Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 25, 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

Raging debate here over Tracee Hamilton's column on Coach Shanahan. I say she is dead on correct in that Shanahan, as Head Coach, is both responsible and should take responibility for escalating RGIII injury by playing him in Seattle. My friend minimizes the Shanahan responsibility and blames it on poor medical advice and football culture. Please weigh in.

I tweeted right after Tracee's column was posted that I thought she "nailed it." In fact, if I hadn''t seen a column along those lines I'd have called in on my off-day and suggested that I write it. 

When I saw that Shanahan had passed the buck of blame to others I immediately thought "I coached good but they played bad." Nothing is bigger in leadership than accountability. If this is proper accountability, I give up.

I thought Teddy was going to be an upgrade from the previous ownership of the Wizards and Caps. Teddy should have traded Ovie 2 if not 3 years ago . Caps arent going to win the Cup with Ovie ever. Wizards are just pathetic. Abe got a pass from me. Uncle Teddy doesnt. He is no1 with a bullet on my list of all time worst professional team owners on the planet. He has Danny Boy Snyder beat this year

I'd say that is unnecessarily harsh. But, even though both teams are playing better right now __Caps winning three in a row and Wiz over .500 since Wall got back__ neither team looks like it will make the playoffs. One GM in his his 15th year (GMGM w Caps) and the other 10 years (Ernie w the Wiz). These are 110% their teams. It's lucky they are both playing better or their would be even more folks with your view. 

(In partial defense of the Caps, I'd point out that they have been unlucky in goal distribution. Basic goal differential is also a decent measure of ability and the Caps rank much higher __probably a playoff team__ by that stat. BUT that has nothing to do with POINTS in the standings. And they've minimized those. 

Have they figured out what position Rendon will play this year?

He's a thirdbaseman. Period. The rest is just speculation for what the Nats would do to get him in the lineup at some point IF he hits and IF he stays healthy in the minors for this year.

However, if you see him playing SS or 2nd in the minors, that's interesting. To me, it would indicate that they want to bring him up sooner than later __all other factors being equal.

In Florida, Davey said that Rendon has "good actions and reactions" at third base and has a "leftside of the infield arm." That left open some play at SS at some point. Johnson also said, "He passed my course" on footwork at 2nd base. But there's no hurry to let him play 2nd. He's had a lot of injuries. Do you want to risk getting him bustered up a again on the DP pivot when he has his back to runner? (No.)

He's only 22. Talented as he is, let him find a comfort level in the minors. As I understand it, that means starting at AA. I haven't found a single person who's seen him __or the Nats or otherwise__ who doesn't think he'll be a first rate big-league hitter. Edgar Martinez gets mentioned. I'd point out that 'patience is needed.' Martinez, for example, as excellent as he was, hit .240 at age 26 and didn't break out until he was 27. The Nats need to let Rendon have a normal development. BUT Davey loves him. And he likes to be the manager who handles Big Talent when it first comes up. So, if there are infield injuries, it could get interesting in mid-season. But, imo, only if there are injuries.  

Considering that Clippard has had a near-perfect preseason (8 innings, 10 K, 2 BB, 2 H) and Storen & Soriano have been struggling, why shouldn't he be the closer with the other two pitching the 7th & 8th? Isn't he in the best shape so far. I watched his 3 K inning on Saturday (yes, there was a BB, but nothing came of it), and he looked great.

With established players, like Soriano, Storen and Clippard, you don't just start juggling them around based on a few sptring training games. Soriano has had a poor spring but it's a tiny data sample and I think it would be very difficult to have anybody else as your Opening Day closer if a $28-million investment says he's ready. One of the hiccups that could bother the Nats in April is if Soriano has a couple of early blown saves because he hasn't pitched much and has had the root canal/wisdom tooth issue.

I don't think you'll see the real Soriano until the real season. DC has little sense of how good his career has been __because he's been a lot of places. When he was a Brave he gave the Nats fits. The last 3 years in the A.L. East he's had a 2.50 ERA in 175 games. On paper, he's the best reliever the Nats have ever had. He's got mileage on him. But if he's still himself, he'll be excellent in regular season.

Johnson mentioned, "Soriano has a lot of pitches." I worry about relievers who have 'a lot of pitches' when they get deep into the post-season __LCS or Series. I saw Braves relievers of that type (like Jeff Reardon) who didn't have one dominant pitch, struggle to close the biggest series in October. But that is a looooong way off. And Soriano has been effective in 9 post-season games.

