Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Chiefs draft, the 10 most important Royals, Biggie and irrational sports hate

Alex Smith discusses the Chiefs' running backs and quarterbacks

Alex Smith, talked to the media recently to discuss the running backs, coaching staff, quarterbacks and the 2016 schedule for the Chiefs.
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Alex Smith, talked to the media recently to discuss the running backs, coaching staff, quarterbacks and the 2016 schedule for the Chiefs.

A few days before the NFL Draft, we know a few things about the Chiefs’ transition from 2015 to 2016.

They are better on the offensive line, particularly at right tackle, where they cover perhaps their most glaring weakness with Mitchell Schwartz, widely regarded as one of the best two or three at the position. They are, at the moment, thinner in the secondary — nobody in the organization anticipated Husain Abdullah’s retirement, and Sean Smith’s departure being expected does not mean it is not significant.

They are deeper at receiver, and less of a sure thing at outside linebacker — Justin Houston is likely to miss a chunk of the season, Tamba Hali turns 33 in November and played last year with injuries, and Dee Ford has yet to make a consistent impact in two seasons.

The Chiefs don’t necessarily draft on need — more on this in a minute — but here is one man’s list of the Chiefs’ biggest needs going into the draft:

1. Cornerback — I love Marcus Peters as a football player, but the jump from No. 2 to No. 1 is significant (read this Terez story, if you haven’t) and there’s a giant talent drop with Smith leaving.

2. Outside linebacker — Maybe this is too high, but you can never have enough pass rushers, particularly the way the Chiefs play defense. This will be the third season out of four that Houston has missed multiple games.

3. Wide receiver — The Chiefs are higher on what they have than I think a lot of us on the outside think, but after Maclin there’s a significant drop. Chris Conley could make a big improvement and it still wouldn’t be enough.

4. Quarterback — Depth. Chase Daniel was a nice insurance policy, but that’s gone now. There is some talk that a good quarterback can be found after the top of the first, so, you know, not a terrible thing.

5. Guard — Jeff Allen was an underappreciated player. The Chiefs have some guys who can play the position, but this is primed for an upgrade.

This week’s reading recommendation is Wright Thompson’s story on The Secret History of Tiger Woods.

If you’ve read that, then the recommendation is Seth Wickersham on The Robert Nkemdiche Prophecy. And if you’ve read that, then the recommendation is Ramona Shelburne on Kobe Bryant. It was a good week.

The eating recommendation is the (don’t judge the name) coconut gigolo roll at Prime Sushi.

Please follow me on Facebook, and Twitter, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’ve been contemplating Snapchat, but is that worth it?

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

Oh, Hi! I’m good, thanks for asking.

I mean, I have some concerns. I wish there were more hours in the day, and that I did more with the hours I have, and I worry about the rising cost of education and global warming and whether the 2 year old will stop thinking he’s fooling us by holding the baby’s hand but actually squeezing as hard as he can until the baby cries. If you’ve seen that move once, you’ve seen it a hundred times.

But, you know, there are more good things than bad. I think I’m getting better at making sure technology makes my life easier rather than more cluttered, and I think that opossum under the deck is gone, and we’re finally getting Google Fiber next month (I think), and the other day I asked my dad what he wanted for his birthday and he said for me to smoke him a brisket, which is really a gift for both of us, which is pretty cool. Might even sneak in a cigar.

I mean, that’s exactly the answer you were looking for, right?

It’s a weird thing. The Royals being good is absolutely the new normal. I went to the game last Wednesday, and even after Chien-Ming Wang gave up a run in the ninth, and the Royals came to bat against Francisco Rodriguez down three, I legitimately thought they had, maybe, a one in three chance of winning.

After Alex Gordon and Sal Perez hit back-to-back homers, I expected the Royals to win. When they lost — the last out coming with two runners on base, including Jarrod Dyson on second — I found myself surprised. It is silly to be surprised that a team lost a game in which it trailed by three with three outs left, but there I was.

We used to wait to see how the Royals would lose — often, it wouldn’t take long to find out — but now we wait to see how the Royals will win. It’s a complete 180. The quiet and homely kid you went to high school with is grown up, a knockout, and independently wealthy.

One interesting thing is seeing how the team is followed. There seems to be two general groups of Royals fans. On one side, anything that is not a statement on the Royals’ awesomeness is taken as criticism. On the other side, irrational freakout about Joakim Soria’s last outing or Omar Infante’s bad throw or Alex Gordon’s strikeouts are clouding two unalienable truths:

▪ No team is perfect, and

▪ The Royals are winning at a pace that’s good for more than 100 wins.

