Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Feb 18, 2014

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

A whole page of Nationals news and reporting in the birdcage edition. I'm so glad to have you guys back. I don't care what the weather prognosticators say, spring has sprung!

 Thanks. It sure feels like that here, too. Another perfect day -- 80's on the way and barely a cloud in the sky. It's often blustery and even chilly here this time of year. So maybe it''s a blue-skies sign.

Much has been already been (well) written about how Matt Williams has plotted a detailed approach to the Nats' spring training in contrast to his predecessor's 'they're all professionals - they know what to do' approach. It sounds like the formerly 'lost soul' Danny Espinosa may benefit from Williams' and Rick Schu's guidance to refocus on being the gap hitter he most likely is rather than the swing-for-the fences-wannabe persona he tried on during the previous administration. Do you see others who might similarly benefit from the tighter structure of the new system? Similarly, are there players, perhaps some veterans, who might chafe at this approach?

Analytical introverts like Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Stammen and many others who like structure will welcome it. It's not just organization and detail. LaRoche said, "I would expect some changes (this year). Primarily in intensity."

Gio is already talking about details, like covering first. Can he really change? (Does he really have to?) Harper's very orderly and industrious. You'd think Soriano -- known as "O.P." (Own Program) -- might be interesting. But he's shown up in such good shape -- you won't have to look away when he pulls out his shirt after a  save -- that he may actually be with the program. And it's a contract year for him.

Williams may exhaust some of his coaches! But I suspect he won't drive his players crazy. And this is a structure friendly team. I can't imagine Williams managing the '05 Nats, who were 81-81 despite having some of the laziest most overweight never-run-a-step players I've ever seen on one team. There must have been a dozen players on that club who'd have wanted to jump off a bridge after a few days of Williams World. Nobody here seems to feel that way.

Did this year's Super Bowl finally answer the age old debate between offense and defense? Best offense ever versus strongest defense this year (but certainly not in the history of football) and offense didn't even stand a chance!

My impression, and you tempt me to do the stats on Super Bowls between Top 1-2-3 offenses and Top 1-2-3 defenses, is that it's smart to pick (or bet on) the super defense versus the super offense.

But matchups matter. Style of play matters. "Fighters make fights." Sometimes the super offense is simply well adapted to coping with the super defense. Manning likes short quick routes and yards after catch. Seattle loves to clamp and take away quick routes. It was a good matchup for Seattle and a poor one for Manning/Denver. I wonder how the stronger-armed pre-injuries Manning would have coped with the Seahawks several years ago. Yes, he had 55 TDs this year, but it was in a mega-offense era. But that game was such a crush that I think you have to say the result is the same, but with a different score.

I'm sorry that I didn't directly answer a question last week about Manning's legacy in light of that game. Yes, it changes markedly. If he had won a second Super Bowl after a 55-TD year, then you could have made the case that he was the greatest QB of all time. I only said "make the case." I'm not saying that you'd conclude, "Yes, he was." But now you cannot even make the case for "No. 1 of all time -- alone." It wouldn't be fair. You can only say the obvious: He's ONE OF the best of all time.  I'm sure that's a big distinction that isn't lost on Peyton as he thinks back on the game.

Boz, I'm heading to Viera this weekend and I've tried to find information about the schedule, to no avail. What's your best guess as to when training starts on the weekends? When do they end? Where should I go, since I assume not Space Coast Stadium itself? How best to meet players/ get autographs? Thanks and I hope to see you there (recognizing you're working, of course)!

Before games begin the Nats workout from 10 a.m. to noon or a little bit after. They practice on several fields that are about 500 yards from Space Coast Stadium. You can park in a huge grass lot beside that complex. Just go to Space Coast and look for it. I'd say the one "don't-miss" thing is to watch the bullpen sessions -- usually start around 10:20 -- with groups of four or five pitchers, about 12-to-15 in all, each throwing for 10-to-14 minutes each. You can get quite close and "look over their shoulder" to see their stuff. I seldom miss it. Batting practice is fun to watch. Once exhibition games start, everything is different, of course.

