’ first 30 games, they would only be 3  1/2 games clear of the AL’s sixth team, and 5  1/2 clear of the 11th team.

The frustrating part, to me, is that this is generally what I believe the Royals to be. They’re not terrific, but they are solid, and tough, and gutsy. They are a sum greater than their parts, and even against an objectively better team in the playoffs, would be a mother of an out.

After the parade 2  1/2 years ago, this group is playing with house money. It’s all gravy from here. But that above paragraph represents a tantalizing possibility.

But, then, the commissioner is probably not going to allow the Royals to erase those first 30 games. We can ask him on Wednesday, but I’d be surprised if he said yes. Cleveland just swept the Twins, taking over first place, and it’s easy to imagine the Indians spreading the gap with the rest of the division.

Last year, the Orioles and Blue Jays took wild-card spots with 89 wins. To get there, the Royals would need to finish 55-38. That’s a 96-win pace over 162 and, basically, what the Royals have been doing over the last six weeks.

* Remember, when the Royals were the best team in the American League wire to wire in 2015, they won 95 games.

It’s a big ask for them to keep up that pace over the last 16 weeks.

In other words, the Royals essentially packed all of the slump they could slump over 162 games into the first 30. No more. They’ve put themselves on a tightrope.

They can do it. They’re capable. They’ve shook out of worse situations in bursts, though never over this much of a season.

It’s possible. I wouldn’t bet on it.

This remains the likeliest outcome, I believe.

If this is the way it goes, the Royals would have passed on an opportunity to build toward the next parade in the most efficient way possible. It would be much more disappointing than a typical non-playoff season, because Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain are each likely to be playing somewhere else next year.

Many of you know where I stand on this. I believe you should either be winning or building, nothing in between, so merely taking compensation picks instead of prospect packages for losing homegrown stars would be a major whiff.

But let’s be clear about something. We talked a little about this on the Border Patrol, and this will be more of a topic as the season goes on, but the consequences of getting the sell-or-buy decision wrong aren’t as severe as they used to be.

Some of this comes from the compensation picks, but more of it comes from a baseball world that better understands the value of prospects. You rarely see major hauls of prospects moved at the trade deadline now.

The Royals got Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jake Odorizzi for Zack Greinke seven years ago. But that was a long time ago, the Royals’ return looks better in hindsight than many believed in the moment, and Greinke was a 27-year-old Cy Young winner with two years of club control remaining.

Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain are good players, with two months of club control after the trade deadline.

The Yankees got a nice haul for Aroldis Chapman last year, but that was the outlier, and he fit the Cubs in a way that will be hard to replicate.

The point here is that if the Royals do decide to sell at the deadline, a lot of fans are likely to be disappointed in the return. It would be better than a compensation pick, but perhaps not so much better to tip the scales in Dayton Moore’s mind.

If the Royals are above .500 and within five games of a playoff spot, I would be shocked to see Moore make a seller’s trade. This group has earned trust, and there will be sentimental momentum when Danny Duffy returns from the disabled list.

I tend to look at the Royals’ current state very coldly, and calculated. At this point, it needs to be 100 percent business. Alex Gordon, to my knowledge, did not turn down more money to stay in Kansas City. Teams don’t need to turn down better returns for assets, either.

Maybe that’s hard to accept in the moment, but in a year, when the emotion wipes away, you’d regret not doing everything possible to maximize your ability to win again.

It is never easy to be a seller, to give up on a group you expected to win. A move like that would be easy to criticize, but if surrendering a small chance at a playoff spot and an even smaller chance at playoff success in 2017 means bolstering your chances at both in 2020 or so, well, that’s an easy decision for me.

Because one more thing to think about: the Royals will be perfectly positioned to take advantage. They have real, proven talent, and if the American League remains bunched up in a way that makes everyone believe they’re contenders then the Royals would control the market.

But, we are having this discussion on June 20. The earliest the Royals could make any real decision would be the All-Star break, which would be three more weeks. If they’re in the middle somewhere, they could even push it back a week or two more.