Since the ravens wasted all their money on Joe Flacco, and will probably have a losing season, don't you think the Redskins are now the superior franchise?

Amazing to watch th4e exodus in Baltimore. I suspect we've all seen the photo-shopped "Ravens Team Picture for '13" with Flacco sitting in the middle of an otherwise empty set of bleachers.

The Ravens are one of the best-run franchises in any sport. Their Super Bowl success will buy them time to rebuild. And because they have always been patient they'll continue that method. But, man, they REALLY need to rebuild. The Redskins have taken steps to show they may be better run. After the salary cap hit goes away __which will probably insulate Shanahan from a lot of criticism next year if things don't go well__ then the '14 season may give us a read on where the Redskins really are as an organization. RGIII has so much impact __and was such a GREAT trade decision by the organization__ that he was probably reasons 1-2-and-3 for the NFC East title this season.

When evaluating the Skins, a lot of people forget that RGIII did not fall in their lap in the draft. They went out and traded an ENORMOUS amount of draft-pickl value to get him. It was a huge gamble. The history of QB's drafted No. 1 or 2 overall should be enough to scare anybody. But the Skins (Shanahans) trusted their eyes and NFL coahing instincts and made a monster deal that EVERYBODY would now praise.

So, two sides of the Shanny coin. He gets the most credit for signing off on Trade for RGIII. But he also gets the raspberry for not finding a way to include himself among those responsible for RGIII playing too long against Seattle. RGIII and doctors also get blame. But, with a rookie QB, that is ultimately a coach's call. If RGIII is in his fifth year, maybe he has "earned the right" to make such decisions __entirely on his own. But in his FIRST playoff game? Outside DC, where Skins loyalty has great weight, you're not going to find many people who are not rolling their eyes at Shanny's comments the other day.

It's hard to believe that 5 years in a row can be bad luck, but VCU was a team of destiny and FGCU is starting to look that way, too. (And losing last year to NC State wasn't great, but it wasn't a huge choke. NC State almost beat Kansas in the Sweet 16.) Does Georgetown have a real problem in the tournament? Are they the Oakland A's of the NCAA? Or is it possible that they've have some tough matchups against underseeded opponents, and just haven't survived because they haven't had a Final Four quality team since, well, their last Final Four team?

JTIII is an excelleent technical coach. His teams have consistently finished higher in the regular season rankings than his recrutiing classes have ranked (according to ESPN and Rivals ranking services). In other words, he has improved the players he has gotten  __at least relative to "experts" predictions.

He can coach 'em. But almost all his basic ideas about basketball go back to his brilliant Princeton coach Pete Carril, not his father JTII. Carril wanted a slower tempo, less possessions per game for both teams but much higher offensive efficiency by his teams. It works. It's an excellent basketball concept. ESPECIALLY when you are playing treams of equal talent to your or superior talent. It's one weakness __and you can't have everything both ways in sports__ is that it makes you significantly more vulnerable to weaker team because you have "shortened the game." By reducing the data sample, you introduce more outlier results.

That can't explain FIVE such huge upsets relative seeding positions. But it is part of the reason that the Hoyas are inherently more vulnerable in a short sudden-death March Madness seeting than they are in a long Big East season where they can lose some games and still come out on top in the standings.

Big John had just the opposite philosophy __end to end pressure defense as an option when needed, plus constantly pushing for a faster tempo, mpore possessions, a bigger data sample and a greater probability that the "better team" wins.

If the Hoyas could just get past the first weekend, I think they style of play and JTIII's coaching instincts would do extremely well deeper in March because his "effeciency" would tend to show itself against equal-or-better teams. Remember, they did make a Final Four.

Sop, my thought on the Hoyas five ugly loses __and this really is remarkably bad__ is that it's partly the fault of the Carril less-possessions philosophy (which lets inferior teams have a better upset chance), it's partly just dumb bad luck (and exceptional play by Davidson, FGCU, etc) and it's partly some X Factor that I'm clueless about. But five is a TREND. It needs an explanation and from JTIII perspective, it needs a constructive analysis of how to tweak the Hoyas style of play for future NCAA tournaments. My first thought is that, late in the Big East season or Big East tournament, JTIII can emphasis some faster-tempo approaches so that they are a more realistic option if the Hoyas find themselves in Early Round Trouble. Also, faster tempo and more possession also produces more exhaustion and forces the underdog to go deeper down it's bench to 7th, 8th, 9th men who can't match a GU. (Or else end the games with exhausted starters on the folour). Plus, faster tempo is more likely to cause foul trouble for both teams, which usually hurts the underdog worse.