Enjoy.

How does this impact the Yankees short term, and long term, success???

One MLB executive told me many weeks ago that the Yanks "have no choice but to sign Tanaka" no matter what the price because "they are desperate. Sabathia is deteriorating fast. Kiroda is 100 years old. What year does he give out? They've really been lucky with him. He's saved them (for two years). Their pitching could be awful. Pettitte, Rivera and Cano are gone. If they don't get Tanaka, they could be in a lot of trouble and they know it."

The Yanks hurt a lot of teams by grabbing leaders like McCann (Braves), Beltran (Cards) and Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston). But that barely makes up for everything they lost. There's no way that Jeter is still Jeter. I wish him luck the last time around but he's at a hold-your-breath point. Teixeira was in decline before last year. Just to establish an opinion baseline: I don't think the Yanks will win 9i0 games this year. If Tanaka is a .500 pitcher (I think he'll be much better than that) they may not match last year's 85 wins. PECOTA projects them as an 82-80 team. And I think that was after Tanaka signed. This is a team that could have an infield of Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan, Kelly Johnson and an aging Teixeira if Jeter has periods of injury. 

I start from the assumption that they will be a much-talked about team, but not actually one of the 10 best teams in the game. Of course, I admit I enjoy it that way. The Yanks are not a franchise that, in recent years, deserves a lot of admiration because they have been such a disaster in October. They have had 11 teams that won 94-or-more games in the last 14 years. That is incredible regular-season performance and shows their talent, much of it store bought. But they only have one WS win. The case can be made that, including the '04 collapse, they have been the anti-Yankees under pressure. I went back to '61, the start of the 162-game schedule, to see how many teams had had 11 94-win seasons in the past 52 years, not just the last 14 years like the Yanks. I think it was only three teams. So, the Yanks have had an enormous number of chances to cash in October and haven't done it. I suspect a poor period is in store for them.

 There's another side to the argument, however. Players love the Bronx and will continue to want to go there. Ian Desmond said some very complimentary things about the Yanks the other day, pointing out that one reason they stay consistently competitive is because they seldom develop their own talent, often trading it away, but simply sign veteran proven free agent players who know all the details of the game. It's interesting that Desmond talked so nicely about the Yanks, and Jeter, that he interjected, "I don't mean to say so many good things about the Yankees." But it's interesting. The grapevine has it that Desmond has already turned down a contract extension from the Nats for more than Adam Jones deal in Baltimore ($85.5M/7 yrs) and may even have passed the $90-M level.  But if you are talking about seven years that's not such an astronomical average salary for a Silver Slugger SS. Still, it's not going to be easy to get either Desmond or Jordan Zimmerman signed to long extensions. They're now signed through '15, after which they are free agents.

Boz, Do you know whether the Nats front office will let you come into the stadium to check out the view, before you buy a season ticket?

They did before the park opened in '08. I think most teams are so interested in selling season tickets that they will asign you a contact person who'll meet you to go to seats. Have the Nats passed the point where they need to do that because demand is so great? I don't know. I'll ask. You can go on line and "see the view" from every section of almost every park in MLB, including the Nats. Not every seat. But every section. It's cool. Because, from my experience of a lot of parks, it really seems accurate.  I've wasted a lot of time doing it.

Hi Tom, (I sent this question to the Post's sports department, and received the suggestion I send it to you for your live chat on the 18th.) I am obviously not in the DC area, nor am I directly concerned with the issue of the "Redskins" name, although I am surely on the side of changing it; it is clearly a mark of disrespect to a part of your community which ought to be rectified.  However, I have been a long-time baseball fan (a Nats fan relocated along with the Expos), and I clearly recall the days when a similar issue revolved around the Atlanta Braves. I remember the man dressed in Native American garb who ran around every time the home team hit a home run, and I remember the response that brought about from the American Indian Movement. But I have heard nothing about the Braves issue for years, yet the Redskins has been in the media - sports and otherwise - a lot of late. So I wonder if you could answer a question. Why has the issue blossomed in DC and, seemingly, dwindled away to nothing in Georgia? I hope you might comment on my question. david watts, ret'd fredericton, new brunswick, canada -- 30 --

