Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Chiefs silence, Chiefs instability, Royals’ future, Bubba Starling and more

Nine key moments in the John Dorsey-Andy Reid era for the Chiefs

A list of significant events in the Andy Reid-John Dorsey era with the Kansas City Chiefs, which ended Thursday after four-plus years following Dorsey’s departure as general manager.
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A list of significant events in the Andy Reid-John Dorsey era with the Kansas City Chiefs, which ended Thursday after four-plus years following Dorsey’s departure as general manager.

Five days since the Chiefs made the most shocking move of the NFL offseason, a firing of a successful and respected general manager that is by all accounts unprecedented in its timing and context.

Five days, and still not a word from Clark Hunt, the man in charge. Hunt has said he values stability over everything else with his team, but this is five days of letting the football world make guesses of why he fired John Dorsey after the Chiefs’ most successful four year run since the 1990s.

I have my own theories, but am willing to wait for more information or answers until settling into something more solid.

But this is 2017, and it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to wait.

Hunt remains silent, even as a mere 30 minutes of his day talking to reporters would help provide clarity. I’m uncomfortable saying it like that, because you’re free to see it as the whine of a sportswriter, but I’m saying this because Hunt’s silence is allowing fans and the football world to see whatever they’d like.

Was this Andy Reid growing power hungry, willing to shove a friend off to the side?

Was this Reid ticked off at the roster constantly being limited by salary-cap problems, and he and Hunt pushed over the edge by the bumbled release of Jeremy Maclin?

Was this Hunt hearing too many negatives about Dorsey’s management style, and Dorsey feeling a little too empowered by success, the combination torpedoing negotiations for a contract extension that Hunt had repeatedly said he expected and wanted to do?

Was there something more nefarious?

I want to be clear: I continue to think the most likely explanation is a breakdown in contract talks, which would’ve been fueled by any combination of the above and more scenarios.

Maybe Dorsey asked for too much, maybe Hunt lowballed, maybe they couldn’t agree on a structure that would keep Dorsey in Kansas City and away from Green Bay long-term.

I don’t know. But it strikes me that NFL teams are normally pretty good at controlling the message. They know when and how to close the circle tight, and the Chiefs have always operated mostly as a “one voice” franchise. The problem at the moment is that they are a “no voice” franchise, which means the message is being controlled by unnamed sources and innuendo.

NFL teams in general, and the Chiefs in particular, often respond to PR glitches like this by saying the only thing that matters is on-field success.

That’s true to a certain point, but right now the Chiefs are showing themselves to be a fairly stark exception: a team that’s gone 43-21 the last four years, but at the moment allowing itself to be seen as fundamentally unstable.

This week’s reading recommendation is Cyd Ziegler on former Chiefs lineman Ryan O’Callaghan coming out as gay, and the eating recommendation is the everything with jalapeño spread at Meshuggah Bagels.

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

There is a zero percent chance the hire will be someone Reid doesn’t like. If you need 51 percent approval for a move, then I’m saying Clark Hunt has 50 percent and Reid has 50 percent.

The hire will be someone both men respect, and want to work with, and I’m not sure who else’s opinion will matter.

Honestly, I’m not sure who else’s opinion should matter. Mark Donovan is the other man on that power line, but he’s business side, and should be able to get along with the new guy.

I’m not the only one hearing the Chiefs’ power structure will remain intact, with the coach, GM, and team president all reporting directly and equally to Hunt. But with the notable exception of Jerry Jones in Dallas, the head coach is always more important than the general manager.

That will be particularly true in Kansas City, since it will presumably be a first-time GM with a coach who’s entering his fifth year with the team — sounds strange, but only 10 men have been with their team longer — and 19th in the NFL.

This is part of why Brett Veach makes so much sense. He spent six years with Andy in Philadelphia, so in some ways his football worldview has already been molded to fit what the Chiefs need going forward.

Strange times, but even as I suspect you’re making a joke here, let’s just say out loud that the Chiefs are unquestionably in better shape than the Scott Pioli years, when the work environment was toxic and the on-field product was mostly atrocious. Reid is as consistent as anyone in the league, in both results and process.

But if nothing else, this offseason has rocked the intellectual infrastructure: the general manager, director of football operations, director of pro scouting, and director of football administration, all gone.