One thing I always wonder is how honest critiques of the team are heard. Just because the Royals are awesome doesn’t mean Ned Yost explaining a strategic decision with provably false information isn’t strange, for instance, and just because there are elements of the season’s first three weeks that haven’t gone to script doesn’t mean the Royals aren’t headed back to the playoffs.

This is probably going at least one level too deep, but there’s something called the hedonic treadmill, which basically refers to the human tendency to set a baseline level of happiness no matter what external factors come into play. I think we all know people who complain about their jobs no matter what, and others who find a way to be happy no matter what.

The same, I would say, is true in the parts of our lives that are taken up by sports.

A list? A list!

I agree with your general point about one of the Royals’ biggest strengths being their balance, and the team is deep and good enough that I’m leaving good players off this list — in particular, Kelvin Herrera.

There are any number of ways to do a list like this, different criteria that would jumble the names around a bit, but my general thinking here is: who brings the most to the team, and would be the hardest to replace?

Honestly, if I did this list again tomorrow, it might look a little different, except that the top three would always be the top three, even if their particular order changed.

10. Kendrys Morales. A slow start to 2016, and “just” a DH, but an under-appreciated presence and source of energy. Also a balanced switch-hitter in the middle of the lineup.

9. Mike Moustakas. The Royals’ best player through three weeks, also an important part of the team’s personality.

8. Eric Hosmer. Superb on both sides of the ball, I believe primed for a breakout season, and one of the team’s primary leaders.

7. Wade Davis. Ridiculously good at his job, to the point that it affects what both sides do in innings 1-8. Could and perhaps would be higher on this list, but Kelvin Herrera is also very good at baseball.

6. Yordano Ventura. Another player I believe primed for a breakout season. The highest-ceiling starting pitcher on a team that needs more from its starting pitchers.

5. Alex Gordon. Guys were on the verge of tears when he got hurt last season. Very good on both sides, and an important and needed presence with his work rate and attitude.

4. Edinson Volquez. The most bankable starting pitcher on, well, a team that needs more from its starting pitchers.

Side note: you could make a case for anyone from 4-10 to be anywhere from 4-10, and it would be a strong case. I would push back against a case that anyone from 4-10 would be anywhere from 1-3.

3. Alcides Escobar. A superb defender at a premium position, an everyday player with the emphasis on every, and a high-energy player for a team built largely on energy. Also, and this is critical: the Royals have no viable replacement if he suffered a long-term injury.

2. Sal Perez. Absolutely everything from Escobar’s explanation applies here. Drew Butera is a better alternative than whatever the Royals would do at shortstop, but Perez is also a significantly better hitter than Escobar.

1. Lorenzo Cain. The Royals’ best all-round players, and one of the best in baseball. Third in MVP voting last year, the team’s best defender and No. 3 hitter.

Well, he doesn’t look comfortable, but that’s sort of a dumb thing to say, because nobody “looks comfortable” when they’re struggling. I do think he’s being pitched more carefully, and he’s not hitting fastballs as well as he usually does, which is bringing the added consequence of off speed stuff being more unpredictable.

One other thing: he’s hitting the ball in the air more than he has in the past. A huge part of his game has been infield hits — only five players in the American League had more last year — so fewer ground balls means fewer chances to win with his legs.

His batting average on balls in play (.267) is 80 points lower than last year, which was essentially right on his career average. That’s an indication of bad luck, or an expression of how more fly balls are hurting him or, more likely, a little of both.

We’re getting close to the point in the season where cries of “but small sample size!” start to lose their luster. I don’t think it’s worth worrying over right now, particularly since the Royals continue to win, but there are some subtle changes here that are worth keeping an eye on. I’ve always believed in Cain, and think his numbers will be fine, but still. It’s not nothing.

As for the books, sorry, no, I’m not much of a mystery reader. I’m strictly non-fiction, in particular biographies, historical stuff, and explanations of how our brains work.

No, I think it’s funny, and I think that people who get too worked up over stuff on social media should either not pay attention to the stuff on social media that pisses them off — it’s remarkably easy, you know — or spend less time on social media.

I don’t know Jason. I don’t think we’ve ever met. I don’t follow him on Twitter. So I don’t know how much of this he believes, and how much is just a release, and how much is he’s just joking around. My guess is he’s joking, just like my guess is that at least many of the people on twitter going back at him are joking.

