Ask Boswell about the Washington Nationals, spring training, the Capitals, the Redskins and all Washington sports

Feb 21, 2012

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

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Is now the time to have real hope for the season? Not the "spring training is here and everything is peachy" hope, but genuine hope. The kind that says we will be playing meaninful games in September - and not as the spoiler, but as the contender? -Ashburn Fan

 Yes, it is.

Trade him or keep him? If you keep him, in the bullpen or at Syracuse? If you trade him, for whom?

Keep him. Wang's comeback is a miracle story. Don't count on it too soon. He's already had small issues here, nothing significant he tells Johnson, but enough to point out why Lannan is so important.

Also, I'm not sure Strasburg, Gonzalez, JZ'mann, Jackson and Lannan isn't the best available rotation because so many have proven to be 180-to-210 inning pitchers. Stability is essential.

But Wang's history w Yanks is so strong, you have to see what he has. Remember, there is no rush. Pitchers tend to have mysterious (or real) injuries just in time for roster problems to be solved before Opening Day.

The staff is deep, but not too deep.

Hi Tom B., what has happened to the Caps? Did you see that travesty of a game last night? It seems thay have given up. Are we going to see a major purge this offseason? Is Ovie headed to back Russia? Who will be the coach next year?

I've watched the Caps so much this season that I feel your pain. They just don't feel like a team that's going in the right direction or has a sense of how it is supposed to play. I assume Ovechkin will never be the Great Eight again, just the "very good Ovi" if the Caps are lucky.

The whole transsition to the Hunter style has them flummoxed. The first question I got in the Nats clubhouse was, "What's wwrong with the Caps. They look awful. Is McPhee going to be fired?"

Patience, patience. I still think the Caps will edge into the playoffs. Then see what they do, especially if Backstrom is back along with Green.

Hi Tom, any news on the health of LaRoche and Wang?

LaRoche says his swing feels great and his strength is back. But his throwing won't be back to 100% for some time. Last year, he said he wanted to pitch in mop-up relief __then his shoulder went bad. "I jinxed myself," he said.

Wang did such heroic work to get back last year that I wonder if the wear and tear will show when he tries to get back up to full speed this spring. Great story, great guy, but stiull a longshot comeback in my book.

Amidst all of the excitement about the Nats' season getting underway, I hate to be the party pooper, but...are they going to sign Zim to a new contract this week or not? Is he going to stick to his guns to not negotiate after this week's deadline? If so, is he gone as a free agent or would they trade him?

This is a huge issue for which we may get answers this week __and another rreason I am down here.

It's the usual situation with the Nats __the baseball people are sensible and know how business is done and how to place a value on a player. Zim is being reasonable and is willing to sign coming off an injury year __which is all you can ask of a player because it means the Nats get a discount over his full averaged-out 6-season value.

The jam up, it seems, is once again above the heads of the baseball people. When this much money is involved, that's okay. With the Gonzalez trade it was a travesty, in my book, not to follow the front office's very strong recommendations. But on a $100M+ deal, that's the owners money. (Okay, it comes out of the fans pockets ultimately.)

I suspect we'll see a big agent-Rizzo meeting this week, probably tomorrow. This NEEDS to get done NOW.

I think the Nats are ready to go with a six-year extension for a total of eight years __out until Zim is 34. Would they go seven more for a total of nine? Don't know. Zim is willing to negotiate as a $17-$18M/year third baseman, which is what he is now, rather than go for a 30-100 rbi gold glove season which "would cost them a lot more. I'm not trying to be greedy. I want to be here."

If they gave him the Werth deal as his extension __seven years/$126M on top of the two years for $26M total that he still has it would be a 9yr/$152M deal in total. I think that's the max that I could imagine, but not unreasonable. But if tey don't get an eight-year deal done this year it will be a big disappointment and maybe a franchise damagingf moment __because Strasburg, Espinosa, Ramos, JZim, Harper and others will be watching to see how a "model player" is treated __and one who ranks in the top 15 in baseball over the last six years by all advanced metrics.

