By Chad Rader
A few nuts and bolts while K-State parties like its 2008...
Funny how 72 hours can swing a season. Entering Saturday, Kansas State was reeling from another road loss at West Virginia, with NCAA Tournament hopes in flux. Now, Kansas State went from on the NCAA bubble entering the weekend vs Texas and Kansas to now back in the Top 25, and perhaps playing up to a No. 6 seed, maybe a No. 5 if they surge down the stretch and reach the Big 12 finals. But more fun, the Wildcats (17-7, 7-4) are just a game out of second place in the Big 12 standings and who knows what can happen in Kansas City if on the opposite side of the bracket from Kansas - a Sunflower Showdown III ?
KU fans can giggle about the K-Staters rushing the floor, but Jayhawks tearing down the goalposts after beating a 4-7 West Virginia team in football? 'Nuff said.
K-State found some inside presence with D.J. Johnson muscling for nine points, a few on some nice finds from Will Spradling. From a fan's standpoint, it was also nice to see Spradling, the senior from Overland Park, graduate with a win over Kansas in his career that he can reflect upon years from now.
Not that Bruce Weber had many objectors, but those should be silenced with a win over the mighty Kansas program. Short of a Final Four, that is the next measuring stick for a K-State coach, and Weber has stuck that feather in his cap in just his second season, along with a co-Big 12 title. Not bad at all.
And personally for Weber, a win over Bill Self, whom with his days at Illinois, probably has a dart board secretly hidden with Self's mug as a bullseye.
Marcus Foster has emerged from all the other hyped freshmen to one of the top 10 in the nation himself. Even with a couple of duds in the Big 12 (2 points vs Texas Tech), Foster is averaging nearly 16.5 ppg in Big 12 play, with 20 or more points in 4 of his last 5 games.
As for fellow freshman Joel Embiid, the Big 12 has perhaps cooled the jets on him entering the draft and being taken as the No. 1 pick. His last four games (points): 8, 5, 11, 6. Minutes: 25, 17, 17, 18. Averages: 7.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 19.3 minutes.
On Monday, the game wasn't Embiid's, and this can happen for centers at times, as well as an injury hampering Embiid. But the continued foul trouble, some emotions on the court and getting some game outside 6-8 feet are needed, as shown with 7.5 and 19.3.
Fact of the matter - stamina, strength and getting stronger are part of being ready for the next level. If Embiid is currently having trouble in a 30-35 game, what will happen over a 100+ game schedule in the NBA with preseason, regular season and potential playoffs.
Is Embiid talented? Yes. Does he merit a No. 1 pick? Maybe in 2015. Because whether foul trouble or maturity, yes its better to do it while being paid an NBA check, a la Jermaine O'Neal or others. But we've also seen lottery picks get lost on the long side of the bench like Meyers Leonard, the No. 11 in 2012, Hasheem Thabeet, the No. 2 overall in 2009 and of course, Cole Aldrich at No. 11 in 2010. Sure, none may have been as talented as Embiid, but big men in the lottery don't always mean an All-Star career. Of course, its best to cash in the chips when the stock is the highest, but 19 minutes and 7.5 ppg recently, while just a small sample size, lean more towards coming back for another year than being an autoclick for the NBA Draft.
Overall, its still remarkable that Kansas remains 23-3 in Bramlage Coliseum, considering ESPN places the game annually on Big Monday for the season's annual sellout. And it was apparent late in the game that its "I remember being there the year we rushed the floor!" So while KU fans probably want to grumble that Kansas lost, Brannen Greene should've caught the ball on an easy pass, where was Joel Embiid? and on and on, any program will take 23-3 on their rivals home court in prime time madness.
And one more, the first of three KU losses in Bramlage, the memorable one to Michael Beasley, Jacob Pullen and Bill Walker in 2008, ended with Kansas cutting down the nets in San Antonio...
By Chad Rader
Random thoughts as the wait for Blizzard, 2014 continues.
In a way, many Chiefs fans may have wanted Denver to win the Super Bowl, only if it meant that Peyton Manning would retire. Instead, one of the most lopsided Super Bowls since the 1984-1995 span when nine Super Bowls were decided by 17 points or more.
