Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: no to Josh Norman, maybe to Tanoh, what to do with Soler, and more

The Star’s Brooke Pryor reports on Damien Williams, Mo Claiborne from training camp

The Kansas City Star's Chiefs' beat writer discusses newly-acquired Morris Claiborne and Damien Williams during her daily report from training camp in St. Joseph, Mo.
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The Kansas City Star's Chiefs' beat writer discusses newly-acquired Morris Claiborne and Damien Williams during her daily report from training camp in St. Joseph, Mo.

The Chiefs could use a cornerback, still. Josh Norman might be available through a trade and would instantly be the most accomplished corner on the roster. Makes sense.

The framework for a trade may exist, some fans have been wondering about it for weeks, and CBSsports.com recently added timber to the rumor fire*.

* That’s not actually a thing.

So let’s shoot it down!

Most of this is about business. Norman will make $10.8 million this year and is scheduled for $12 million more in 2020.

That’s a lot, and the Chiefs are currently trying to squeeze extensions for Chris Jones and Tyreek Hill into the cap space they still have.

Those deals were supposed to dominate the Chiefs’ offseason. They’ve been delayed, but a feeling exists that middle ground can be found. Jones might end up in a franchise tag showdown after this season, and Hill’s deal must work around new complications.

If this was still 2015, that wouldn’t matter, and the Chiefs would likely give up much more than the fifth-round pick for Norman suggested by CBS.

But it’s 2019. Norman isn’t a star with the Panthers anymore, arguably the best corner in the league. He is now a good-but-not-great 31-year-old cornerback for Washington with a reputation for disruption.

The Chiefs will be aggressive. GM Brett Veach always is. I don’t know if they’ll get another cornerback, but if they do, I’d bet it’s more along the lines of the Charvarius Ward trade a year ago with a young and cheap flier from a team with depth at the position.

Either way, it won’t be Norman.

This week’s reading recommendation is Bill Barnwell on Drew Brees and the idea of decline, and the eating recommendation is the Rock and Roll at Jun’s.

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

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Is it really skipping the disclaimers if I say here we’re all adults so let’s skip the disclaimers about it being the first preseason game?

No? Maybe? Whatever. Let’s do it.

The offense really, truly, genuinely, I-can’t-believe-I-really-believe-this-but-I-do might be better than a year ago.

I am not telling you that Patrick Mahomes will throw for 5,098 yards or 51 touchdowns or that the Chiefs will score 566 points. Each would be better than last year. Those types of numbers are hard to predict.

But I do think they’ll be harder to defend, for a few reasons. With any other quarterback in the history of upright man, we expect some sort of improvement with experience. Mahomes was so blasted good last year that it feels weird to think he could be much better, but if he did something in Year 1 nobody thought was possible, why should we assume he can’t do the same in Year 2?

More to the point, though, the Chiefs just have more weapons. Mitch Morse is a real loss. He’s a smart player, dedicated to the cause, with the athleticism to make blocks in space that most centers just can’t.

But he’s also been hurt a lot. The Chiefs liked how Austin Reiter responded to the opportunity. Plus, even more skill position threats exist now. Mecole Hardman showed his 4.33 speed and plus-explosion* on that jet sweep and Darwin Thompson is one hell of a fourth-string running back.

* I’m mixing baseball and football scouting jargon here, and I have to say I kind of like it.

It’s hard to imagine Mahomes holstering much of his magic show in the name of game management, and it’s easy to imagine him learning how to be more effective in the pocket, more accurate with better footwork and more efficient with better decisions.

The Tanoh Kpassagnon stuff translated to a game-ish. He wasn’t dominant, and he had some bad snaps, but he did play with more juice and effectiveness. Breeland Speaks’ sack was encouraging, too.

The Chiefs don’t need them to be stars. But if they can be solid contributors behind Frank Clark, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Alex Okafor and others they have something real up front. Derrick Nnadi turned into a force as the season went on, and was again moving big men Saturday night.

I know people have talked a lot about the tight end depth, but I’m over it. Hard to see how it’s a problem. They have an adequate backup between Blake Bell and Deon Yelder, and the way Reid’s offense has evolved he doesn’t need multiple tight ends like in years past.

