Before we get into Chiefs mode, a few housekeeping items:
- For those of you who missed it, I wrote a guest column for my friend John Sickels at minorleagueball.com here. If you’re a die-hard Royals fan, you probably won’t learn anything new from this – but any time I’m offered the chance to gloat in front of a national audience, I’m inclined to take it.
- I’m glad I got my Carl Crawford column up on Saturday, because if it had gone up on Sunday, it would have been obsolete the moment it hit the web. The Jayson Werth contract was just that ridiculous. If Werth is worth 7 years at $18 million a year, it would be hard for anyone to argue if Crawford claims he’s worth 8 years at $22 million a year, or even more.
Of course, what Crawford is truly worth is simply what the market will bear, and the fact that the Nationals lost their mind for Werth doesn’t mean the same will happen with Crawford. But if this is indicative of what the free-agent market will be this winter, the Royals might be better off sitting it out. Sure, they’ll have money to burn in a year or two, but if they don’t like what’s available in free agency at that point, there’s a good chance they can simply trade a token prospect to a team that’s having buyer’s remorse, and get a useful but overpriced player with the old team footing some of the bill.
- As Matt Klaasen pointed out on Twitter, the Jayson Werth signing makes the timing of the David DeJesus trade even more suspect. For one, if the price of an everyday outfielder just went up, then the $6 million that DeJesus is owed for 2011 looks even more appealing today. And secondly, since none of the usual suspects signed Werth, that means one more team that would have been in the running for DeJesus’ services.
For instance, the Red Sox. Going into the winter, Boston looked like clear favorites to sign either Werth or Carl Crawford. But now, Werth is off the market, and they’re unlikely to chase the rising cost of Crawford (especially now that they’re trying to work out a long-term deal for Adrian Gonzalez.) We know that the Red Sox had interest in DeJesus last July. You don’t think that right now, if the Royals had held on to DeJesus, the Red Sox would be showing considerably more interest than they had a month ago?
There’s nothing wrong with a GM being decisive; Kenny Williams has made a living like that. But there is something wrong with a GM being decisive when he doesn’t have to be. There was nothing to be gained by trading DeJesus in November instead of in December or January. There was considerable opportunity to be lost. The Royals have Vinny Mazzaro and Justin Marks; they also have to wonder if they could have gotten more, if they had just shown some patience.
- When I appeared on the Baseball Prospectus Podcast to talk about the Royals 2 weeks ago – you can find that here – Kevin Goldstein asked me if I thought the Royals would trade Zack Greinke this winter. I put the odds at the time at around 20%, because I felt like the Royals had all the leverage in the situation, and they would only move him if they got him an overwhelming offer.
Today, I’d put those odds much higher, for two reasons. The first is that with the money that’s flying around this month, Greinke’s contract - $27 million for 2 years – looks even more enticing than ever. Depending on where Cliff Lee ends up, you’ll have at least one and possibly two of the Rangers/Yankees who will be looking for a fallback option, and Greinke for $27/2 looks considerably more appetizing after you’ve just offered Lee $120/5 and been turned down.
The second is that the number of media rumors hinting that Greinke wants out of Kansas City continues to go up. I don’t trust these rumors 100% - Greinke is a tough person to read, and he’s very private, and unless these rumors are coming straight from his mouth (which I doubt) then I’m inclined to take them with a huge grain of salt. The Royals would know better than anyone spreading these rumors whether their relationship with Greinke is salvageable or not. But there’s certainly a chance that it’s not, in which case he’s likely to go. I’d put the odds that he gets traded by Opening Day at 50/50, maybe a little higher depending on where Lee ends up and just how desperate the bridesmaids get.
Sunday was a heck of a day for the Chiefs. They won, which wasn’t surprising; the Chargers lost; which was. And then Josh McDaniels was relieved of his duties in Denver, and given how many teams respond to their coach being fired with sudden, if short-lived, improvement (look at the Vikings post-Childress and the Cowboys post-Phillips), we can only hope that the Broncos respond the same way – given that they host the Raiders in two weeks and go to San Diego for the season finale.
As it stands, the Chiefs are 8-4, and hold a 1.5 game lead on the division with four games to go. Here’s what this means:
1) No matter what happens against the Chargers next week, the Chiefs control their own destiny.