Now Kansas City – and the nation – must endure another season of the Peyton watch, can he win that elusive second title, how will Denver react after its epic loss, blah blah blah. Odds are likely that given Peyton’s age and simply the fact its hard to repeat and make it back to the Super Bowl, that 2014 was Denver’s shot. But an offseason of loading up on defensive players, another Broncos run to the Super Bowl and more Manning media mania wouldn’t be shocking either.
Mizzou finishes a tough little stretch with No. 11 Kentucky and No. 3 Florida in back-to-back games, followed by a trip to Ole Miss. After then, the road is paved for Mizzou to finish 7-1 or even 8-0, as the rest schedule combined is 25-30 in SEC, with only team (Tennessee) with a winning league record at 5-3. Though Mizzou plays the Volunteers twice, realistically a 6-2 mark in that eight-game stretch leaves the Tigers with a 10-8 league record (assuming they lose at Florida and Ole Miss).
With an RPI of 51, Mizzou should finish in the top 50 by year’s end. Combine that with a league record over .500 and Mizzou is in the tourney. Not that they wouldn’t be anyway, but at 4-4 with two road dates to Florida and Ole Miss, a possible 4-6 league record would have most fans a little wary.
Meanwhile, K-State also needs to nab a win in its next three games (vs Texas, vs Kansas, at Baylor). The Wildcats sit at 5-4 in the Big 12, but a possible 0-3 run could be ahead. However, a 2-1 run also could be ahead, since Texas at home and schizo Baylor are winnable games.
But I fear K-State, with a 1-4 road record in league play and that 1 is at TCU, which almost doesn’t count, has a tough time on the road. Losses at Baylor, Oklahoma and in the home finale for Oklahoma State are very likely, with the game at Texas Tech a swing game. Still, that’s a 2-7 road record, and leaves K-State in a position that they need to win at least 2 out of 3 at home vs Texas, Iowa State and Baylor.
With an RPI of 41, K-State shouldn’t worry excessively, but an 8-10 league record is a tough sell come NCAA selection time. Get to 9-9 and win a Big 12 tourney game, and K-State doesn’t have any worries.
As the snow likely moves in, time to think spring … training. Curious about the move to ink Carlos Peguero and toss him on the 40-man roster, while bumping off Emilio Bonafacio. While this is likely a cost-saving move, Bonafacio seemed to supply KC with a utility man with speed galore. This leaves KC’s backup infielders likely Danny Valencia and either Christian Colon or Johnny Giavotella. The likely candidate? Someone not on the Royals roster currently, with a signing awaiting.
Its fun to scan the non-roster invitees, with hopes a player from yesteryear reaching back and pulling out one more productive season. The candidates jumping off the page are Brad Penny (119 career wins), and catcher Ramon Hernandez (169 career homers). But Hernandez hasn’t reached double digits in homers for two years and will be 38 in May.
The two – aside from prospect Kyle Zimmer who already is in the Royals long-term plans – who I’d say may find their way into a role are Jon Rauch, the 6-foot-11 reliever who has enjoyed success in bullpens around the league, and Guillermo Mota, who simply may be a glorified mop up man. But with Rauch saving 56 games from 2008-2012, and Penny registering 11 wins in 2009 and 2011, perhaps there is hope that each fills a needed roster spot, even for just a month stretch or so.
Thankfully, Kansas City has come a long way, because in the 90s, these two would’ve been talked about as a potential closer (Rauch) and No. 4 starter (Penny). Now, we’re talking a two-week stopgap at long reliever for each.
Ah, spring training. More drifting off thinking of the ball popping, the bats cracking in warm weather, with under two weeks to go… as two hours to go until this snow drops on KC.
By Chad Rader
The sound of silence can be deafening, and that deafening tone has been heard from critics and pessimistic fans of Kansas basketball in the last 72 hours.
Just a week ago, even the most loyal fans were questioning the recruitment of one-and-done’s, does it work with Bill Self’s system. Self’s much better with 3- and 4-year players he can coach up. If only Self had two years with this team. Yada yada yada.
Or a fan @rodney1904, posting on Facebook, fearing Kansas would lose at Iowa State, despite the fact KU has won 16 of 17 against ISU. Of course, after the game, it was the greatest win and he knew they could do it, and celebrating on and on...
So in 72 hours, a blowout win over No. 25 Kansas State and a sound win at No. 8 Iowa State have fans, experts, pundits throughout the area and country starting to hype Kansas again. And as always, realizing that once Big 12 play hits, Self will have his team ready for another league title run.
