Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jul 08, 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

Tom, A great thing about tennis is the way rivals emerge. Federer faced Nadal, Nadal faced Djokovic, and now Djokovic faces Murray. There are always new guys to take the place of the old guard. The rises and falls seems to happen so fast.

And yet so slowly, too. I was the Post's tennis writer during much of Ivan Lendl's era at or near the top. Now he's Murray's coach! (And my middle name is Murray, of the Scottish Murrays, so you know who I was rooting for.)

I'm not sure tennis has ever produced a more emotionally satisfying GAME (vs an entire match) than the final Murray-Djokovic game with three fought-off championship points and three break points. Loved the total SILENCE from McEnroe the whole time that 40-0 turned into 40-40. "I held my breath as long as I could," he finally said. "Oh, man, I can't believe this is not over yet."

Murray was SO open afterwards. "I've no idea what happened (on the last point). I can't remember." And his response to being told how wrenching it was to watch the last game -- the understated, "Imagine playing it."

Long ago, at Lendl's press conferences we tried to dream up questions that might make him change his expression. He actually smiled a lot more then -- in the sense that he NEVER smiles now. I liked him a lot, a very nice serious man.

The best match I ever covered was McEnroe's five-set masterwork over Borg in '81 to break Bjorn's 41-match Wimbledon streak on July 4th. Looked back at my lede. "LONDON, July 4, 1981 -- On this Fourth of July, America's tempestuous tennis fighter, John McEnroe, declared his independence from the King of Sweden, Bjorn Borg."

Gee, I thought my lede was better than that! It should have been after THAT match. But maybe it's also nice to know you weren't so good back then.   

Is this the turnaround we've all been waiting for?

Baseball hates a straight line.

Those foul lines -- straight, in theory, all the way to the horizon -- are misleading. The game prefers indirection, confussion, surprise -- usually. This feels move like The Turn than any of the previous 17 times. But you still never know.

Plenty of teams have gotten hot even later -- IF they were only four games back. The Nats incredible good luck at being so close after playing so badly is really the undercurrent of their season. Do they capitalize on it or throw away such a good break?

Nats have been excellent in 1-run games: 16-10. Braves have huge run differential because they win HUGE when they win -- by 108-22 in their 11 most lopsided wins. That's their whole run diffeerential and more. They are a all-or-nothing HR-or-K lineup.

Facing Lann, Hammels and Lee (all LH) the next three ames will be another test, especially with Haren and Taylor Jordan the next two nights. The Nats have hit badly vs LHers and on the road all year. Will that change, too. If so, then maybe their bottom was 34-36 (70 games). Since then, 11-6.

Boz - In today's column you made reference to "when ownership nudges Johnson into retirement after this season." What I recall hearing from Davey more than once prior to this is that he's retiring because his wife has been pushing him to. Is there a story here that hasn't gotten out yet? Thanks for the chats. JJ, Section 405.

For several months it's been coming out a bit at a time that while Davey is on board with retiring it doesn't seem he really has a choice. He started hinting in spring training. And Mike Wise had good quotes in a column a week or so ago. Davey's not lobbying to come back. As I explained in last week's chat, the Nats think they have a wide window to contend for the next several years, at least, and you want -- at some point -- to have a manager-of-the-future for 3-to-5 years or, in your derams, 10+ years like Bobby Cox, LaRussa, Torre, Scioscia. When do you do it? After '13 is as good a time as any. If Nats somehow still make WS this year, then the next manager still has to WIN a WS. So, there is a logical "project" for him. If they don't make playoffs, then making a change seems logical.  

So if it were up to you, who would you send down to make room on the roster?

The Hairston are one of the great baseball families. Three generations and five Hairstons. Very classy. Scott hit 20 homers LAST year. And his .244/.299/.448 career line is productive for a bench player who even started in CF 11 times last year. You can give Span a day off against a tough lefty and put Hairston in CF once in a while if you want.

