Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Alex Gordon’s injury, key to the Royals, Streetcar, Sporting, and my old man project

Alex Gordon could miss up to a month because of a fractured wrist.
Alex Gordon could miss up to a month because of a fractured wrist. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The news on Alex Gordon is starting to take form, and it’s not good:

A fracture in his wrist, re-evaluated in 10 days, expected to be out three or four weeks.

If Gordon has indeed avoided a concussion, that’s the best news, both for his baseball and his life. But the wrist injury does present a major obstacle for the Royals, even as he’s hitting just .211 with 50 strikeouts in 166 plate appearances.

Gordon is the Royals’ highest-paid and probably most-respected player, an undeniable presence in the dugout and behind the scenes. He is bound to hit better, too, and the Royals are in need of more offense, even after knocking around the Class AAA Twins last night.

The Royals made it work when Gordon injured his groin last year, but Ben Zobrist is not walking through that door. This will likely mean more opportunities for Jarrod Dyson, and perhaps Whit Merrifield. Wrist injuries are particularly problematic for big-league hitters, because that’s where a lot of your bat speed and power comes from.

Alex Gordon's wrist, Royals rotation, this week's games and more 

Scouts will tell you guys don’t always come back from these injuries the same, at least not right away.

It could change the way the Royals look at their season, too. Because of two major trades that helped them win the World Series last year, they don’t have a lot of depth in the farm system to make a major deal this summer.

So if they get to the point where they feel they have to do something, it could be someone like Yordano Ventura headed out. I’m just speculating here, not predicting, but to bring something back — it would probably be a bat — you have to send something out.

Just a thought.

Anyway, one programming note: I will be going Full Cliche Man next week, slaughtering walleye, drinking beer, and smoking cigars in a part of Minnesota the cell phone towers don’t reach. So, no Minutes or columns from me next week. I trust you to find other ways to waste time.

This week’s reading recommendation is Pablo Torre on the friendship between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and the eating recommendation is the el pastor taco at Carniceria la Siete.

As always, please give me a follow on Facebook or Twitter, and thanks for your help, and for reading.

Here are your up-to-the-nanosecond AL Central standings:

Team W-L GB Run Differential

1. White Sox 27-19 — +30

2. Indians 23-20 2.5 +29

3. Royals 23-21 3.0 -7

4. Tigers 22-22 4.0 -4

5. Twins Do Not Matter

The White Sox, to me, even this far into the season, are the third- or fourth-best team in the division. They’re struggling to score runs, Jose Abreu is scuffling, Jimmy Rollins is their everyday shortstop in 2016, Mat Latos is turning back into Mat Latos, and the bullpen is coming back to earth.

I continue to believe the Indians and Royals are the best two teams in the division, and I know the Indians have some issues, including Michael Brantley struggling (and currently being hurt), Yan Gomes hitting at a Tony Peña Jr. level, and Juan Uribe getting regular plate appearances. But I really like their pitching, especially the rotation, and between Kipnis and Lindor and Santana and Brantley, they have a lot of bats that can beat you.

I’m not sure anyone in the division is good enough to separate. I’d be surprised if anyone wins by more than two or three games, and surprised if whoever finishes third is more than five or six back.

The Royals will probably continue to go as their starting pitching goes. The offense — next-to-last in the league in runs — is better than this. Eric Hosmer has been the only consistent threat, though Mike Moustakas is off the DL, and Lorenzo Cain is slashing .354/.394/.600 over his last 16 games.

But this thing is still about the starting pitchers. Three fun facts:

▪ Five innings is the bare minimum for a starting pitcher, sort of like asking your co-worker not to vomit on his keyboard at work today.

▪ By that standard, Royals pitchers have vomited on their keyboards 12 times already. To be fair, let’s take away Danny Duffy’s two starts, because he was on pitch counts that would’ve made it very difficult to go five innings. So that’s 10 vomits. For comparison’s sake, the Indians have had eight vomits, and the White Sox just two.

▪ The Royals are 1-9 in those games, when a non-limited starting pitcher does not go at least five innings. They are 21-12 in the other games.