Reggie Ragland looked a bit quicker. I know, I know. There are a million reasons to ignore this. But, well, he did.

That was the biggest crowd for a preseason game that I can remember. Hot day, too. Mahomes has changed everything.

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The general discussion around Kpassagnon flipped with obvious flair once the Chiefs replaced defensive coordinator Bob Sutton with Steve Spagnuolo.

Kpassagnon is a better fit in terms of both profile and talent now, and increased support seems to be translating into confidence and perhaps production.

He is a freakish physical talent, even by NFL standards, and if the Chiefs can get his 6-foot-7 and 289-pound frame moving with a clear mind they really might have something. He doesn’t have the bend around the corner of elite pass rushers, but there’s enough there to see a future.

If the team believed in him fully, or if he had been what they hoped so far, they probably would not have signed both Ogbah and Okafor. As it stands, Kpassagnon is behind them, Frank Clark, and perhaps Breeland Speaks.

But the Chiefs don’t need him to be a star. The organization wants production by numbers, and even as Clark must lead the way if Kpassagnon can be a regularly effective player the team will have gone a long way toward creating the sort of attack they’ve long envisioned.

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First, let’s slow down. The Royals have zero MVP-level players. Not particularly close, really.

Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier are having good seasons. They have the look of the kind of player you can win because of, not just with. Adalberto Mondesi has faded as the summer’s gone on, but he retains a higher ceiling than anyone else on the roster.

If there’s an MVP-level talent, he’s the one.

But, let’s be real. No Royals player ranks in the American League’s top 10 in Wins Above Replacement. None are in the top five in batting, on-base, slugging or OPS. Merrifield would be a widely accepted star if he played in a bigger market, but this isn’t an MVP season.

The Royals have given 50 or more plate appearances to 18 players. Just six have an OPS+ within 10% of league average.

Just one starting pitcher has an ERA+ above league average, and the bullpen has been wholly unreliable.

Those are just facts, and I don’t say any of this to defend Ned Yost, who I think has his own specific strengths and weaknesses but is overall a pretty average manager.

You mention Terry Francona, and even if his reputation makes it fairly obvious he’s one of the absolute best managers in the game, managers are — at least in my estimation — vastly overrated.

They don’t hit, they don’t pitch, and increasingly the decisions the position has traditionally made have been taken out of their hands and run through computers.

Now, it sounds like I’m trashing the Royals. And I guess I am, to a point. They’re on pace to lose 103 games, after all.

But the truth is I do see a path for this group to be an actual contender. Much of it is with the core you’re mentioning in your question, plus Sal Perez’s return next year and the eventual matriculation of prospects to the big leagues.

But I’m not sure how this group could’ve been dragged to .500, outside of witchcraft.

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I know you’re making a joke, and I appreciate it, but I haven’t been fooled much by the hope and believe that Peter Vermes is going to have a hell of a lot of decisions to make this offseason.

Too much of the core is getting into their mid-30s, and as much as we can talk about injuries wrecking the season, injuries are also generally a bigger problem with older teams.

Graham Zusi has been pretty bad this season, Sporting hasn’t been able to find a replacement for Ike Opara, and they spent too much of the season looking lost and unsure.

One complication is some of these contracts are going to be hard to move, and whenever the rebuild comes it’s probably going to require a season or two of pain.

Maybe Vermes can bring the team back and hope for the best, but there are times this season that decision would appear to be delaying the inevitable.

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That’s the wrong rabbit to chase. I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect MLS to outdraw the best league in the world.

Soccer stars have long been global enough that the importance of geography is lessened. Big clubs like Manchester United, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid and many others are monstrous. Chelsea just took a big American boost with the acquisition of Christian Pulisic.

The goal, at this point, should be Liga MX. That MLS is behind a league without nearly the global draw of the Premier League is a really bad look. I understand that our country has a big population of Mexican-Americans, but still.

If MLS is going to be taken more seriously internationally, and truly shed the label of a retirement league, getting to the point where more Americans watch it than Liga MX is an important step.

The people in charge of the league know it, too.

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Oh, hell, why not? In order...

Chiefs: 13-3. I reserve the right to change this, because in a few weeks I’ll do my annual game-by-game, lock-it-in, never-been-wrong* prediction, but I do believe they’ll be better than last year, so why not?