Plenty of peoiple have had problems with "Braves" and with disrespectful logos, mascots, etc. "Braves" has generally -- no, I haven't made a study of it -- ignited the anger that "Redskins" does. Gee, I wonder why RED-SKINS would seem to hit people as being ESPECIALLY racially charged? If you wanted to pick ONE NAME out of all the imaginable names for Native-Americans that can, or ever have been used by teams, like Cleveland Indian as The Most Insulting, what would it be? Come on, "Redskins" would have to get 99 percent of the vote, right? So, to think that the Washington football team's name is not a valid issue for criticism you have to think that there is NO NAME whatsoever, related to Native-Amercans, that would, in your mind, be a problem. Good Lord, millions of people love HTTR, and I've sung it a thousand times growing up, but times change. (They changed a LONG time ago.) I'll soon adress a lot of the issues in the NFL workplace and culture that are all changing -- and changing quickly and simultaneously. I've seen this happen in other industries (including sports writing in the early '70's.) Things stay one way for decades or generations. Then, suddenly, intolerance isn't tolerated anymore. Or cruelty (like severe hazing or hate speach or bias against openly gay or lesbian athletes) is treated cruelly. And those who are on the wrong side of these issues -- where there really are issues of right and wrong -- just get obliterated if they don't understand that their own culture has changed.

It's called progress.     

Since Derek Jeter has announced that he will retire after this season, I have read columnists state that, among other things, he is the most important Yankee ever, that the Hall of Fame should waive its five year rule so Jeter can go in at the same time as Mariano Rivera, that Jeter should be the first player elected to the Hall with a unanimous vote and, most curiously, that he should have won the 2009 AL MVP over Joe Mauer. So, is there anyone out there that is mystified as to why people hate the Yankees and their fans (both at the games and in the media) so much?

Thanks. Go to baseball-reference and check "Career WAR" -- wins above replacement. Jeter ranks 58th in history one spot ahead of...Bobby Grich. He's behind Regghie Jackson, DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth among long-time Yankees.

Jester is a first-ballot HOFer, but there's an honest discussion -- for many years -- as to whether he was more than an average defensive shortstop. And, in later years, whether he was a net liability.

He's handsome. He's a winner. He's dated a lot of starlets. And he's kept out of trouble. He's admirable. But as Red Smith (I think) said, "Lets not god-up the ballplayers." But I'm sure I'll write something swell about him along the way -- because he deservesd it. But he doesn't deserve to go in a year early.

How does this end well for the Caps? Winning the Gold for Russia would be the pinnacle of his career. How do you come back from that and skate with the passion it would take to lead your team to anything of consequence? Maybe in another season, but not this one. Similarly, not winning the Gold is also going to hurt the Caps. I just don't see a scenario where that drives him more to lead the Caps this year. He'll just be depressed. Sincerely, Ovi's Psychologist.

The chance to score 60 goals, win the scoring title, get his team into the playoffs and shut up (for a minute, anyway) all his Canadian critics on TV might be a good motivation.

The Caps problem is a lot bigger than Ovi or his motivation. Even if they play better, it looks like their "window" as an elite contender -- even potentially --has closed. They are just one of the dozen teams in the middle of the pack that, every year, has a puncher's chance to get hot in the playoffs. But that's not what's meant by being a team with "a window to win a Cup." If he wants to be depressed -- and you can talk to him about this in your next session together -- it would be all the wasted springs the Caps have already used up.

Of course, "miracle runs" are fun, too. We're all up for one. But don't bet too much on it.  

What's Livo's role with the team right now? Is he just helping out with spring training, or is this part of a more permanent role for him with the team?

Drew Storen says, "His job is life-coach, bleep-talker and being Livo."