The simplest way I can think of to put it:

I believe the Royals front office will need to be convinced to sell, and if I was in charge I’d need to be convinced not to sell.

First of all, Brandon Moss is not going anywhere. You didn’t say that, but we should be clear about that. Moss will be on the Royals’ big-league roster for the rest of the season. CBA rules effectively prevent them from sending him to the minor leagues, and he hit 28 home runs last year.

So he stays.

Now, that doesn’t mean he has to be a regular in the lineup. But your question about the alternatives is the smart question to ask, because that’s where it gets difficult.

The alternatives are, basically, Cheslor Cuthbert and Jorge Soler.

Cuthbert is currently slashing .205/.224/.289 (all worse than Moss), and Soler was slashing .164/.292/.273 (an OPS 79 points lower than Moss) before being sent to Omaha.

Now, Soler is mashing in Omaha: seven homers and eleven walks in 13 games since being sent down.

This is also something we talked about on the Border Patrol — just listen, already — but the Royals need to decide which guy is closer to reality.

If the coaches and teammates who’ve been around him believe he’s been able to settle his mind and find his swing in Omaha, then he’s more than good enough for regular big-league at-bats. But if they believe bringing him back up after just two weeks would kickstart the same problems that convinced them to demote him, then they need to wait.

They can! They should!

The Royals are, at the moment, carrying Chris Young. He has a 6.52 ERA since the start of last season. The league is hitting .353/.419/.579 against him this year, which is a line that looks like an MVP candidate.

Young’s contract is up at the end of the year, and the Royals are using him in a way that makes you think they have very little confidence in him regaining form, or helping them in a tangible way.

Zimmer has pitched just twice in Omaha since returning from the DL, but he’s had success, and there has never been much question about whether he’s good enough to get big-league hitters out.

The questions have been whether he can remain healthy enough to get big-league hitters out the next time.

Ned Yost does not use his bench much, so if the Royals want to be incredibly cautious, they can position their roster in a way that Zimmer pitches on his schedule. No consecutive days, maybe more.

I’d call him up as soon as scouts told me his stuff and mechanics and confidence are good enough to get big-league hitters out. Even if it’s just an inning at a time, get him a taste of the big leagues, then worry about stretching him out for a rotation spot later.

I’m all in with this idea.

I’ve been a friend to the people from the beginning, and if it took Terez gloriously going corporate for people to see that, then, well, you know I’m not going to hold a grudge.

You joke about corporate sponsorship for Arrowhead, but I’m guessing it’s 50-50 in the next five years.

They’ve been close a few times, and NFL teams do not often leave money on the table.

The reason to believe this won’t happen is that the Chiefs are obsessive about their #brand, and a huge part of that is Arrowhead, so they would be very hypocritical — even by NFL standards — to dump that.

But if they found a palatable sponsor, someone with a Kansas City connection, and the ability to keep “Arrowhead” in the official name somewhere, then Clark Hunt could cast a large check for doing no work and accepting virtually no risk.

NRG pays about $12 million a year for the naming rights to the Texans’ stadium. The Chiefs’ price would almost certainly be less than that, for a lot of reasons. The Texans host Super Bowls, play in a much bigger market, and nobody in Kansas City will ever call Arrowhead anything but Arrowhead.

But, still. This is real money the Chiefs could make.

One catch is that the lease runs through 2030. That’s a long time, and the 14 seasons left have value. But you could understand a company wanting to wait to see what happens at the end of the lease.

Whether it’s another major renovation or even a new stadium*, the opening of the next version of Arrowhead could be a good time for a new name, too.

* If it’s a new stadium, they can build it where Kauffman is now, because the Royals should be playing downtown anyway.

They could call it Sprint Field at Arrowhead Stadium, or whatever. At that point, a company is basically buying the mentions on TV and radio broadcasts.

Also: any naming rights deal would be Clark Hunt’s decision, with heavy involvement from team president Mark Donovan. John Dorsey would be nowhere near it.

Although, I think we all agree: Terez would like it to be called Innotek Stadium.

Chiefs hat, Broncos shirt, Zubaz pants.