* This is not true.

The schedule could be tough, but it was really tough last year, especially at the beginning, and that didn’t seem to matter. Most of the hardest games are at home, even with the every-dang-year trip to Gillette. So, sure: 13-3.

Mizzou: 9-3. The schedule is kinder than a year ago, and with Kelly Bryant filling the most obvious hole on the roster this could push to 10-2. Three starters are back from the offensive line, as well as Larry Rountree III, Emanuel Hall and Albert Okwuegbunam. They’re usually reliable on defense, and have enough returning to believe in that side of the ball, too.

K-State: 7-5? This is hard to figure with a new coaching staff, but I’m going optimistic because I believe in Chris Klieman and think he can bring out the best in Skylar Thompson. He was a bit of an awkward fit for what it seemed the old coaching staff wanted to do, but has the chance to flourish now.

Kansas: 2-10. I simply do not believe Les Miles when he says he has more talent than he had at the beginning with Oklahoma State. They don’t seem to have a quarterback, remain thin at too many positions, and you wouldn’t expect any major bump from (somewhat) improved recruiting for another year or two.

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I might write more about this later in the week, but at the moment, I don’t know what they’ll do. At this point, I don’t think they know what they’ll do. In some ways they can’t, because they don’t know exactly what the facts on the ground will be.

I know what I’d do. I’d effort a trade.

Jorge Soler is having a very good season: .259/.344/.555 with a pace for 48 home runs, 33 doubles and 118 RBIs. That would be a club record for home runs (by 10), the most extra-base hits since Hal McRae in 1982 and the most RBIs since Mike Sweeney’s club record in 2000.

He has been worth 2.3 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs, which would push his theoretical open market value to $20 million or more. There are a dozen reasons we shouldn’t feel tied to that number, including that he isn’t scheduled for free agency until after his 30th birthday, but that’s a good place to start.

And I would not pay that, if I was the Royals.

There are reasons to keep him. If power hitting is being devalued in this time of Lots Of Home Runs, keeping Soler with a below-market extension (if he’d be willing) would be an opportunity to zig while others zag.

The Royals want to build around speed and athleticism (again) and Soler would be the outlier, but when they won with speed and athleticism in 2015, their cleanup hitter was Kendrys Morales, who led them in doubles, homers, RBIs, slugging percentage and OPS.

So it can be done.

But to me, Soler is a different kind of hitter than Morales. Soler is more of a pure home run hitter. More big flies, fewer liners in the gaps. That style plays better in (basically) any other stadium than Kauffman.

The opposite is true of his limited range and inconsistent reads. Kauffman Stadium amplifies those issues, while a place like Camden Yards or whatever dumb name the White Sox have for their park now would be an aid.

In theory, then, Soler is more valuable somewhere else than he is in Kansas City. If that’s true, then the Royals can use that premium to bring in a club-controlled contributor or two.

Trades are always tricky. Some moves seem obvious, but reasons they won’t work are often just under the surface.

Here, Ben Zobrist often comes to mind. It’s cooled down now, but for two years after the parade* fans complained loudly and often that the Royals should have used the money they spent on Gordon for a contract for Zobrist.

* Drink.

But that was never a choice. Zobrist did not want to return to Kansas City. He wanted to be closer to home, and once the Cubs entered the bidding nobody else stood a chance.

So, I’m not going to demand the Royals trade him.

But I do think him growing into his prodigious talent opens the door for a move that could benefit the Royals long-term.

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OK. So, “non high profile” I’m taking to mean no athletes, no coaches, no front office. If we can work with that framework two come to mind.

The first, and maybe I’m just talking as someone who likes my own job, is the content producers. They are (obviously) constrained in exactly what they can create because their job is to promote the team, which has to be frustrating at times. But they also have some freedoms with access and technology that would be fun to play around with.

Like, this:

And this:

And this:

That’s stuff that makes people feel a little closer to the teams and athletes and sports they love, which I’d argue is a good public service as well as promotion.

The other I’m thinking of is community outreach. I’m sure there are downsides to it. You have to tell people no. You’re sometimes the first line of defense when people have complaints. And so on.