Seriuously, Matt Williams says that Livo was such a good all-around athlete, especially fielder, that "he was like a shortstop who happened to be a pitcher." (Okay, a very large shortstop.) Williams thinks, correctly, that adding Fister, who is polished at defense, holding runners, hitting and bunting, plus the influence of Livo, who was one of the best at all of them, will have an impact on some Nats who aren't so good in those areas, like (at holding runners) Strasburg and Storen or (at bunting) Gio, etc.

How is Christian Garcia looking so far? Any chance that he goes north with the club?

If he's healthy, he's on the team. One coach said yesterday, "He's made it through two bullpen sessions. So he's already beaten last year." Last spring he pulled a forearm muscle in the first or second throw sesssion, then pulled a hamstring and never pitched an inning in MLB

He still has the same monster stuff  -- a fastball, change, curve combination that rivals Strasburg's. Everybody here agrees to that. And he was poised in September '12 in a pennant race. If he can stay healthy (repeat, repeat, repeat), he could give you 60 exceptional inning out of the bullpen without being your closer or setup man. He's 28. McCatty, who said "all his pitches are plus...no, they're all above plus," says, "Nobody has any questions about him, if he can stay on the mound. But he's had, what, two or is it three Tommy John surgeries?" Everybody roots for him because they feel sorry for him. Soooo, close. Christian Garcia, career ERA 2.12. Career innings: 12.2.

...how would you grade GM Rizzo on his acquisitions? Fister and McLouth are clearly beloved additions by fans, bolstering a too-good-to-be-true starting lineup as well as adding much needed bench support. But does the lack of lefties in the Pen seem too glaring to give him a pass? Of course, that would change if Detwiler couldn't break Roark / Jordan. Other missing essentials: backup catcher, backup utility infielders...

I'll say "A-." It might have been A+. The Nats may have had Grant Balfour lined up for a 2-yr $12-million deal __after the O's flunked Balfour on his physical__ but DC wanted to push so much money off into the future years that Balfour, who prefered D.C., ended up in Tampa. It's one of those many after-the-fact retellings of history that fill baseball. Everybody spins the re-tell their own way. But I give this one a lot of weight and think it's very likely true. This was all after Baltimore killed his deal based on the physical. Nats and Rays didn't have "physcial passing" problems with him. We'll never know for sure. Balfour's home is near TB. But...

The Fister trade may work out to be "even" for both teams when you look back in 6-to-8 years. But for right now, Doug Fister is the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reason to think the Nats are a whole level better team in '14 than in '13. There is a HUGE difference between having a Big Three and a Big Four __which is darn rare. Pitching in a league where ERA's usually fall by ~.25 points, I suspect Fister, assuming he's healthy, really helps the Nats pen stay rested with 200 IP of work and shows a superior bulldog manner on the mound. His locker is next to Strasburg's. Stras is the first to say he hopes that some good things rub off. Rizzo first saw Fister in college __where he played first base, third base and outfield for Fresno State when he wasn't pitching! (I've never heard of that, though there must be other examples.) "Of all the good things about him the best is that he's such a battler," said Rizzo. "I even love his windup __even that says, 'Aggressive.'"

Of being 6-foot-8 Fister siad this a.m., "I like to use it." Meaning stand tall, look like I Am A Problem For You.

If he's healthy and the noraml Fister of the last three years, he'll make the Nats off-season seem remarkable. Another LHed reliever would have helped. J.P. Howell is the one that got away because Nats budget wouldn't go to a two-year deal so they weren't in that game. Nats claim Jose Lobaton was their No. 1 target all along. But then you almost NEVER hear a team admit that the guy they got WASN'T "No. 1 all along." But Lobaton can genuinely be called a "near-starting-catcher," not jsyt a "backup, in the sense that he played 100 games last year for a 91-win team and produced more offensively that the ostnesible "starting catcher" Jose Molina. Nats now have three catchers from Venezuela, including Ramos and Leon, who all know and like eachother. Give Rizzo one thing, he almost never makes a deal without chemistry and "makeup" rankin g high as a critereon. McLouth's in that mold, too. Don't think many of Jim Bowden's "toolsie" projects would ever have gotten on Rizzo's radar __even in the old desperation days.

