Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Feb 23, 2015

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

Are you surprised that Matt Williams only got a two year deal with some options. I know they picked up the 2016 option, so he wouldn't be a lame duck, but the fact that he could have been (a lame duck) is shocking to me after the mess with a similar contract with Riggleman.

One of the Nats top people (years ago) told me, "The Lerners don't think anybody is worth more than three years (of security. That's just their position." He meant excluding players -- like the seven-year deals to Werth, Scherzer, Z'man extension.

If that view is actually accurate, it's not a bad policy, per se. But it may not be a wise one. If true, sooner or later it may cost them someone valuable.

Boz - Welcome back! What's up with the hating on Space Coast stadium? In the past the Nats said they wanted to be closer to other teams (Tampa) and now they are trying to go more south on 95 and bee even more isolated fromt the rest of the pack? Is there a back story here?

My understanding is that a move to the West Palm Beach region would be a big improvement. When Casey Janssen was asked about the spring training trips this team has to make he didn't say anything but you could tell he was biting his tongue. Other players know what the Nats endure. It's a disadvantage. Not huge. But big enough that it's pretty inexcusable that it hasn't been solved in 10 years.

Hey Bos, welcome back. Give us an under-the-radar story line for spring training. We know about Zim at first, Scherzer signing, Werth's shoulder recovery, the Harper next step story line, etc. What else should we be watching? -Eric

Can Ramos, Z'man, Werth and Harper -- who've all had significant injuries in more than one season in recent years -- stay healthy enough for this to be a good hitting team. The Nats STILL have no real bench pop to fill in for an injured everyday player. They had Sousa, but not any more. Tyler Moore is here. There's that. But there is no "bat" waiting in the minors to be brought up. It's pitchers, pitchers and more pitchers.

When the  Nats have a full lineup, they are a good--to-very-good offensive team. But subtract even one or two piece and they drop a long ways -- further than most good teams fall. Even vs the Giants I thought they missed Ryan Zimmerman's bat. It was an injury (shoulder) that prevented them from using their opening day lineup with Rendon at second and Z'man at third.

Can Rendon, Harper and Z'man drive in >250 runs. That's asking for something, but it's not asking for a lot. Werth, Desmond can do a solid job following them.

I don't think the Nats are searching for a trade, but if I had their roster with SIX starting pitchers and other arms in the minors, I'd be thinking hard about a trade, even a fairly big one, that added a left-handed bat. What would that trade be? With the Nats, there are so many options, so many moving pieces that it's almost paralyzing to think about the permutations. Rizzo is happy with what he has. But if everybody else sees a mediocre bench, a lineup that needs to stay healthy, a middling back of the bullpen and a defense that made mistakes in the playoffs, I'm sure he sees it.

I will add that even with ALL the injuries last year, the Nats were still No. 4 in the N.L. in runs scored and if you exclude the Rockies mile-high effect, which I do, they'd be third.    

Boz, Thank gosh for spring training is all I have to say! Enjoy Fla!

Yesterday it was a high of 84 at Space Coast with a breeze. Today is just as gorgeous. Then, after I go back tomorrow night, some rain may be coming in. I try not to mention how nice it is to my wife who isn't on this trip and has been coping with snow, ice and a few days ago "no water!" Luckily the water got fixed.

As I've said many times, Viera has interesting strengths for a fan as a ST site to visit. It's no garden spot. But that means, if you don't mind a 25-30 minute trip each way, you can stay at high rises on the beach with wonderful views in either Cocoa Beach or Melbourne Beach but not pay the insane prices for similar accommodations an fancier (and nicer) Florida beach spots. There's decent public golf and, after years with little more than Bonefish Willy's as a restaurant, lots of good places to eat now.

In short, the Nats next "home" will probably be "nicer." But you'll pay for it. Maybe I'm easily satisfied but I love it here. And you can't beat the access to players before and after practice because this is not a "hot spot."

I saw Jason Stark of ESPN here the other day. He's a workhorse. But I'm amused at all the cable TV pundits who act like they know everything about the Nats and in 10 years I've never actually seen one of them here.

Eric Byrnes, a look-at-me-hustle oops-I-just-ran-into-another-wall showboat as a player took the cake with his comment on MLB network: "It will be a complete colossal failure if (the Nationals) do not win the World Series this year."

So, that's why Vegas has 6-to-1 odds on 'em -- because they can't possibly lose? Maybe Eric just got it backwards and thought the line was 1-to-6. THAT would be a colossal failure.

