Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 04, 2013

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

Do you think this is really his last season?

Yes. His last with the Nationals.

Will he be talked out of retirement someday by somebody else? Let me put it this weay: Of ALL the excellent managers in my time who were OUT of baseball, the one I thought had the LEAST chance of ever coming back was Johnson. The game had just beaten his brains out in a dozen ways. But he came back. After 11 years. If it happened once, it can happen twice.

But if I had to bet __just yes-or-no, I'd have to go with "last season __period."

Bos, I'm sure you saw that the MLB Network is predicting the Jays will go 82-80 and finish 10 games behind the Yankees (grouped with the Sox and the Rays at the top of the Division)and the O's will go 74-88 and finish 18 games behind the Yankees. Doesn't Vegas have the Jays as the favorite to win the World Series? I don't expect the O's to win 93 again, but 74????

How did I miss that!?

The Blue Jays will win 92 or more. The Orioles will win 84 or more.

So, there's a nice 10-game argument vs MLB Network (if what you say is correct, which I assume.)

With Rendon tearing it up, did the Nats make a mistake in signing LaRoche?

Excellent point. Rendon is the most interesting young player in the Nats camp. That's say a lot because they have plenty of young talent.

I always thought the jam-up of talent at 1st base was one of the manin reasons the Nats were not terribly concerned whether they resigned LaRoche or kept Michael Moore at 1st base. And it was definitely a reason they didn't even consider offering a 3rd year. They didn't want to clog up the pipeline. And LaRoche is probably going to remain good enough to hold down the position. But will he be as good as some of the other young players might have b ecome? It's unlikely we'll find out as soon. The whole process will probably play out one year later.

The Nats now have as much talent at one position (1st basemen by trade or 1st basemen if you want to put them there) as you'll ever see: Tyler Moore, Chris Marrero, Matt Skole and Rendon, who looks exceptional in Florida. Someday, if  Z'man moves to 1st base, then Rendon looks like a fine defensive 3rd baseman.

It's possible that by July, or certainly next year if he stays healthy and hits well, that Rendon my be able to play 1st, 2nd and 3rd. That's a ways off, but Rendon played SS the other day and Johnson has worked with him on footwork at 2nd base.

Every once in a while you see a player that strikes you as Can't Miss. That doesn't mean you think they'll go to Cooperstown, just that their talent is so obvious that it's very doubtful  that they'll be prevented from succeeding in MLB. Rendon looks like one of them to me. He lashed a -9 last week on an 0-2 fastball on the low-outside corner from an MLB lefty. He didn't poke it. He smoked it. He had complete coverage of that corner with the sweet spot on the bat. Yet two days later he "fought off" a high-tight fastball __as far from low-away as you can get__ and he "fought it off" for a two-hop double off the right center field wall. He also hit a decent knee-high pitch 405-feet to CF and was robbed of a home run. And he has two long home runs despite not weighing 200 pounds. Maybe he just hot. But he looks like he's going to be hot for a lot of years __if he stops getting major injuries. 

Pitchers who get hurt young tend to keep getting hurt. Hitters who get hurt young tend to make 100% comebacks and stay healthier as they age. I can't prove it. But it would make a nice study. Paul Molitor is an example. Had big injuries at 24 and 27 that cost him almost 250 games. Few thought he'd have a long, long career. End up with a >3300 hits and hit .341 with 225 hots at 39.

If you can deliver the sweet spot on the barrell to the ball in all quadrants of the plate a very high percentage of the time __it's a rare hand-eye gift__ then you can  hit. And if you can hit, it's a gift that doesn't go away. Rendon can hit. How much power? Remains to be seen. But get used to the name.

With Morse gone, how do you think the clubhouse dynamics change?

Not much, it seems. Gio Gonzalez has taken over command of the music mix. Morse was a great guy, but not a leader type. He helped set an upbeat tone. Haren is a plus. So, apparently, is Span. They may miss the humor of Morse and Mark DeRosa. But I think that some of the young players will be able to express themselves more now.

It's a loose team. Davey always makes sure of that. I'd be more concerned with "tightness" in some future year with a different manager.

Boz, Besides getting hot at the right time, what is the biggest factor in the Nats' chances of reaching and going deep in the playoffs? My guess is health and depth of the SP's. On another note, I was wondering what you thought of Trouble with the Curve...anything that jumped out at you as very true or blatantly inaccurate in regards to MLB?

You've got it nailed, imo. Health of SPs.

