Ask Boswell: Redskins, Caps, Nationals and more

Dec 03, 2012

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

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is it all luck or is he really that good, it seems they are not (personnel wise) much changed from last year. The defense seems worse, the O line seems better - or is it the play calling allowing the O line to work? One guy (RGIII) changes a poor team to a competitive one every week - I know the QB is the most important thing but really? The diff is RGIII Garcon (with little playing time) and the new RB - who is a REAL delight! It does seem like they are going in the right direction. But at draft time, what can they get in the later rounds, when to have a pick - will there be an DBs left?

Lotta questions there! I'll tackle the first one. Yes, an exceptional quarterback can have an almost unbelievable impact on a whole team. I think the word is "inspiration." When the QB is at the same general level of talent for a QB as the left tackle is for a left tackle or the DB is for being a DB, nobody is inspiring anybody else. They are just trying to do their own jobs and not mess up.

But when you have a great QB, everybody tries to play upo to his level, be worthy of being his teammate. And there is a sense that, if the other players just don't lose the game, he will find a way to win it. That reduces mistakes, because players don't feel they have to go beyond their normal abilioty (let RGIII do that!). Players just focus better, play better, when they know there is an exceptional QB who assumes responsibility for the central pressure on the team. 

Although football and basketball almost exclusively recruit from colleges (it would be almost impossible to have a football farm system, but basketball, having smaller teams and less equipment/uniforms could work), baseball depends much more on the minors, although there are some Nats who have some college/graduated college. Which is better for the individual player--working his way up through the farm system or playing in college?

I'd always encourage a baseball prospect to go to college. You'll be an adult and a 365-day pro soon enough. Take some time to grow up and, yes, learn something, too. The minor leagues are a rotten place to be as a teenager. If there's a choice, that's not where you want your child to be, imo. There are exceptions. But that's the rule. As an example, the Nats drafted Tyler Moore out of high school, out of junior college, then drafted him a third time out of college. They didn't forget him. And he was picked in a higher round each time, even though he was never a hot prospect. Now, he's moved steadily up through the minors. 

Baseball has a terrible record as far as players actually graduating from college by the time they are in MLB. But whatever portion of college they finish, they are still that much closer to a degree if they choose to go back. If you leave school before you get a degree, as most hot prospects do, baseball puts lots of emphasis on off-season leagues and makes it tough to go back to college. 

If Abe Lincoln were alive today, would he be wearing a Curly W instead of a stovepipe hat?

Just saw Lincoln on Friday night. It's wonderful.

The gravity of the Civil War __year after year of death on both sides__ is...well, I don't know what it just can't imagine how hard that must have been to live/fight through. Makes current issues, while difficult, seem like we ought to be able to manage them.

But the mood in "Lincoln" probably isn't a "Curly W" mood. In the final minutes (spoiler alert), Abe says to his wife, "We have to start having more fun. We're had too much suffering." Of course, he's just days away from going to Ford's Theater.

Boz, Buster Olney tweeted this AM that rizzo's being agressive and talking tpitching trades with TB. Any more info on this? Could we pull off a Goodwin/Rendon/Gilotto for Price swap? It would leave the cupboard completely bare, but we might have the best [young] rotation, on paper, in history.

Price is a possible trade. But James Shields is more likely, most people think.

In a chat or column in the last week, don't remember which, I referred to a trade for James Shields of TB as a best-case "fantasy" for the Nats to pull off. Yes, Rizzo tends to introduce the word "trade" when I use the phrase "sign a free agent." I assume he thinks this is an hot-stove season when the best values are Span (not FAs BJUpton or Bourn) and probably one of the TB starters, rather than a $150M FA Grienke (over-priced) or some of the older FA pitchers (Haren, Dempster).

In a recent poll of execs, Shields was the Most Likely player to be traded. The Rays have seven or eight potential starters. Shields is 31, under team control for '13-'14 for $20M. He'll never be more valuable. But who has the right package to land him?

