Sam Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Royals winning, Chiefs practicing, Bowlsby on KU-MU and complaining

Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) poured the celebration Gatorade bucket on Mike Moustakas (8) and Eric Hosmer (35) after the team's 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 22, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) poured the celebration Gatorade bucket on Mike Moustakas (8) and Eric Hosmer (35) after the team's 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 22, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

In a different world, one not too different than this one, we’d be talking about the local football team.

The Chiefs. You remember those guys. Alex Smith is the quarterback and source of too many bar arguments. Justin Houston is the monster linebacker. Andy Reid is the head coach who kind of, sort of, looks like a walrus.

They’re going to be good, too. At least, I think they’re going to be good. Ten wins, maybe more, though Sean Smith’s suspension and a potentially brutal schedule are obstacles.

But, whatever, the point is there’s a lot to look forward to. Jeremy Maclin is the rare type of plug-and-play free agent that shouldn’t have too much of a learning curve. Travis Kelce might be ready to take a star turn. Jamaal Charles still exists. The defense could be special, again. On and on.

Normally, that’s what we’d be talking about. Houston’s contract. Eric Berry’s recovery. Tamba Hali. Dontari Poe. Is the offensive line going to hold up?

Those topics will come, of course. I imagine we’ll get more Chiefs questions here in this silly weekly exercise as we go through August and especially get into September. It’s just that the Royals are 60-38, which is a 99-win pace, and they just traded for Johnny Cueto.

The Royals are the betting favorites to win the World Series, and even if some of that is a market correction for Las Vegas bookmakers who are in position to take a bath on earlier Royals bets, this is all big news around here.

The Chiefs season will be fun. And interesting. And at some point, it will take its usual spot as the center of the Kansas City sports conversation. But for now, the Royals are playing. They’ve won 15 of their last 20. Cueto is pitching on Friday. Wade Davis is ready to eliminate big-league hitters in the eight inning. Football can wait.

This week’s eating recommendation is the french toast at Classic Cup, and the reading recommendation is Jeff Passan on the Troy Tulowitzki trade, which supplants the Cueto deal as the biggest of the season (so far).

As always, thanks for your help, and thanks for reading.

There seems to be a near-unanimous support of this trade, which is both logical and curious. Logical, because the Royals acquired a legitimate No. 1 starting pitcher for the last two months and playoffs without giving up top prospect Raul Mondesi, or Kyle Zimmer or Sean Manaea or Miguel Almonte.

Concerning, because, well, you know. Nothing should ever be unanimous.

There are no guarantees with any of this, of course. Johnny Cueto comes with some injury concerns, and who knows, maybe one of the prospects the Royals gave up will end up being a star.

But it’s just hard to see where the Royals are taking on unnecessary risk. They have a very good training staff, and if Nick Kenney has approved the medical report, that’s good enough for me.

Brandon Finnegan had some very nice moments last year, but it’s also true that he was terrible in the World Series, showed up out of shape to spring training, and has a 5.00 ERA in the minor leagues this year. Maybe the Royals just sold high on him. It is incredibly unlikely the Royals would’ve won the Wild Card game without him. Between that and bringing Cueto in a trade, that’s a pretty good contribution.

John Lamb is having a nice season in Class AAA, but he is not overwhelming the league, and is 25 years old with a reconstructive elbow surgery in his past. Cody Reed is an intriguing prospect, but did not make Baseball America’s list of the Royals’ top 10 before the season.

Now, the Royals were helped by some factors out of their control. The Reds had to trade Cueto, and the market was/is overstocked with pitching, driving the price down.

But this is a game-changer for the Royals. They turned their most significant weakness into a strength, and did it without sacrificing too much of their future, and without disrupting a terrific clubhouse culture.

The Royals are a virtual lock to make the playoffs. Everything they do between now and the end of the regular season is about improving their chances in a playoff series. I don’t know how much they did that, or whether Cueto will be the difference between losing the ALDS and winning the World Series.

But he does make them significantly better, particularly in a series, and the Royals owe it to themselves to maximize their chances in what could be a special season.