Looking through your past columns I don't see much about the Washington Capitals, hockey being one of the most underrated sports. Do you think people are right when they say Alexander Ovechkin is overrated? Nicklas Backstrom not getting enough credit? And what do you think the Capitals chance is of winning the Stanley Cup?

I follow the Caps -- lotta TV time invested with no return in terms of columns this season. The Wiz have interested me more, because they may be a team on the rise, while the Caps appear to be a team, under Trotz, that is making the most out of what it has -- including a good season for Ovechkin -- but isn't likely to set the world on fire. They've gone from a Window Open franchise to just another good Longshot Chance to play for a Cup. They are slightly worse off in the standings than it appears because so many teams have games in hand (Detroit and Rangers both have four in hand to add points). You're looking at something as low as a possible seventh seed.

You're right, Backstrom is probably the most under-rated, or at least under-praised player in any sport in DC.Wonderful all-around player. A couple of years ago the Caps were really worried about his concussion issue. Now, he's at his peak again.

Speaking of the Wiz -- (see how I did that) -- they are in danger of a real collapse to fifth or even sixth seed; they only lead Milwaukee by 1 1/2 games.

Six weeks I wrote a column about how their fast start -- 19-6 and still 22-11 when I wrote -- was probably part illusion because their basic strength under the Simple Rating System (basketball-reference.com) showed then as a 49-50 win team that was winning all its close games, playing a lot at home and facing a weak schedule

I expected reversion, but I didn't expect THIS. Beal is out. But a good NBA team isn't supposed to get blown out back-to-back by the Cavs and Pistons just because they are down a man. The +/- on Paul Pierce (-17) and Garrett Temple (-27) was amazingly bad against the Pistons. Nene,  no-show. Otto Porter, 20 minutes, one bucket. I saw the Cavs game on TV down here; man, if you meet them in the first round it could be over quick.

Wittman is a good coach, in my book, but he's going to be tested now. It seems to me that he's been fiddling and experimenting with rotations and playing (temporarily) hot hands more than necessary -- by a lot. The Wiz always seem to be in Role Flux. Make you call. Stick with it long enough to get a definitive read.

How do you compare Yunel Escobar with Astrubal Cabrera? An upgrade at second or not? And do you think invitees Emmanuel Burris, Cutter Dykstra or someone else will have much of a chance to beat out Danny Espinosa for a roster spot?

I liked Cabrera. But I think the Nats waited, let him leave town on just a one-year deal, so they could take a shot at something better -- meaning Ben Zobrist, probably. But Oakland beat them to it.

They'd have made the potentially wonderful Souza for Trea Turner and RHP Ross trade anyway, just on the merits. But there's no way that Escobar was Plan A. He helps, gives flexibility since he can play SS -- his career-long position -- is Desmond has an injury. Kevin Frandsen said yesterday that he thought Escobar would be an excellent second baseman because so many good SS's turn into excellent 2nd basemen because it's an easier position. "Look how amazing Espinosa is on defense -- and he moved from SS."

I root for Espinosa. So many tools, tough, plays hurt and really takes failure to heart (which may not help him). Frankly, it's a very long shot that any lifelong switch-hitter can transition to "all righthanded." I asked Matt Williams to name an example he'd seen of a successful conversion. He deftly took the tangent rout and mentioned that Shane Victorino, who hit RH-on-RH in the '13 post-season -- and had a huge game-winning HR hitting RH-on-RH -- had started as a right-handed hitter. That makes it easier.

If Espinosa, or anybody, can hit breaking balls, and also not fear pitches up-and-in from RHers, after NEVER seeing the ball from that side at the college or pro level, it will be a pretty amazing career-change story.

Dan Uggla looks in good shape. But I still assume that's just an ultra-long-shot courtesy invite to a veteran player that Rizzo has always liked.

Ignoring Mike Trout, if you could pick one player to start a franchise with, who would it be?

I might take the player who, in his first full season last year at age 24 led his league in runs (111), had 39 doubles, 21 homers, looked like a possible future gold glover, was one of the better quite intuitive base runners an d ended up FIFTH in MVP voting. He was also sometimes referred to as the College Hitter of the Decade when he came out of Rice after crushing all Fat Elvis' records there. The Nats stole him with the sixth overall pick in the draft. But you may not be able to name him. He's been here for days, ahead of any other regular except the catchers, and he's manged to duck every interview. Some guys are great athletes, others are just natural baseball players, made for the game in skill set (amazing hand-eye coordination) and temperament (confidence, low-key, unflappable). 

