Ask Boswell with special guest Dave Sheinin

Jul 25, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was on vacation, so Washington Post baseball writer Dave Sheinin answered your questions about baseball, local D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Good morning, folks. I’m honored to be here filling in for my friend, colleague and idol Tom Boswell. Having grown up reading Boz, in both column and book form, I count working alongside him as one of the great privileges of my career. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting next to him at some postseason game and witnessed him blow up an excellent column (and I know they were excellent because he typically bounces all his best lines off whoever is sitting next to him) at midnight because something huge just happened. You could create one of the best baseball books in history out of material Boz wrote that never saw the light of day.

 

It’s also a bit intimidating to be here, because I’m a faithful reader of his weekly chat, and I know you all of have come to expect every answer to be epic in breadth (and length) and full of enlightening stats (and typoes). I doubt I can live up to those lofty standards, but I appreciate the opportunity to join you all.

 

You probably know that I’m mainly a baseball guy, and there are no shortage of storylines there, with the trade deadline approaching, the Nationals coming off a disappointing road trip and the Orioles again among the worst teams in baseball.

 

If you want to veer off into other sports, I’ll do my best to play along. (I heard something about the NFL reaching some sort of agreement on something. Does that mean Brett Favre is un-retired again?)

Davey Johnson, that is. From what you've seen so far, do you think he's still figuring things out about the Nats and their performance under his guidance will eventually improve, or are you troubled by any aspect of how he's handling things?

I see a lot of questions asking versions of the same thing. Here's my take: No way has the game passed him by, and I'm really not troubled by anything he has done so far.

 

No matter who replaced Jim Riggleman at midseason, they were doomed to fail. Remember, the Nationals were at the high-water mark for the franchise in six years on the day Riggleman walked away -- and the timing was almost certainly not an accident.  The Nats were playing a bit over their heads -- they had won, what, 11 out of 12 games? There was no way they could keep up that sort of pace, and the next manager, by default, was bound to run into some criticism when the inevitable regression to the mean occurred.

Hi, do you think Stephen Strasburg's trip back to the majors will go through Potomac? Or will they get skipped again and will he start off at Harrisburg?

I think it's entirely possible, even likely, that Strasburg will see Potomac during his rehab assignment. Unless I'm missing something, there doesn't seem to any major problem with the mound there -- only the outfield. Remmeber, the Nats sent Ryan Zimmerman there at least once on his rehab assignment earlier this year.

 

Unfortunately, I can't give you any exact dates. It will likely depend on the schedules of all the affiliates. The Nats would prefer Strasburg makes the majority of his minor league starts at home games, so it will depend on each affiliate's individual schedule.

Dave, how would you handicap the odds of the following trades happening by the deadline: 1. Nats trade Marquis 2. Nats trade Livan 3. Nats trade Clippard 4. Nats trade Desmond 5. Nats trade other(s) 6. Nats acquire Colby Rasmus 7. Nats acquire BJ Upton 8. Nats acquire Michael Bourn 9. Nats acquire other CF Thanks!

Let me do this another way. Here is the Nats' most-likely-to-be-traded list, as I see it, in order from most likely to least: Todd Coffey, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Jason Marquis, Laynce Nix, Pudge Rodriguez, Drew Storen, Livan Hernandez, Ian Desmond.

 

Some of this is informed speculation, and some is simple logic: There is a ton of need out there for bullpen help, and trading away someone like Coffey would be very simple. It would be a little harder to trade Clippard (the Nats would obviously demand significantly more) or Burnett (whose performance has been way down).

 

As for the Nats' starting pitchers, you can almost certainly rule out Marquis or Livan going to one of the AL East contenders. They don't think either pitcher can survive in that brutal division. You could probably throw the Rangers in there as well as being wary of NL pitchers. Meantime, some of the top NL teams, such as Philly, Atlanta and SF, aren't really looking for starting pitching. That leaves fringy NL Central contenders such as the Cardinals or Reds.

 

And as for Desmond, not sure this is the best time for the Nats to think about trading him, when his value is at an all-time low. His OPS of .584 is the lowest among qualifying hitters in the entire NL.

 

You have 1,741 followers awaiting your first tweet. Make it count.

Hey, wait a second... I think some folks have been un-following me. I was up near 1,800 a few weeks ago. What's wrong with these people?

Wow! Are you implying that Riggleman intentionally left at the high-water mark???? That seems like quite a stretch.

I do think there was some symbolism there, as Riggleman saw it.

Hey Dave- What would the Nationals have to give up to get Denard Span from Minnesota? Would Clippard and Derek Norris do it?

The Twins haven't quite decided whether they're buyers or sellers, and even if they sell, I haven't heard Span's name in play. And why would they trade him? He doesn't reach free agency until 2015.

Any idea what sort of a pitch count he'll be on? I won't be expecting too much but can you share your idea of what a successful outing might look like. I noted that Kilgore suggested Gorzelanny may be moved to the bullpen or DL--what would place him on the DL?

