Ask Boswell

Feb 28, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell will be online Monday, Feb. 28 at 11 a.m. ET to take all your questions about baseball, the Redskins, the Wizards and more.

Doesn't get much better than a Monday when the spring training exhibition season starts for the Nats and we get a new chat time of 11 a.m. on Monday's that's almost always a timely spot for us to meet.

This is also a big day for the Caps as the NHL trade deadline arrives at 3 p.m. I'd love to hear some of your theories on why the Caps have a 33020-10 record __which is also 33-30 in terms of the final score as you leave the ice__ and just as much a cause for concern, a mere seven-goal edge on the league in scoring. How can this team be 22nd in the NHL in goals scored? How can it get beaten 6-0 on its own ice? 

Also, the NFL combine, the Thursday labor deadline, what to do with McNabb/Haynesworth, Tiger Wood's first round knockout in the Match Play event, a format that used to suit him so well. And why do NBA advanced stats __like Player Win Shares__ rate John Wall as one of the worst (least efficient) players in the NBA? Can that be even half correct?

Not shortage of subjects, so lets get after it.


In addition to the Nats,


Can you share any rumors of the players the Nats offered the Royals for Zach Greinke? I am curious how serious they were about bringing in a top-flight starter.

The best I can determine the Nats were given a window to negotiate with Greinke to see if a contract extension could be worked out. That's standard in such cases. I think the Royals gave the Nats a preliminary list of 10 nakes that would interest them in trade __the usual suspects. But when the extension talks went nowhere, the Nazts and Royals never got to the specifics of a trade. That also is normal. If you can't get past step 1, you don't get to steps 2, 3 and 4.

I was wondering about Bud Selig and how he has outrun criticism. If any commish from the other major sports had a history like his, they would be run out of their sport. Bud has: Conspired against the then-commissioner to take his job; Colluded against the players MULTIPLE times; Presided over a strike and canceled the World Series; Contributed to unnecessary expansion; All-Star Game debacle; Failed on steroids. And some people thing he's the greatest of all time. Help me please!!!

With some tempering of your phrasing, I'd say that almost all of those criticisms have real weight. And I've taken a negative position on all of them __many times__ for a very long time. The expansion probably wasn't unnecessary but a decent idea.

Bud has also been a huge force behind the building of more than 20 new ballparks after the huge success of Camden Yards. His successes, and the reason the owners love him so much, is that they __the owners, more than the players or fans__ have been spectacularly successful under Selig. It's not just growing attendance over a long period of time and higher ticket prices __not good for us, but good for the owners__ it's also the huge increase in revenue from, MLB.TV, sales of jerseys, international sales and on and on. Bud has been a great marketer. Also, the steroid disaster falls more on the union than on Bud. Maybe 70-30. However, the strike was entirely orchestrated by the owners. Then a future Supreme Court Justice blew them up and gave them yet another awful and unnecessary defeat at the union's hands. 




What are the Redskins' biggest needs entering the draft?

The Redskins staff thinks that if they are goiung to play the 3-4 then they need more raw talent in the front seven so that they eventually get the kind of chaotic pressure that you saw from both the Packers and Steelers in the Super Bowl.


I agree with Jason Reid __not the year to draft a QB at No. 10. But if you don't, you've come very close to annoiting Rex Grossman as your QB for '11. And that says "rebuilding" __an actual admission. Something the Skins don't like to do.

It will be fascinating to see how Shanahan handles the departures of McNabb and Haynesworth. Will he try to maximize what the Skins get in return __though it won't be much. Or will he continue the autocratic pattern of showing how much power he has, even though it runs the risk of making him seem spiteful toward players who cross him AT ALL, even gentlemen like McNabb.

Boz - the bullpen looks like the main strength of the team so far, and there don't seem to be enough slots available out there. Who might get squeezed out, and does the club look at making them starters?