There are a thousand little things that go into winning a major-league baseball game, and a million that go into winning over the course of 162 games. But the way this team is built, the performance of the starting pitcher is as reliable an indicator as you can find.

With that in mind, yeah, you can see how the Royals might be in the beginning stages of a good run. Duffy and Dillon Gee have been very good filling in, enough that the Royals will have some interesting decisions when Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, and Chris Young are available again.

Out of everyone in that group, Duffy has the best chance to be great, so I would keep him in the rotation, but this is a good thing that the Royals have this sort of depth and options. They are relatively well insulated from the inevitable emergencies of 162 games, one more reason I still think it’s more likely than not that they win the division.

Well, you shouldn’t be basing major trades off a hot week or two. Also, because of what we talked about in the answer above, I do think offense is a bigger need than pitching. And the next point needs its own paragraph.

Because the Royals traded four pitching prospects in trades that helped them win the World Series, their farm system is very light on inventory to make deals this summer. And because of that, the likeliest way for the Royals to pull off a major trade would be to deal a big-leaguer. And if the Royals believe in their pitching depth*, and if they don’t want to take away from a strength in trading someone like Kelvin Herrera or Wade Davis**, then Duffy or Yordano Ventura become the guy you’d see go in a major trade.

*And I think they do.

**This is something they’ve talked about in the past in explaining why certain deals weren’t made.

Now, I’m not saying that’s what will happen.

But it could happen, if the Royals get to the point where they think they have to do something major.

Paulo Orlando is hitting .400.

How long until we start asking George Brett about this?

He’s 15-for-26 for a silly slash line of .577/.571/.885 in his last seven games. His defense can be, um, adventurous, but he’s an elite athlete and did make a nice catch against the wall the other day in Chicago.

I would also say this: slow down.

This is a great week, and crazier things have happened, but if think Orlando is a major piece of the future you might also remember that he is older than Lorenzo Cain and was a big-league rookie at 29, and in his career has an astonishing 12:1 strikeout-walk ratio.

The Royals are in a position where Orlando should play every day if he’s hitting like this, so he’ll have his chance to push for regular playing time.

There are things in his background that you can focus on to convince yourself that he’ll be that rare big-leaguer to have an impactful career that essentially begins after his 30th birthday, but that would make him a significant exception to a time-tested rule.

Part of why the Royals might be shopping for an outfielder.

There are some rumors around Jay Bruce and Nick Markakis, both of whom would be good fits, and maybe it’s worth mentioning that the Royals scouting department has generally liked Markakis for a long time.

One more reason the Royals are likely to have obstacles in making a deal: money. Last year, they did not take on salaries of either Ben Zobrist or Johnny Cueto, and with a bigger-than-planned offseason with $142 million in combined contracts for Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy, again might not be in a position to take on money at the deadline.

Yes, I agree with the original premise.

For the reasons in this column and more, Hosmer will almost certainly be much too expensive for the Royals when he hits free agency after next season. In the column, I said “he will likely field offers of $100 million or more,” and I was being intentionally conservative.

The Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers will likely be among the teams looking for a first baseman. Hosmer is 26 years old, a strong worker, good athlete who stays in terrific shape, great in the community, an elite defender and the acknowledged clubhouse leader of the World Series champs. The price could reach or exceed $150 million.

But I’m trying to figure out a scenario where you’d trade him or anyone else in a traditional buyer-seller deal before next summer, and even then, you’d only do it if you were out of the race with no realistic hope of getting back in.

Because if you trade Hosmer (or any of the other potential free agents-to-be) for prospects, you’re basically hoping to one day have the 2016 or 2017 Royals. Which you have right now.

I mentioned this before, but of the reasons for worry around the Royals, the most significant and perhaps the most under-discussed is Morales. He turns 33 next month, has a major ankle surgery in his past, and was terrible in 2014.

The ready explanation for that was a miscalculated salary beef that led to him missing spring training and the beginning of the regular season, and it did make sense, but he was still up at the plate with a bat in his hands four times a game and struggling.