It's a very strong pickup. And it has implications, imo. Hairston is on a two-year deal thru '14 at $2.5M-a-year. So that means the Nats are committed to him for '14 if he works out reasonably well. Obviously, the odd man out is Tyler Moore. He now becomes a viable trade piece, imo. If you have Hairston, LaRoche and Span all under contract through '14, then there is really no room for TMo at either 1st or LF until '15. And he'll be 28 by then. However, he showed so well last year and has such big minor league #s with back-to-back 31 HR years that somebody should find him useful. 

Also, by '15 the Nats may want to move Zimmerman to 1st, so that's another reason Moore wouldn't be able to play his only natural position. 

Fans will like Scott Hairston. Wish I had a link to my October '11 post-season piece on his brother Jerry, then with the Brewers, and all the generations of Hairstons.  

Don't know if you saw this but Deadspin posted a picture this morning of Babe Ruth after he knocked himself out running facefirst into the concrete wall at Griffith Stadium. Those Harper/Ruth comparisons are getting more amazing every day:

Haven't see it. Thanks for link for our chatters.

Boz, I have a question that has bothered me for a long time. Why is it that baseball fields are all different shapes and sizes. Any other sport, football, soccer, hockey, basketball, even tennis, all the fields/courts are the same dimensions regardless of location. I understand that in the old days baseball fields were frequently designed to fit into small spaces in cities, but, why does that continue today when land is purchased and stadiums designed from scratch.

Because baseball is more interesting than other sports.

And it knows it. It isn't the most purely athletic, though it is very athletic. But it is the most mentally stimulating and rich to watch/analyze/be a fan of. Obviously just my opinion, but a lifelong one. So baseball keeps the aspects of the game that add to that complexity and interest.

It looks as if the Capitals are going to stand pat in free agency. Do they have anyone in the pipeline to replace the players they lost?

I doubt that the Caps are a team that is good enough -- in either quality or depth of talent -- to stand pat and go anywhere very exciting next year. And the clock is ticking on the "Young no-longer-young Guns."  But it doesn't look like they intend to do anything major. They don't see value at present. And they didn't go after their second-leading point man Mike Ribeiro (49 in 48 games) at the logical time -- IN season last year.

Still a good team. But now in a MUCH tougher division. Not a cheerful development in my book. Hope I'm wrong.

Why, oh why, would the Nats re-activate Dan Haren off the DL? Haven't we seen enough? He is not going to get better. He is not going to stop giving up HRs. Time to admit it was mistake to sign him and go with the younger pitchers who actually have performed pretty well.

It's good to give Haren another one or two starts (tonight and Saturday at Miami) to see if his "side sessions" really did produce a tweak in his off-speed pitches that makes them a bit slower so there is a bigger "gap" in speed between his fastball/cutter and his split. I touched base with him briefly yesterday and he mentioned that he thinks the "bigger gap" is the fix he needs. (That and the time off.)

Objectively, I doubt it. And I think the worst thing the Nats can do is delay a trade for a fifth starter while they wait and wait for their $13M Haren investment to pay off. If they wait until AFTER the AS break when Haren probably wouldn't start again until July 22/23, then it may be too late to get anybody decent. The O's already got Feldman for Arrieta -- a move I mentioned here as being a good fit for both teams -- in what I think will work out well for the Birds. The Nats don't want to be left at the church on Garza and others.

I've ALWAYS wanted to start a blue-sky rumor based on nothing but my own logic. So here's my contribution to disinformation for today!

If the Rays have an awful July and become possible sellers -- a long shot in itself since they are 49-40 --they have interesting questions to answer when they look at the next couple of years. The Rays have an imncredible number of key players who are in their walk year and they are concentrated in two roster areas -- LF/1B bat and middle infield. They have tons of pitching, on hand and coming in future. Right now,  Zobrist (2B), Loney (1st), Escobar (SS), KJohnson (LF) and Luke Scott (DH) are ALL in their walk year.