The pen will, to a large degree, be decided by who has options left. Cole Kimball, who has looked excellent, has lots of them. So he'll almost certainly go to the minors. Burnett and Doug Slaten are the lefties. Storen, Clippard and Henry Rodriguez (100+) are a lock assuming they are healthy. They traded Willingham for Rodriguez so you know he stays. Elvin Ramirez, who's also touched 100, is a Rule Five pickup, so they have to keep him on the roster all year or lose him. So this will be an importaant spring training for him __and for the Nats to decide about him. Also, they are paying vet Todd Coffey more in guaranteed money than they will pay Livan Hernandez, even if he hits all his incentive bonuses. Riggleman said, "We strengthen a strength." They also created a mob scene of strong arms out there. But how many of them have command of their stuff?

Two things crossed my mind after hearing that Duke Snider died, the first had nothing to do specifically with the Duke other than a home run comparison. In August 1985, as Dave Kingman circled the bases after hitting his 400th career homer Saturday night, it was hard to imagine he had just reached an elite plateau achieved by only 20 other pro baseball players. How things have changed since then. The other was in September 1963, WOR television, in New York, observed Duke Snider Day. Appearing on the one hour special broadcast from, I believe, the Polo Grounds in addition to Mr. Snider, were Miss Rheingold 1963, Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy, Gil Hodges, M. Donald Grant and Dick Young. Mr. Snider spoke to his fans, and Martha Wright sang "Auld Lang Syne" and the "National Anthem" and asked the fans to join in... "for the Duke!" No idea why I these thoughts came back...but they were from a somewhat better, and more innocent, time.

Thanks for the memories. Mays (my favorite), Mantle, Frank Robinson and Aaron got more attention as great OFers when I was a kid than Snider, so I didn't get to see him much __just in the World Series. Then the Dodgers went to L.A. and you didn't see him at all on the East Coast. I watched the old Home Run Derby shows over the winter and Snider came across as a class act. But so many of them did __Banks, Sievers, Jensen, on and on. As a group, they came across as natural and really nice people. Less money, less ego?

Hi Boz -- Good to have you here. Hypothetically, if Stephen Strasburg's right arm never gets back to what it was, how realistic would it be for him to learn to throw as a lefty? Could he become a quality pitcher? I imagine his left arm is as strong as his right, and he's a good athlete. It's not out of the question, right?

As they say in chess notation after a stunningly unexpected but disastrous move: !???????

No, he'll stay a righty. However, one Nats coach said, "Even if he loses a little bit off his fastball, don't you think he could learn to sink it at 96-97 and still be outstanding?" The answer is: "Of course." The big question, aside from being careful in the recovery and coming back with a 100% elbow, is regaining his "feel" for pitching. Strasburg didn't just come up with amazing stuff, but command of it and sense that he really could run the sinker away from the bat or make the change up look hittable, just before it dove and disappeared. He was a pitcher, not a thrower. If the touch comes back and almost all of the arm, he'll be outstanding. But MANY have come back at 100% (or more) in every sense.


Hey Boz, The Nats lineup features some power and solid hitting. I am most worried about leadoff and Morgan in particular. Could Espinosa be a leadoff guy and Morgan 8th?

Right now the Nats have two position with almost no power __Morgan and Pudge Rodriguez. They might not combine for five home runs. Eventually, Ramos and Flores or Norris will be a 12-15 home run tandem. Though I think Rizzo leans toward keeping Pudge until he gets his 3,000th hit. Most still seem to think Pudge is in the toip three or four defensive catchers.

The Nats/Rizzo have more faith in Morgan than I do. They expect a mix of '09 and '10 __a .290 average and .350 on-base percentage. Many think the Nats need to upgrade CF. They have interesting in-house choices. Werth has played there and says he could again. But you wouldn't do that unless you thought you would be in playoff contention. CF wears you down when you're past 30. Also, Harper will play 40 percent of his minor league games in CF, just like the great Larry Walker did. Even if you, and your cannon arm, end up in RF, you want to see if a top prospect is fast enbough __before he fills out__ to be your CFer for a couple of years.