 

I know the team is working on more defense more this year. Shouldn't the No. 1 goal be holding base runners on? I've never seen so many pitchers on one team, so bad at this. What does the Bos think???

As a team, they were losuy at it last year. If they stay louysy at it this year, there will be some interesting moments. LaRoche, who really likes Williams and had him as a coach in Arizona, said, "Matt lets things build up. He waits and waits. Then it can be a show (when it all explodes). It can be the other manager (who gets it) or a player (on either team). It doesn't happen very often. But when it does, believe me, it's not an act."

 

I'm a softie for it, guys helping up their competitors, congratulating them, the occasional fist bump etc etc. Seems to be a lot of that in the Olympics as compared to sports here at home, or is that my imagination? For that matter, which pro sport is most sportsmanlike here? Seems the hockey guys kinda like each other even after all that fighting, maybe baseball too where they chat at the bases.

If "money is the root of all evil," then maybe the absence of big money (at the Olympics) is the root of a whole lot of niceness.

Boz, In the age of instant information is anyone actually tuning in to see the Olympics in prime time, and if so, why? I live on the west coast and by the time the prime time coverage begins the results are already part of history. Also, in those brief moments that I've actually watched the prime time coverage I don't feel like I'm watching sporting events but rather sporting events folded and packaged into mini-docudramas by NBC's producers. Is it just me?

Reporters here watch the Olympics on their computers in live time, like a.m. hockey games, and we all gather around for big moments. Hard to get pyched for too many  packages (for me) when you already know what happened.

Boz, enjoyed your column this AM. With all the comments about Ryan Zimmerman possibly playing some first base, does that leave any role for Tyler Moore? If not, does he wind up in Syracuse? or traded?

He's got such a sweet swing, such potential-Josh-Willingham numbers in the minors and in '12 that it's brutal to think he might get lost. And the years are passing. Haven't heard his name mentioned much yet. That may change. Once you see him swing you start liking him better. Hard to believe somebody with as sharp an eye as Willaims won't see the hitter in Moore. And he certainly mentions him as if he's part of the team. 

Hey Bos, in today's piece you point out that the Nats led the NL in runs after they sacked Rick Eckstein. The universal opinion of Eckstein, from Davey to the players to Rizzo, was that he was an excellent hitting coach. Yet... How much of an impact does the hitting coach actually have? It would appear a lot but I'm a believer that correlation does not imply causation. Just wondering what your thoughts are about the turnaround.

I can't figure it out. I even broke down every hitter before and after the change. Looks like some players, like Z'man (15 homers), Werth, plus the return of Ramos, tranformed the lineup's productivity even though severeal key players did nothing special under Schu. Like LaRoche (.221), Rendon (.250), Desmond (.281, .751 OPS).

Did they really need another catcher when they had both two young options and Synder as a proven vet? Why waste a pitching prospect with a high upside for a backup catcher who can't throw out runners, already a major problem. Did Rizzo get taken by the Rays?

The Nats made absolutely the right move on this. They did not need a backup catcher. They had those, if Ramos starts 125+ games. What they needed, what a true contender needs if it has a star catcher with a history of injury, is a STARTING catcher to backup the real starter. Not a star, but a true competent catcher. Nats learned the hard way. They had Flores behind Ramos. When Ramos got hurt, Flores wore out and they needed to get Suzuki -- a "starting" catcher, though not a star. Lobaton could catch for two months or more and handle the job based on his Rays history.

Nats insisted on Rivero (LH) in the trade to restock for the loss of Krol. Watched Rivero (spelling?) the other day. Live fastball, lots of movement -- so, a good arm, at the very least. But Karns is a real prospect. However, the Nats have a whole line of them here every day -- Jordan, Roark, Solis, Purke, Cole.  And Giolitto, their best pitching prospect, won't even throw with the main players.