Talk of the 10th straight Big 12 title and poised as a national title contender are flooding the sports websites, locally and nationally. What a difference two games makes.
All fans hype the Fab Five and Michigan’s great run. The Wolverines were a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tourney in the 1992 season. Yes, a SIX at 20-8 entering the tourney, 25-9 when it was said and done. And 11-7 in the Big Ten, third place.
It’s probably unlikely Kansas will lose 7 games in league play, but the point should be taken that there are growing pains with the Super Recruiting Class or the Fab Freshmen recruitment.
Take a look at the current AP Top 25 has Kentucky (No. 13), Kansas (No. 15) and Duke (No. 23) outside the Top 10, nowhere near the top 5 that the three resided to start the season. But would it surprise anyone if these three were in the Final Four? And of those three and No. 5 Wichita State, which would you think is the least likely to make the Final Four?
Kansas fans need to realize that the one-and-done game will lend to some seasons of highs out of the gates. Or lows for a couple of months. Or lows the entire season, such as Kentucky missing the tourney last year. But it’s a home run swing, all-or-nothing approach, that the next year may be the one that wins the NCAA title, then every doesn’t remember the preceding NIT or second-round NCAA loss.
But two things KU basketball fans don't have:
1) Patience. Getting a KU fan to wait for a couple months is impossible, as the team learns each others names, let alone other teammates style of play, learning to spell D-E-F-E-N-S-E and team concept.
2) Tolerance of "just a win". Has to be instant gratification. If KU went 38-0 and won the NCAA title, fans would complain they all weren't by 20. As the statement of "Kansas Math" is, Self will lose an entire roster of players, and the fans expect KU to be BETTER the next year.
Not that the Final Four determines a great season. League titles and improvement over the season should be right at the top, which Kansas appears to be on track for, and upside for even greater feats. We’re starting to see Wayne Selden consistently pour in 18-20 points a night. Realizing that Andrew Wiggins may not score 20 nightly, but shut down the opposition’s top scorer and fill up the stat sheet in other categories. And now Joel Embiid continues to shine and improve DAILY.
If it hadn't occured to many watching the game, Kansas could be featuring the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the NBA Draft.
Yes, Kansas will lose a few games before the Big 12 tourney. Heck, maybe four. Turnovers were way too high and careless at Hilton. A lot of quick shots were hoisted. But the athletic plays, ability to shut down Iowa State when needed and realizing how to run clock and close a game are mighty scary for Big 12 opponents.
And in two months, for NCAA Tourney opponents as well.
By Chad Rader
A few things that will be curious to watch, or hope for, in 2014...
- A playoff win (or two) by the Chiefs. Especially under the new regime and ridding recent playoff pasts vs Indianapolis.
- Watching if the Royals make a big trade down the stretch - if they stay in contention
- If the Royals make a push at signing James Shields and keeping him at the front of the staff for a few more years
- Who the new goalie for Sporting KC will be, and the impact he'll have
- Hoping an MIAA team makes the NCAA Division II final and the crowd at the Legends for the football final
- Fun to see a Big 12 tourney final of KU vs K-State
- If Kansas City doesn't go to the Super Bowl, hope Denver just wins it and Peyton Manning retires
- How the Chiefs will approach this year's draft, and offseason moves after a great year one of moves
- Ducking at the schedule the Chiefs will draw after an 11-5 year. Guess there's one good thing to KC dropping a few games and not going 13-3!
- Charlie Weis to win 4-5 games, 2-3 in the Big 12 and make real progress. Otherwise, its a lost year, Weis likely is on the ropes and KU starts over... again
- KU make the Final Four in the first wave of the one-and-done teams
- Bill Snyder to go out with another run at the Big 12 title, as surely one of the next 3-4 years will be the curtain call
- How locals like Evan Boehm, Dalvin Warmack, Traevohn Wrench and others continue their careers at the Division I level, and others as well at other collegiate levels and sports
By Chad Rader
When Kansas City announced a "major baseball-related" announcement , I got a little excited and surfed around who could possibly be inked by the Royals. Carlos Beltran - nah, he's going to the big lights. Phil Hughes - ehhh, I'm not into 5.00+ ERAs. I hit the name Jason Vargas and thought "Has to be it." But "major"?
Thursday has come and gone, and while the signing doesn't seem "major", a four-year, $32 million deal for Kansas City certainly ranks as "major". Then instinct is to not get excited about the deal, and quite frankly, it isn't anything to get excited about.