This is part of why the timing, and Hunt’s specific handling of all this, matters. If you’re going to fire Dorsey, you can do it in January, retain director of football operations Chris Ballard, and maintain some consistency.

From a fan’s perspective, the good news is that the Chiefs have enough in place that a bad GM hire wouldn’t hurt as much as it might in other organizations, and wouldn’t be felt for longer.

The roster is stable, the quarterback of the future has been drafted, and the coaching staff is solid.

There is a scenario where the changes could seep into the locker room, and maybe a 7-9 season is coming, but there are no boats without holes in the NFL.

It’s frustrating that the Chiefs seem to have put a few holes in their own boat here, but still. The roster and coaches are easy to believe in, and that’s always the most important thing.

Judgment calls, my man.

I do think it’s responsible to loosen up a little in a situation like this to try to get to the truth of the story, and if you’re talking about Terez’s piece here, I’d point out three things:

▪ You get more context about what was going on in the front office than in any piece I’ve seen written by anyone.

▪ Terez gave Dorsey the opportunity to respond.

▪ There are no personal slams included.

That can be a difficult thing to pull off, and particularly with an organization that closes the circle tight like the Chiefs, being able to pull it off is part of what makes Terez one of the best in the business.

The closest anything in the story comes to a personal attack was that Dorsey’s management style “could wear on people.”

But, honestly, wouldn’t 75 percent of the American workforce say the same thing about at least one of their bosses?*

* I’d also say that, to a certain extent, a management style that DOESN’T sometimes wear on people would probably be ineffective in a high-pace, competitive, bottom line world like pro football.

One thing I’ve always tried to use as a gauge: would you tell whatever it is you’re writing or whatever quote you’re using to the person’s face?

That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical or use criticism. We’re all adults. But it does mean you shouldn’t be using personal insults, or cheap shots.

The Chiefs are paying the balance of Dorsey’s contract, at least as long as he doesn’t take a job somewhere else. I’m guessing the contract includes language that at least discourages Dorsey from talking publicly, so this isn’t a criticism of him not defending himself.

But it is an acknowledgment that in the real world, this is news, and responsible journalists will do what they can to tell as much of the story responsibly as possible.

Dorsey.

Maclin would be second. I was surprised, but with that kind of cap number, it’s fairly self-explanatory what happened.

I was mildly surprised at the draft, just because of the history of the Chiefs and quarterbacks, but that was after months of writing and talking about how everything lined up perfectly this year for the Chiefs to make an aggressive move.

They had the inventory of picks, the motivation in Alex Smith’s down year and contract, and a group of prospects everyone said had high ceilings but needed some time and good coaching.

If you believe that every action or inaction can be a risk, then not taking a quarterback, and using all those picks traditionally would’ve been a bigger risk than taking a guy who can do stuff like this but also sometimes does stuff like this.

Ballard, I don’t know why anyone would be surprised by that. He’s long been among the names people float for open GM jobs, and the Chiefs have had a run of success that demands other teams look to steal.

But, I do agree with your point. In most offseasons, the Maclin cut or the Mahomes pick would’ve been the most surprising move.

Jorge Soler is hitting .323 with 16 walks and eight home runs in 18 games for Omaha since being sent down at the end of May.

I was in Omaha for last Thursday’s game, when Soler had three hits including a double, and one of his outs may’ve been his hardest hit ball of the night. The people there and in the front office tend to believe this is real, and more of a result of him finally being healthy than anything else.

His promotion is the most obvious and easiest way to potentially improve the big league team. Ramon Torres would be the most likely man to be sent down. If I’m looking at the roster correctly, the only other position players with options are Whit Merrifield and Jorge Bonifacio, and they’re both producing and playing everyday.

They could go back down to 12 pitchers. That would be the other move, but again, the guys with options are generally performing well.

In a world devoid of these inside-baseball rules, Brandon Moss would be the one to go, but the Royals would almost certainly lose him to another team if they exposed him to waivers. I know a lot of you just said riddance, but Moss hit 28 home runs in the big leagues last year — that’s three more than anyone else on the roster — and they owe him around $9 million through the end of next season.

With how little Ned Yost tends to use his bench, I’d be happy keeping 13 pitches and giving Soler most of the DH plate appearances, and using Moss as a pinch hitter and spot DH against certain righties on certain days.