The Nats now have a surplus with the addition of Scott Hairston as RH OF bat, so Tyler Moore is a trade piece.  Danny Espinosa has just gone 10-for-21 (with an 8-for-12 included) in his last six games, so it looks like he may have fixed some of his hitting problems. If that continues and he puts together a good 50+ AB stretch he may regain some of his trade value. The Nats also got A.J. Cole back in trade and he has value. If not Cole, then there is also Lucas Giolito, though I don't think Nats would consider dealing him now that he is back from TJ surgery and pitching in m inors again.

The Rays big prize is David price who is under team control through '15. Put him with Z'mann, Strasburg and GioG, who are all under control through '15 (or much longer) and that's an amazing Top Four. What wouldn't you give for that?

Ross Detwiler is under team control through '15, just like Price and is an established solid LHer. Espinosa is under control through '16 and Moore through '18. Would the rays be interested in all those years of reasonably low-cost control of Detwiler, Espinosa (2B/SS) and Moore (1B/LF/DH) plus a top prospect pitcher like Cole?

To those who think this is "not enough," consider that if you made it Detwiler, Espinosa, Moore and Giolito for 2 1/2 years of Price, I think the Rays would be crazy to turn it down and the Nats crazy to offer it.

So, this month, as well as later in the season or off-season, if Moore, Espinosa, Detwiler, plus a farmhand pitcher perform well and build their value, I see know reason why Nats couldn't be players for Price. All pure speculation. But that is a big part of the fun of baseball. 

I don't get the Scott Hairston deal. I assume he'll take either Tracy's or (more likely) Moore's spot on the roster. But, given the Nats more pressing needs (i.e., 1-2 starting pitchers), why did they waste time on this?

Fans know their own teams. GM's know the whole sport. Rizzo was with Arizona when they first drafted Hairston. He KILLS LHed pitching. That's why they got him. Last year in 189 at bats vs LHers, Hairston had 11 homers, 30 RBI and hit .286/.317/.550 for a .867 OPS. To get a sense of it, triple all those #s for a full season of ~567 abs. It's 30 HR, 90 RBI.

Hairston is not hitting against ANYBODY this year in limited use. But Moore has THE LOWEST WAR of any player in baseball the last time I look -- something like a -1.7 WAR, meaning he's cost the nats 1.7 wins vs a replacement player (ie., any good AAA hitter).

Hairston has much more of a MLB track record than Moore, so you'd guess he'd be more likely to "figure it out" at 33 and start hitting well again vs LHer than Moore who went 0-for-4 yesterday and still seems lost at the plate. The previous five years Hairston's had 13, 11, 17, 17 and 20 homers. That's plenty of pop.

Also, both last year and this, Moore has had REVERSE splits vs LH/RH pitching. He does NOT hit LHers well. Last year he was bettere in OPS .929 to .780 vs RHers and this year he's been less awful vs Rhers .541 to .401.

So, simplest form, CAREER Hairston hits .816 (OPS) vs LHers with a long track record -- that's VERY good --while career Moore has a lousy .652 OPS vs. MLB LHers.

So, on paper, it's an appropriate trade. But, obviously, only if Hairston reverts to career-long form and Moore does not get traded and become Josh Willingham.

Most likely, Hairston plays now, Moore has time to get fixed, as Espinosa may have, at AAA.

The main point: The Lerners were willing to throw about $3.75M at Hairston (when his stock was low) to ADD a piece at the MLB level at no significant cost except a minor league pitcher who is NOT rated, as of today,  as one of the 20 top Nats prospects.

Boz, Will the Wiz be more fun to watch the is year? Do you think their chances of nabbing a playoff spot are mostly dependent on injuries to Wall and Nene?