The Rays need hitting and more hitting. To a degree, the Nats are a fit. Last year, Rays 1st basemen batted .209 (Carlos Pena) with 22 HR and 66 RBI __the worse or next-to-worst offense of any team from its 1st basemen. So, the Nats could offer Morse or Moore with big-league experience. I really don't think you give up Rendon __whom you control for 6 1/2 years__ for two years of Shields. The Rays were also weak in LF __.235-22-71. (What about BOTH Morse and Moore __to help TB in LF, DH and 1st base__ if you first resign LaRoche? Just tryin' to cause trouble.)

However, the trade Adam mentioned this morning would hinge on the Rays wanting Morse/Moore and Espinosa. The Rays actually got decent offense from all their 2nd basemen and shortstops combined __not too much different from Espinosa. Danny has more value at his natural position __SS. So, two packages come to mind as possible __Morse/Lombardozzi or Moore/Espinosa. Perhaps Morse/Espinosa would be too much to offer.

The problem may be that the Nats don't have a perfect fit for the Rays needs and a team with a better HUGE prospect __that it is willing to trade__ will get Shields.  KC has Wil Myers (minor league phenom) to use in a trade. 

There is no doubt that what happened in Kansas City was a tragedy, but I was disturbed by much of the tone of coverage yesterday, particularly on the sports shows. It is horrible that Javon Belcher killed himself in front of a coach and the GM. But there was little mention of the fact that Mr. Belcher had murdered his girlfriend. And to me at least, that changes the equation significantly. It was inappropriate to dwell on the accomplishments of Mr. Belcher and barely mention his disgusting act.

Yes, I know where you're coming from.

I don't think I've seen such a big sorrowful sports news story in which almost nothing __beyond the bare facts__ was really known about what happened, why or even what Belcher or his girlfriend were actually like. It was a good time to wait before speaking. But those covering the Chiefs game and the story had little choice.  

One of the major pre-and-post-game NFL shows signed off one of its a segment __after much discussion of KC's win and Belcher__ with the words "because a young woman also lost her life." It wasn't as crass as that sounds. It was an attempt to include her and NOT overlook her. But she IS the victim here.

I didn't hear the whole segment. For all I know their total coverage was fine. But I was bothered by the whole day. There are various aspects of this which may deserve the word "tragedy." But, according to the police, this was first and foremost a crime __murder.

Pro sports is poorly equipped to handle this kind of complex emotion/outrage because, almost always, an athlete's death really is sad and the sport has normal ways of bonding together to cope with it and play the next game. But how many alledged murder-suicides has any pro sport had to sort out? (I don't remember ther last one.) So everything from wisdom-to-cliche that people use to cope with an athlete's death (or anyone's), doesn't work very well in a case like this.

For example, it's really hard to write about this quickly in a chat format. It's a situation where you need to weigh every word. I'll be interested in the thou8ghts, questions, of chatters. 

speculated that it might take Espi AND Morse--two legit, everyday major leaguers to get James Shields (essentially a 4th SP on this rotation). Doesn't that seem excessively expensive? I could see Morse or Espinosa (maybe add-in a minor leaguer) but not both.

Yes, as noted above, I'd think Morse/Lombardozzi or Moore/Espinosa would make more sense.

But I will mention that last time I talked to Davey, he kept mentioning Lombardozzi, or Lombardozzi and Espinosa together, when he was considering who might bat in certain lineup spots. Not Espinosa, them Lombo as a second fiddle.

Rizzo and Davey are both very high on Espinosa __even if he never gets much better__ and especially if he ever reaches what appears to be his "ceiling. And the stat geeks love him with a WAR of 3.5 and 3.8 the last two years. That makes him a star now, despit ethe 189 Ks. See, you don't want to trust those new stats TOO much.