Also, athletic middle infielders like Yount sometimes move to CF. If Desmond's errors don't come down in the next year or two, but his hitting improves a bit, I wonder if he might not be an above-average all-around CF. But the Nats love his range. So don't expect it. That's just my hair-brained idea. 

Hi, Mr. Boswell. Are you aware that Baseball Prospectus gives the Nationals a 0.1% chance (that's 1/10 of a percent) to make the playoffs this season? Just curious what you think of that. Thanks for your time!

Well, there is a tornado supposedly coming toward the general vacinity of my house and the sky has that semi-end-of-the-world look right now, so I'd say that the chances of this chat ending suddenly are better than the Nats chances of making the playoffs!

However, after covering the '89 Orioles, who'd lost over 100 the previous year, I will NEVER say that a team can't improve by 20 wins IF it has several new faces that may energize the whole team. Lots of things would have to fall in place for the Nats, but the chances are certainly better than 0.1% Maybe more like 30-to-1 or 3.3%. I'm still looking at 75-87 base3d on the belief that they were a 72-90 team last year (run differential) that is a little better. But pitching-pitching-pitching changes everything __for better or worse__ and we start to find out about that in less than two hours.  

Boz, it just occurred to me that we never asked your opinion on Dan Snyder's lawsuit against the City Paper! Please chime in!

Do I even need to answer!? I saved the original story because I thought it was so well research. It's another PR blunder. Very sorry to see Tony Wylie being set up to take the fall if things get uglier. Good guy. Trying hard. Not one chance in a billion that Dan Snyder would be influenced __even slightly__ by the advice of his PR man. Just ridiculous. But he's hiding behind him already. Just as he hid behind the non-existent criticism of his wife in the CP. The 1st mention that I can find of Wylie in the Skins media guide is on page 464! Yeah, that's who told Snyder what to do so forcefully that Dan just had no choice but to throw another cream pie in his own face.

There WILL be better days for Redskin fans. I still think people can learn and change.

Several nights ago, after the Wizards lost to Philadelphia, John Wall complained that several unnamed teammates were not giving a full effort. Do you know or can you speculate out loud as to which players he was referring? What can the Wizards to do address this issue. Kirk Hinrich was the one that got traded, but I am not thinking he is one of the culprits.

Sorry to see Hinrich, a pro's pro, go. He could teach Wall. Blatche gets blamed for everything else, so why not blamee him for this, too.

Man, has Ted Leonsis got enough problems on his plate, all at the same time. The Caps look like a team with a BIG problem in team identity, team style and confidence. That puts the coach on the hot seat __and rightly__ since he is an "offensive thinker." And the offense has been DOA all season. Also, how do you keep both GM and coach of the Wiz after this year? Patience is a virtue. I usually say, "Don't rush." Flip doesn't seem like a match for a young undisciplined team. And Ernie scrambled up this mess.

The issue with Wall, according to the NBA stat nerds, is that his high turnovers and terrible (n ot bad, but terrible) shooting percentage (.410) and True Shooting Percentage of .490 (adjusted for 3-pointers and FTs as well as 2-pointers) and Effective Shooting Percentage of (ugly) .433  (adjusted by 3-pointers) are so dismal that they negatye his assists. The AVERAGE players Win Shartes per 48 Minutes is .100 (by definition). Super players are over 2.00. Arenas, Butler and Jamison have been between 1.50 and 1.90 in recent years.

Wall is currently 0.37. That's so bad it almost has to be wrong. Any NBA wizards (lower case) out there who can show me the "holes" in the Win Shares theory?  


Your comments about the Nationals Park parking garages last week were interesting. Do you think ownership has any appreciation that as both an entrance and backdrop to the ballpark, they seriously detract from the environment and that no amount of decoration or cover will resolve that? The lack of signature architecture in this portion of the ballpark seems to keep it out of the conversation of the best new ballparks. Recognizing the limited private investment in Nationals Park compared to AT&T Park, Busch Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, would it not be appropriate for the National's ownership to consider acquiring the development rights that the District currently holds in this area and instead of building offices or condos, just finish building the ballpark with an appropriate iconic feature?