I watched the GU-FGCU tape again and it was fairly clear that as soon as GU put on more full-court pressure, they cut the FGCU lead from 19 to four. I may write about this at more length and less off-the-cuff. Thanks for the question.         

Tom, should the Capitals sign Mike Ribeiro to a long term contract? Thanks, John

This is a tough one. I've been mulling it, chatting with Katie Carrera about it at a game recently. I'd lean toward "Yes." The Caps can't afford "rebuilding years" right now while the Ovechkin-Backstrom window is still (theoretically) open. How can you let a veteran like Ribeiro, who's produced and fit in well with the team, gets away and just assume "oh, we'll find a way to replace him AND add enough additional talent to get back to being a playoff team NEXT season."

You can't make moves that diminish your chances the next two seasons while Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich could still adapt to Oates new system and make a jump up next season. You have to keep the window open as long as possible and let this group play out its fate. (It's not like you are likely to find a trade partner for Ovechkin. So, what's your alternative?)

Sometimes, you have to reason backwards. The Caps need to find out if they have a first-rate coach in Oates, who is extremely hockey-smart and detailed in his approach. He's not an easy coach "pick up quickly" in a lockout-shortened season with almost no preparation. You just HAVE to give him a fair chance. What, get ANOTHER coach? Well, if you keep Oates, then you keep GMGM who hired him, believes in him, etc. To give '13-'14 that "fair chance" to measure the Oates system, you need to let him work with the same best players he had this year __plus net additions through less injuries. That means keep Ribeiro.

(This seems so logical. Which probably means it's wrong. The OTHER argument is that 1) the window has already closed. 2) GMGM needs to go. 3) By the time you're good again Ribeiro will be too old to be worth his congtract. But I doubt many Caps fans want to throw in the towell on this era yet.) 



Mr. B: OK, if it isn't JTIII being a good regular-season coachk but a poor tournament coach, what is it? It's happened to many times now to be considered a fluke.

"See above."

No, five is too many times for it to be a fluke. It's a pattern. So, "we're doing everything right. No need to change anything" is almost certainly the wrong appraoch.

That's what the Capitals (GMGM and BB) said after the Game Seven loss to Montreal. The problems didn't go away by acting like they didn't exist.

BUT there is also enormous evidence __top 10 rankings, Big East titles__ that JTIII is not just a good coach but a VERY good coach. But with one BIG area that needs thought __the first week of March Madness. It's a good thing he's smart because this one is a true brain twister. 

It kind seems to me that Davey may be grooming Eck to be the next manager now that Bo is gone. I know that Randy and Trent have AAA managerial experience but seems like Davey has gone out of his way to protect and mentor Eckstein. Thoughts?

Actually, Johnson has re4spected Eckstein from the beginning and didn't think he needed to be protected or mentored. He just thought Eck needed to be SUPPORTED __which he definitely wasn't before. But, no, I don't think Rick has managerial aspirations at this point. Davey would say he's a state of the art hitting coach and be happy you have him.

Until the Nats find a new spring home why don't they get a big ole chopper and fly the team to away games?

Great idea!

(Are YOU paying for it? Then it might happen.)

Oh, and where does the chopper land when it gets where it's going? Aren't there usually "pads?"

Gotta say that NOBODY has mentioned this. So, there must be a big obvious idea why it's ridiculous. (Besides cost. Oh, and maybe "danger," though driving at high speeds in Florida is about as dfangerous as it gets.) Anybody know enough about big choppers (or a couple of 'em) to help with The Obvious Reason This Is A Bad Idea.

Tom, I'm sure you've heard lots of frustrations with the new Nats Access program & cards, so I won't add my litany. But I have 2 questions: (1) What's going to happen on Opening Day when season ticket holders and members of their groups show up, either without their Access Cards (because they haven't arrived in the mail) or with cards that don't include the Opening Day game tho the cardholder thinks it does? Do the Nats have advice (like bring a paper copy of your ticket, but how do you do that?) or a contingency plan? (2) Is there any way to get more detailed information on working through the registration and ticket distribution process than just the list of FAQs on their website, or the chat that Dan Steinberg held with Andy Feffer nearly 2 weeks ago? The level of detail and help available is appalling.