The fact that Morales’ season split is soooo wide — .458 OPS from the left side, and .883 from the right — is sort of oddly encouraging. Presumably, that’s an indication that there’s nothing physically wrong, and if worse turns into worser, maybe he can try hitting exclusively from the right side (though he’d lose the platoon advantage in most of his plate appearances).

Morales is about three years older than Butler, but generally viewed as a harder worker, with stronger and quicker hands. The end comes for all professional athletes, and it tends to come before you expect it, but going from .290 with 65 extra-base hits and 106 RBIs to sub-replacement level in one season would be quite the prodigious fall.

He’s gotta be better than this, is what I’m saying, but Rustin brainstormed an interesting possibility in that podcast. Whit Merrifield’s versatility allows the Royals to go with a sort of roving DH, where Merrifield plays left field one day, third base another, and right field on a third day, which would allow Alex Gordon or Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain (if you went with a Gordon-Dyson-Orlando outfield) to DH.

If you’re not getting any production out of the DH spot, it’s worth considering.

First, I can’t get through this without mentioning some very conflicted feelings about the streetcar.

As currently constructed, it seems like a huge waste of money. I’m all for public transportation, but without more utility (need something that goes to the airport, stadiums, and Plaza, at least) this is a novelty.

I’m happy to see that expansion plans might be coming faster than originally thought, but there are so many things Kansas City needs to improve. Schools. Roads. Infrastructure. But if we can connect the Plaza and Westport, that at least opens the streetcar up to thousands of more people, and gives those downtown new uses.

Anyway, it doesn’t accelerate the conversation, because it doesn’t change the Truman Sports Complex lease.

But it will change that conversation when it’s time to be had. Now one thing people tend to miss when they talk about a downtown ballpark is that the reason it failed the last time was because the owner didn’t want it.

That’s it.

End of conversation.

If that’s different when the lease is up — David Glass is 80 years old, and minds can change — then the conversation will open again.

If it does, the streetcar should be a factor, but I’m not sure it will be the most important factor. Just for starters, the state of the economy, and whether the public appetite for funding private cathedrals for private business has evolved will be more important.

But we don’t know what public transportation will be like in Kansas City, what the demographics of downtown or the rest of the metro will be, or any number of other factors that could tilt the whole thing.

The best outcome for those of us who would like a downtown ballpark would be for Glass or whoever owns the Royals in 10 or 15 years to recognize the ridiculous nature of billionaires who run risk-free private businesses to demand taxpayer money to build insanely expensive cathedrals for said private businesses to increase their profit margins, and just pay for the new stadium themselves.

That seems unlikely, so I’m sure it’s a discussion that will be had, but that’s far enough down the road that I’m not sure how productive it is to talk about now.

Hopefully by then Kansas City will have good public schools, roads that don’t suck, a new airport paid for by the airlines, expanded public transportation, and no humidity.

I only know what I’ve read, but it sure seems real.

There are so many questions here, even beyond gambling, which is one of those issues the NFL and other leagues pretend is a bad thing while ignoring all the ways they profit. Las Vegas would be the fifth-smallest market in the NFL. Of the four smaller, Jacksonville is drowning, New Orleans is complicated, Buffalo is often threatened with relocation, and Green Bay is impossible to duplicate.

Las Vegas is such a transient community, nobody’s from there, so can you build a successful franchise like that? It might be easier in the NFL than other leagues, since you’d only need to worry about eight weekends a year. I wonder how much (if at all) that would be impacted by the Rams (and maybe the Chargers) being in LA, because that’s just 250 miles and a short flight away.

The whole thing would require a new financial plan, where the traditional ratio of “regular” fans to big-money sponsors is flipped. The NFL, certainly, would love to make a run at a place with such a concentration of disposable income, but it’s also a big risk for a league that likes its booming profits to be guaranteed by law.

So, I don’t know. You could make a compelling case either way. The Raiders obviously want out of Oakland, and Oakland is (good for them) refusing to pay for a new stadium. So they are there to be had.

The only thing I do know: I’m perhaps the only non-Oakland media type to hope the Raiders stay in Oakland, and do not go to Vegas.

