* The other day, the Kansas City Royals sent out a news release announcing a “major baseball-related news conference” that was to happen later in the afternoon. Nothing like the word “major” in a news release to stir the masses. Twitter immediately ignited with speculation. People love the Hot Stove League and the Royals, of course, are expected to be active. The team needs to find offense and it’s rumored that former Royal Carlos Beltran might be coming back to the organization where he got his start.
* Um, the major announcement had nothing to do with Beltran, one of baseball’s biggest names. The news conference was held to officially announce the signing of left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas, who pitched last season with the Los Angeles Angels. Jason Vargas. Yeah, that guy.
* Talk about a letdown. But it’s nothing new with this organization, which seems to operate in a vacuum filled with its own unawareness. Remember the “This is Our Time” campaign in 2012? Yeah, how’d that go for the Royals?
* Kansas City was 86-76 last season. The Royals were in the playoff hunt until the final 10 days of the regular season. Kudos all around. But now is when it really gets tough. This hungry fan base now expects the Kansas City front office to take that next step. And it’s a difficult one to take. Signing Vargas to a four-year contract (way too many years for him, by the way) isn’t that step. Perhaps signing Beltran would be, although he’ll be 37 next season.
* About Beltran, for a second. The St. Louis Cardinals brought him aboard as a free agent in 2012, after first baseman Albert Pujols bolted for the Angeles. St. Louis gave Beltran a two-year, $27 million contract and he earned every penny, helping the Cardinals to the World Series this season after they lost to San Francisco in the National League Championship Series last season. Now the speculation is that Beltran might get another two-year deal, only this time for $38 million. And he’s two years older. This is an example of why I trust the Cardinals’ front office to make good baseball decisions. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens more often than not. I’d be leery about giving a 37-year-old outfielder with bad knees that much money.
* I did like the Cardinals’ trade Friday with the Angels, which sent third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas west for outfielder Peter Bourjos and prospect outfielder Randal Grichuk. The Cardinals are now faster and better defensively than they were. They can move Matt Carpenter from second base to third and plug in Kolten Wong at second. Yes, there are risks. Bourjos has not been able to stay healthy since a solid 2011 season when he led the American League in triples. And Wong struggled mightily late in 2013 after being called up from Triple-A. But this is a good deal. Freese was set to earn $4 million or more as a second-time arbitration eligible player and Salas was not in the bullpen mix for St. Louis.
* Baseball on a frigid, late-November day. Thanks for indulging me.
* I love college basketball season. I’m looking forward to being in Kansas City on Monday and Tuesday for the CBE Classic and to see how Wichita State not only plays against DePaul and either Texas or BYU, but to see how many Shocker fans make the jaunt up to KC to watch. I’m guessing 4,000 or so, but it could easily be more.
* I’ve been singing the praises of sophomore guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker so far. Who hasn’t? But I’ve been wondering, too, about senior forward Cleanthony Early. He’s off to a good start but not a great one. He hasn’t shot the ball very well.
* My observation is that while VanVleet and Baker have tremendous basketball instincts that can’t be taught, there are still times when Early has to think too much about what he’s doing out there. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it looks. He certainly has every athletic ability required to be a basketball star. And there are times when he is a star. But the game doesn’t seem to come as easily for Early. Perhaps I’m off base here.
* Interesting to see guard Conner Frankamp get a few more minutes during Kansas’ blowout wins over Iona and Towson this week. The Jayhawks did struggle for 20 minutes with Iona, but blasted Towson on Friday night. I’m interested to see how the ultra-competitive and ultra-confident Frankamp navigates his way through his freshman season on a KU roster loaded with exceptional players.
* I’ve watched a lot of John F. Kennedy retrospectives during the past week or so but none better than Tom Brokaw’s narrative on NBC on Friday night. It was heart-wrenching to see the widow of slain Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, Marie, who shared the contents of a letter she received from Jacqueline Kennedy shortly after J.F.K. was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, by Lee Harvey Oswald. I couldn’t keep my emotions in check as Brokaw recited the words from that warm and thoughtful letter. I had no idea Jackie had written the letter, in which she expressed her empathy and explained that it was unfair that the death of her husband was overwhelming the death of the more ordinary Tippet, who was shot four times by Oswald in the minutes after Kennedy was shot. I’m so glad Brokaw chose to include the Tippets in his report.
* I was hoping to get an interview this week with one of my favorite childhood athletes, Elvin Hayes. But it didn’t happen. I wanted to talk to The Big E about his induction into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday and his thoughts on former Wichita State star Xavier McDaniel, who is also being inducted. But Hayes’ schedule was too busy, I was told. Shucks.
* I was just an average student as a kid and I blame that on my locked-in attentiveness to sports. If school had been about knowledge of sports, I would have been a magna cum laude. Alas, they expected you to know others things, which is where I got into trouble.
* I only recently heard about and started listening to some music from the band Haim, which consists of three sisters from California. And I like them. So I’m excited that they’re the musical guests tonight on Saturday Night Live, hosted by Chris Hemsworth. I rarely miss SNL these days after years of hardly watching. I’m not sure what that says about me but I’m always searching for deeper meanings.
* Haim’s drummer, by the way, is the son of Danny Hutton, one of the founders of Three Dog Night. I find that fascinating.
* Prediction: Kansas State 28, Oklahoma 24.
* Have a great weekend. Stay warm.