If they don't get a deal done andZim sticks to his won't-sign-in-season (which I believe) then a Ryan Zimmerman trade at the July 31st deadline becomes a very real possibility, according to my sources. If you wait longer, you get little value and even with 1 1/2 seasons left, you don't get 100 cents on the dollar or anywhere near it.

Let the baseball people and Zimmerman's people work ity out __and it WILL get worked out. Soon. If it doesn't happen, the odds are 99% that a pretty reasonable deal was on the table, and the best price the Nats will ever get on Z'man, and it got nixed from above.

Could Z'man get hurt, not be worth the $? Of course. But this is a deal that you just have to close your eyes and do for the sake of keeping the 5-year "window" open.

Anthony Rendon seems like a very nice young man. He is also not a very large fellow. If the Nats ASSUME he can be-the-next-Zim, they are crazy. He may be very good. Or not. But those are NOT the kinds of assumptions on which winning franchises do their business. Stay tuned. A very important few days with multi-year impact.  

Hey Boz, I do not think it is too early to see how the rotation might play out early in the season. With the Nats starting the season in Chicago, do you think the team might plan on Strasburg pitching as the teams 4th or 5th starter? The weather in Chicago then is going to be cold and the Nats have Stras on an innings limit. Might it be more prudent to pitch him later in the rotation early on to avoid the cold and the additional innings when we are going to need him for the playoff push?

Davey hinted something like that yestyerday. He said when Dwight Gooden was a 19-year-old rookie but everybody knew he'd be the ace, Johnson held him out of a season-opening series in Wrigley Field to avoid the cold "where Tim Leary hurt his arm," and started Gooden when they got indoors in Houston "where I knew it would be 780 degrees."

Strasburg never wants to be babied. It drives him crazy. But I'd probably start Gio, Zim and Jax __all coming off full healthy seasons in '11__ and hold back Stras. It's not necessary, but you've had a good thopught. And Davey's had it, too.

Boz normally I would ask you about the Nats but things are to positive right now really the issue that overwhelms is the mess of a once very good team the Caps. I feel that this team is just badly constructed and has been unevenly managed. It has been the moves of and pressure from GM George McPhee that has created this situation, which is not a new circumstance for GMGM in his 16 years I would say this is the 4th cycle of boom and bust . Do you agree and do you think it is GMGM's to fix If not him who is out there? Or maybe Is it the curse of Le Bolliet?

GMGM built it. It's whobbling badly, but it's not dead flat broke. Let him work his way out of it, if he can.

Act in haste, repent at leisure. McPhee is an excellent exec, one of the best in D.C. in my lifetime. This is a low point for him. Hunter doesn't look comfortable, maybe in over his head in his first year with a team that has so many internal issues __see "Ollie on Ovi"__ that go back several years. Firing BB was a "reaction" to events __but it was several years of events. It's easy to blow things up. It's very hard to rebuoild them. Leave 'em alone. Suffer with 'em. There should never be a hurry to fire somebody as good as GMGM __and, yes, I read all the comments about all his past coaches, his team-concept shifts.

The Caps were lax with their young stars from the very beginning. Everybody knew it and talked about it internally. Ted didn't have a problem with it. They were young. It was part of the Young Guns thing. But they took a long time to mature and now it looks like a tighter hold on the stars would have been a better idea. Easy 20-20 hindsight.

The nats will go through some dark times in the next five years __I promise. That's the nature of sports. Don't say, "Fire Rizzo, that idiot!" Don't be in a hurry to get rid of very good people (once you've finally found them) __they never come back. But, yes, GMGM has been in his job a long time and, ultimately, there'll be a judgment day. I just don't think it's this season. You're already blown things up once this season. Let it play out.

Tom, With the Caps probably in line to miss the playoffs, do you think GMGM will be inclined to trade Ovechkin, Smin or Green this year? The current formula is not working and to hold on to these shrinking violets is, IMO, absurd.