But you also get to literally make dreams come true. You’re the one helping sick kids meet their favorite athlete, or working to help your team’s (I hate this word, but) brand and money and influence make the city you live in a little better.

That’s what we should all be doing, on some level.

But here, it is your actual job, and you have a lot of power to tap into.

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First, if you’re into remembering that time my friend Kevin Kaduk did a great piece on the last day of baseball in 1994.

I’m going to take what could probably be fairly labeled as The Old Man Take here.

Yes, I do think it could happen again. And yes, I do think baseball could recover.

Let’s be clear: It would take another long string of bad circumstance and wrong-headed stubbornness for another prolonged strike or lockout, and it would take time and real effort and a whole lot of time to recover.

But too much has happened in the past to say it can’t happen again. People like to say there’s so much money involved that the sides will have to find common ground, but people said the same thing before every strike or lockout in the history of sports.

I don’t mean this as alarmist. I’m certainly not predicting a long work stoppage in any sport. But if we’re talking about this it’s worth pointing out that labor relations in both MLB and the NFL are strained at best.

The NFL’s CBA is up after next year, and MLB’s is up after the 2021 season.

I’ve written before about some of the issues in MLB, but if the players believe they’re not getting what’s fair there will be problems in the next negotiation. It’s a wildly complex issue that people will oversimplify, but the last CBA traded too many daily comforts for what are effectively hard caps on both major-league payroll and amateur spending.

The players have to own that mistake, but you can bet they will fight hard to make up for it.

The NFL’s issues are even more complicated. There are health concerns, a lack of guaranteed contracts and all sorts of other issues that must be smoothed between a union that often openly disrespects and criticizes the commissioner.

NFL owners are a formidable group with lots of cold, inherent advantages, from the length of careers to the players’ long history of folding.

One more time: I’m not predicting a work stoppage. But I don’t think anyone should be shocked if something big happens in the next few years, or at any other point in the future.

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This question may or may not be about a month late.

I’ve stuck with my old digital recorder for years, despite a dozen inconveniences. A while back, one of the kids started playing with it and now I can’t figure out how to get it to record phone conversations.

They say desperation is the mother of invention, and in my case desperation was the mother of a very old discovery: It’s probably easier and more efficient to use an iPhone app for all recordings.

I’d been holding out in part because of habit, but also because I didn’t want to be the guy with a phone on recording someone and then the thing starts ringing. That’s obnoxious, and then opens the possibility of Ned or Travis Kelce or someone doing the thing where they answer the phone and make it a big joke.

And, yes. I did intentionally link the Jose Morinho video to “a big joke.”

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OK fine.

This is the early ‘90s, and it had to be the summer before ninth grade, and my aluminum Easton somehow barreled a pitch enough for a home run. I wish I could tell you this was common, but I was more of a dead-pull-hitting third baseman with a decently strong but wildly erratic arm and, let’s be kind here, an inconsistent focus.

But on this summer evening, my swing went to the right place at the right time and on my way into the dugout I saw this tall blonde I’d liked clapping. There was a snow cone place not far from the fields, and everyone went there after. I probably got something red.

I saw the girl, we started talking, and we kissed. She is now my wife, the mother of our two sons, and I probably should clear a few things up.

That wasn’t the first time we’d talked. We had some classes together, and older siblings who were friends. We’ve also had many, many, MANY twists and turns between then and now. We dated through high school, and there’s an amazing picture on my phone from our ninth-grade formal where she’s at least three inches taller than me*.

* First of all, no, I will not post it. Second of all, she was definitely wearing heels, OK?

She went away for college, I went to Kansas. She lived in Chicago after, I stayed in Kansas City. We had the kind of relationship where we always stayed in touch and made a point to see each other now and then. We dated around, but my friends always assumed we’d end up together.

We reconnected about 10 years ago. She moved, then we got engaged, then we bought a house and now we have kids starting kindergarten and preschool. She is the love of my life, and always has been, even when I didn’t know it. I’m telling you guys, I’ve been luckier than I deserve.

This week, I’m particularly grateful for our older son starting kindergarten at a school we really like. I’d prefer he stay 5 forever but I’m excited to see the little guy he’s becoming.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.
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