Still, Espinosa hit .260 after May 9th once some of the changes that Davey and Eckstein wanted him to try started helping him. There are also 100-game chunks in which he hit .270 before fading the last two weeks. His late-season and post-season slump was somewhat injury-related (shoulder).


If they agreed to everything from the fiscal cliff to overtime to shootouts to money is putting a season on at this stage anything other than a major money grab that looks stupid and greedy at best? If they don't play this year (as it would appear) how damaged is the NHL?

The NHL has already hurt itself a LOT. But if they cancel another ENTIRE season, they are going into uncharted territory, especially for a sport that has a devoted core fan base but not as wide an appeal in any many places as some other sports.

IOW, the better wise up. And I'd say the owners have more of the "wising up" to do.

I was slightly encouraged to see that a group of about six owners and six players (plus a couple of lawyers on each side) will meet today or tomorrow. Neither Fehr nor Betteman will be there. (Ted Leonsis wasn't on the list that I saw.) So, it won't be the same old hardest line owners but a blend (supposedly).

I think the owners may be surprised at the grasp of the facts that the players have __even without Fehr in the room.

Sometimes, when you have more distance on a sport or an issue you see it more clearly. Hockey people adore the sport so much that they don't think you can ruin it at the pro league level. I disagree. I've never seen a sport go out for so long and have so few people give a damn whether it comes back or not. Hcokey may live in an echo chamber where they only hear other hockey people. They may think people outside that chamber care about their game. They're wrong, imo. They don't. Or not much. I fear for the future of the NHL if they lose this season. The window isn't closed on the current Caps. I admit that, selfishly, I want to see that play out.

Will DC ever get a team other than the Generals? And will they ever beat the Globetrotters? Seriously, does Ted or his people really have a plan? The Lerner's love them or hate them had a plan, told you want it was and stuck relatively closely to it, and it paid off - or so it appears. The Wizards, not so much, seems to be no plan, no leadership, no management, and ownership seems out in left field - reminds me of Snyder when he was meddling - as if he knew what he was talking about. Leonsis does not appear to be meddling but he also has no idea - or so it appears. What gives?

Plenty of us have been wondering for a couple of years how Ernie keeps his job. I make some joke about it here periodically. It seems there are only two things that he is especially weak at evaluating: players and people.

Seriously, he doesn't nail his draft picks, but, until recently, he also led the league in collecting rockheads, out-of-shape big men who play like guards and even guys who pull guns on each other. Then, when he tries to dump salary, he adds two useless vets who ADD salary. Ernie reminds me of the student who got four "Fs" and one "D." The lenient father said, "Son, seems to me you're spending too much time on that one subject." Ted is the forgiving father.

I thought Jason Reid's evaluation of the Wiz drafting record was right on the mark.

As I've said, I think that, once they get Wall back, they will move up off the very bottom of the league __probably just enough to have a few less ping pong balls.

Dear Boz, Seems to me there is a win-win deal for Rizzo and LaRoache just waiting to be signed. LaRaoche wants 3 years and Rizzo wants salary room in case LaRoache (aged 33) doesn't perform so well in the third year. Presto. The obvious answer is a 3 year contract with a salary of $15 million (or whatever the proper number should be) for the first two years. Then in year 3 the salary drops to $5 million guaranteed with incentive bonus of $3 million for playing in 125 games, $3 million for 30 HRs, and $3 million for 100 RBIs. Why isn't this a win-win for both sides?

Once Rizzo makes up his mind, he seldom changes it on things like this. (See: Adam Dunn.) He's decided "two years." I'd enjoy watching LaRoche next year as much as the next person. But I've said here for months that I just don't think it's a baseball "fit." I've assumed for months that this ends with a group hug and a goodbye. The Span trade only increases the likelihood. As I said, I'd be glad to be wrong. 