I’d also say something else here. For years and years, many Royals fans yearned for their team to be relevant. That’s it. Just relevant. Be part of Major League Baseball, beyond filling out the Yankees’ schedule and providing the free-agent market with a good player every few years.

Well, that’s here. The Royals are more than relevant, actually. They’re terrific, and fun to watch, and the defending world champions. But, if I can make a certainly outdated and probably awkward reference, ahem:

I may have mentioned this at some point, but I’m doing this entirely middle-aged-man project where I’m going through old baseball cards to make a poster of my favorites. They won’t be the most valuable cards I have, but rather, the ones that make me laugh or remember a moment or remind me of part of why I love sports.

Bo Jackson’s 1990 Score card will be on there, but so will Rusty Kuntz’s 1982 Topps card because he’s signing autographs, and a Satchel Paige 1953 Topps card because he’s awesome.

I’m also going to have Reggie Jackson’s 1978 Topps card, in part because the swing-so-hard-the-back-knee-hits-the-dirt thing is not only awesome but a good way to go through life, and because he was the first player I can remember hearing booed. With due respect to Joakim Soria, Reggie had one of the all-time best responses to being booed:

“They don’t boo nobodies.”

All of which is a long way of saying fans don’t typically bother to hate or troll bad teams.

The Royals have picked up far more fans than haters over the last few years, and the truth is they’ve deserved both at different times, but the whole thing is part of watching your favorite team go from irrelevant to champs.

Well, no. Not completely. I’m unclear whether the federal appeals court’s decision to uphold Brady’s absurd four-game suspension is the end of the legal battle, but it’s clearly not the end of the debate.

This will continue at least through the suspension, and then through the season, presumably presented as either the reason the Patriots don’t make the playoffs or the reason they have superhuman motivation to win in the playoffs.

The scrapes with NFL rules will always be part of the story of the early 21st Century Patriots, and when Brady is inducted to the Hall of Fame someday, it’ll be mentioned then, too.

The NFL is in such a strange place that the appeals court ruling actually makes sense. The penalty is absurd, and based on unrealistic demands surrounding an investigation that has been proven to be a sham, but the NFL’s CBA gives the commissioner such broad authority and an almost dictatorial power that the penalty does not violate the rules that have been set up.

It’s as if the lower court said, this is patently ridiculous, Roger, you can’t act like a crazy person and just do whatever the hell you want.

And then the appeals court said, actually, jeez, looking through the rules that were somehow collectively bargained, it says right here in the CBA that you do have the authority to act like a crazy person and do whatever the hell you want. Congratulations, you really are living the American dream.

In that way, I don’t know that it ever should completely go away. It’s a prime example of how the commissioner has far too much power, and holds players to unrealistic expectations — Tom Brady had every reason to believe that text messages outside the scope of the investigation would somehow be leaked — and is otherwise embarrassing the league and offending the common sense of many fans.

Well, here is one place where I actually respect the commissioner. He is a terrible leader for the league, but at least he’s equal-opportunity terrible. I like that he’s not playing favorites here.

Even if he’s coming down harder on Hunt and Kraft to make a point — which some believe, by the way — it’s better than openly giving your buddies a free pass from your absurd abuse of power.

That might be the nicest thing I’ve ever said about the commissioner, other than the unalienable truth that the fills out a suit quite nicely.

The best player available!

I want to point out something about that, actually. When Dorsey — and others around the league, because he’s certainly not the only one — talks about taking the BPA, he’s not lying, but he’s also not telling the whole truth.

Taking the best player available does not mean straight-jacketing yourself with a board that will dictate you use valuable picks to create roster redundancy.

With Dorsey, two examples are often misleadingly used. The first is when he was with the Packers and they took Aaron Rodgers in the first round, even though Brett Favre was still very much at the top of his game. But it’s also true that you don’t often get to draft a talent like Rodgers 24th, and by then, Favre was entering his age-36 season.

The second example is selecting Dee Ford two years ago, even with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali rushing the passer as outside linebackers. But it’s also true that you can never have enough pass rushers, that Hali is getting older, and that if Ford had developed the way they hoped they could’ve saved some cap room on Hali this offseason.

So what I’m saying is that when Dorsey talks about “best player available,” he’s talking about “best player available for the Chiefs.” That means customizing the draft board to fit positional needs, and the expected timing of guys hitting free agency or aging out of their primes.