Have the Braves taken a step back this offseason and are really counting on BJ Upton to do anything on offense this year?

Braves have taken a step back. McCann and Hudson, on top of Chipper retiring after '12, is a huge loss in leadership. BUT Braves were 10 games better last year and it wasn't a fluke -- much better run differential than Nats and head-to-head domination. So, probably a very good race. I'd probably lean toward Nats right now, but plan to change my mind a few times before Opening Day.

I have to go interview the players after practice. I hope to get back to answer a few more questions in 30-40 minutes...maybe. Many thanks for the fine questions.

Do you get a sense from the team that 2013 still lingers over there head, like the 2012 hangover did, or do you get the sense they feel this is truly a new season for them?

I think, with hindsight, that '12 hung over the '13 team to a degree. The change of managers and several new players, all upgrades, makes '14 feel like a true "turn of the page." A lot of Fresh Start feeling here.

But as Willaims points out a FAST start in April matters a lot more than a FRESH start in Florida.

In your experience, how often have you seen baseball players take a hometown discount, or go for a similar deal with a hometown club that's less competitive than the incumbent? It was the first thing I thought of when I saw the J-Zimm extension, particularly given his Wisconsin roots, that he'd at least consider a Brewers offer a few years down the line. All players are different of course, but curious if you've seen this in your career...

Doesn't look like the Nats are getting any, or much homegtown discount from either Desmond or Z'mann so far. No reason they should give away money. But the Nats can hope.

The Freeman and Kimbrel deals in  Atlanta certainly raised the price of poker! Freeman $135-million and he's never hit 25 homers. Excellent player. But part of being an owner is understanding that when prices change you p;robably have to change. Nats current payroll looks like ~$125M, which is appropriate, but a few million less than they probably projected before the off-season.

In your opinion, who will end up being the fifth starter? Detwiler, Roark, or Jordan?

Detwiler deserves the inside track off past performance, including playoffs vs Cards. Every February I hear the same words: "Detwiler looks GREAT." He's had trouble staying healthy a whole season. So it's good that a fifth, sixth and seventh starter are all in place, plus a Solis or Purke who might forced themselves into a long-man spot-start role in the middle of the seasons. (That's what Braves and Cards have done with prospects of 23-24-25 age similar to Solis and Purke in recent years.)

The staff loves Taylor Jordan's stuff, goofy motion that adds deception and his ability to "sit" at 91-92-93, then reach back for 96 when he needs it. Lot of movement on his fastball/sinker. Nats fans probably remember 3-1, 3.66 in 51.2 decent innings, but Nats front office also remembers his 9-1, 1.00 ERA in 90.1 innings in A+ and AA. Others see the same thing. In the Fister deal, the other player Detroit's stellar GM Dave Dumbrowski wanted was Jordan; he wanted Jordan AND Robbie Ray at first, probably knew he'd only get one of them.

However, Roark, who wears No. 57 and looks like a pitcher from 1957, got results last year and is a plus competitor. Roark doesn't throw quite as hard, isn't as big as the others and wears his stirrups very high -- kind of a throw-back underdog look. It's easy -- probably too easy-- to slot him as a long man or an insurance policy at AAA with options. 

Nats, of course, know that Detwiler has had success out of bullpen and that would give them another lefty out there. It almost works against him that he has proven he's versatile.

To me, the biggest mistake of the spring in regards to the rotation would be to give short shrift to Roark. As I've said before, his career progression reminds me -- A LOT -- of Mick Boddicker, a late bloomer who was only supposed to have AAAA stuff. But Boddicker came up with remarkable command and grit, pitched even better to big leaguers than bush leaguers. That's probably a much too aggressive comparison. But Roark, at Syracuse (9-3, 3.15) and with Nats (7-1, 1.51) really seemed to "find it" last year. If he has that level of (remarkable) command and ability not to miss in the middle of the strike zone, he'll continue to have success over and above his apparent stuff. If he doesn't have that kind of command (Boddicker always did), he'll be that AAAA pitcher who might help as a 6th starter or long man in pen. But FIND OUT. Cat, Bob Boone and others here all say that you can't replace guts. Sounds trite but most young pitchers are really bothered by being hit hard in MLB -- a new experience to fragile pitching egos.