The more I think about it the less I like it. From a pure advanced-stats POV, it doesn't make sense either: Shields has been worth 6.9 WAR over the last two years (5.1 over the last three). Morse has been worth 3.7 for the last two (4.9 for three), and Espy 4.8 (5.5). Plus turning one of the Nats' greatest strengths (three starting-capable middle infielders, one capable of strong play at both positions) into a liability. Nope.

Good points. Thanks.

Also, how much difference is there between Shields and a good FA starter? Not much, imo. Enough to give up TWO players who have 4-5-6-7 years combined under team control (depending on which pair you trade). 

When you have depth, don't be in a hurry to give it away. Things happen. When Desmond was hurt for a month, Espinosa played SS and nobody even noticed a problem on defense. 

Before you start getting rid of valuable players like Espinosa or Lombardozzi, why not find out if Rendon can stay healthy for a whole year and, maybe, see if he looks like he could play some 2nd base, too.

It's rare to have too much depth. But, right now, the place where the Nats actually have more than they can use is 1st-OF-3rd with Morse, Moore, Z'amn (3rd), Rendon (3rd), Skole (3rd-1st), Goodwin, Spann, Bernadina, Werth, Harper, Perez.

That's why, outside DC, people assume that you don't need to add LaRoche for three years.

Tom, You have been watching the Skins as long as I have, There have been a ton of BIG games over the years. I consider this one tonight to be one of them. This will either be a corner turning game or another in a long line of dissapointments. Do you see this as a big game and why?

Yes, this is a very big game. Partly, of course, is whether they win or lose. But, to me, I've seen the Skins "come up small" so often at the mere hint of a "big game" (especially on national TV) that you especially want to see them play to their ability __whatever the result my be.

The coach has an impact on this. But the Skins have played bad games for Shanahan in those brief moments when they seemed to be showing progress. The most important player __certainly on the Skins__ in determining whether the Skins "show up" or not is RGIII. I said here before the Dallas game that RGIII's pattern was to play big in big games. And he certainly did against Dallas.

However, let me add two points. I watched the Dallas tape again (yes, a third time) on Saturday and saw something I'd missed the other times: RGIII must have taken 10 BIG hits. He had that great day despite getting clobbered for sacks (4), delivery sacks and every other way you can get hit. It's good he had so many days off between games. But if the Skins don't do a better job of protecting him, he may not have much chance to "play like Robert" against the Giants. The Skins O-line has shown cohesion. That's helped Morris. But they have bad days at times against the pass rush. So, a key is improved PP for III.

Other point, both Giants (+13) and Sijns (+12) have big takeaway/turnover ratios in their favor. That's still the No. 1 factor in who wins in the NFL. Which is why it's so unpredictable.

Sooner or later, RGIII is going to have his bad turnover games. Every QB does. But I don't think it'll be tonight. Just have a feeling this is going to be a memorable and good game. (But my hunch is only as good as a coin flip.)

Bos, BY not tendering Jackson and his 11-11 record, seems to me that Rizzo is looking to upgrade that slot in the rotation. Otherwise, he would have resigned the very competent Jackson. That means only 5 or six names can be involved in Rizzo's plan. Lohse, Sanchez, Greinke, et al. Which way do you think Riz goes?

Jackson is only 29. So he is going to look for a 3-yr or 4-yr contract. Rizzo probably wants a shorter contract.

BUT with Meyer gone __he was the closest young starter to being MLB-rotation-ready__ it does open up the possibiulity that a three-year deal works for the Nats until Giolito (or someone else) is developed.

As for the names, everybody comes up with the same listy. What matters is what Rizzo and the Nats scouts think. As you've noticed, they tend to see things that others don't.

Hi Tom, love your columns and books -- your essay on The Masters in 'Strokes of Genius' is one of the best things written about that course. Do you have any thoughts on the historic changes being made to The Old Course at St Andrews such as chopping down that big hump in front of the 4th green or flattening part of the 11th green? Seems like it was done in secret, too -- like Augusta. :-( Mark

Every time golfers, writers and fans show up at the Masters it's a game to see what's been changed on the sly. They tell you. But it's still a shock to see hoiles totally transformed, yet they look like they haven't been touched for 75 years. Must be nice to be that rich.