It’s a good question, and an impossible one to give a definitive answer to. My guess is yes, mostly because the Royals have known all season that this was a significant possibility for Vargas. He’d been on the DL twice, and teams are not generally shocked by blown elbows. Besides, even if Vargas was healthy, Cueto is better.

The timing of the injury worked in the Royals’ favor, since it came just before a window of acquisition opportunity. Maybe they felt a little more certainty in wanting to get something done, but this was always going to be a good trade for the Royals if they could pull it off.

This is where you start to play the game, the balance between the short-term and the long-term. If it were up to me, well, first of all, if it were up to me a lot of things would be different. We’d make much better use of that gorgeous video board, and we’d have another Craft and Draft in right field, and we’d have real barbecue at the stadium instead of Aramark’s pretend barbecue, but we’re talking about trades right now, so I apologize for getting distracted.

Anyway, if it were up to me, we’d be wearing out our cell phones and making sure we had a chance to beat an offer for Ben Zobrist, for instance, but unless I could also find a way to dump all or most of Omar Infante’s money I don’t see a huge need to do something. The price for a hitter is going to be higher than the general price of pitching, and the Royals have to be encouraged by how they’ve hit against some top pitchers^.

^ They’ve are 16-5 in games against Dallas Keuchel, Scott Kazmir, Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Archer, Felix Hernandez, Lance Lynn, Corey Kluber, Cueto, Michael Pineda, David Price and Sonny Gray. That’s a long list, obviously, but it’s probably the 13 best pitchers they’ve faced.

The Royals are not a perfect team. Not by a long stretch. But the good news is that there are no perfect teams. Not by a long stretch. There are ways they could get better for 2015, but if what you hear about the asking prices of certain trade targets is true, they would have to give up too much of their future to do one of those deals.

The Cueto thing is not going to happen. Highly unlikely, anyway. Cueto is in line for a huge contract, and it’s hard to see the Royals pushing enough to win the negotiations for a guy who will be 30 before next season.

Gordon is a little different. He may very well want to see what free agency is like. For a lot of players, that’s a very big deal, and I’ll never begrudge any employee in any walk of life for wanting to make the most money. Specific to sports, I’d much rather see the money go to the players we go to watch rather than the owners who assume virtually no risk.

If Gordon wants the most money, he will likely be playing somewhere else next year. Financially, assuming a full recovery from the groin injury, the smart move will be to decline his option and go to the highest bidder this winter. He is widely regarded as the best defensive left fielder in the game, and he’s having his best offensive season since 2011.

But Gordon might be different. Maybe it’s naive, but I do believe his place in Royals history is important to him, that he feels a real bond with an organization he grew up with. Dayton Moore adores Gordon, and I believe the feeling is mutual. At times, Moore has assumed risk and gambled on Gordon. At times, Gordon has assumed risk and gambled on the Royals. The relationship has been beneficial for both sides, and it’s not too much of a stretch to believe Gordon would want that to continue.

But, saying that, I’ve never left millions of dollars on the table, and I’m guessing you haven’t, either. My gut feeling is it’s possible Gordon re-signs, but unlikely.

According to USA Today’s database, the Royals last had baseball’s highest payroll in 1990. You might remember that as the year of Storm Davis and Mark Davis and a sixth-place finish in the AL West. I believe the Royals also had the highest payroll a year or two in the 1980s, but the database doesn’t go back that far and I’m feeling too lazy to look it up.

I do want to point out, though, that the payroll figures are often used to make an argument that baseball lacks parity, which I believe is a misleading argument. Money can buy opportunity in a sport without a salary cap, but if you look a little deeper, you see that over the years money is not buying championships. Jayson Stark points this out every year around the Super Bowl.

The field is tilted against small-money clubs like the Royals, but not in a way that is impossible to overcome. Baseball is adding revenue sharing and other factors to even things out. The Royals cannot compete with the Dodgers or Yankees or Cubs or Tigers on the free-agent market, but major-league baseball is more about developing a good farm system and being wise with your money.