I'm a small part of a season-ticket group. We seem to be squared awaqy, but we have a very smart guy leading the group. Even he thought it was complex. And he also noted that he thinks the Nats have significantly devalued the Red Carper Rewards for season tickets holders.

I answered him and said I wanted to be a "partner" with him __meaning I get all the new stuff, gizmos and ID cards to figure out. He wrote back: "No, you don't. You want me to print out the tickets and mail them to you so you don't have to figure all this out." Or words to that effect.

Good luck. If it works, it sounds like it would increase efficiency in getting people into the park and through concession/mercahndise lines faster since many of the 20,000 season-ticket-equizalent fans would be processed almost instantly. We'll know, for better or worse, very soon. 

Tom, love the chats: I have the Nats down for 210 home runs this year, led by Harper with 36, desi 28, LaRoche and Espi 26, cathcers, 25, and the bench, including call-ups, 25. What do you think?

I think relatively few fans kn ow that the Nats ended up with 194 homers last year, second to the Reds in the N.L. They are a power team as well as a picthing and defense team.

OTOH, if Span hits only a few homers this year and Werth's power is down so that he hit 10-to-15, not 20-to-25, then that means you are getting <20 homers from the No. 1-2 spots in your order in perhaps >1300 plate appearances (if both stay healthy). That is a lot of power sacrificed in the name of a more versatile, less-K-prone lineup that may p;erform better in low-scoring post-season games.

Michael Morse had six homers in his first 39 at bats for Seattle in spring training. He was a big presence when he played last year. So, one of the questions for the season is whether improving outfield defense and Little Ball ability at the top of the Nats order is worth the subtraction of the Terror Factor that we saw the second half of last year when the order began: Werth, Harper, Z'man, LaRoche, Morse, Desmond, Espinosa.

Harper should hit more HRs, Espinosa may and Ramos, when he plays, will produce more than Flores did last year. But I'd say that the "chemistry" or lack of it at the top of the Nats order will be one of the interesting questions in April. 

BTW, Sp;an's on-base percentage in Florida is .357, almost exactly his career average. That's his only offensive muber that matters __okay, except runs and enough steals to be a nuisance. He takes a lot of pitches in spring training, which tends to mean more walks and let hits __and that's what it's been so far with nine walks but a .234 average. He's looked like he's starting to lock in better in recent days.

If this is in fact Davey's last ride than these young kids better sponge up everything the old man has to offer. It will be hard to replace things like fundementals of doing proper pivot when turning two to hitting tips learned from Aaron and Oh. Do you think this it if they don't go all the way?

The plans are that Davey will be back with the Nats next year, and maybe for plenty of years, as an advisor to Rizzo. He just won't be the manager. This wouldn't work if he were 50 or 60. Too much pressure on the new manager. Presumably, at 71 next year, it wouldn't be an issue. Hmmmmm. Or not much of one.

Davey can still pass on what he learned first hand from  mentors or teammates Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Sadahara Oh, Bill Mazeroski, Bobby Richardson, Brooks Robinson, Luis Aparicio, Frank Robinson and many others. Yes, it's a ridiculous list. In his 20's, Davey'd hunt 'em down and practically force 'em to teach him. Or maybe he gave them golf tips.

Why can't I get Kyle Lohse signed to a deal?!

Because you screwed up big time and now (a couple of days ago) say that "We" have Lohse right where "we" want him to be.

Oh, unemployed.

Scott likes "recording setting" or "precedent sertting" deals. Sometimes, in the opinion of some in baseball, he does it at the risk of his client's well-being.

One MLB All-Star told me this spring, "Michael Bourn WANTED to go back to Atlanta. And they wanted him. But Scott always seems to want his players to 'test the market.' Now Michael is locked up in Cleveland with a losing team for 5 years? And the Braves have B.J. Upton who probably isn't as good as Bourn was. How well did that work out for everybody (except Boras)?" 

Everybody has an opinion on Boras, including the view that he's The Best if you want The Most.

I need you, right now, to officially go on record with your Bryce Harper triple slash and HR predictions for this year...

Pure WAG, if healthy, .290/.360/.510. OPS: .870. 