Few years ago, I asked for a smoker for my birthday, so I come at this with a certain bias.

The answer is a little case by case here. It depends on how much (or whether) the dad enjoys fixing or building stuff, and depends heavily on how much (or whether) the dad needs tools and/or has been complaining about his tools.

I’m pretty worthless with most DYI stuff, so if my wife got me tools, I’d take it as a taunt or a hint. But our neighbor across the street turned his garage into an immaculately clean wood shop, and built most of their furniture by hand, so if his wife got him tools, he’d probably be excited.

My wife actually likes to clean. I know, it’s weird. But she does. She rarely has time to clean, but she does like it. Now, if I got her an incredible vacuum — I’m talking state of the art here, powerful, quiet, light, the whole nine — then I think she’d actually be happy.

Please keep in mind that this is a risk I’m not willing to take. Whenever we need a vacuum, we just buy a vacuum. But, still. I think I could get away with it.

So you have to ask yourself: do you like the tools? Do you like doing stuff with said tools? Have you complained about your old tools?

Or is your wife taunting you?

First time he connects on a deep pass, so some will be screaming about it on their way back from training-camp practices at St. Joe, then others after the first preseason game.

From there, the first time Alex Smith breaks a clean pocket, or checks down on third down.

In other words: it’ll happen. Very soon.

First of all, I know I’m a pebble on the beach here, but there are no post-apocalyptic events.

If the world ends, there is nothing after that.

But if the aliens finally come, and we can’t get to the caves — seriously, why are we not going to the caves? — then I’m going to Children’s Mercy Park.

I’m sacrificing space, but I’d rather be lean and strong anyway. The K and Arrowhead are older, and bigger, and in the same parking lot so I feel like they’re easy targets. I’m not trusting the NFL’s safety equipment, and there won’t be any time for the batting cages at the K.

Children’s Mercy would be more technologically advanced, maybe the corporate sponsors have some equipment stashed away somewhere, and if not, plenty of booze.

Kansas City owns this record. Tony Meola had 16 for the Wizards in 2000, and Jimmy Nielsen had 15 for Sporting in 2012.

Exactly halfway through the season, Melia has nine.

There are, obviously, so many factors that go into this. You can’t help but wonder if Sporting will open up a bit to create more scoring, which could mean more work for Melia. He could get hurt. He could face a rash of penalty kicks, although that hasn’t been a problem so far.

Sporting has found a way for success, and that’s largely in giving a terrific talent his best chance at success.

They should have more goals, too. They had two opportunities the other night in San Jose, and at least one of those has to be converted. They don’t need to open things up for goals as much as they need to make their opportunities count.

So, I don’t know. I’ll put Melia’s chances at 42 percent?

First, your toddler may have a point. It might actually be hilarious when he hits you with stuff. Especially if it makes noises when it hits you. If that’s the case, you’re swimming upstream on this one.

Bribery seems to be the best tool we have for our toddler. Matchbox cars and ice cream have him something like 85 percent potty trained, but now that I type those words I realize you can’t really give him toys for not hitting you with stuff. That doesn’t make much sense.

You can block him. Like, literally, block him. Toddlers don’t have quick releases. You can see it coming, then block him, and mock him if you want. Might distract him enough that he’s onto something else. Might be even more hilarious, in which case you’ve just made the problem worse.

You could threaten him. Do the counting thing, or threaten to send him to his room, take away his favorite toy. Something like that?

Oh-oh-oh, here’s what you do. Get him some toddler-sized (and soft) balls. Have him help you draw a target. The bigger the better, probably, but a standard sheet of computer paper would probably work. Hang the target on the wall. Tell him that’s where he throws now, and reward him for hitting the target.

Actually, I love this idea. My kid doesn’t throw stuff enough. I’m doing this tonight.

Thanks for reading. This week I’m particularly grateful for time with my wife and kids and more family in North Carolina last week, on a trip my mom planned before she died last month. I cried and laughed and thought and laughed and ate and ate. It was exactly the kind of trip she’d have loved, and I think the kind of trip she wanted us to have.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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