Yes, they'll be a lot more fun to watch. Happy they got Porter. Glad they signed Martell Webster, a really really smart coach on the floor with a three-point shot and still young. A real leader. Randy finally changed the culture there last year, I think. Well, it's changed as long as Wall is still "with the program" -- and I assume he is. He finally "got it" and was wonderful the last 20 games. Nene is an adult. This is a team that you can now invest in emotionally, imo, regardless of record. Okay, not TOTALLY regardless of record. But they deserve support. To me, at least, they don't HAVE to make the playoffs next year. They need to learn to play NBA level basketball TOGETHER. If they do, that can produce a bunch of satisfactory seasons.

Editor's note: The original post said Marvin Webster. It has been corrected to Martell Webster.

How do you expect the Nats to align their rotation coming out of the upcoming All-Star Break? I'm a displaced fan who will be in town for the series with LA and the game I choose to attend depends somewhat on who is pitching for us in those contests...

Sorry, nobody knows yet, I assume. More important to Nats fans (though not to you) is whether Haren has pitched himself into or out of that post-AS picture in the next six days.

Nats have been outscored 41-90 in Haren's 15 starts. That is incredibly horrid and has also burned up the bullpen. They are 4-11 in his starts. If they had gone 7-8 or 8-7 in those games -- reasonable expectations when Haren signed -- they be one game behind Atlanta or tied for 1st in the NL East.

Haren and fifth starter are the Nats biggest problem BY FAR. Now that they are hitting far better, it may be the only problem. Mattheus will be back after AS game which should allow bullpen to go back to its Best Scenario roles. Haren is THE PROBLEM in '13, dwarfing lots of other smaller (but real) problems like Bad Bench, Z'man throws, teamwide bad nerves early. 

BTW, Nats could move up in offensive ranking by a LOT very quickly. They were 29th a few days ago in runs-per-game. Just to illustrate how far they have come already, if they score as many runs in the four game series in Philly as they just scored in their last four games (32), they would move up to 4.02 runs-a-game and move up 10 spots in 10 days to 19th overall. And, if they do that, either in Philly or fairly soon, maybe in M iami over the weekend, the teams they'd pass in scoring would include the Dodegrs, Pirates, Phils, Giants, Yankees and Brewers.

According to high placed sources, Cliff Lee has informed the Phillies he'll waive his no trade clause for the Nationals. Will the price be to high?

The price would be high TO THE NATS. Lee is owed >$62M between now and the end of '15 when Lee will be 37 by the end of that season.

Frankly, I wouldn't give a lot for Lee. I think he and Werth are friends. He'd be a leader. But that's a ton of money tied up at a time you want to extend Zimmermann and Desmond -- or you should want to. It's not a gamble, it's more like buy-a-flag Russian Roulette. I sur wouldn't give anything like Detwiler-Espinosa-Moore-plus-Cole.

Got to admit that Espinosa would give them a high-quality defender at SS or 2B who would probably hit 20 HR, steal 20 bases in Philly park -- if early returns from his AAA hitting have any meaning. Michael Young is in walk year. So Utley might go to third in '14 with Espinosa as 2nd baseman now and heir to Rollins at SS. Moore would fit in their OF which is one bat short of a load. And his pull stroke is made for Philly, like Pat Burrell. But you can't give up Detwiler. 

FIX: I meant Martell Webster, of course. Man, talk about dating yourself with a Marvin (The Human Eraser) Webster brain cramp. 

MLB seems to be making a special effort to promote Puig for the final spot, three tweets about him yesterday; none about the other four NL candidates. If they want him that badly why not institute a next-to-last spot for whoever they want to pick for marketing purposes?

Puig is amazing. I dug out every Dodger highlight that involved Puig since he came up. One of the GREAT arms. BTW, I saw the Macado throw from the third base coaches box on tape. THE best throw I have ever seen a third baseman make. I've been raving about his arm in these chats. He just whips it with total confidence. But that throw really showed off the pure power of his arm. You're seeing levels of talent now in this next generation that baseball may never have had before.

