KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Leverage now has a color scheme in the bidding war for Bubba Starling: Royal Blue vs. Big Red.
Maybe "bidding" isn't the right word in the Nebraska half of the decision ahead for the fifth pick in Monday's Major League Baseball draft. The NCAA tends to frown on money changing hands. Nebraskans, though, tend to frown on not getting their way. So what if some wise-ass tweeted shortly after the two-sport star from Gardner, Kan. was drafted by the Kansas City Royals, "I bet the University of Nebraska pays better"? After a quarter century of clownish baseball, the Royals at least have the advantage of being able to pay handsomely for the talent developed 40 miles from their doorstep.
So, yes, this is about the hearts and minds of long-suffering fans -- and the wallet of a talented 18-year-old.
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That's why there is so much riding on Starling's pending decision. The projected centerfielder/certain college quarterback carries the futures of a Major League franchise and a college football factory with him. It's not the first time a two-sport star had to pick between football and baseball. It's not close to being the first time super agent Scott Boras has been the puppet master in the process. But throw in the Midwest values of Starling's hometown, a potential future Hall of Famer and two starving fan bases, nothing about the next few months will be simple.
The Huskers, who signed Starling as a quarterback in February, did so with the full knowledge that he could -- and probably will -- wait until baseball's mid-August deadline to drag out the process. That's how Boras operates. This particular orchestrated media blackout started when outlets, including this one, asked about the possibility of witnessing Starling's life-changing moment Monday in the family's home. They were politely rebuffed by friendly folks who had been nothing but accommodating -- until now.
Boras, still technically an advisor until Starling signs, is going to play both ends against the middle. Nebraska will be dangled as a possibility in front of the Royals, who are more than desperate to be relevant again. Meanwhile, Nebraska can itself dangle a possible starting quarterback job in front of Starling.
And if Jim Tressel's sudden departure means anything, that could be a starting job on a team that is suddenly favored to win the Big Ten.
Everyone seems to be going in with eyes and minds wide open. Let's be honest: If he bombs in baseball, Starling still will have $12 million-$15 million in the bank four or five years from now. At that point he could still go to college and become the next Brandon Weeden or even Chris Weinke.
If nothing else, the Royals did the right thing, right now. They couldn't afford for another possible Albert Pujols to get away. El Hombre attended high school and junior college in the area before the Cardinals took him in the 13th round in 1999. Royals fans, scouts and administrators have had to hear about it every day since. The organization has shown to be truly committed in this case. They didn't duck Boras in the draft because of signability issues with one of his clients.
What's next? Bubba will report to the Huskers like any incoming freshman to begin offseason drills. That may be nothing more than The Big Tease. Does Nebraska need him? Perhaps. When healthy, current starter Taylor Martinez borders on Heisman good. But with the departure of Cody Green quarterback depth is an issue and Martinez hasn't proved to be the most durable specimen.
Do the Huskers want him? You bet, if nothing more than to boost Big Red Nation's collective ego. If the tweeter is right, Nebraska hasn't been paying enough money to the right people. The Huskers haven't won a conference title in 12 years (despite playing in the 2002 BCS title game). There is just enough promise in Starling to fantasize about Nebraska winning another Heisman, becoming a national power again.
The kind that wins bidding wars without a cent changing hands.