From your lips to God's ear.

Or maybe Ted's.

IMO, you can take a big negative __the semi-disguised garages__ and for a manageable amount of money turn it into a positive, maybe even a big positive, that probably uses a water feature. This is the city with the reflecting pool, the mall, all the Tidal Basin water around the memorials. It's already a Washington motif.




Finally, there is no more Justin Maxwell debate during spring training. That makes me happier than Bryce Harper in front of a mirror.

Yeah, what a bum.

Nobody wanted him after the Nats let him go, either.

Ohhhh, gee, some team I never heard of thought he was worth a look...Hmmmm.

Oh, the New York Yankees.

Justin Maxwell is the Yankees starting CF, batting seventh, in Lakeland today.

Great guy, "plus" CF. If somebody fixes his swing __and that does happen sometimes__ he's still got a chance to be a 25-25 player. Okay, probably not. But I've always been in his corner.

How bad of shape is this team in? It seems like nothing coming out of the media in regard to the ownership or team (players) is good news. It seems fishy and odd that the Wilpons claim to have no cashflow issue and aren't connected to the Madoff thing at all, yet they are getting a loan from MLB and are considering selling a stake in the team. Your thoughts?

The NY Times had a good story in its sports section yesterday about the depths of the Mets financial mess after Madoff. (Oh, good to see Bernie talking to New York Magazine __out this a.m.__ about how he really didn't do all that much wrong...what a sociopath.) It appeaqrs Selig has already loaned the Mets $25M and the owners are trying to find a minority partner to get a cash influx. Oh, here's a shock. All the potential bujyers, so far, are only interested in a majority stake.

Boy, did Sandy Alderson (GM) pick the wrong seat at the wrong table at the wrong time. The Nats should expect to move past the Mets and, so, the Marlins. If they could actually ever BEAT the Marlins in a real game. 


Boz, welcome to Spring Training! The year begins today! My question: Pudge Rodriguez? Dead weight or valuable mentor?

Total dead weight offensively. Fine catcher and good mentor. If he plays 80 games or less, will his bat speed stay better deeper into the season? He started hot last year, then just wore out.

In spring training, he works like a dog, catching all the bullpen sessions. On my best day it would have killed me to do all the work he does on Feb 20th. I think they are now sometimes telling him to "STOP" and quit being such a model teammate and save some energy for the season.

Morning, Boz. I know, I know, it's spring training -- I'll be there myself in several weeks -- but I have a Redskins question. What is Bruce Allen's role with the Redskins? On the surface, he appears to have little to do, with Shanahan calling all the shots. Is Allen simply a figurehead?

There is always an enormous amount of work that needs to be done in a pro team's front office. And Allen has tons of experience. The Skins are fortunate to have him.

Here is the question: With the departure of Stan Kasten, why haven't the Nats hired a true team president? Kasten worked 24/7. He was doing SOMETHING! Who's doing it now? Shanahan is probably weariung too many hats as both coach and GM. And Rizzo is probably wearing too many since he's being asked (in reality if not in title) to be both GM and team president.

If Kasten had still been around, I wonder if the Nats would have had an additional set of contacts, back channels and savvy to get the Greinke deal done. Nothing against Rizzo's big efforts. But a second "player" of Kasten's experience in your front office would have increased the Nats skill set in getting a deal like that done.  

Boz: Bud bails out the Rangers last year, and they are then able to scoop up Cliff Lee and get to the WS. Bud bails out the Mets in December, and they are able to maintain a $140 million payroll. Shouldn't there be some sort of penalty when you run your franchise into the ground rather than being basically rewarded for management incompetence? I can't wait for Bud's retirement party.

Pretty amazing. And there's an opposite side of the coin, too.

When the Nats were built a new ballpark by D.C., but ran the team so badly (and cheaply) that they actually got revenue sharing money (more than once) in seasons when they did well financially (see "Forbes"), Bud didn't step in and say, "What's going on down there? When did D.C. suddenly become a tiny-market town." 

What's the randomest, coolest little Spring Training tidbit you have that's too insignificant to make it into an article?