In watching the highlights I noticed that he's an unusual hitter -- his power is to the opposite field on OFFSPEED pitches. He's only hit one of his eight homers on a pitch that got to 90 mph -- and that was sliced near the RF foul pole. But he kills everything off speed the other way. Also, he lives to hit the first strike he sees and will chase bad balls. BUT he never misses what he swings at -- if it is a strike! So, you have hope against him -- but maybe not much!

I suspect the evolving book on Puig -- because he is NOT going to hit .409 for his career -- is that you may not stop him but you can probably keep him in the ballpark by busting him inside with fastball -- not just up and in b ut anywhere "in" -- and going soft away outside the strike zone. He can smoke that inside fastball to the third b aseman, but it usually on the ground. Your 3rd baseman may be hospitalized, but you might get him out.

Notice that Puig went KKKK a couple of nights ago, three of the Ks vs Bumgarner who is good at gettin g inside on RHers and then going soft away out of zone.

Yasiel's splits are insane: 18-for-23 on 0-0 pitches, 11-for-16 on 1-0 with five homers and five doubles!!!

But if you get him to two strikes, he's as helpless as anybody else: .151/.182/.208 in 48 at bats after having two strikes.

But how do you GET him to two strikes!

A note on Ian Desmond. I looked at tape of every Nats homer this year, too. ESPN's home run tracker site is a lot of fun. You can call up replay of any homer. A dozen years or so ago that is what Greg Maddox did every day by watching ESPN highlights for one reason -- to find out on what pitch and in what location every HR in MLB was hit! Desmond is the most pronounced-tendency Nat. He has 15 homers this year and 14 of them have been on off-speed pitches, either curves or changeups. What happened to "Ian Desmond dead-red first-pitch fastball hitter."

Hi, Tom - I'm sure you remember Don "Full Pack" Stanhouse ... think Davey knows how Earl felt much??

Yes. But Rafael Soriano is a pleasure to watch work. He scares you. But he can really pitch to spots, read hitter's bats from the previous pitch and -- since his April problems -- usually miss off the plate, not back over it. He's VERY underrated. He only had four blown saves all of last year with Yanks. Has four so far this year. Don't think he'll have many more with the command he's had for the last many weeks. (But he ONLY likes pitching in save situations for which he has about 15 rituals on the mound, ending with the "shirt tail out" celebration. In all other spots, like tied in the 9th ot 10th, he doesn't seem to have his various prayers, postures and flair.)

So Arod is playing single A ball. Are the Yankees sending him a message?

A message? They'd like to send him to Siberia, and his contract with him.

A-Rod may still be better -- less bad -- than anything the yanks have at third now. So we haven't seen the last of him.

But you have to love Cashman going on the record with a reporter saying that A-Rod should "STFU." Never thought I'd see the day a GM would say that for the record to a 600 homer player! (Glad I did. The Yanks are such fun.) 

Tom, your column this morning got me wondering whether there is a WAR-related metric for managers. Something that compares a manager's win/loss ratio over the years they've managed to what it should be based on their club's run differential.

It's been done. It's the supposed "luck" stat. But some think it's a tip off to superior managing. Weaver and Davey rank very high. The worst I could find, in MLB history, was Riggleman. When I told Rizzo (when Rig was still his manager), he was stumped for a response -- for about a second -- then he said, "I guess Rig's luck is due to change."

Am I the only one that is not a fan of the excessive noise (music, promotions, contests, etc.) at the Nationals games? Whatever happened to just an organ and a brief player intro with ten seconds of a song related to the player? Doubtful I'll go back, but do others enjoy the constant commotion?

Even I love most of the noise, especially the intro music. The PA guy is way too loud. But most of them are. It's seldom mentioned, but Nats Park has about as little garrish junk advertizing cluttering up the view as any modern park. That's on purpose. The All-Star game at the Mets house is the other extreme -- total vision overload with crud for sale everywhere you look. That alone is enough to knock Citi Field well back in the ballpark rankings.  