The key to the Nats in '13, in regular season and playoffs, is Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. If they stay healthy, or close to it, and pitch with their normal efficiency, the Nats will be in the playoffs, probably win the NL East and I'd say they'd be at least 50-50 to reach the NLCS. That's how imnportant a really excellent Big Three is to any team. We can talk about every other factor. But Gio, Jordan and Jesus are the core of the team. If Harper has one of the monster years that many other stars have had at 20, he could be just as important.

However, if even one of them goes down, the Nats become a very good, but not a dominant team. Upside, they could still go to the WS because Detwiler and Haren give them SP length; but, downside, they might also win only 85-88 games. Injuries to a rotation do that.

I haven't seen Trouble with the Curve __which is about an old scout. My wife actually watch it and liked it a lot, though a Hollywood ending. So, I asked Mike Rizzo, 2nd generation scout. He did not give it a good review! Not hostile. Just didn't think there was much to chew on. But he ran down the plot and seemed amused by it.

The Clint Eastwood line that, apparently, will live on __if both my wife and Rizzo mention it__ is when his crabby grouchy scout character is asked, "What crawled up your xxx?"

"Old age," he growls.

How is he fitting in the clubhouse so far? Any resentment from Clippard or Storen?

Don't know. I'll give you my impressions when I get back down there in 10 days or so. Clippard and Storen seemed as at peace with it as could be expected. When you have a chance to go to the Series, there is enormous internal pressure NOT to be a jerk about your individual role/stats. And Clippard and Storen are good people to start wtih.

In the end, performance defines role. It always does. Over a long season, Soriano will probably show why he was worth the contract. He has a long excellent track record. If he doesn't, the Nats are still deep in the bullpen. Mattheus has closer stuff, command and probably makeup, too. His excellent '12 is often missed. He's look sharp again this spring. 

Do you agree with Tracee that the Redskins should sue the league for salary cap relief? I haven't agreed with Snyder once since he took over as owner, but all the Redskins did was take advantage of an uncapped year. You can't violate the salary cap in a year when there was no salary cap.

Yes. To a degree. Take a shot. Or give that impression. At least threaten to gum up the works for the NFL and see if you can get a reduced penalty.

Imo, the owners almost certainly colluded. When don't they __in almost every sport. So, they command the "low ground."

But should the Skins actuially go through with a suit? I doubt it. No owner likes to actually sue his league. It was bad blood between Snyder/Jones and the rest of the NFL frat house that led to THIS $36-million salary cap penalty. If you sue 'em, no matter what the outco,me of the case, the long-term ramifications may last for years. What do they do to "get" the Skins NEXT time an issue comes up.

So, yes, throw a fit if it makes you feel better and gives you a (small) chance at a lowered cap hit. But should they carry out the threat? You better be able to run a good bluff. If you just huff and puff, then fold, it doesn't help you the next time that you want people to believe that you "mean what you say" and that you will carry out your threats.

The last time, the Skins did NOT think out the "second level" implications of their team policy __to steal a march on the league. They thought it was an easy chance to write checks to get a better payroll; it didn't work out that way. This time, they better think out the process this way: If we sue, THEN WHAT? What are the second-level consequences?

Assuming he stays healthy, is Anthony Rendon in the starting lineup within a month of Opening Day 2014?

Lots of variables. Everybody knows how similar this case is to Bobby-Grich-and-Davey-Johnson long ago. And you can bet Davey thinks about this. Rizzo, too.

Here are the comparisons. We can see how they play out over the next couple of years. At end of '71, Davey had won three Gold Gloves and been an All-Star three times, and was only 28. He really was a star when young __his career just burned out quickly in his early 30's or he'd be better remembered as a player. Davey went to college on a basketball scholarship, not baseball __could dunk with two hands, very fast. Says that Nate Thurmond (at Bowling Green then, later a great NBC 7-foot center) blocked his fast-break jump shot from the foul line one time __just came up in an instant and swatted it away__ and Davey saw the NBA disappearing as a possibility.

Because Davey was so good, Grich had been sent back to AAA Rochester in '71, even though he had hit .383 there in '70. That's right, .383. The O's told him, "Hit more home runs." Bythe end of '71, Grich had played 193 games at Rochester over two years at ages 21-and-22 and and hit .352 combined with 41 homers!

Rendon is 22 now. Will he have to hit .352 over two years at AAA to get his shot with the Nats? I doubt it very much. But when '72 started, Grich was in the majors and Davey felt the pressure, playing hurt a lot and have a bad season, even though the O's went to the Series. That led to Davey getting traded, getting healthy and hitting those 43 homers in '73 in Atlanta. But it was still correct to switch to Grich who had one of the greatest under-recognized careers in MLB history. Six All-Star games but, according to WAR, one of the 70 best players in HISTORY.