But he has certainly looked better than that in Florida, both in games I saw there and several on TV. He's had better plate coverage, experimented with different approaches and has killed the ball to the opposite field and CF.

Pick one - Nationals postseason wins or Redskins regular season wins...

At even money, this is a great (sucker) bet, imo. It sounds sensible/even, but is really tilted WAY toward the Skins.

If Skins even go 6-10, it's much more likely that Skins have as many or more wins as Nats. Because Nats have to go to Woirld Series just to get to seven wins. And odds on Nats going to WS are only about 4-to-1 (75% chance they won't).

Skins could go 4-12 and Nats would still need to go to Game Six of NLCS to win the bet, 5-4.

So, gimme the Skins.

But NICE premise.

Which player would you rather have on the Nationals at this point, Bryce Harper or Mike Trout?

Trout has already had an AMAZING season (at 21). Harper, who had a very good season at 20, is still TRYING to have an amazing year at 21.

So, I think the logical __totally unemotional answer is Trout.

So, how are they doing this spring?

Trout: .384 avg, .508 on-base%, .550 slug = 1.168 OPS

Harper: .431/. 459/.707 = 1.166 OPS!!!

Does anybody think these two don't keep their eye on what the other is doing like Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, Williams and DiMaggio, Mays and Mantle, Giffey Jr and Bonds? They aren't at those levels yet, of course, but they may be someday.

Come on, Opening Day!

And it can stop snowing at my housed right now, please.

Got brought back on a minor league deal by the Yankees. Pretty amazing.

Great story if he makes it back.

But how desperate are the Yankees?

Did you see that Matt Capps did not make the major league roster for the Cleveland Indians? The Ramos trade looks better and better.

Everybody took note in Viera.

A look at Rizzo's trade-sign-and-draft "batting average" would be intereting. Here's what's hard to find: a bad one. Except Werth, if you look at striaght stats. As Adam Kilgore's story on Werth on Sunday showed, there's a LOT of hard-to-measure value in Werth. And he was a turning point for the franchise and clubhouse culture. 

I can't believe Dr. Andrews said that. Whatever happened to doctors that were cautious and sober ? And can we all just tamper down expectations with this guy ? It isn't doing him any good for all of us to regard him as our god and savior in the religion of the NFL.

Severla people have a big investment in RGIII making a "complete" or "amazing" or "superhuman" recovery because they look like dopes if he doesn't.

I actually thought Shanahan's comments on RGIII the other day __on whether he'd be back for the season opener__ were code for "maybe, but don't bet on it" as opposed to code for "yeah, probably."

I've listened to a lot of coaches in a lot of sports try to hint at the most likely outcomes __setting the stage. After reading Shanahan's comments, my reaction was, "Uh oh, this injury was worse than they let on. His recovery is really, really good but from a really, really bad starting point that they underplayed."

We'll see. That's just tea-leaf quote reading.

Dan Haren has not had a good spring. Should we be concerned?

His stuff looked decent in his last start __touched 91, good moveemnt on pitches that complimented eachother.

But he's nowhere close to the old Dan Haren now. Good teams will still probably give him a hard time, like the Barves did in his last start __5 1/3 IP and four erarned runs, even when he has his normal stuff.

Right now, he looks like what they expected: a replacement for a 10-11 pitcher.

That's it for today. Many thanks. And, yes, Tiger really looks like he's got the Masters in his sights.


With Jim Larranaga returning to the scene of his greatest triumph, is it finally okay to root for a Miami team?

I will be!

That was a funny comment. Perhaps that person didn't notice that the Ravens have picked up three solid players this off-season for the defensive front, including Elvis Dumervil, who's actually better than the guy he's replacing. They probably didn't also notice that the Ravens have 12 draft picks and unlike certain teams in the I-95 corridor, know how to use them effectively. They might want to wait before making those kind of comments.

Super Bowl champs deserve the last word __for this year, at least.

Update: Kyle Lohse just signed with Milwaukee

Just saw it! Good for Lohse. Love real time chats!

Still a long road for the Brewers with MLB looking at Ryan Braun under a microscope and Greinke gone. (He was 9-3 in Milw last year before trade. So Lohse replaces some of that.) Cheers.

I just got the Brewers to sign Lohse for three years and $33 million. How am I doing now?

Not too well. Bourn in Cleveland, Lohse in Milwaukee. Both on post-season teams last year. They can send eachother condolence cards. 

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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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