That’s the most important thing to take away from this. If San Diego had won against Oakland, then a scenario was very much in play that had the Chiefs losing in San Diego, finishing their season with three wins and an 11-5 record – and missing the playoffs when the Chargers also finished 11-5 and had the tiebreaker in hand.
The Chargers’ loss eliminates the possibility of an 11-5 team missing the playoffs, at least in the AFC. Which no doubt makes Matt Cassel happy, seeing as how only one NFL team in history has missed the playoffs with an 11-5 record – and he was the quarterback of that team.
(In the NFC, though, all bets are off. The NFC West is so putrid that in each of the other three divisions, there are two teams that are 8-4 or better. One of those teams is guaranteed to miss the playoffs.)
If the Chiefs lose in San Diego, but win their final three games, they are guaranteed to win the division, and in fact are guaranteed to be at least the #3 seed. (They would be guaranteed to have a better record than the AFC South champion – the Jaguars, who lead the division, already have 5 losses, and they lost to the Chiefs head-to-head.)
2) The odds that the Chiefs qualify for the playoffs as a wild-card team, which were already tiny, are now infinitesimal.
Before, there was a chance that the Chiefs might finish 11-5 and lose the division, which would bring the wild-card into play. But now, for the Chiefs to not finish in first place in the AFC West, they would have to finish no better than 10-6. This could happen if they lose to the Chargers and then stumble against the Rams or Titans, while San Diego wins their last three.
In that case, the Chiefs have to hope that either the Ravens or the Jets finish no better than 9-7. Remember, the Chiefs lose almost all tiebreakers outside the division, because of their inferior in-conference record. (There are some scenarios in which, if the Chiefs lose to the Rams, they might win a tiebreaker against the Jets or Ravens, but those permutations are a little too complicated to get into right now.)
For the Ravens to finish 9-7, they’d have to lose three of their last four games, which include home games against New Orleans and Cincinnati, and play Houston and Cleveland on the road. None of those games are gimmes, but I expect them to at least split.
The Jets would have to lose their last four games in order to finish 9-7. Maybe their 45-3 ass-kicking on the foot of New England is fresh in my mind, but I actually wonder if this could happen. The Jets host Miami this week, then play the Steelers and Bears on the road. If they lose to the Dolphins, the chance of a major freefall is there – and then they finish at home against a feisty Buffalo team that is a hell of a lot better than their 2-10 record would indicate.
If the games break right next week, we can revisit these scenarios in more detail. For now, I’d focus on the division if I were you.
There’s two ways this can go. If the Chiefs beat San Diego, then it literally does not matter what happens against St. Louis in Tennessee. Even if the Chiefs lose to BOTH the Rams and Titans, if they beat the Raiders in the season finale, they will be 10-6, and both the Raiders and Chargers will have at least seven losses each.
Now if, like me, the memory of the home loss to the Raiders to close out the 1999 season, costing the Chiefs a playoff berth – because Pete Stoyanovich missed the game-winning field goal as time ran out, then Jon Baker started overtime by kicking out of bounds (his third time that day!) – you’d rather it didn’t have to come down to the final game. But if the Chiefs beat the Chargers, there’s a good chance that it won’t.
If the Chiefs win next week, then their Magic Number is 2 – any combination of Chiefs wins (vs. the Rams or Titans) or Raiders losses (vs. Jacksonville, Denver, and Indianapolis) that equals 2 or more, and the Chiefs will have clinched the AFC West before they kick off against Oakland. They might be playing for seeding, but they won’t be playing for their lives.
If the Chiefs lose to San Diego, they really need to run the table to be safe. If they beat Oakland, then a win against either St. Louis or Tennessee eliminates the Raiders. However, a loss against either team opens up the door for San Diego to win the division if they win their last three games. After playing the Chiefs, the Chargers host the 49ers, then finish on the road against the Bengals and Broncos – all very winnable games for them.
If the Chiefs lose to San Diego and Oakland, then they have to beat St. Louis and Tennessee, for starters. Then they have to hope that both Oakland and San Diego lose at least one of their other three games along the way. Which is certainly possible. We might, in fact, see a scenario in which the Chiefs lose in San Diego, take care of business against the Rams and Titans, and – if both the Chargers and Raiders lose one more game – the Chiefs will still have clinched the division before they take the field against Oakland.
In summary: beat San Diego and the division is yours for the taking. Lose to San Diego and the division is still yours for the taking; you just can’t afford any more screw-ups. That’s what a 1.5-game lead with four games to go does for you.