Davey was far better than Espinosa or Lombardozzi has ever been or, at this stage of their careers, even project to be. So it won't be as hard for Rendon to displace one of them. Espinosa may feel some of the pressure this year __especially coming back from his injured shoulder__ that Davey felt in '72. Even if Rendon isn't in sight, he's in mind. It's a bigger year for Espinosa than Rendon. I've always thought Espinosa had a high ceiling. His job is to make the whole 2nd base situation a total mess.

Who has really opened your eyes this spring? And likewise, is there anyone who you are beginning to worry about?

Nathan Karns, Nats minor league pitcher of the year in '12, isn't fringe. But he wasn't above A+ ball. And he's not young at 25. But he looked exceptional when I saw him throw and, according to reports, has thrown well in ST games. He's a major league arm right now. How much more seasoning does he need to be a MLB PITCHER, not just arm? We'll see. But his stuff is in the same general category as Zimmermann. His K-to-hit ratio last year was 148K/70 hits. Think about that. When you see a better than 2-to-1 K-H ratio in the minors, your eyes should light up. Strasburg was 92K/45 H at all minor league levels.

With Bray already being sent back down, are the Nats really planning to go with just one lefty reliever? Or, do you think a trade is forthcoming? (e.g., Espinosa or Lombardozzi)

They say they are OK with what they have. I don't know if I totally believe them. It may be what they really believe. But it is definitely what they have to say. I'd be after a quality lefty __like Burnett__ at some point. With all the trade pieces they have, I wouldn't start the season __or go very far into it__ without a lefty in the pen. Even with Soriano, Storen and Clippard at the back, there are going to be a LOT of games, and extra-inning games, when you need a lefty to get Utley-Rollins and other tough NL East lefty hitters.

Boz, the Caps are 5-0 against their division since they started to "get it." Is there hope for this season yet?

I think the Caps will enter the last five games of the season with a serious chance to make the playoffs. I know the standings look bad. But they still have the talent for a streak. And division record is part of the reason they still have playoff hopes.

The Wiz are playing better, but there is no chance they make the playoffs. Look at the standing, do the arithmatic. But I don't think they'll mail it in as that become4s obvious. They have to settle for comtinuing to play well. The recent 15-11 run is really remarkable for a 4-28 team that could/should have quit.

A lot of it is Randy Wittman, but Nene and Martell Webster are two of the most impressive people you'll ever meet in a locker room in any sport. I'll be surprised if Webster isn't a well-known coach someday, unless he does something even more memorable. BTW, Bradley Beal is an extremely mature 19-year-old, similar to Bryce Harper last year. Not as talented as Harper, but very gifted __probably a better upside than Wall.

I will be in Viera the 12-15 of March. I have tickets to one game, but would like to watch some practice time. Logistically, do I do anything more than just drive to the practice fields in the morning? Thanks!

You've got it. Everything is right at the complex.

Find out how early you need to go to see the workouts. (I'll try to post the best time to get there in the a.m. next week in the chat, but I may forget.) You'll have a ball.

Boz, I notice that almost once a week, during your chats, you compare the Nats to the early '70's Orioles. Do you think the Nats are building a foundation / minor league system like the Orioles had ? They would lose F.Robby and Davey and plug in Baylor and Grich. Brooks retires - here comes Doug DeCinces. 20 game winner Wayne Garland signs for big $$$ with Cleve - they call up Flanny. And let's not forget Eddie and Cal.could it be that the Nats are setting themselves up for 10+ years of pennant contending baseball ? - plus the Nats will make the huge free agent signing (Werth) something the '70's to early '80 never did.

If they are good as the '76-'83 Orioles, that would be pretty amazing __won a Series, lost a Series in seven, won 100 in another season, always in the hunt every year.

The '69-'70-'71 O's teams were historic __a completely different animal. The Nats have to prove that. And they have a long way to go. One 98-win season doesn't put you in that picture.

But why do so many players have such weird hair/facial hair/both? I'm not just talking about Jayson Wolf--er--Werth or Stephen "Goat" Strasburg. I saw a pitcher for the Cubs that looked as if he had a Brillo pad on his chin. I look at the Zimmerman(n) boys & Tyler Clippard (although his hair is a little long) and Trout and some others and think how great they look. I myself don't like stubble, but it's better than a lot of guys (the former SF Giants pitcher who looks like a mountain man, eg).

Sorry, I grew up in the '60's. These guys look pretty tame to me. (And to Davey, I suspect.)