"If you come up here and you're scared, be REALLY scared," said McCatty, laughing. What about Roark? "He ain't scared at all," said MacCatty. (But then he didn't get shelled either.)

I may be falling into Steve Lombardozzi syndrome with Roark. Beware of favoring players that you instinctively root for bcause they have less physical talent, size and because (unconsciously) you think, "I'm like him. Well, if I were a whole lot better."

Call your rep and ask him to meet with you one day at the Park to see where your seat is located and if you want to change. I once changed partial plans and that year had knee surgery. I wanted an aisle seat not to far from the concourse so I could stick my leg out a little if needed. My ST mate and I met and he showed us some locations. We sat down in them and chose one. We're still sitting there.

Thanks for the info to follow up an earlier question.

Boz, It's early, but what's your read on how the last two bullpen spots play out?

The Nats may not have a true monster closer -- and that can be a big issue in October. You'd probably rather have three wipe-out relievers at the back of your pen and have to fake it a little with the other four guys. But the Nats,with luck, may be the reverse. They may be good in the three back end spots with Sorianbo, Clippard and Storen, but perhaps one of the best pens after that with Stammen, Blevins, maybe Garcia, Detwiler/Jordan/Roark and a choice from among so many others that it's ridiculous, including Mattheus, Cedeno, Ohlendorf.

Last year, the Nats got 219.1 innings from their three effective/healthy relievers, Clippard (2.41), Stammen (2.76) and Soriano (3.11). BUT they used All The Others in the pen for considerably more than 219 innings -- P --looks like more than 250 innings. And THEIR ERA was bad (for relievers) and a big part of the reason the whole team's ERA was a good but not great 3.59.

There is a ton of production to be gained from the 1,500-1,800 at bats off the bench and the 250+ innings from the "back end" of the bullpen after your three best relievers. Very few teams are deep and talented enough to have the luxury to trade for strength in those areas or develop players well enough to stockpile such depth.

It really looks like the Nats do -- especially for this year and '15. You know, the widest part of The Window (perhaps).

That phrase was originated by the estimable Stanley Woodward, although Red Smith quoted him on many occasions. We should keep that phrase alive.

Thanks. Woodward was a fellow Lord Jeff, I think.

Hi Tom. Thanks for the chat. Do you think the coaches will let Espi continue to be a switch hitter or keep him as a lefty hitter only? Thanks.

Williams ideas is that he was a quality starting player in '11 and '12, though with lots of K's and that he had one awful season. So, give him one big fair shot to prove he is the player that everybody thought he was at Long Beach State, through the minors and in MLB. What, he suddenly can't play baseball? Maybe he was hurt more than he said. Etc, etc. IOW, use this spring to find out. Don't give up on him without a fight. Though, granted, you can't look much more lost than he did last year.

So, no changes. Just "relax, be yourself, give 'em hell." Easier said that done. But anyone interested in the Nats should NOT want significant talents like Espinosa to dematerialize.

Hey Tom. I'm really looking forward to the Nats' season, but I do sometimes wonder about the pop in their lineup. Given a probable lineup of Span, Werth, Zimmerman, Harper, La Roche, Desmond, Rendon, and Ramos, you really need to count on some real production from Zim and Harper (in the neighborhood of 100 RBI each), strong numbers from ALR and Desi (70-80?) and good numbers from Werth and Rendon .290-.310? Given the investment around the diamond, there aren't many places for the Nats to significantly add power. Does this mean that a breakout season of mashing from Ramos is the key to the Nats lineup becoming the menace it needs to be to make it deep into the playoffs?

I asked Clippard what he wanted to "see this season."

He said "I want to see Ramos hit 50 home runs."

He was joking. But project his '13 stats to a full season. "Oh, all of us have already done it in here. We know what he could be," said Clippard.