Look at the Caps "games played" and points-per-game. With all due respect there is no "looks like" they are out of the playoffs. On that basis, they are only a hair out of the playoffs and they could EASILY still finish first and get the third-seed in the playoffs. On one hand, panic is for amateurs. On the other, as a fan, you pays your money and you have a right to scream all you want. And I yell at my TV sometimes. They can barely play two goods periods in a row never mind two games. And they are a team that is totally "between identities." Which means they have none. Isn't this a transition, to a different style, that they HAVE to make if you think that Semin is a permanent disappointment, Green keeps getting hurt year after year and Ovi is not going to be an MVP contender again? And isn't it inevitably painful? (And maybe not successful.) BTW, for great NHL scorers, Ovechkin's decline is fairly normal for his age, though his is  uglier than you'd expect. Which makes me think he's got some "bounce back" left in his career. Yes, I'm showing incipient NHL-stat-nerd tendencies. Scary. 

I hate to ask that, but consider the evidence: up until the last day, nobody had the Angels negotiating with Pujols or the Tigers with Fielder or the Nats with Edwin Jackson. The trade for Gio Gonzalez seemed to come out of nowhere in terms of the rumor mill. Are GM's being less honest and forthcoming or did you guys just have a bad winter?

Well, my column the day before the Gio trade was certainly precipitated by a deal that was floundering __amidst industry buzz about an upset Nats FO. Jackson shocked everybody, especially Jax and Boras who started off looking for a five-year deal then __out in the cold__ suddenly found the proverbial "soft pillow" to land on with the Nats. That was a great QUICK strike by Rizzo. As for Fielder, I never thought the Nats would get close to his length-of-contract request, but the Tigers' immense (nutty?) offer showed how dumb everybody is.

I learned long ago that baseball people vastly prefer to tell the truth __until the $um in question gets sufficiently high__ then they say nothing or misdirect or actually don't know the true lay of the 10-variable battlefield. One reason I say so little about "negotiations" is because I don't talk until a actually know. That's a columnist's luxury. As a beat guy for many years, I know what it's like to tell your readers, "This is my best read of how things stand right now. But they are changing. And they will keep changing." That's not fun. But it's the job. Always has been. However, I KNOW the next few days with Z'man probably matter a LOT. And the dynamic is what I just explained.

Two questions for you: 1. What are your thoughts on the Orioles offseason and prospects for this year? Things aren't looking so good up at the Warehouse, are they? 2. What are the prospects that realignment next year will bring a more balanced schedule for all the teams, which I imagine would benefit teams such as Baltimore and Washington who wouldn't have to play the Yankees and Philies nearly as many times each season as they do now? Would this be an improvement for the game?

At present, the Orioles appear to have no prospects.

A more balanced schedule would be an improvement. But the Orioles need solid long-term minor-league development and international scouting. And then they need a series of miracles. Even my son, who grew up on them, has thrown up his hands in disgust __he's watched the whole '98-to-'12 debacle. He still has trouble with the word "Nationals." But he's working on it. I suspect, s-o-m-e-d-a-y post-current-ownership, he might regain his childhood joy in Camden Yards and it's Birds. Sad.

Bryce Harper makes his major league debut by ______________.

Mid-to-late '12. Not before.

Some athletes you remember the moment that you realize they are just physically different and nothing is going to stop them from being remarkable. My day for that with Harper was yesterday. I remember the first time I walked up to wes Unselfd and he blocked out the sun. I understood how he could give away seven inches to Wilt and still cope with him (sort of). I remember shaking Willie Mays hand and realize it was the size of a 6-foot-8 man's hand. I remember standing behind Mike Schmidt and realize how vast his shoulders were __his unirom number looked too small, like a misprit, because his back was so broad. I remember the first time I saw Strasburg throw close up. Well, at 19, Harper has the same V-shaped huge back/shoulders as Schmidt did at 25 __but Harper is 15 p;ounds bigger than Schmidt. In fact, Harper makes other "big" Nats look like they haven't gotten their full development yet! Nothing's going to stop him from being very good, very soon. Great? Different question. He needs maturity.But he seems like a good young man, just a product of a celebrity media-saturated age.  Another three months in AAA won't hurt him at all and will push back his Super-Two status. He has LeBron tendencies __status before performance__ that he needs to control; but the Nats still have three "options" on him. They don't have to bring him up for good until 2015. That has had a sobering effect on many. Sure, he'll be up far, far before that. But MLB teams have unusual, and probably unfair leverage. They can say, "We have you for 6 1/2 years. It can be from 19-through-25 or 20-26 or 21-27 or even 22-28. Makes not too much difference to us. Sure, we'd prefer "sooner." Even "much sooner." Lets all be happy. BUT it's up to you to show you are ready." 