I won't name him. And if I thought about it more I'd probably come up with another name.

One other candidate also plays for the Nats -- Harper. A little provincial to name them both? Yes. But good answers? Yes.

I've finally figured out who Bryce reminds me of. It helps explain why I like him so much but also get driven crazy by some of the mistakes he makes: Reggie Jackson, one of my all-time favorites to watch and to talk to, also.

Their career slash lines are almost identical in every category. Mediocre batting average, about 140 Ks per 162 games, but enough walks to have a good on-base percentage. Swing for the downs. I still think Harper's eventual HR/AB ratio will get even better, maybe close to Reggie's. Harper hasn't shown an RBI knack yet, but he's had to use a lot of ABs hitting No. 1, 2 or 6. Reggie had real speed in his early years, especially to first base. So does Harper. Both have football bodies. Big arm in RF (Reggie had a cannon until he showed it off too much, even in pre-game drills, and wore it out.) Extroverted. Love the spotlight and rise to it (like last year's three bombs vs the Giants). Don't mind some controversy around them and may even like it. Couldn't care less if some people detest them (for no particular reason except their swagger.) Both love studying the history of the game (because they think they'll have a place in it. Give away at bat during the long season with lack of constant focus. Use speed to make some good rangy outfield catches but also make bonehead defensive plays that you never comprehend.

Of course, Jax played until he was 41. And he learned how to stay healthy. Bryce only has 19 more years to go! But it's a very flattering comparison for a 22-year-old even if it doesn't work out. 

Do the mental pygmies at MLB Network understand that 5:1 odds of winning the World Series is STILL just 20 percent (which is clearly better than 1 percent, but still not a stone lock).? I disagree that not winning the WS would be a "colossal" failure...not winning the DIVISION, maybe.....but anything can happen in the Post season... MLB Network overstepped this one, agree or disagree, Tom?

Lotta "mental pygmies" out there these days. I think Rob Dibble may run off-season clinics for 'em.

Seems like offense, defense, and goal-tending are coming together at the right time. Also, some other Metro division teams are falling back.

"Hot goalie" is a phrase Caps fans haven't heard very often in the playoffs. And a durable goalie who can play lots of games in a row. Caps may have one now. They sure seem to buy into Barry's system. But why wouldn't they? Guess it does help to have a coach who's not a rookie in the NHL the day he arrives behind the Caps bench. I always wondered about that. Of course, Bruce Boudreau, a rookie coach in Washington, sure seems to be having "the last quack." (My poor attempt at Mighty Ducks hockey humor. Sorry.)

What's the latest on the Orioles/Nationals MASN deal? I know it's been going back and forth in court but any reason to expect a change soon?

I asked around. I usually ask, "Do you think it'll be resolved in the next year." Nobody's answered, "Yes." My (strong) sense is: Later rather than sooner.

I suspect this will get so bad and so bitter that a time will come when the Orioles will lose a significant number of their "I like both teams" fans in the D.C. market. Washington has a hard time really caring about anything in Baltimore, but this may eventually move the needle.

Mr. Boswell, Outside of a left-handed bench bat, it seems everyone's biggest concern with the Nats is the bullpen, especially after Drew Storen and Aaron Barrett looked so shaky in last year's NLDS. The way I see it, however, is that Matty Williams may have learned his lesson - and next time around you'll see lots of Tanner Roark, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, etc throwing clutch late innings come playoff time. Does that negate our "weak" bullpen as a weakness? And could it be another reason you signed Scherzer (b/c it enables you to push another starter into the pen in the postseason).

Good points.

Matt went through a list of the skills that Roark possessed that "play well" out of the bullpen. So, he may end up a seventh inning man or even a very good set-up man replacing Clippard for a year. But that has a long way to play out. 

Williams said that Roarks fastball "ticked up" two or three mph out of the bullpen "and with no loss in command." He also mentioned that he always shows poise, fields his position well, is quick off the mound (ex-star QB in football), holds runners well and negates the running game by varying his delivery to the plate (he's one of the best RHers in baseball at making foes simply give up even trying to steal).

Last year, the Nats moved Detwiler to the pen and completely wasted him, seldom keeping him sharp or using him in high-leverage situation. I assume they've learned their lesson. If they haven't, I'll probably do some yellin'. But so will a lot of other people, too. Roark is a big asset. You have to find a way to get value out of him, even in this odd six-starter year.

