This week we had the pleasure of speaking with one of the hippest young sports journalists in the nation, when Sam Mellinger joined us in the penthouse studio of Royals Review's East Coast Bureau Office, via satellite.
The Marb Center in Washington, DC is just one of the legion of office buildings that comprise the sports world's largest media conglomerate, Royals Review International.
Royals Review: Mr. Mellinger, thank you for the taking the time to talk with us.
First, we'd like to get your thoughts on the most exciting, and most surprising, recent development by the Royals: we're actually winning games.
Now that Alex Gordon seems to be turning it around, the bullpen's settled down, and we have guys like Gathright and Butler contributing for the parent club, is there any reason to think our current level of success is sustainable?
Building on that question, when do you think we'll be competitive again, and will we have Buddy at the helm at that time?
Sam Mellinger: I do think it's sustainable, if by "sustainable" you mean that the Royals will continue to progress --- not that they'll continue to beat John Lackey with John Thomson.
And I hear a lot of fans wanting Buddy Bell fired, but I don't see it happening. A manager can only have so much affect on a game. The most important things, to me, are that his players play hard and respect him. I think Buddy's got both those going in his favor. I'm not sure how the last few years are his fault, but more importantly, I don't get the sense from the decision makers that Buddy is in any real immediate danger. A 14-game losing streak could change that quick, but barring something drastic, I think he's safe through the rest of the season.
Your other question, I know this is a football town and every Monday in the fall the Chiefs are either winning the Super Bowl or never winning
another game in some people's eyes, but the Royals need patience right now.
I've thought all along they wouldn't lose 100 games this year, and I've thought all along the W-L should not be the main way this franchise is judged this season. They're making progress.
They're making improvements. A lot of it is infrastructure, like if you completely update the plumbing and electrical in your house you're not going to get the "bang" if you build a phat new deck. But in the long run, your house is better off. I'd say realistically you can expect more wins next season, and .500 or close to it might be reasonable to expect in 2009.
RR: Looking back at the draft, the Royals surprised a lot of fans when they went with Mike Moustakas with the second overall pick. Many thought the top two talents after David Price were Georgia Tech's Matt Wieters and high school pitching phenom Rick Porcello.
While the Boras factor may have soured the Royals on taking either of these guys, did it make sense to go after another Boras client in Moustakas? How much do you think signability influenced this pick?
Sam Mellinger: Signability was certainly an issue. Dayton said as much in the press conference, and we've had him quoted as such in our paper. The Royals just aren't going to spend $8 million for a draft pick, and I can't say I blame them. Moustakas is likely in line for a much more reasonable bonus, probably a little more than Gordon ($4 million) but not unaffordable.
It should also be noted that the Royals picked the guy they wanted. Vitters may have been a less expensive option, but they went with the guy they wanted, and I think that's a good sign.
RR: You wrote last week that Moustakas thought he would sign "soon."
Could you tell from talking with him how soon that would be?
Sam Mellinger: Mike did seem very excited about starting his pro career, how soon that will be, I'm not sure. He's letting Boras and his father handle most of that. Mike really wants to sign, and the Royals really want him to sign, so I'm expecting it to happen.
RR: Soon after Dayton Moore first joined the team as GM, he was lauded for making trades that helped replenish the number of pitchers we had in our minor league system. When he shipped out Burgos and Sisco prior to the season, he was praised for getting rid of guys with questionable character.
With the attempted Milton Bradley - Leo Nunez trade, Moore seemed to be thumbing his nose at both of these previous plaudits, in that not only would he be diminishing our stockpile of young arms, he'd also bringing in a guy with one of the worst reputations in the league. To make the
trade even more puzzling, Bradley is a free agent at year's end.
What was Moore thinking? Or, to put it more succinctly: WTF?
Sam Mellinger: Bizarre, right? They have more than enough outfielders already.
Bradley is good, but he's not Babe Ruth. You could argue it was an I'm-sick-of-this-crap-and-not-taking-it-anymore kind of move, I'm not sure. The offense has struggled, and there's something to be said for trying something new when the old way isn't working.
The free agent thing, there is the argument that the Royals could be in line for an extra draft pick by losing Bradley to free agency.
Honestly, I'm not sure. Seemed like a curious move to me, too. But I get paid to write stories, Dayton gets paid to make decisions. It's also worth pointing out that the move didn't go through, so this is kind of like crying over spilled milk, only if the milk never spilled.
RR: On the subject of trades, you wrote an excellent article recently
about the Carlos Beltran trade, and how well it has worked out for the Royals. Considering that both Buck and Teahen are considered cornerstones of the franchise now, would it be fair to say that Baird has been vindicated a bit?
Do you think he may have received a raw deal in KC, or were the number of losses compiled under his watch too many to overlook?
Sam Mellinger: Thanks for the kind words. First, something I didn't get to in the article that maybe I should have: isn't it weird how quickly things can change? Last year, when Teahen was in Omaha and Buck was scuffling, it looked the trade was as smart as fighting Kimbo Slice. Now, it looks like they got two good pieces so it's a really good trade.
I think Baird has received something of a bad rap around here. The Beltran trade is the biggest move he made, and it's turning out to look pretty good for the Royals. The Sweeney deal gets crushed a lot, but at the time nobody really knew about the back problems, and it looked like they were signing one of the game's premier right-handed hitters, an unquestioned character guy, for below market value. Also, and most important, I think it's easy to forget that he wasn't exactly fighting a fair fight. His hands were all kinds of tied and he just didn't have the resources that are now available to Dayton Moore.
That being said, there is more than enough evidence to say he was deservedly fired. Everyone knows that. I think he's even said that. I just think it's good to remember that the Royals' failures during that time were not all Allard Baird's fault. The Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago and Dye-for-Neifi moves get Baird deservedly criticized, but when you do that, it's only fair to give him credit for Buck, Teahen, Butler and Gordon.
RR: Finally, are there any side projects that you're working on that we should keep an eye out for?
If you're looking for an idea for a book, may I suggest writing one about Buck O'Neil, and a road trip across America? I'm pretty sure nobody's done that yet.
Sam Mellinger: No books or anything Poz-y like that. Repainting my basement and getting set to meet my four-month-old nephew next week are taking up most of my spare time. Got a couple things coming --- something on Sunday that you might want to save until after you've eaten.
As for Joe's book, my bias is surely obvious, but I think he did a great job producing something that goes way beyond baseball. My wife's baseball knowledge is basically that Derek Jeter used to date Mariah Carey, and she loved it.
RR: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.
Sam Mellinger: Any time.