But in the end, while perceived as "boring" than "major", it isn't a bad play by Kansas City.
- When on a budget and need a new/used car, the younger kid may buy the hot rod or slick car. But as you get smarter/older, you think "What will be most durable and last longer?" This appears to be a factor for Kansas City, as Vargas has averaged over 190 IP in the last four years. Jeremy Guthrie has averaged over 200 IP the last six years, and of course the real horse, James Shields, heaving 222+ IP over the last seven seasons.
For prior seasons, we watched the bullpen pitch admirably until about June/July, then they wore out or broke down. Last year, when Kansas City finally armed itself with three real starters at the top of the rotation, we saw what a rested bullpen can do. So adding Vargas with this strategy in mind checks out very soundly.
- Initially, feels like the Royals just signed the left-handed version of Guthrie.
In the four years ages 27-30
Guthrie: 4.06 ERA 118 strikeouts per year, 1.25 WHIP
Vargas: 3.97 124 strikeouts, per year, 1.27 WHIP
In the current market with blase starters out there, not bad for Kansas City.
- The contract has been analyzed by national pundits as too lengthy at four years. But guess what? If the Royals are to sign free agents, they have to go the extra mile. Yes, Shields and Ervin Santana arrived, but they were via trade. Signing Guthrie, Kansas City went extra. When KC had to land Gil Meche, they had to throw extra at him. Its the position the Royals are in - and I don't even think until this year, Vargas would've considered the Royals even at four years.
Until the Royals are division title winners, and consistently, Kansas City has to click the checkbox next to the extra year on the contract. Its the better approach than clicking an extra $3 million/year. Worst case, KC likely can trade a Vargas or Guthrie by the end of the contract if they really wish.
Plus, who's really out there? Josh Johnson has been injury prone over his years. Hughes has posted two seasons over 5.00 ERA in the past three years. Tim Hudson (38) is nearly as old as me, and just got two years at $11.5 million per year. Now the baseball world is clamoring over Ricky Nolasco and Bronson Arroyo? Yeah, Kansas City did good with its money here.
- Now with the reasonable signing, Kansas City needs to land a 2B and/or OF. Then say the Royals bring in Vargas, Kendrick and whomever, Kansas City can feel it has a very good, well-rounded club.
- Overall, feels like Kansas City has stacked itself with veteran No. 4 starters in Guthrie and Vargas. And maybe that's their plan - just some inning eaters who post a 4.00 ERA. They can provide stability until the All-Star Break, when hopefully a Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura takes the next step and then propels themselves as a No. 2 starter. Or hopefully, a No. 2 and No. 3 starter.
So let's say, if pitching potential for once strikes in Kansas City's favor, the rotation by August looks like this:
Or even Ventura above as the No. 3 - provided they are very stellar, say 3.35 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and around K/IP. Then you're onto something.
For the most part, Dayton Moore has been a solid judge of pitching. Shields has been everything as advertised. Santana was a real feather in the cap. A hiccup called Jonathan Sanchez, he quickly flipped into Guthrie via trade. And the bullpen has usually been pretty good over the years - until the fatigue factor sets in - until last year.
So while the Vargas deal appears boring, for a change, its time to trust Moore in this situation. And I can see the strategy of a safe, innings pitcher while the younger, promising guys come along and also saves the bullpen while putting them in the right innings of the 7th, 8th, and 9th.
Because sometimes boring isn't exciting. It isn't flashy. It doesn't go 180 MPH, but can get you 180,000 miles. And sometimes, boring does win.
By Chad Rader
The Royals season winds down, as with five games to go and 4.0 games out, the dreams of a postseason berth have faded.
A fun season indeed - who in early June would've imagined us clinging to the TV or radio or clicking refresh on the internet for Royals updates while scoreboard watching other teams in the league?
A successful, fun year indeed!
But now the real work starts, and will be the biggest Royals offseason in ages. The next few months will be as important to watch as from August through September.
Kansas City's window with Hosmer, Moustakas, Gordon, Butler and the gang is only so big, especially as a small market team. Fans are geeked up about this past season and that's fine, but it feels like a chance for the postseason was missed. Will the Yankees really be this bad after another year of reloading their roster? If not, then that may leave just one Wild Card slot in realistic distance to grab.
But the Royals could get there for the final Wild Card, or even looking back at this year, with a 9-14 April, been around the AL Central talk.