First, I think the tornado watch is over! I'm kind of glad about that.

There are so many. I've been tempted to do a column full of "moments." When McCatty saw Wang throw a REAL power sinker, then involuntarily jumped and yelled, I was standing about four feet behind him behind a screen. I'd seen it, too. A little electric. Could a career, assumed to be dead by 29 teams, be resurrected? A long way to go. Still doubtful. Probably not. But not impossible. After that, every time Wang threw, everybody __Rigglem an, McCatty, Boone, Davey Johnson, Rizzo and Spin Williams were ALL right there __eitrher behind him or behind the catcher (behind a fence.)

Then they say, "Oh, he looks OK. No real news." They shouldn't let me stand so close to the fence! Corrales on Mock: "Best stuff on the staff after Strasburg." Boone on Detwiler, "Looks like a adifferent guy. Maybe he's finally got his mechanics straightened out."

February is for optimism __especially about pitchers like Detwiler, Wang, Mock who aren't even supposed to maqke a rotation. But tomorrow is March 1. Then it's time for realism, not optimism. The fantasy days don't last very long, do they?



Yunesky Maya has found himself after winter ball. Ross Detwiler has corrected his motion and is the most impressive pitcher in camp. Chien-Ming Wang might actually be able to pitch after all. Even Garrett Mock (!) says he's a new man! So, actually how excited should we get about these developments? What are you seeing? Will the Nats actually have depth or even surplus in starting pitching, enough to make a trade?

That's exactly the column I'm in the middle of writing for tomorrow's paper. Yes, Maya was supposedly throwing 90-91 in winter ball and touched 94. If so, that's the gujy they thought they'd signed. Like Livo has those superb Cuban pitching mechanics __get yourself collected directly over the rubber, then stride directly toward home plate __not even 1 inch off "plum." Is that how you spell "plum" like dead straight? The only thing I hate about chats, which I enjoy otherwise, is that I'm the world's worst speller. 

Maya can "add or subtract" speed fropm almost all his other pitchers. Look for him to have 10-12 starts in the minors, Wang, too. Then if Marquis has a Marquis season, I assume he'll be traded before the mid-season deadline. This isn't a prediction. It's practically a certainty; if he's, say, 7-6 with a 4.10 ERA, somebody is going to give you a nice prospect to add him to their rotation.

It's hard to believe but if the Yanks could keep CC, they'd probably trade the rest of the pitchers in their organization for the Nats pitchers. (Okay, they'd get Strasburg.) That's more a comment on how awful many in ST think the Yankees 4th and 5th starters will be.

When Kevin Millwood, coming off 4-16, thinks he's in the driver's seat with Cashman and turns down a minor league deal to play in the Bronx, then  the world has turned upside down.


Boz:, it's 70 degrees outside, I saw my first load of clueless tourists on the metro and fat suburbanites were crammed into WAY too much spandex while cycling on the bike trail near my house. It certainly feels a lot like spring. My partial season tickets arrived (Section 309, 3rd base side with a view of the Capitol), and I'm giddy with excitement. What do you think are the major storylines this year?

How much is a vastly improved defense actually worth? Is it 20 runs or 50 runs?

On paper, Werth and LaRoche look like statistical replacements in total offensive value for Dunn and Willingham. Buty in terms of presence, the loss of Duynn may really hurt the middle of the Nats order.  So, which is it? Worse offense or about the same with much better defense?

Are Desmond and Espinosa special? My guess is "Yes" on Espinosa and "Hmmmm" on Desmond. Ian has tons of heart but he makes just about every kind of error you can make. Low throws, high throws, wide throws, unneccesary throws, bobbled balls due to hurrying, balls that don't stick in his glove, dropped throws.

Is the starting rotation, despite the lack of an ace, quite a bit better than last year?

If the Nats get hit with injuries, are they deep enough or do they slide back to 95 loses? (Bad luck happens.)

The development of the young players __Zimmermann, Desmond, Espinosa, Storne, Ramos, Bernadina, Kimball, etc__ will interest me the most.