This team has been inconsistent enough that I don’t think you ever just assume they have it figured out, but sure, they could get to a wild card and maybe better.

One thing that’s easy to forget is how flawed, at their lowest point, many eventual wild card teams are. Another thing that’s easy to forget is how bad, at their lowest point, the eventual winners of the 2014 American League Wild Card Game were.

I actually have this vivid memory of turning to Andy at some point in those playoffs and telling him, “You know, nobody’s ever going to remember how horse(bleep) this team was.”

I did not say bleep.

There are still some reasons for concern. They probably need Kelvin Herrera’s best, or at least his usual dependability. Alex Gordon’s production needs to continue. Eric Hosmer is a terrific talent, but also inconsistent, so the offense will have to pick him up at some point the same way he’s carried them for much of the last month or two.

Alcides Escobar remains historically inept offensively, and that is not an exaggeration. No man has played a full season with a worse OPS than Escobar’s current .506 since 1967, which was before baseball lowered the mound.

If you take into account a much boosted scoring environment, no man has been further behind his peers since 1940. This feels a little mean to point out, but it’s true: since the turn of the century, 269 National League pitchers have had an OPS higher than Escobar’s (min. 20 plate appearances).

So continuing to win at this pace will be a challenge.

Here’s the conflicted place I find myself:

I’ve never doubted this group was good enough to make the playoffs, but I do worry that a team without much margin for error used too much of it in a 10-20 start.

Well, they won’t be a buyer. They can’t really be a buyer, I don’t think. They just don’t have the depth in the farm system to make a major deal, and even if we’re past the point of wondering whether the Royals will be sellers — and, again, I do believe we’re past that point — it’s a significant leap from there to believe they should be buyers.

But, if they did decide to buy, and did manage to scrape up enough collateral, I believe they’d target bullpen help and perhaps a generic bat depending on how they end up feeling about the corner outfield and DH spots.

All that said, again, they’re not going to buy at the deadline.

Unless you count something like the Josh Willingham move in 2014, which actually came after the trade deadline. Something like that would always be possible.

No.

/waits/

...

/waits more/

...

Oh, you wanted more? No, because no player involved in any Royals playoff run should ever feel like they owe anyone in Kansas City anything.

No, because baseball’s CBA is set up for players to maximize their value in free-agency.

No, because no player has accepted less money in free-agency to stay with the Royals since ... well, I don’t know when, if ever*.

* I believe it’s possible Alex Gordon would’ve accepted slightly less, but I don’t believe he was given that choice, and his is a very specific and rare situation, and even then unlikely.

Players are generally willing to take less than full value for signing extensions before they hit free-agency. The Royals have been as effective as anyone in baseball with this: Gordon’s first contract, both of Perez’s extensions, Zack Greinke, and so on.

But a player going to open market and then taking less to stay in Kansas City would need to be OK with having risked future value by waiting for free-agency, then passing on the benefits by taking less money.

Put it this way: if any of those guys took less money in free-agency to stay with the Royals it would be every bit as surprising as John Dorsey being fired in late June.

Oh, I thought the honeymoon was over already.

I haven’t heard anything non-negative about Gordon in a while. I hope he’s always remembered and appreciated for what he did in 2015 and before, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t see his current contract as an albatross.

And that’s with him hitting better recently — .267/.327/.511 in his last 13 games.

Barring a large and long turnaround, this will likely go down as the worst contract in franchise history. It’s already the biggest, and the Royals were generally OK with expecting an unproductive final year of the contract in exchange for everything else, but he was worse in that first year of the contract than they imagined he’d be in the last year.

I feel bad for him, to be honest, and I say that even as I understand he’s not looking for sympathy and that the idea of feeling bad for a man on a four-year $72 million contract to play baseball for the only organization he’s ever known is patently ridiculous.

But I feel bad, because I’ve always admired how he approached his job and everything around it. I admire him for the professional adversity he faced, never complained about, and overcame.

But I do feel bad for him, because it seems like many are only going to end up remembering these struggles, and allow the part he played in the parade to be lost.

Well, first of all, you guys know I hate to link to stuff here, but you’re going to just come right out and beg me, fine, here’s the piece I did on Bubba Starling playing the best baseball of his career after feeling like quitting.