Johnson will never reign in any "wildness" this club may dream up. They are predominantly conventional/responsible guys. If anything, root for all their craziness to come out; it won't be too much.

Let's say the Caps' record at the end of the year ends up about where it is now, a few games under .500 and out of playoff contention. Any chance they would go after Lindy Ruff? Or, do they have to stick with Oates, who hasn't shown much...but also didn't get the benefit of a training camp? Does the fact that Ruff could end up in Florida make a difference?

All none-Nats questions appreciated! Thanks.

No, you can't change coaches AGAIN. Got to have some continuity. If you replace Oates, then that probably means McPhee is gone, too. So, you're in rebuild mode. But how can that work out well with so many of McPhee's key players still in place and some of them untradeable, like Ovechkin. Sorry, you gotta play out this hand, even if you don't like the way it's looking. Get a final answer on this era __or else you may end it prematurely.

You will regret saying "The Orioles will win 84 or more." Oops, sorry, didn't mean to threaten you.

That's a lot more than the "74 win" prediction. I doubt they win 90.

BTW, sportswriters get "threatened" once in a while. Or at least yelled at over the course of a career. It has to be something that amuses you or gives you energy. You just hope it's not physical, though the threats have been in that area a few times. 

Actually, one of the bad things about my age is that I don't get yelled at as much anymore. Werth got mad a few times in '11. That was refreshing. (He reads everything, so he'll enjoy that.) It usually sets up better communications later if you both take off the mask at some point. (Just NOT very often!) I miss Kasten's angry phone calls.  Stan knew how to give it (and take it).

Is his visit to N. Korea actually newsworthy? That is, had it not happened with cameras at the ready would anyone have cared? Of course so much of what is news these days is dependent not on worthiness or interest, but on whether a camera caught it. Sigh.

I thought MIB I identified Rodman conclussively as from another galaxy. But then all North Korean leaders are from another planet.

Do you think Danny is worried watching Rendon taking ground balls at his position?

The pressure of internal competition only helps a team cope with external competition. Who ISN'T under pressure __at least if they look out to '14__ from players like Rendon, Moore, Mattheus, Karns, etc.? The Nats need all the pressure they can get, from any source. Because they are going to face plenty of September-October pressure the next few years.

Boz, congratulations on a very perceptive article last week on the "new" Wizards, and their no-knuckleheads makeover. As a long-suffering fan, I've been very encouraged since John Wall came back (despite his recent slump). I really think that if the team can continue switching some of his offensive burden to Bradley Beal, we might have something that can actually succeed in the NBA. Do you agree?

Yes. But the big "if" isn't a player. It's probably Ernie Grunfeld. His long-term NBA record as an executive would still probably be rated as "good." He has credentials, though critics forget it. But the last five years have been THE WORST five-year period in Bullet-Wiz history. That's hard to do. EG has had horrid high draft picks like Jan Vesely. (Now THERE is the perfect blown Wiz draft pick: his NBA career highlight is kissing his beautiful girlfriend the instant his name is picked.)

Do you want Ernie in charge of what may be another lottery pick this year? Sometimes he can't judge people. Sometimes he can't judge talent. But in Beal, he probably got both. So, has his luck turned? He gets credit for improving the character of the people in the room, but who got the previous players? He did.

I'd have said, "Enough is enough," a long time ago. But it seems like things have turned. "Everything changes everything." The better they play, the more you think, "Let him take one more crack at a top pick." 

But, to be honest, I don't think that very often.

How will Davey Johnson use these guys? Both seem to have feel good stories, so watching a cage match for playing time doesn't seem as much fun as it should be.

They'll split time with Ramos getting plenty of rest early in the season because he's still coming back from a really bad knee injury. Then, performance will probably determine who gets 2/3s of the playing time or whether it gets split 50-50. But, coming down the stretch, I don't see why either would get less than 1/3 of the starts. But the Nats will and should lean toward Ramos __if all things are equal__ because he is their long-term catcher and at a reasonable price. The Nats have an option on Suzuki for '14 and everybody likes him and his play, but that option is for $8.5M. I'd assume they'd only pick that up if there was a serious problem with Ramos' comeback.

How much stock do you put into Bryce having an incredible spring? A real indication of a monster jump to come or just your standard hot streak?

We may look back and think that it means a LOT.

Very few future greats have had excellent years at 19. Mel Ott and one or two others. That made Harper 's '12 stand out a LOT. But many of the best players have errupoted with amazing seasons at 20. If Harper really is one of those players, here are some of the numbers by great players at age 20 __all roughly as good as Mike Trout last year at 20. 