My sister lives in Oakland, the weather’s always nice, and San Francisco is just across the bridge. Also, I’m not a big gambler, and Vegas on an NFL weekend sounds endlessly obnoxious.

Knowing who’s going to be a good NBA player and who isn’t is a fool’s errand, and aside from the scouts (and coaches) who dedicate their lives to these things, something I believe only fools claim certainty with.

Doug Smith was the first guy I remember being totally fooled on, and that was more than 20 years ago. I was a kid, but still — 6 feet 10, athletic, aggressive, dominant college player and the sixth pick in the draft*. He was out of the league after five years, at the age of 27.

*Loaded draft, too. First five: Larry Johnson, Kenny Anderson, Billy Owens, Dikembe Mutombo, and Steve Smith.

Just looking at random drafts, I was also dead wrong on Mike Miller (thought he’d flop), Russell Westbrook (I was hung up on him being the second best guard on his college team) and Rip Hamilton (didn’t think he was athletic or big enough).

There are enough who go the other way. I saw Kawhi Leonard in college in person a few times, and it was obvious how many ways he affected games. Similar stuff with Andre Iguodala. Both those guys were drafted too low. Same with Jordan Clarkson, actually, now that I think about it. Always thought that guy was an NBA player.

But, anyway. Yeah. DeMarre Carroll. I don’t know anyone who thought he was going to be this good, and here it’s worth mentioning that after his rookie year, he played just 36 total games the next two seasons.

As for whether he’s the best player to ever come out of Mizzou, I don’t know. This was before my time, but looking at the numbers, there’s a strong case to be made for Larry Drew: 10 seasons, averaged 11.4 points (seven seasons in double figures) with 5.2 assists.

No list like this should be made without mentioning that Steve Stipanovich would likely be the runaway winner here if not for the bad knees that limited him to just five seasons — 13.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, and his GM called him the fifth- or sixth-best center in the league at the time.

The answer is probably Drew or Stipanovich, depending on whether you like a longer career or higher peak, but Carroll — assuming health — has what looks like a long career in front of him. He can work his way up there.

That’s hard to imagine.

Also hard to imagine: someone other than Peter Vermes running the team.

Particularly after a bad few months, and PARTICULARLY when they’re still two points out of a playoff spot, with enough talent and track record to believe they can compete for the MLS Cup.

But, eventually, they’re going to have to do something this season to make you believe. It can’t all be about track record and talent, and particularly concerning is that it’s established guys like (on Saturday) Benny Feilhaber and Matt Besler making mistakes.

I don’t know what’s going on inside the team, or if this is something that will pass. For perspective, it was more than a month ago that Robb Heineman wrote that letter to fans that began “We are not very good right now.”

They’re in a bad way right now, but there’s also more than half the season remaining, and whatever problems Sporting is having, how do you think they feel in Portland? The Timbers were among the preseason favorites to win the league, and are looking up at Sporting in the standings (though they have a game in hand).

So, I don’t know. Maybe some of this is the success of the past catching up with Sporting and Vermes. It’s an imperfect roster, especially with the goal scoring options after Dom Dwyer.

This question makes me cry a little tear of sadness, because I doubt I’ll be able to see any concerts this summer, knee-deep in this #DadLyfe. I missed Gary Clark Jr. last month, but just for fun, a list of shows I’d love to see:

Ziggy Marley at Crossroads on June 12.

Samantha Fish at Crossroads on June 18.

Louis C.K. at Sprint on July 7.

Buzz Beach Ball at Children’s Mercy Park on July 16-17.

Ray LaMontagne at Starlight on Sept. 19 (wife).

Maybe I’ll make one. Have to make one.

So, I have a bit of a tradition where I buy as many as I can (disappointed with less than five, and have gone as high as 12) and try make them last as long as possible. It is such a delicious beer, and a delicacy, you only want to bring them out for special occasions.