The most shocking thing about the All Star game is that three Orioles were voted on to the starting lineups! THREE! Voting usually goes to the most popular players, not necessarily the most deserving...right? When did the Orioles become so popular? Can you explain it?

Chris Davis is one of the stories of the year and Adam Jones is popular. But I was impressed that J.J. Hardy could get voted in. More O's fans are voting than buying tickets, but attendance is up, too. 

Boz, When I read that you said Davey Johnson "must have been a magnificent facilitator of juvenile delinquency as a teen," it really made me smile. Such writing is rare today, and even the Bog took notice. Thanks for writing so well and so often. You spoil us!

Thanks. I don't make myself smile much but I liked that. Hope Davey saw it since he was always proud of how much delinquency he facilitated -- at a lot of levels -- until he became so ridiculously mature in the last 10-15 years. 

Davey's World Series ambitions would be greatly enhanced by adding Cliff Lee to the starting rotation. Would Rizzo do it? Would Ruben Amaro? Would you? What would it take?

Hey, talk it up this week if Phils fall further b ack, courtesy of the Nats. This is one time that a team that wants to be a buyer can help- encourage a rival to be a seller. OTOH, there is a LONG tradition of not trading big stars within your division. I doubt this one would ever happen. Too many potential CYA problems.

Perhaps it's unfair/trivializing to link the two, but how in the world is Brazil going to pull off the World Cup if their reputation is "a ref stabbed a player and was then decapitated on the field"?

It may be unfair/trivializing but it certainly crossed my mind, too.


Tom, with all due respect, you can't honestly believe a package of Espinosa, Moore, and Detwiler brings back David Price. This is madness.

Read the further explanation in the chat. There has to be more -- Cole or Giolito, or Rendon in the discussion. But the Nats have the kind of pieces the Rays will soon need. And they only have Price for two more years. Remember, years-under-team-control is now a huge issue for teams with money issues. The Nats got Gio Gonzalez, after he'd been an All-Star, won 31 games in two years with an avg of 200K a year, for three prospects. No proven MLB experience at all. 

Boz, do you think Rizzo/DJ would prefer Harper NOT to be in the HRD due to the potential for injury? Is there much potential for such?

More likely to mess up your stroke. But the first time Davey ever met Harper he was a "judge" or trophy presenter at a Home Run contest in Florida. Asked yesterday about whether the HRD would mess up Bryce he basically said, paraphrase, "Nothing's gonna mess him up."

Boz, Here's the article you referenced:

Many thanks. Best chatters.

In your discussion of pieces available for trade, you haven't mentioned Storen. I think part of his problem this year is the result of "alpha male" problems in the bullpen (not that they haven't all been acting professionally about it). He's gone from playoff closer to substitute-for-Ryan Matheus-in-the-7th in less than a year, and signing Soriano had to have hurt. I think he's still going to be pretty good, but I don't think it'll be here. He would benefit from a change of scenery, and I think Rizzo can get some real value for him. - Section 405 (different from the JJ Section 405 who posted earlier)

Yes, Storen is interesting. Especially with Soriano signed for '14 and the arrival of Krol. But the Nats see Stoeren as part of their future. Just want to get him aggressive, attacking, trusting his basic sinker-slider stuff for lots of a dsdstrikes with the new changeup in his pocket for tough LHed hitters.

That's all for today. Many thanks. Sorry to go long.

What about Danny Espinosa for Ervin Santana? Ervin will be a free agent at the end of the year, so he would be a rental (which Rizzo doesn't like). But he eats innings like Prince Fielder at a breakfast buffet and the Royals need help at 2B. (Royals would probably have to throw in a mid-range prospect or two as well.)

Nice point. I keep noticing Santana, too.

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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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