It wasn't the most inspiring performance from Wang in his final minor-league tuneup yesterday. Five innings, five earned runs, more fly-ball outs than ground-ball outs, sinker clocked at 91 mph max. It may be useful to remember the Nationals were forced into bringing Wang to the majors now, because his 30-day rehab assignment had reached the limit.

 

Hard to say what we can expect from him. But I'm not expecting much. I think he's still got a ways to go to get back to his old form -- if he'll ever get there. But now he has to take those final steps at the big league level, which is always a little dangerous.

 

As for Gorzelanny, there is no injury -- at least not that has been made public. But teams frequently hide injuries, then all of a sudden reveal them as the player goes on the DL. That's what Kilgore meant.

I watched this past weekend's games on mlb.tv and chose to listen to Vin Scully's calls. He's quite amazing, handling the entire game by himself. I plan to catch all his games as his career winds down. Any personal stories of Mr. Scully?

Scully is one of the greatest treasures in the game. I listen to him every chance I get. Here is a piece I did on him a few years ago. (After it was published, he sent me a nice, hand-written note on Dodgers/Vin Scully personalized stationery.)

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/04/AR2005070400935.html

Based on the list you mentioned (Todd Coffey, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Jason Marquis, Laynce Nix, Pudge Rodriguez, Drew Storen, Livan Hernandez, Ian Desmond), every name makes sense to me except Drew Storen. Why trade him? He's is young and playing great..

I put him way down on the list purposely. There is no real incentive to trade him, other than the fact it is a seller's market when it comes to relievers.

 

If you're the Nationals, you ask for the moon for Storen, but you don't completely rule out trading him. Relief pitchers are the most fungible commodity in baseball.

Hi Dave, here's the obligatory "what can the Orioles do to right the ship?" question. I have to say, of all the disappointing seasons since 1998, this ranks up there with the worst, given the finish they had last year, the progression I expected from the young starters, and the acquisitions they made over the offseason. I even bought a partial season ticket plan for the first time, that's how excited I was for 2011. Truly, anything that could have gone wrong, has. Is it time for a total reboot? Is that even possible, when the one constant has been the worst owner in sports? I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel at all.

That's what I was getting at when I wrote about the Orioles' miseries last week (http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/for-orioles-annual-summer-swoon-came-later-but-hurts-more/2011/07/18/gIQALa9fMI_story.html).

 

The real danger here with the Orioles is the possibility that their core group of young pitchers (Britton, Matusz, Tillman, Erbe) will all flame out, the same way the last heralded core (Loewen, D. Cabrera, H. Penn, etc.) did about five years ago. The Orioles admit they placed their fortunes in the hands of these young pitchers, and so far they've gotten burned.

 

I think Britton, above all the others, will be just fine. I can't say that with any certainty about the rest.

 

Total reboot? Maybe. There could be major change in Baltimore (again) this winter, with MacPhail sounding like someone who is ready to step down. Maybe Showalter moves into the GM's job -- he acts as a de facto GM now anyway, given how frequently he speaks with the owner (with MacPhail's blessing). Could be another tumultuous winter in Birdland.

It amazes me that NL teams don't demand better hitting/bunting and baserunning from their pitchers. That said, if I were Davey Johnson, I would instruct Wang not to take the bat off his shoulder on Friday.

A while back, I started asking around about this issue. My question was, What would happen if one team took it upon themselves to make all their pitchers become representative hitters, as a means of gaining a competitive edge? The answer I most frequently got: "What would happen? You'd get a lot of pitchers hurt."

Thanks for the link to that Vin Scully article. Loved the lede.

Thanks.

What makes more sense to you? Morse in left field, or Morse at first base with a trade of LaRoche after showcasing him next spring?

I think the Nats like the versatility Morse gives them, and they're not ready to answer that question until they see how their winter plays out. They can go out and sign a Prince Fielder, for example -- as I speculated about in Baseball Insider a couple of weeks ago -- for example, and move Morse to left. (Yes, they'd still be stuck with LaRoche, but if he's healthy, they could always trade him.)

If you had to bet right now, is Desmond or Lombardozzi starting in the infield next year?

This is a great question, and perhaps the most pressing one in the Nats' universe (CF is the other biggie) as they start looking towards 2012. Obviously, they don't have to make that call now. They will see how both players finish out the year. Believe me, the Nats love everything about Desmond except his offensive prodution -- which, obviously, is a huge deal. (Did you notice in Kilgore's excellent gamer today which Nats player stepped up with the face-of-the-clubhouse quotes acknowledging that the team has been flat? Yep, Desmond.)

 

The Nats will bring Lombardozzi to big league camp next spring and get an extended look at him, and they might just see an Espinosa/Lombardozzi middle infield (with Espinosa at SS) as better than a Desmond/Espinosa one. It's too early to say that now.

 

But what's not too early to say is this: If Desmond doesn't hit any better than this, he can't be an everyday SS in the majors. Even in this era of pitching dominance, you can't have a guy with a .584 OPS in your lineup every day.