I look at St. Andrews and see East Potomac Park, but with a whole bunch of ugly bumps and a thousand stupid bunkers that you can't escape. Oh, and it's ugly __no Potomac River, no Washington Monument framing about 5 or 6 tee shots. Gimme East Potomac every time.

But that's what a lot of hackers think/say. St. Andrews, as Nicklaus said, is only appreciated by "the tournament player," not the average player. Whatever they do, it will be too subtle for me to understand __until I am told what I'm looking at!

Why would they chop down the himp in front of No. 4? It was unfair. Isn't that the point of British Open golf: Maximize the unfairness.

Boz, How damaging is this latest iteration of "how to destory the golden goose" for the NHL? I am a typical Caps fan and I have to tell you I have not thought about hockey 2 times in the last 3 months, save for this one. How bad will this fiasco be for the league?

Like everybody, I've really been into the Caps in the Ovie Era. Last year I was taping games to watch the next day!

Actually, I have missed the total absence of an NHL or NBA team in Washington this fall. Both franchises have ONE win and it's December. Teams become part of your habits. And more than 160 Wiz-Caps games are part of what you watch when you feel like watchin' 'em. They are there when you want them. Or, like baseball, you can ignore them for a week or more then pick the season right back up.

This year, that hasn't been an option. I've watched the Wizards just enough to know that I refuse to watch them any more until Wall gets back. It's just too sad. 

I have missed the OPTION of watching them.

But in a typical major city that has an actual NBA team, I think it would be easy to forget that there is no NHL season __until some time early next year when you think, "Oh, the NHL playoffs __the actual start to the hockey season__ is about to begin in a couple of weeks!"

But maybe not this year.


And if so, could it be a Morse and Espy deal for Price? I can hope can't I? I can see it, while I do like Espy and think he still a huge upside, they do have Lombardozzi and Rendon in the wings. It's not a totally nuts idea. They could get a quality pitcher, resign LaRoche promote from within for 2B, and also still use Moore at 1B from time to time as well. So?

If, after trading Meyer, Milone and other prospects in the last year, Rizzo still has enough in his system to build a package that fetches Price, then he's executive of the decade.

Not going to happen. But the holidays are coming, so you can dream.

The Nats are, obviously, NOT finished fro the winter. We haven't even talked about the bullpen. Probably next week. This is going to be a somewhat short chat 9for me) because I don't want to "leave my fight in the gym" before the Skins game tonight. A couplew more and then it's "see you next week."

Rizzo must have ice in his veins to maintain control over so many moving pieces this winter. Between LaRoche, Morse, Moore, Espinosa, Lombo, acquiring a starting pitcher via trade or FA, finding lefty bullpen arms, not blocking prospects like Rendon and Goodwin (not really an issue with the Span trade now), he's got a lot of scenarios to work through. I can't imagine what the whiteboard looks like at Nats Park and in Nashville this week. My vote, go big on Greinke, let LaRoche walk or trade for Shields or Price and spend big to make sure LaRoche stays. Grab Gonzalez, try for Burnett again.

You'd be amazed at the Nats whiteboards. I've seen some of them (not recently). They go out five years, at least, with projected lineups.

What always strikes me is that the best baseball executives really are thinking a couple of steps beyond the good fans (and writers).

For example, last week near the end of the chat, I wrote that I was pretty sure the Nats were "kicking the tires for a CF not named Upton or Bourn." But I said it probably wasn't Victorino because he hits better RH than LHed and they needed a LHed bat. That's getting pretty "warm" on Span. But the Nats were already in the final stages of making that trade and had been thinking about it for weeks, apparently. 