Why don't the Wizards look at a franchise like the Spurs and try to duplicate how they do things? Washington has more to offer most players than what San Antonio does but not as much as the glamour markets. It would be easier to replicate the Spurs organization than the Celtics.

The Spurs have an extremely bright and cutting-edge front office. Do the Wizrads?

There has been a lot of quiet optimisim regarding the Orioles this year, unlike recent seasons, but they are still sitting in a division with a terrific young team who still has great talent (Tampa), the odds-on AL favorite (Boston), a similarly talented team in Toronto and (of course) New York. Seems insurmountable. I know MLB has been thinking about expanding wildcards, but wouldn't a better solution be a radical realignment to zero divisions and five wildcards per AL/NL? Or something else? Wouldn't this be fairer to all the teams in baseball?

I haven't seen a realignment idea that I liked yet.

The Orioles are really interesting. I think they'll make a b etter run at .500 than the Nats this year. But the Nats have a higher ceiling in '13-'14-'15 if Strasburg and Harper really pan out while Vlad and other age.

Showwalter usually has about a five-year shelf life as a manager. But it might be longer now. He's smoothed some of the rough edges.

Oh, I learned that, back in '09, the Nats wanted to talk to Don Mattingly to manage but the Dodgers wouldn't let him interview for the job. Too bad. Think he'll be excellent. And I was pumping him to be the choice back then.  

Will he ever get back to being close to the player he once was? Seems that there are a lot of really good younger golfers that will never be intimidated by Tiger. I think a big part of Tiger's previous success was the aura of invincibility he had. It's gone.

I thought that Johnny Miller's comment over the weekend, comparing Tiger loss of invincibility to Mike Tyson's crash was way over the line. But Woods looks losty on the course. They used to say, "You don't come to the Masters looking for your game. You come because you already have one."  Woods can't take his game from the range to the course. And he's rebuilt it some fundamentally three times that I wonder if he'll ever get the upper and lower halves of his body in sync again. Nicklaus was a great fiddler with his game __always tweeking it. But he never left the first principles he learned from Jack Grout. He's always called "the first and onl;y" teacher of Nicklaus.

For somebody who learned so much from studying Jack, Tiger sure has misplaced that lesson. When you win the U.S. Open at Pebble by 15 shots, do you ever REALLY need another teacher?

Caps are better suited for the Ice Capcades then for NHL playoff hockey. Too many figure skaters and not enough blue collar. Caps need to trade the Great 8 while he still has some value. Alex doesnt seem to have the ability or intelligence to adjust to adjustments made by league. Oh they need to clean house in the front office and with the coaching staff, too. Caps with current GM and coach will never win the Cup.

Wow, Blow Up The Caps!???

Not yet. And certainly not "8." But he doesn't look like the same player, does he? The neutral-zone trap isn't exactly a new defense. Neither is using left-handeder defensemen against a right-hander who likes to use the defenseman as a shield to shoot through. He lives and plays hard. There are "dog years." Are they "Ovechkin years" where you age faster? And if you hang around him, do you age in Ovechkin years, too? 

The playoffs are all that will be remember from this season. But that doesn't mean you can't let the regular season worry you to death. Watching 6-0 I was just shaking my head. "They can't be THIS bad. When they turn it around, will it be a complete turn around?"

I have read in many places where people compare Mike Morse to Jayson Werth 5 years ago. What do you think about lighning stiking again with Mike Morse? What are the chances he'll be that good as a late bloomer?

The Nats really want to find out if Morse is a sleeper. Lots of praise for Berndina's physique, personality, defense and work ethic, but some concern that he's too muscled now to max out his hitting.

Up close, Morse is just a beast. Most of last season, you could tie him up inside with fastballs if you could hit 92-93. But late in the year, Eckstein says, he was getting to that pitch, too. If so, he has Werth power. But not nearly as polished a total player or as patient a hitter.

That's it for this week. Next Monday, same time, same (new) place. Thanks for all the great questions.

In This Chat
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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