Maybe you thought all of this already, but that term is often taken to mean something other than how Dorsey means it.

I don’t hate him. I just think Carrington asks better questions...

...see???

A few, with the caveat that even an irrational hate/dislike can and does often come with deserved respect:

Diego Costa (though he shouldn’t be on this list, because it’s completely rational to hate him), Floyd Mayweather (an objectively terrible person, and I stand with de la Hoya), Peyton Manning (boring, overexposed), J.J. Watt (a little too eager to show everyone how much he works out), Joe Flacco (this isn’t his fault, but the “elite” debates-and-now-jokes are almost as bad as crying Jordan), Brian McCann (captain of the Fun Police), and Carmelo Anthony (take some responsibility one time).

I grew up in a very NASCAR-free childhood. It is a foreign sport to me. But the first time I went to a race, I actually loved it. The pageantry. The passion. The personalities. The history. It’s a party. The race started, and it was very cool. The noise. The speed. The precipice of danger. It’s enticing.

But then, a few minutes after the start of the race, I thought, “You know, they’re going to be doing this same thing for hours. It’s hot out here. I need a water.”

So, my advice: focus on the fun. The party. The pageantry. The speed. And bring water.

Well, it’s dumb. It’s frustrating. I’ve written about MLB’s archaic policies here, and the league often promises to do better, or update their rules, but there hasn’t been near enough progress.

The basic answer is that the umpires’ union is powerful enough to dissuade MLB from showing close plays. Some of this has been negated by replay, but not all of it, and besides, all replay systems are inherently flawed.

If NFL stadiums — with more fans, more of them drunk, and more of them angry — can show slow-mo replays over and over between plays, then baseball stadiums probably can, too.

I believe the Royals have made great strides with their in-stadium experience, but the use of that enormous and gorgeous video board is one place I think they could improve. It’s not always easy to chop up replays and get them on the board in time, but they could do a better job with that.

Also, I’d play around with showing the replays horizontal instead of vertical. The video board is big enough that everyone would still be able to see what they needed to see, and when the video is in “portrait” mode, you often lose something on the edges.

You could even double it up — show two angles simultaneously, one on top of the other. Maybe one of the “screens” is showing the replay, the way people at home on TV do, and the other “screen” is showing the dugout reaction. Or you could use the other screen for statistics, or use some sort of map-like feature to somehow show how far Alex Gordon ran to make that catch the other night.

The point is, they’re not maximizing their space. Some of that is in MLB policies that make no sense. Some of it is with internal improvements that could be made.

THE WAVE.

THE WAVE.

THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE THE WAVE.

I’ve told the story before about why I hate the wave (8th question down). Hating the wave is a responsibility we all share, and not just that, but to pass along hatred of the wave to the next generation, to create a world in which the wave is openly scorned by all, because we all hope to leave this earth a little better than we found it.

There are a lot of things that can annoy you at the ballpark, like when runners are at the corners, and the pitcher fakes to third and then throws to first and the guy behind you yells BALK!!! I also happen to despise videoboard proposals, because you’re not clever, you’re not coming up with some original idea, the lady in your life is probably hoping for any proposal other than this one, and the rest of us are just trying to enjoy a game.

But at least with all of those, nobody is actively inhibiting your opportunity to watch the game, or talk to whoever you’re there with.

The wave is like being at a bar, and having someone storm through and knock everyone’s drink over, all in the name of needing people to look at them.

Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Sal Perez, Mike Moustakas, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. So, that’s, what, six?

Six is a lot, but it might end up being even more. Last year, it was seven. I’m leaving off Alcides Escobar, who made it last year, and the rest of the pitching staff when Ned Yost can select who Ned Yost wants with a few spots. Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy are off to an All-Star first three weeks.

There is no way to know what it will look like in July, but I actually don’t think those seven would be worthy of the Too Many Royals argument. I’m guessing Cain, Gordon and Perez are voted in. I’d be genuinely surprised if Davis and Herrera don’t make it. Moustakas is harder to predict, in no small part because there’s a cap on how many third baseman will be on the roster, and he’s going against Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and Evan Longoria, among others.

Six and seven representatives actually isn’t unprecedented, particularly for winning teams. There are some tweaks that MLB could do with the online voting to make it more realistic, even as the cries about conspiracy last year were embarrassingly silly. But, mostly, MLB has the system it believes generates the most interest in its game, and I don’t think they want to change that too much.

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