Boz, have you heard the rumor that the Giants owners (The Mara Family) is out to get the Redskins again using Goodell and the rules committee as tools? Well, Roger Goodell is already a tool but that beside the point. I heard that the Mara's want to make illegal the zone blocking schemes and the current blocking techniques that The Skins offense uses. Is there any truth to that?

How could we NOT have Mara Conspiracy theories when the grand-daughter, Rooney Mara, IS "The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo."

I cannot stand watching football when I do not understand the calls the refs make. I have argued with friends on what is holding. Last night on Sunday Night Football I saw a defensive lineman fall to the ground, and with the replay on TV, there was no holding, but the ref called the offensive lineman for holding. Last week, the Giants offensive linemen, were holding the Packers defensive linemen above the numbers on the chest with both hands, keeping them upright and away from Eli or the running back. Holding was never called. My friends say that is legal. If so, why?

Football's greatest inherent weakness is that some of its most important rules __holding, pass interference__ are judgment calls on which NOBODY knows exactly what the right call should be. And on almost every play one or the other could be called. Basketball has the endless block-charge issue.

Baseball is the least flawed __but only because fans tacitly agree to believe the homeplate ump's ball-strike calls. Or only boo them for a couple of seconds, then forget about it and move on to the next pitch. 

I am getting to the point of anger as I read some of the comments promoting trading Espinosa. Why are our fans so willing to trade away young talent?

Anybody who thinks Espinosa is a weak link has it backwards. He's one of the team strengths __exceptional defense, lots of power for a 2nd baseman and a No. 7 hitter. OK, he strikes out a ton. That's frustrating to fans. They'd rather see a 4-3 ground out. But it's still an out.

WAR stats can be "off." But both BaseballReference (2.4 and 2.4) and Fans Graphs (3.5 and 3.8 in '12) have Espinosa as one of the more valuable Nats over the last two years combined.

Okay, I'll say it. Espinosa is right where Desmond was 365 days ago __the talented middle infielder with the high ceiling that fans (and me, at times)__ thought was suspect. Next year, we get the Espinosa answer. The grass is not always greener. I'd like to find out that answer with Espinosa in a DC uniform.

Looking forward to an extremely loud FedEx tonight! See you next week.  

By the Steelers' win yesterday? After the debacle of the previous week, I had almost lost hope (I'm from Pittsburgh). I think RGIII is to Washington what Big Ben is to Pittsburgh. And it makes me unhappy that Ben's name is not usually mentioned with Brady, the Mannings, Brees, etc. He may not be the passer they are, but he's a Leader with a capital L!

I thought it was pretty moving to see the old vet, QB Charlie Batch, hug Ben at the end of the game and then just keep on hugging him. And hugging him. At first Ben didn't seem to know what to do. Then it loooked like he realized, "Wow, pulling out this win, after 8 (Steeler) turnovers last week, ment the WORLD to Batch. This is HIS Super Bowl" Then Ben seemed kind of touched by The Backup's Big Moment.

Not how Ravens fans see it, I suspect.

Thanks for addressing this. I didn't see the game yesterday, but I read that it began with a moment of silence for all victims of domestic violence. That seems like a good start at the team framing the true victim of this tragedy. And the coach and others who had to witness the suicide were victims, too.

Thanks. Good point.

Yes, the coach and GM were definitiely victims, too.

Thought the Chiefs did the only thing they could: Win the game. Not so much "for" anybody but "for" themselves because they are all torn up about this in one way or another. I believe there have been reports that the slain woman is related to Chiefs leading rusher Jamaal Charles.

Did the Redsox read the Rizzo tea leaves and decide to move on from their persuit of LaRoche or is this just a case of finding the best fit for the team? Napoli has some very nice stats when hitting at Fenway.

The Napoli-to-Boston news really makes LaRoche look like a fit for Texas. Moreland mediocre at 1st base. DH league. Hamilton probably/maybe gone. So, Texas may need LH power bat. LaRoche would love that park which is more HR friendly than DC.

But removing Red Sox is one less team that might want him. 

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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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