Mel Ott: 42 homers, 151 RBI, 113 walks, .328, 1.084 OPS.

The late Vada Pinson: 131 runs, 205 hits, .316.

Frank Robinson (same high school as Vada, long-time friends): 38 homers, 122 runs.

Mantle: .311, 3rd in MVP voting.

Tony Conigliaro: 32 homers (AL champ).

Orlando Cepeda: .312, 38 doubles, 25 HR.

Al Kaline: .340, batting title.

Ted Williams: 131 runs, 31 homers, 145 RBI!, .327.

Ty Cobb .350. Rogers Hornsby .313. Jimmy Foxx .328. Pudge Rodriguez All-Star and Gold Glove.

A-Rod: the amazing 141 runs, 54 doubles, 36 homers, 123 RBI and hit .358 while playing shortstop!

At 20, Babe Ruth went 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA and got into the World Series with the Red Sox. In 92 at bats, he hit .315 with a .952 OPS. So, he was already The Babe.

The list goes on and on. In Harper's last 41 games last year, he hit .327 with a 1.045 OPS __the same EXACT OPS that A-Rod and Ted Willaims had at 20. (Only Ott was higher.) On the other hand, Harper had one terrible long slump last year in mid-season before he got hot that lasted 39 games when he hit .198 with a .547 OPS. So, he can get hot enough to be great at 20. Can he minimize his slumps well enough?

But the possibility of an outlandish season is not outlandish! There is FAR more precepdent for a remarkable season at 20 than there is at 19.

But, of course, a zillion exceptional players have NOT been wonderful at 20. So if he's only slightly better than '12, it doesn't mean he won't be much better by '15 or '16. He's a learner and a worker. As long as he stays that way, and I assume he will, he'll keep getting better.  


Mornin' Boz, What are a few of the things that have surprised you so far about the Nationals spring training? Is it Haren's "stuff"? Rendon/Harper's tear? Werth's beard?

If Haren touched 93 mph the other day, even for one pitch, that was a surprise! Was the gun broken?

I understand that the Angels are under no obligation to give Trout more money, but it would have been the right thing to do. Couldn't they have at least thrown him another $100-150K, as a gesture of appreciation?

Penny wise, pound foolish, by Angels.

Because he was famous when signed, and Trout was not, Harper basically signed for $2M-a-year for his first five years. He gets $2M exactly this year. So not the same problem.

I know it may be wishful thinking, but I was wondering if there could be any similarities between Nationals Park and Pac Bell? I recall hearing something to the effect that SF cleaned up or revitalized the area around PB, as well as the water. Do you think there will be any similarities (I hope)?

Pac Bell helped revitalize the Embarcadero area. The chances that I spelled that correctly are about 1%. There are no similarities between the parks. Pac Bell is exhilerating, Nats Park is very nice. But you will start to see development/construction near Nats Park this season. And over the next few years I think the transformation of the entire waterfront area will be dramatic.

Every team has a "Team Baby," but now so does the PGA Tour. Bad, bad form by the Number 1 golfer and defending champ. You can't finish 11 more holes for your fans and sponsers. Jeez.

It's tough to play golf with a toothache, but it's not THAT tough is it? It's not my tooth that was hurting, but, come on, finish the round. If it was really some more general issue __head in a bad place__ that's not good either. Root for McIlroy. He's not a baby. And he'll be great for golf. But he'll have to learn that the King, or anybody who wants to be the King in golf, probably has to act to a higher standard, even when it hurts __a lot.  

See you next week. Keep that snow away! Thanks for all the questions. Cheers.

I read the stories on the Nats working with the eye doctor to improve their fielding and hitting and on Tyler Clippard spending his summers at the compound in Lake Buena Vista working on improving all the physical aspects of his game, and I'm very impressed. I think these guys are putting an awful lot of effort into their games, and I'm hopeful it will bear fruit this year and for years to come.

Unlike some Caps, Wiz and Skins teams within the last dozen years, the Nats are a very dedicated bunch, much like the Gibbs I Skins with key players like Green, Monk establishing a standard for others to follow in work habits, film study, out of season ways to improve.

It's a "team culture" that becomes self-reinforcing and is almost as hard to destroy, after a while, as it was dificult to create in the first place. Nats may be the first D.C. pro team to have that in the last 20 years. Maybe Wilson's Stanley Cup Finals Caps. I remember them as a good model, one that Oates remembers well. But Rizzo-Davey-Werth-Z'man-Strasburg-Harper-Desmond-and-SEVERAL-0thers(!) are laying a very good foundation.

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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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