There's a twist, however. You assume you'll need Roark to start 10-to-15 games, at least, because it's rare for any team to get >150 starts from its five-man opening day rotation. So, can one arm, even a mature 28-year-old arm, be expected to start that many games and also have the pressure of a lot of "ups" for use in the seventh or eighth, rather than just being The Long Man? A tricky question I think.

....

I think it's time to talk some Skins.

"A weasel, a skunk and a peacock go into a bar. Oh, sorry, that's just Mike, Dan and Robert."

That's my old joke. Looks like Mike Shanahan and Dan Snyder are trying to retire the NFL trophy for Lifetime Weasel and Skunk, respectively.

What a stench. I listened to all of Shanahan's long interview. It's brilliant. Some people try to rewrite a few parts of their story. Mike's ripped the whole book to shreds and is rewriting every element in every chapter. It's breath-taking.

Luckily, some of the slim with stick to the owner. But Shanny, who really is smart, looks like he's burned every major bridge from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate. If you say you want another NFL coaching job, is it good tactics to blame your previous 24-40 disaster on your owner and not take the blame, as far as I could tell, on ANYTHING of significance.

But it's always appreciated when more of the excruciating Snyder detail finds its way into the light.

The reason the Skins never respond to this stuff is 1) they know they are wrong so they just hope it blows away eventually and 2) they don't have anybody who's good enough on his feet to tackle this kind of specific barrage. 

So sad, infuriating, if you're a lifelong Washington-area sports follower. This is very close to the ultimate dumpster-fire franchise in all of pro sports. They get "extra credit" and move up in the Bad Rankings because they are this bad, this broken, despite being filthy rich and spending (wasting) mountains of money.

Of course they ranked -- what was it -- 120th out of 122 pro franchise in use of advanced metrics. The only teams below them must not own computers. 

....

I appear to have had a slight typo earlier with my "ultra-long-sh*t" comment. Glad you enjoyed it (I'm told). It's been changed to "shot" Thanks for the edit. And "s*rry" to chatters. What would really be an ultra-long-shot would be a chat of mine without typos.

Boz, You mentioned in a column recently that the Nats, not including Tanner Roark, have five starting pitchers that are in the top 18 in ERA and top 24 in WAR in the majors. For comparison sake, can you shed any light on other historical rotations that have a similar statistical mark? Thanks as always for your excellent writing and insights.

I suspect I will be unable to resist this Herculean challenge indefinitely.

I should. But (sigh) I probably won't. Obsession, the gift that keeps on giving.

So we'll have another year to see how good Griffin can be and if he can stay healthy. After that will the "experiment" be over?

At this point in their NFL careers, and factoring their injury histories, they are now all solidly in the "bum" category. 

Until one of 'em disproves it. Which, now, I doubt will happen. Glad if one "blossoms." But they all look like their ceiling is the same as the last dozen Skins quarterbacks in this century.

Why are we talking, again, about making brilliant distinctions when discussing QBs who aren't in the top 25 in the league? It's like owning a boat and being given a choice of anchors to slow it down.

What is there about 3-13 and 4-12 -- and by the two largest point-differentials in D.C. football in more than 50 years -- that is hard to understand?

Bos, welcome back! We missed you. Is it true Scherzer will be getting $25 million in 2028? Bobby Bonilla, eat your heart out!

Scherzer counts $29.6M against the luxury tax every year from '15 through '21. But he is actually paid -- in checks that can be cashed -- $15M every year for 14 years.

That is probably EVERYTHING you need to know about his contract.

BTW, both MLB and the union used ridiculously low (unrealistic) discount rates in computing the present value of the contract. Both came up with $191M  and change. Sorry, wrong. I don't know exactly what it is. But $171M, if paid out in just 7 years, would prob ably be a lot close to reality than $191M.

If anybody wants to donate the DIFFERENCE between $191M  and the "true" number, then everybody on this chat can afford to go live in Tahiti.  

Hey, Boz, Tyler Moore here, just wondering what uniform you think I'll be wearing on opening day? Any insight would be appreciated. -T.Mo

His talent is intact. His trade value is way down. Poor guy. It's like he's being locked in baseball prison for years even though he's a perfect baseball citizen. 

It's been 15 years, when will this guy learn from his mistakes?

Didn't you just answer your own question?

Welcome back Boz! In your opinion, does Uggla stand a chance of making the 25 man cut?