First night they are in the house, that’s a Saison. Dad’s birthday, that’s a Saison. Thanksgiving, that’s a Saison. I have some friends who work overseas and come home for the summer, if they’re over, that’s a Saison. The goal is to hold back at least one for New Year’s, and with the exception of being at a wedding this past New Year’s, I think I’ve had a pretty good record.

If you can get beyond that, you’re a better man than me.

Dammit. Only three.

I’m going to leave out “occasion restaurants,” partly because it’s hard to compare a place like Novel or Osteria Il Centro or Justus Drugstore to a place you’ll spend half as much money, and partly just to make this easier. I’m also going to leave out Garozzo’s, another personal favorite, because it’s an institution, and you already know about it and have an opinion.

OK, disclaimers out of the way:

Prime: For a while, Jun’s was the only sushi place in town I loved, but between Prime and Bob’s Wasabi Kitchen, that’s changed. If you like sushi, you try both, and but I’m putting Prime here just because I’m a rolls guy, and I like the selection.

Pigwich: The location stinks, but it’s not that hard to get to, and I’ve never had a sandwich there that did not make me involuntarily curse.

Beer Kitchen: Gets points for an excellent beer list, but they do “fancy comfort food” as well as anyone. Every entree I’ve had there has been delicious, but it’s hard not to do the mac and cheese with burnt ends and jalapeños. That’s a winning combination.

I’ve found a way to list nine restaurants when you only asked for three, and I’m telling you, I could do 25 more than I love, even sticking with the no-barbecue rule. The barbecue here is amazing, but I also think it overshadows a loaded food scene.

Hot Take: if barbecue did not exist, Kansas City would still be known as a great food town.

Few times a week? T-shirts, mostly. And hats. Every hat I wear is Kansas City Something, now that I think about it.

One of the underrated advances in technology is in T-shirts, actually. Specifically, that super soft cotton that everything’s made of now, but also all the different options. I know Kansas City isn’t unique here, but there are just so many different places.

I missed the Heart KC thing, but there are so many out there you can find something you like.

OK, I realize this is entirely self-indulgent, so thanks, and here we go. So, this was my old man project, where I spent some free time over the last few months going through old baseball cards, picking out some favorites to hang in a frame above my “desk*.”

*Wife makes fun of me, but my “desk” is an overstuffed chair with a soft ottoman. My computer sits on an old plastic folder on my lap, water and coffee on a night stand to my left, and the wide arm rests hold my recorder and notepads when I need them. I like to be comfortable, you guys.

I did not pick out my most valuable cards. I have a George Brett rookie, and the Ken Griffey Upper Deck rookie, and a few others that are worth more than a few bucks, but I didn’t want this to be a showcase for value. I wanted each card to mean something to me, to have a story behind it.

So, the result:

Starting top row, going left to right:

Bo Jackson: The athlete of my youth, and the “Future Stars” label on those old Topps cards is something that stuck with me.

Chuck Dobson: Very much enjoyed getting to know Charles Dobson.

Greg Maddux: Rated Rookie! My grandmother was a huge Cubs fan, and it rubbed off on me, and Maddux’s departure in free agency was the first time I really remember seeing the impact of money.

Sammy Sosa: My favorite player for most of the 1990s, and I like how skinny he is here in his White Sox uniform.

Paul Splittorff: An absolute treat to talk with, and a terrific broadcaster.

Sam Lacey: My sister was at a basketball camp one summer growing up, and as it turned out, she was getting dominated by Lacey’s daughter. My dad pointed him out to me, I was probably six or seven, and thought it was so cool that a guy with my name played in the NBA. He signed my shoes.

Willie Aikens: The links appear to be dead now, but I wrote about Willie a few times, and was always struck by his sincerity, honesty, and ownership of mistakes, even as he lost years of his life from corrupt sentencing guidelines.

Tommy John: A baseball pioneer (Frank Jobe should be in the Hall of Fame), and I love the idea that he had such a long career after he was supposed to be done.

Satchel Paige: Writing this story was an absolute treat.

Rusty Kuntz: He’s the freaking best, and I love that this card shows him signing autographs. We should all be a little more like Rusty.