If the Nationals think there is a chance they will contend this year, shouldn't they delay the start of the season for Strasburg so he doesn't run up his innings in April or May? Or do they think that might be a bad idea because they would be tempted to use him in too many high-stress innings in the cold of September or October and increase his risk of injury? What's the plan for how they intend to use Strasburg?

Nats say "we don't want to reinvent the wheel" with SS. And they are completely right. Do exactly what they did with Z'mann. It's worked with many other pitchers in the last dozen years. Don't jack with a formula that's working. They dodged a bullet. Or maybe dodged a cannon ball. SS looks like he's going to be back to 100%. Don't mess with it. Appreciate it. Even "be thankful."

To me the question is simple: Would you trade two months of the 19 year old Bryce Harper for 1 full season of the 25 year old Harper. The answer is a resounding No. This seems to be a no brainer. Am I missing something?

You're right. It's a no-brainer. And there's nothing wrong with Harper learning how to play the OF and run the bases better because, when I saw him last year, he was runnin g un til he was tagged out __like high school__ or looking for opportunities to throw the ball 300-feet on the fly, whether it was the right play or not. He LOVES to play. And loves to be aggressive. But he needs to learn his limits. OK, his semi-limits. He made a throw at Bowie last year, crashing into LF fence, then taking one step and throw from the 370 sign to first base on one short hop that I almost couldn't believe. He almost doublked off the  runner. But you don't ALWAYS have to make the great/crazy play. If he doesn't come up until next year at 20, it's far from the end of the world. I think he'll make it this year. But let him be 19. They all say that "baseball will teach you humility." Hmmmm. Young Bryce may be a tough test case for the Old Sport. 

According to Forbes, the Nationals are worth $417 million. Do you think the Nats look at Zimmerman like the Cardinals viewed Pujols...Great, elite player, however the money committed is too insane and is not worth paying almost half the franchise value for one player?

The Nats can extend Z'man for eternity for half of what Pujols signed for. And they should. Not even really similar cases.

What's stopping Snyder from potentially signing Peyton, Randy Moss, and TO? All 3 of them are probably better than what we have now. They're all old, but we've had the over the hill gang here before.

What does Snyder bring to the table for the Skins? Money, right. That's it. Nothing else, so far. Everything else is negative or neutral. So let him spend all the money he wants on P Manning __IF he can get him mto come.

I think the problem is in the other direction. It's not What Should The Redskins Do? If they are convinced he's healthy, of course they should go after an all-time great at 36. What, he's going to ruin the brilliant future that's laid out in front of them now! The question is What will/should Manning do? We shall see. The Redskins are very good at making big promises and writing large checks. No writer would want to miss what happens if Manning and the Shanahans get together. Why? Because I have ABSOLUTELY no idea how it would play out. Come on, it could work. Signing aging ex-great QBs almost always works throughout NFL history except when the Skins do it __Jeff George, Brunell and McNabb. Seriously, they can't go 0-for-4 on a concept that usually work 3-for-4 for the rest of the sport. Can they?

The play by the Wizards right now is pretty much putrid. They don't operate as a team, nor do they show any hope in that direction. Wall has been disappointing so far. We're not expecting Wallsanity, but we're expecting more from him than what Lin has given to the Knicks in 1/3 of the games Wall has played in. Grunfeld is working on his 10th life.

I have to remember that phrase "the GM with 10 lives."



I'm getting a little ahead of myself. But with Jackson becoming a free agent. Wouldn't it make sense to see what they have from Detwiler to see if he can fulfill the #4 role next year?

Dedtwiler could have a classic Old Orioles season as a sixth starter for five months, then move into the rotation after Strasburg hits his innings limit. That's how the Birds developed McGregor, Flanagan, Dennis Martinez, Sotrm Davis, etc., and Davey knows it.