Kansas City will need to somehow pull off the following:
1) Evaluate Ned Yost.
In the second half, Kansas City were 40-24 (to this point), 14-7 in September when the pressure was on and enjoyed five of six winning months. But the Royals still suffered from a poor offense and if rumors are true that Yost pretty much accounted for Kevin Seitzer's departure as hitting coach, that's a major strike. As well as other decisions (Chris Getz, late-game decisions, etc).
However, the Royals are too invested with Yost and unless an OBVIOUS choice appears,and quick, Kansas City will have to commit to Yost by say late October or November. Obviously at 40-24, that's pretty good.
But does it feel like Ned is the one to lead the Royals to the playoffs? To the World Series, when pitch by pitch decisions are crucial in playoff baseball?
More importantly, as touted before the year, with Jim Leyland and Terry Francona in the division, KC is already starting in third place. And guess where they finished. Both of those clubs will try to improve as well this offseason, and have no-brainers in the dugout. So will the standings change?
KC is in a good spot that Yost is just fine, and unless an obvious upgrade like Tony LaRussa comes out of retirement or Mike Scioscia is let go by Anaheim/Los Angeles/whatever they are this year, Ned will be in the dugout in 2014.
2) Upgrade in RF/CF
The Royals have the flexibility to not just look for a rightfielder, but could go with a centerfielder if the market was better to grab a reasonably better CF than overpay for a RF. This discussion came on The Program, sparked by Bob Dutton's writing in the Kansas City Star on Tuesday. But the Royals could have options to upgrade CF or even LF, if Gordon can move to RF.
The likely play is to leave Gordon in left, and find a darn good RF. But how many of those are just lying around? The Cain-to-rightfield option would give Kansas City more options to find a centerfielder as well. Granted, Cain won't have the typical "cannon" in rightfield, but the team range in the outfield would be outstanding.
Much like the next position, we'll look into particular names in a month or less...
3) Upgrade at 2B
Everyone knew this last February. Let's just hope Dayton Moore does something about it by this February.
4) Frontline starter
Yeah, the list is growing, but needed. Keep in mind, "the window is now" and to tinker with Jeremy Guthrie as your No. 2, or fool yourself into Bruce Chen as a No. 3, or rely solely on Duffy, Ventura, and Zimmer or other youngsters as the No. 3-4-5 is really rolling the dice. Great two years ago, but the time is NOW.
Trades like this offseason for an Ervin Santana with 1-2 years left on the contract are out there. Signing a very good starter to just a 1-2 year deal off injury or bad recent performance (like Santana was in 2012) are out there. Going all-in and giving a 5-year deal in this market is NOT the answer, even as much as we like Ervin Santana. Now, willing to overpay Santana for just a 2-year deal? Sure. But this is Ervin's time to cash in on a lifetime setting, 5-year deal that he can retire after this contract, so that option is likely out the window.
Regardless, having Shields-New SP-Guthrie-Duffy-Ventura looks mighty attractive, and by season's end, Guthrie may well be the No. 5. And keep in mind, by season's end, the James Shields questions will come, will he be signed? Who's going to replace him?
And if you like Shields better than Santana, who would you rather push $20 million/year at for five years?
Getting a legit No. 2 starter for what should be the playoff ready team is essential.
5) Ba-bye to Chen, Hochevar?
Yes, both have been great this year. But Hochevar goes into arbitration and do you want Kansas City to devote $5+ million to a reliever who's not a closer? Dayton Moore has done a good job over the years building bullpens, so you'd think he could find someone for $3 million less somehow, whether via farm, trade or signing.
Ditto with Chen. Yes, he's been fantastic. But the problem is, even as the role players or No. 5 starters start improving, their market value increases and Kansas City or someone has to pay them. Would you rather put $12 million into Chen and Hochevar, or push that towards a No. 2 starter, and find another reliever?
I have a feeling, if KC brought back Hochevar this year at $5 million, they'll bring him back this offseason as well. Not a bad thing, but in the spreadsheet, is that the best money spent?
All this will require a few things. Getting the Glasses bump up payroll. Moore to strike a few deals in another very busy offseason for him. Even if there is just 1-2 major moves, there was probably weeks or months to get to that point.
And the whole time, Kansas City will be clicking refresh, watching TV and radio for the updates on the Royals offseason activity.
Isn't this fun?