Also, baseball’s rules favor teams that don’t sign horrendous local TV contracts.

Soccer, and I’m not sure it’s close.

Baseball is a team sport, sort of, but in very subtle ways. A collective group can wear down a starting pitcher, for instance. Or a catcher can put in extra work to game plan for his pitcher, or an outfielder can position himself in a way to help a teammate. A relief pitcher can save a starter’s ERA by stranding runners. But for the most part, Johnny Cueto will pitch to Sal Perez the same way he pitched to Brayan Pena.

Soccer, I believe even more than football, is about the whole being greater than the parts. If it’s a B+ collection of talent that complements each other well and understands each other’s tendencies, I’ll take that every time against an A- collection of talent that doesn’t know each other.

I do believe there is something to the idea of a baseball team using a strong bond to get through a brutally long season and the inevitable rough spots, but as far as on the field, it’s much more about who has the better players. There are a thousand subtleties that go into converting or preventing a particular scoring chance in soccer, and some of them come down to talent, but many are about positioning and trust and those types of things.

Makes midseason acquisitions more beneficial in baseball. Whether they’re more interesting depends on your perspective, I suppose.

I’m assuming you’re talking about football here, and if that’s the case, it’s pretty bad. A three-game suspension in the NFL is like a 30-game suspension in baseball, and the Chiefs have the misfortune of missing their top cornerback for games against Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers (on a Monday night).

That means the early development for Phillip Gaines and Marcus Peters, in particular, will be even more important. Smith’s mistake — he pleaded guilty to DUI in April — puts the Chiefs in a bad spot.

I’m generally high on the Chiefs this year, and a lot of times a schedule that looks difficult in July does not turn out to be difficult in November, but they’re going to have to earn it. Besides playing two of the game’s best quarterbacks without their top cornerback, the Chiefs play just seven games at Arrowhead, and the 10 out-of-division games include seven against teams with winning records last year.

The first Broncos game could be particularly bad scheduling luck, if you believe like I do, that Manning will again be much stronger early in the season than late.

Well, first, if you haven’t seen it, click here. Lee Barfknecht is well connected, and particularly in July, this type of retro-speculation can be fun.

The short version of the report: five years ago, the idea of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma joining the Big 10 “was discussed at high administrative levels by members of both leagues.”

It’s all just talk, of course. Just talk then, and just talk now. There are a dozen takeaways you can have, mostly depending on pre-existing perspectives. If you’re a Missouri fan, for instance, you might see this as further proof that your school did the right thing going to the SEC, and that your KU friends should shut up already because they were trying to get out of the Big 12, too.

That last part is not exactly what the report said, of course, but whatever, close enough for Twitter.

Mostly, I’m fatigued from realignment talk. Particularly old realignment talk.

Seems fairly obvious to me — and anyone else old enough to remember 2010 — that Kansas and everyone else in the Big 12 could have and should have been thinking about alternatives. Getting to the Big 10 would’ve been a major success for KU, just as getting to the SEC was a major success for Missouri.

In the end, I’m not sure what this changes. I hope that doesn’t come across as downplaying the report. Again, Lee is a very good reporter, with deep ties throughout college sports. It’s an interesting story. I just don’t know what is different now.

Actually, one of the most interesting parts of what Lee wrote was the quote from “a wise man from Austin with deep ties to Texas athletics.”

“Charlie Strong is a nice man who is a little overmatched. Steve Patterson is not a very nice man, and he is way overmatched.”

So there’s that.

A year ago, I’d have said the Border War. Actually, even six months ago, I’d have said the Border War. Then I got curious about whether Mike Alden retiring from Mizzou, and whether new AD Mack Rhoades’ regular talking points about wanting to play KU would change anything, so I started making calls around KU, and, well, I’ve never been more pessimistic about the schools playing each other again.

Actually, toward this end, I had an interesting conversation with Bob Bowlsby last week. This was at Big 12 Media Days, and I wanted to clarify something he said, and we got talking about a few other things, and, somehow, as it often does, the Border War came up.