Hi Tom, I was glad when the Nats passed on Fielder. I know it would have been exciting to have him but in my view it's much better to get a well rounded first baseman than a big hitter who can't field very well. I look at the Yankees who improved so much when Giambi left and Texiera arrived. A well rounded first baseman not only hits well but saves runs with good defensive play. Further, they improve the chemistry of the team because they allow the rest of the infield to relax knowing that when their throws to first are off target there's a good change the ball will be scooped up. The whole infield's play is elevated. Do you agree?

I agree that LaRoche is as good a first baseman as I've seen on an everyday basis __or he was last year. And I know that, factually, Fielder has as little range at first base, including all the throws he can't reach because he's really about 5-8, as any player in this era. Prince is awful. But if you average 40 homers, few say it.

BUT anybody would much rather have Fielder than LaRoche. Come on. LaRoche was joking yesterday about how he wasn't even insulted by the Fielder-Nats story.

But at nine years for $214M there's no point in even mentioning the subject again. An NL team in the NAts position can't even consider that.

With Spring Training upon us, predictions for the Nats' record, finish in the division, and other assorted predictions on division winners, wild card, and the World Series?

I'll get to all that as Opening Day nears. But my 10-win range on the Nats righty now would be 80-to-90 with 85 a reasonable target. Their Pythag record last year "should" have been 78-83 (not 80-81), so 85 wins would be seven wins better.

But this pre-season shuff is monumnetally wrong at least 1/3 of the time. It's much more fun to just let 'em play.

Speaking of which, the Nats are off the practice field __Davey likes his practices fast-paced and short__ so I'll take a couple of more questions, then go interview some folks.

(It's all part of the iconoclastic Pirate Ship culture. We do it our way. We play smart, but relaxed. And we don't practice for three hours in Feb so "show" that we're working hard enough.) We'll see how well it works out.

Our long national nightmare is over, Boz is back on the beat!!! Wanted to get your opinion on this policy, I liked it and signed up for a pair myself.

As I wrote last year in a chat, the Nats should do whatever is legal to cut down on the tour buses full of Phils fans. They tend to sit in large groups, drink a lot and damage the atmosphere for Nats fans. But any individual Phils fans who want to come on down, "Welcome." But the Nats shouldn't be helping __and should be discouraging by legal means__ the group sales. Pre-sale to fans who are likely to be Nats fans seems fine by me, too, though I haven't made a study of it. Then see where you are before considering if you need other ideas. JMHO.

Hello - Huge fan for a long time, I have a friend who is a kolwdgeable Braves fan, who is adamant that the Braves are far better than the Nats, from a long term perspective. I counter with all the young arms, now Gio, Jackson, further development from the young infield, healthy returns from Zim and LaRoche, and the potential impact players from the last coupe of drafts.etc. He has the young arms, dominant bullpen and, frankly, a totally unimposing lineup with some age. What angle would you defend the Nats from? So much was similar (BA, ERA, Runs, Saves, etc..) that I HAVE to believe that we will get some bounceback years from a some guys, a breakout or two (or three?). Pease advise! Thanks!

Braves look a little better now, on paper. By '14, it may be a Braves-Nats battle every year. I don't buy the Fish yet because Buehrle jujst replaced Javier Vasquez who retired. That signing did zero to improve them net-net. And they lost 90 last year. If Josh Johnson wins 18., we'll talk again.

But the Braves have developed a wonderful "next" team. However, Chipper is 39, Hudson 36. Nats have no central players that old.

The Wiz & 'Skins & Caps are bad. I recently purchased a half season plan to see the Nats. They seem to know what they're doing. If MLB adds a 2nd Wild Card, do the Nationals have a playoff chance? I can see this town becoming a baseball town real easy.

1) Yes.

2) It's not easy or quick to be a baseball town, especially when only a very few on TV or radio could even tell you off the top of their head who Matt Purke is, where he went to college or (hint) what arm he throws with. Okay, a couple could. (Kelli Johnson is here every year and knows her stuff.) And Thom Loverro. The rest can't even find the stadium. Shame, sham... Yet Purke's on the Nats 40-man roster and in the main clubhouse. That'd never happen with a Redskin. We'd be on 24/7 Purke Alert. Thing'll balance out. But it takes time.

Look froward to next week. Cheers.

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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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