Realistically, not fantasy, if Ramos got 475 at bats at '13 rates, he'd be about 25 homers and 90 RBI. That is a LOT. He's probably not a 90 RBI guy in only 125-130 starts. But he certainly is a semi-secret weapon who makes the lineup much longer and sacrier. And a really popular player who has been through a lot of bad breaks early in his career -- understatement. 

Hey Boz, O's actually opened the checkbook yesterday and signed a free agent, Jimenez. This is a big development. Do you think their window of opportunity is still open, or do you think they had their chance last two years?

The O's saved their chances at a winning season and wildcard contention. I couldn't believe they'd totally blow it by not getting any of the major starters. Four years and $48M is a lot of a pitcher who has had very inconsistent mechanics.

Here's what Lindy's Baseball said about Jimenez: "He was so broken early last season that in a start in April his fastball averaged 88.4. As recently as '10 his changeup averaged 88.4. Yet three starts later he touched 97 and from late April on had a 2.61 ERA. Jimenez's curse is a funk delivery. He has bad posture, an inconsistent stride and release point that wavers wildly as he struggles to bring all the mmoving parts together. Without a consistent release point he has no consistent command and without coinsistent command Jimenez is one of the worst pitchers. He's also on the short list of pitchers with a realistic chance at winning the Cy Young award. You gamble on a guy like that -- but only if it is mad money, not the rent."

Wow.

The Orioles were desperate, the bar was closing. They bet the rent. 

Boz, a lot of people, including the Lerners, have made much about the relaxed nature of Davey's Spring Trainings and how it lead to the slow start last season. I believe he didn't prepare the team to deal with the heavy expectations they had, but Davey's teams traditionally have had quick starts. Am I being too sensitive to criticism of him? I think you can praise the new guy without trashing the old one.

I think you can praise the new guy without bashing the old guy, too. There are jockey's for horses. Davey was perfect for the '12 team -- they had little confidence, he had worlds of it. He wasn't a match for several of their areas of misery last year and was such an avuncular figure that he once said, "I even love the umpires." Davey was an aboslute core piece of the transformative '12 season and there are probably another 100 good MLB managers who would also NOT have won anything with the '13 Nats.

But Williams is obviously a conscious change -- in several ways -- to Davey. Intensity, details, hot temper. But Davey had wisdom, really reached young players, made a lot of potential controversies and blow-ups disappear before they ever happened. Harper is lucky to have had Davey, who loved him but "managed" him very deftly, for his first two years, which didn't have to go nearly so smoothly.  Two other important Nats players, after praising Willaims, have added, "I owe my career to Davey."

Everything doesn't have to be "good" or "bad." I suspect a few people have noticed that it is a very complex world. Even the baseball world.

Back to talking to the ballplayers! See you next week.

Boz -- I always enjoy your analysis of Nationals spring training, but please don't venture into crystal ball prognostications, the way so many other WaPo sportswriters do. The one thing this team doesn't need is the whammy from baseless predictions.

I never made a Nats prediction in a column last year. Turned out to be a good idea.

Boz the continued occupation by MASN hurts both the team and the fans by limiting the resorces available for long term contracts and causes the fans to pay more for everything then they should. Do you see it this way and what about the reported bribe by MLB to the Lerners should Nats fans go back to the Lerners are cheap narrative ?

The Nats have denied -- to their own people internally (which doesn't make it true) -- that they have not received any money from MLB.

The MASN mess is hurting both the Nats and O's. Not a ton. But enough. The Nats could have, and I think would have been more aggressive, if they had more certainly on future RSN revenue.

There is only ONE issue here. When is Selig going to grow a backbone and, in the best interests of baseball, solve a situation that he was absolutely central to creating. He's taking his last lap while making all the easier decisions like replays and home plate tags. He won't -- yet -- touch the future of the A's location of MASN. Does he act like a commissioner while he still is one? If he doesn't, it's an utter disgrace -- it's already a disgrace --especially for someone so concerned with his "legacy." 

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Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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