Here’s what he said: “It’ll probably come back someday. But you talk to people on both sides, and you wonder how it’s ever going to happen. Just as they’re great traditions, there’s a lot of bad blood.

“I heard somebody said about Texas and A&M playing again, he said, ‘Oh yeah, they’ll play eventually, but there will have to be a lot of funerals first.’ I would suggest that with KU and Missouri, that might be the case, too.”

Yep. Pretty much.

So let’s go with the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. More and more, I don’t think they’ve got to make it with Alex Smith at quarterback or Andy Reid as coach to win this bet.

I know this sounds weird, and gross, but whatever, I feel it anyway: I would be very surprised if Bryant’s passed a random health-code inspection, and I don’t care. Same goes for LC’s, or Gates’, or Joe’s, or Slapps, or any of the rest of the them. Q39 and Jack Stack are different. You make yourself fancy, you better pass an inspection. But the rest of those places, c’mon, we all know what we’re doing when we walk in there.

Bryant’s is not my favorite place, but I do think it’s delicious, and I cannot imagine that the gross report — bad enough they had to shut down temporarily — will keep me from going back someday. This was at the store on Brooklyn. The report that needs to come out is that the Bryant’s at the Legends is a cheap knockoff of the real thing. Shut that place down temporarily until they make it like the real one.

The first thing I do is laugh at whatever offer Seattle has. Seattle is an amazing place, very cool, the kind of city that’s both great to visit and would be terrific to call home. But unless they’re packaging their waterfront or Mount Rainier, they’ve got nothing in their food game I’m interested in.

The second thing I would do is make sure I can’t franchise tag Joe’s, or at least make a competitive offer, hoping that the wonderful relationship we’ve built through the years has been beneficial, that we can offer convenience, support and history that might make up for the difference between us and the highest bid.

But I also respect Joe’s desire to test the market, and understand that Joe’s has earned the right to make a business decision.

So if we’ve got to trade, Chicago is a promising trade partner. They can keep Portillo’s and the Billy Goat. I’d be interested in Peace, Girl & the Goat, Gibson’s, Ora, and because I love my wife, Topo Gigio. Man does she love that place.

Please understand I’m not expecting to get all of those places back in a trade. But I do know that Chicago has a lot of terrific restaurants, but somehow Smoque is the only barbecue place you hear anyone talk about.

Valencia had a reputation of being selfish, and a bit uncoachable. I don’t think it was toxic, please understand that. It wasn’t like Jose Guillen, or even Zack Greinke at the end. But it was an issue, and one that, I believe, made the Royals quicker to trade him than they otherwise might’ve been.

I do hope you read the column, because the synergy they have in the clubhouse is both the product of a lot of work and one of the team’s great strengths. There’s no way to know this, of course, and I am fully aware that I might be wrong here. But I’m skeptical about whether the Royals could’ve pulled through last May, or even last July, without a deep belief and trust in each other.

I know we’re bordering on the corny here, and I do think we fans and media generally spend way too much time talking about team chemistry, but this is a different case to me.

There are so many moving parts here, but if it were up to me, for now I would DFA Blanton, move Young to the bullpen, and keep Guthrie in the rotation for the rest of the regular season. For the playoffs, and this could change depending on how everyone pitches the rest of the way, I’d start Cueto, Volquez, Ventura and Duffy, in that order.

The bullpen would be loaded, with Kris Medlen — I’m probably more optimistic on what he’ll bring than most — joining Franklin Morales, Ryan Madson and Luke Hochevar in getting from the starting pitcher to Kelvin Herrera’s seventh inning. There’s actually enough there that even if Holland does not regain his form, the Royals still might have the best bullpen in the playoffs.

That’s a pretty good postseason team, I think.

Guys. It is SO FREAKING hot outside. The heat index will be 106. Sepp Blatter would not even want a soccer game played in this weather.

Well, OK, fine. He wouldn’t care. But the point remains: it is SO FREAKING hot outside. We should all complain loudly about this.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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