Ahem.

In some ways, you’re asking me to predict whether he continues to hit well through September, because I believe he’ll be called up after the rosters expand if he’s still hitting.

I believe he’d be called up for a few reasons. He’s talented, and fits the profile of a guy the Royals might want to expose to the big leagues. Assuming Lorenzo Cain signs somewhere else as a free agent, Starling would be the best-case scenario for center field in 2018, so the Royals would want to do everything possible to make that work.

He’s already on the 40-man roster, so they wouldn’t have to make any moves. And he could legitimately help them win a game, even without hitting — either as a defensive replacement in right field, or as a pinch runner.

Starling has one more option year, meaning he could spend all of 2018 in the minor leagues before needing to stay in the big leagues out of camp in 2019.

But that means the clock is ticking — he turns 25 in August — and an organization that often likes to challenge players may see a September call-up as good prep for a 2018 spent up and down I-29.

There will be so much more to talk about with Starling as decisions start to be made, but one thing I’m struck by is how much different his attitude and reputation among teammates and coaches is compared to what it could be for a bonus baby with other professional possibilities.

He is a constant worker, humble with those around him, and if anything, actually needing more confidence. The Royals are an organization that will bet on those types of players, particularly if they believe the player can help them in other ways.

The challenge with Starling when he comes up will be mental. Tommy Gregg, the hitting coach in Omaha, said he would expect Starling to struggle offensively in the beginning before adjusting and finding success.

That path makes the most sense, but Starling is at times unforgivingly hard on himself. Getting through the 0-for-4s could be difficult. He’ll need to focus on process and small improvements and the talent he has to help a team win in many ways.

It’d be a heck of a story if he found big-league success. Not just because he’s local, and was picked so high, and all of that. But because of what he’s gone through in the minor leagues.

Bubba Starling, after revealing he almost quit pro baseball this year, is hitting. 333 and slugging .508 in his last 35 games at Class AAA Omaha and is closer to a major-league call-up than he has ever been since signing with the Kansas City Royal

Well, sure, they could’ve.

And I absolutely believe that much more should’ve been done by now.

It would’ve been nice if there was more of a partnership, or long-term commitment there. I said this in that column, but if MLB can keep the Hall of Fame going, it’s a shame they haven’t given the Negro Leagues Museum a fraction of the same support.

This is a story of baseball history, but also American history. I suspect that some of the commitment now from MLB and the union comes from a joint concern about the lack of participation from African-American kids. I respect that, but am also disappointed that it had to get to that point for some attention.

And even then I have some reservations about whether the commitment would’ve happened if not for the ambition and motivation from union chief Tony Clark.

You can probably tell I’m conflicted here.

That probably came through a bit in the column.

Because it’s a difficult situation. They just committed a million dollars. That’s significant, and will go a long, long way toward keeping the museum alive and expanding. This is why I wrote the column the way I did, actually.

This is a nice first step. And if MLB and the union aren’t ready to commit to a long-term commitment, fine, I’m not going to blast them for giving a million dollars.

But if this is the last we see of the institution of baseball giving a significant contribution to the museum, then we’re going to have some problems. A sports columnist in Kansas City would have some easy material.

I don’t know if this makes me weird or not, but I think all the time about how my life would be different if I was born in a different time. Not to different parents, or in a different place. But just a different time.

Sometimes, that’s drastic. Like, what the Wild West have been like? Just casual gun fights and terrible food and burning in the sun. Or what if I was born in 2050, with flying cars and a jet pack so I could day trip to the moon?

I don’t know if Back to the Future put all of this in my brain, or if my brain was already programmed to think like that, but either way that’s my favorite movie of all time.

I’m thinking of all of this now, because I think I was about 10 years too early for World of Warcraft. I was, at least in theory, an adult by the time it came out. Mid-20s or so and, dang, actually, now that I’m typing these words I realize I probably did fit the demographic of those who got addicted.

But by that time, my nerdy addictions were already set. Reading. Sports stats. Reading about sports stats. In my spare time, the bar.

My video game tastes have essentially not advanced since I was in high school. I think I’d prefer Madden 92 to Madden ’17. When I’m waiting on a call, or otherwise left with nothing to do, I might call up Tetris or Ms Pac-Man but have never had even a small desire to play Call of Duty.