Reggie Jackson: The first athlete I ever remember seeing booed — “they don’t boo nobodies,” he awesomely said — and I love that this card shows that swing with his back knee on the dirt.

Bo Jackson: I actually rooted for the Raiders when Bo played for them. True story.

Jeff King: This card reminds me that not all athletes like their sport. He somewhat famously turned to a teammate during the national anthem and said, “everytime I hear this song I have a bad day.” Quit in the middle of a season, the day he qualified for the full pension.

Barry Bonds: Skinny Barry Bonds!

Steve Balboni: My childhood memories include sitting at Royals Stadium, my dad yelling “Bye Bye Balboni!” every time he came to bat.

Deion Sanders: Is this card Peak 90s?

Jamie Moyer: This is a 1988 Topps card, which was Moyer’s second full season. Hi started 10 games in 2012.

George Brett: Self-explanatory, right?

Mark McGwire: Skinny Mark McGwire!

Bo Jackson: Nobody is in my frame more than once. Bo is in three times, and it should’ve been more.

Bob McClure: Loved talking with him when he was the Royals’ pitching coach. He’s had a fascinating life. Pitched 17 seasons in the big leagues without making an All-Star team, which I believe is either unprecedented or makes him one of fewer than five.

Bill Buckner: This is the 1986 Topps, so the year he became forever famous. I always felt bad for him, how he was treated. There are a lot of lessons in that.

Frank White: My favorite Frank White card, because it’s old, and posed, and he’s playing defense.

Fernando Valenzuela: He was a phenomenon, obviously, and I love the picture.

Dave Eiland: I adore this pose, in part because it’s very Dave. He was a distinct walk; some in the organization jokingly call him John Wayne. I once asked him why he walks like that. “Because that’s how winners walk.” Perfect.

Dan Quisenberry: The most exaggerated photo I could find of the submarine delivery I once thought I could emulate to the big leagues.

Ickey Woods: The first athlete I remember who made me realize celebrations could be awesome.

Carl Yastrzemski: I admire the way he’s lived his retirement, like how people in Boston think of him, and love how he helped me with that Satchel Paige story.

Ned Yost: Ned Yost bunting!

Buddy Bell: The Royals’ manager when I started covering baseball. So many good Buddy stories.

Buddy Biancalana: You might have to be around my age and have grown up around here to appreciate this.

Ron Washington: I love so much about Wash that it’s impossible to put in here, but this speech before Game 7 of the World Series is pretty sweet.

Rickey Henderson: Such a badass picture.

Fred Lynn: This one reminds me of Bill James, and how he predicted Lynn’s numbers would drop when he left Boston for the Angels. Bill James was a big part of my baseball fanhood as a kid. As an adult, too, come to think of it.

Pete Rose: The man in that picture probably has money on the game he’s watching.

John Mayberry: Big John is hilarious.

Dwight Smith: I bought 50 of these cards as a kid, the first time I ever saw card collecting as an investment. Coincidentally, this is also the last time I ever saw card collecting as an investment.

Rex Hudler: Hud!

Ken Griffey Sr.: Love that his kid is in the frame. I love all the corny stuff about sports, and baseball.

Tom Poquette: The first player signed by Art Stewart for the Royals to make the big leagues. Art Stewart is the man.

Jim McMahon: I dressed up as Jim McMahon for Halloween in third grade.

Jim Abbott: Self-explanatory, right?

Nolan Ryan: Self-explanatory, right?

Bill Pecota: Another nod to the nerdy side of baseball.

Bobby Valentine: The first professional sports figure to be a dick to me. I was in college, interning in Cincinnati, and Valentine had just pulled off that hilarious disguise after being ejected in New York. I was asking him about it, and he responded with, “How old are you?” The interview just got better after that.

Lee Smith: Saved the first game I ever went to at Wrigley Field.

Mark Grace: Loved Mark Grace.

Andre Dawson: Loved the Hawk, too.

Hal McRae: This picture is so badass, and reminds me of the story of Yankees’ reserve Cliff Johnson challenging McRae to a fight in 1977. McRae’s response: “Cliff, I don’t fight extra men.”

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