 

Desmond has had over 1,000 plate appearances now -- a fairly representative sample -- and his career OPS is .673 (and falling fast). Time to produce, young man.

Dave, what did Riggleman mean when he called Boz the 'master of the 1/2 truth'? Seems weird that a manager would call out a columnist as part of the reason for his demise. What was that all about?

Boy, talk about a misguided rant. I have no idea what Riggleman meant by that, but to me it's always a dubious strategy to blame it on the media -- especially when you're the one walking away! You're right -- that was weird.

 

I think, if anything, Boz was merely acknowledging what everyone (Riggleman included) already knew -- that the Nationals did not view Riggleman as their manager of the future. Riggleman's instincts were right on that point. But I still don't see how Boz had anything to do with that.

You had them winning the NL Central, right?

Yikes. Not only did I not see the Pirates winning the NL Central, I saw them as so irrelevant, I didn't even do a real segment on them in my pre-season "capsules" in our baseball special section. I just cracked jokes about the irrelevancy. Joke's on me, I guess.

 

The Pirates are absolutely the best story in baseball right now, and Clint Hurdle has to be the runaway winner of Manager of the Year at this point. I wish I could say I see them holding up the rest of the way, but there are three pretty good teams chasing them in the NL Central, and I don't like the Pirates' chances of holding off all of them.

Based on this quote from Desmond in Kilgore's account of yesterday's loss, could one conclude that Ian Desmond misses Jim Riggleman's Smart Ball? And if so, is this a common sentiment in the clubhouse? "Me personally, I think that the energy is down. We're not playing the same brand of baseball that we were when we came out of the gates from the beginning. I feel like we're a little flat. We've got to get some kind of spark."

That's the quote I referenced in my earlier answer about Desmond. Thanks for digging it up.

Ankiel? Bernadina? Acquired via trade in the next week? Offseason free agent?

Definitely not Ankiel. Probably not Bernadina. Quite possibly someone acquired via trade in the next week (Upton or Rasmus). Perhaps someone acquired via trade or free agency this winter.

Dave, do you think the Phillies make some move to get a big time closer (Heath Bell, etc.) before the deadline or are they going to go with Madson and/or Lidge? Talk about a tough decision, but if I were their GM I just wouldn't risk the postseason by going with the closers they have.

Don't forget Bastardo! Have you seen this guy's numbers? Absolutely sick. He's holding opposing hitters to a .431 OPS (!) -- that's the lowest in the majors among qualifying relievers.

 

If the Phillies do anything, it will be a bat -- preferably RH outfielder. They're all over Beltran.

 

I don't really have a question just wanted to say hello Dave. I miss your regular chats. Also still really miss your Baseball Sundays.

Thanks for the love. Much appreciated. I miss those Sunday Baseball pages too. It was a beast to pull off every week, but it sure looked good on the page.

So which team will regret the big contracts more: Nationals with Werth, Phillies with Howard, or Yankees with Jeter, Rodriguez, etc.?

Great question. Have you seen what Ryan Howard is hitting these days? His OPS for the season is barely over .800 -- and it's gone down in every year but one since he won the MVP in 2005. He has a lower slugging percentage than Brennan Boesch! Howard looks for all the world like a former slugger (still a very capable hitter) whom the rest of baseball has figured out: Pump him with breaking balls, and never let him face a RHP after the sixth inning.

 

As for your question, the Yankees aren't too worried about Jeter and A-Rod. Given their revenues and payroll, the can always hide a couple of overpaid, underperforming veterans. To a certain degree, the same is true of the Phillies and Howard.

 

If 2011 Jayson Werth is any indication of what the Nats are getting through 2017, they should be very worried. They don't have the same margin for error as those richer teams. But I still think Werth will bounce back -- whether it's next month or next year. I don't know if he'll put up another .921 season, as he did in 2009, but at some point he'll hit.

 

 

Dave: I looked this up last week and wanted to pass it along to worried Nats fans: Only once did Davey Johnson take over a team in the middle of a season, and that was in 1993 with the Reds. He went 53-65 the rest of that season, but the Reds finished first in the NL Central the next two years under Davey. Remain calm, Nats fans, all will be well next year!

Well said. Of course, no one knows for certain if Davey will be back next year.

I know it's not really your department, but can you make sure to say thank you to whoever in the Sports department came up with the new Nationals series preview in the paper that lists the pitching matchups for the entire next series? That is wonderful and something I had been hoping to see for a while.

Duly noted.

Dave: Here is the problem with the WTT league the Washington Kastles just won. If Roger Federer were assigned to the Chicago team and Rafael Nadal were assigned to Washington, I would have to root for Chicago because I like Federer and I don't like Nadal! Tennis is not a team sport for cities the way baseball, football, basketball or hockey are!

 Um, I will take your word for it.

OK, folks, my time is up. It's been a real pleasure chatting with y'all. Great questions. Thanks for having me.

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Dave Sheinin
Dave Sheinin is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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