I do think about these things all the time. If I was older, I’d probably be ticked at all the changes to football. If I was younger, I’d probably think the people who can’t even consider whether LeBron James is as good as Michael Jordan are dinosaurs.

If I was older, I’d probably call it Instaface, and be as bizarrely proud of social media ignorance as an NFL head coach. If I was younger, I’d have totally missed out on Bo Jackson.

So, I’m not over here complaining. But your World of Warcraft references go straight over my head.

To answer your first question, usually, what makes a sports organization “first class” is that the person doing the talking has a vested interest in labeling a sports organization “first class.”

It’s an inherently subjective title, without any attached reward or honor. When a coach or executive is hired somewhere, he or she will almost certainly call that organization “first class.”

But I don’t know what that means, exactly. You would think it should mean on-field success and off-field cleanliness, but both of those markers are hard to define.

As for the local teams, these things are always cyclical, and subject to the fickle winds of change, but I’d argue that all three are relatively stable.

The Chiefs are doing their best to mess with that, but they’re still on a good four-year run with a coach who’s proven himself for going on two decades.

The Royals’ season has been a wild ride, and the next three years are almost certainly not going to be as successful as the last three years, but this is still a franchise on relatively solid footing with a GM in his 11th full season.

There is going to be some significant roster turnover after this season, but Danny Duffy and Sal Perez and others are under long-term club control. They’re going to have to rebuild, so you can call that instability if you want, but I think most Royals fans are confident in the bigger picture.

But, you guys, it’s hard to beat Sporting in terms of stability. Peter Vermes is the voice, brains, and vision of that franchise and I know we’re only halfway through the season but they just went through a major roster turnover and are currently in first place with (by far) the fewest goals allowed in the league.

That’s pretty dang remarkable.

It is worth saying, though: things are fairly solid with all three. I’ve been around long enough to go through two or three cycles or wondering whether Kansas City had the worst teams of any city in the country. We should appreciate the good times when they come.

I hope I’m not a slave to the moment, but come on, the biggest surprise is Ike Opara going full bicycle over the outstretched arms of the keeper the other night in LA.

That is, um ... /gets out calculator/ ... Opera’s 11th goal in eight MLS seasons.

Cross-sport comparisons are clunky, but this is at least a little like a 346-pound defensive tackle catching and throwing touchdowns.

To me, they’re an A-plus so far. They’re prioritizing defense in many ways, which is perfectly logical considering their personnel, particularly Tim Melia, and the goals should come if they can better take advantage of the opportunities they’ve had.

That’s no simple thing, particularly with how Sporting’s offense and personnel are set up.

The biggest problem has been finding goals on the road, and maybe I am a slave to the moment here, but a 2-1 win in Carson — future home of the NFL’s Chargers! — could be a good sign.

They need to both better convert the chances they create, and create more chances. But there’s room for growth there. And if the defense is even close to this good the last half of the season, there’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be aiming for the top.

I guess this goes along with the above answer, but it’s easy to trust Vermes here.

Black Keys, Patrick Sweany, Outkast, Jay-Z and Snoop.

My goodness that’s a show.

Also, as long as it’s MellingerFest 2017, I’m calling all the shots and I’m doing something that every concert and every major sporting event in the summer should do:

Selling bottled water at a reasonable price, or, even better, bringing in lots of fresh water dispensers for people to refill.

I know this is a small thing, and I think about it more than I should because I drink a ridiculous amount of water in a day, but it’s irresponsible, dangerous, and mean to have events outdoors in the heat where many are drinking alcohol and charge $7 or whatever for a 16-ounce bottle of water.

I understand overcharging for beer. You can make a profit, and perhaps limit belligerence at the same time. Some of the food pricing even makes sense. I think we’re all cool with some type of markup.

But nobody goes to a game or concert to gorge themselves on water. If anything, you’re already limiting yourself, because you don’t want to spend the whole time in line at the bathroom.

Price gouging on water just increases the hesitancy, and means people are going to end up uncomfortable or worse from dehydration.

Sorry. Rant over.

This week, I’m thankful that an old friend reached out after going too long without talking. He’s going through a tough time, but has one of the best hearts of anyone I know, and I’m sure he’s going to come through it even stronger.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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