No.

...

I bet the Braves wish they could erase the rest of their $75-million Upton contract as easily as B.J. just changed his name to Melvin Upton, Jr.

When you hit .198 for two years, you'll do anything.

But, imo, changing your name to "Melvin" is sufficient punishment for any misdeed short of an actual felony.

Mr Boz Welcome back. The "Hot Stove " wasn't as hot without you . Great column this about balance. You briefly mention Matt Williams' obsession with getting back to month 10. It seems that will depend on how he handles all the other balance issues. Does he have the experience to do that ? What will his most important job be ?

I've never seen a manager relax as much from one year to another. It's amusing that he is completely unaware of it.

Last year, everybody in MLB said what a great guy he was, in addition to his measurable abilities and his work ethic. But, even though he really really tried to be helpful with the media, you sensed that there MUST be a LOT more personality in there -- and a likeable, enjoyable one.

Now you are starting to see it. He still makes workaholics look lazy. He's still go every minute scheduled and charted. But his whole ASPECT is different. (I never get to use that word.) His players have probably already seen it. I hope the public gets to see it. And I think it will.

What's your take on John Feinstein's relentless beef with John Wall? Strikes me as a guy who said something really dumb (Kendall Marshall will be much better than Wall?!), and rather than admitting he was wrong just keeps digging a hole. Wall is one of the 2-3 BEST things that has happened in DC sports in years, but somehow he's still public enemy No. 1 to a lot of local sportswriters. It's weird.

Junior has a beef with somebody?

After a couple of cursory questions about the Nationals, can we get back to questions about Robert Griffin? Cut him? Start to make sure of his ability after they spent all those draft picks on him? Draft someone else at QB? What should the Washington football team do?

Trade up and draft the best available owner.

What's your take on the MLB's push to shorten the time of games? I read the league is introducing a number of soft measures to keep play moving along. Do you think the much bigger move to a pitch clock in the major's is coming? If so will it change the game?

Anything will help.

The only change that might make several minutes difference -- we can hope, but I'm dubious -- is the time between innings. If they can really save 30 seconds every half inning by getting pitchers to throw IMMEDIATELY after the commercial breaks, that could save 8-9 minutes right there.

We live in hope.

Granted I haven't been back to Melbourne in over 20 years, but FIT's campus has a really nice botanic garden. We used to call it The Jungle. But I think it's a little nicer now. Glad you like it. It was a nice place to be for four years. But I was happy to escape Florida altogether.

Thanks for info. Who knew?

This is a bit of a nitpicky observation, but 5-1 odds against some outcome are actually 83.3 percent against the outcome (and 16.7 percent in favor). If there is a 20 percent chance of accomplishing something (80 percent against), the odds are 4-1 against.

This is a reference to my column that mentioned the 6-to-1 odds on the Nats winning the Series.

My ignorance on this point probably shows how many sports bets -- ex-race tracks -- that I have placed in my life: 1. Long ago. I won. Totally by accident. I should have lost. And I just thought, "You are gambling money on point spreads where meaningless last-minute stuff can flip the gambling result but not the game? Are you really that stupid?"  

Do you think Tiger will show?

If any other 39-year-old golfer in history, including Nicklaus, had as many injuries that were as bad as Tiger's, had made as may swing changes as Tiger, had as much trouble putting in majors as Tiger, yipped as many chips as Tiger, shot the hacker scores that Tiger has lately, had to walk off the course in pain as often, and had as serious a blow to his self-image as he suffered six years ago, you would say, "Come on, it's obvious, this guy is FINISHED."

What this shows is the absolutely enormous amount of Mythical Power that Tiger's first 12 years put onto all our consciousnesses.

...

One of the Nats coaches had the ultimate answer, one that has been given for generations in baseball, when ask if the Nationals will win the World Series this season.

He said, "I have two balls and neither one is crystal."

I think you can get that in the 4,000th word of a chat. We'll see.

Thanks everybody for a ton of excellent yesterday which I plan to plunder the best thoughts in coming columns. The effort and thought in the questions makes the chat and is really appreciated.

Now I gotta go talk to some more ballplayers. Cheers!

(Did Lady Gaga KILL it on "Sound  of Music" at the Oscars. What an OMG moment: She can sing as well as Julie Andrews! (I coulda told 'em. Gaga almost topped my favorite pick: an Oscar for "Citizen Four" -- the I-can't-actually-be-watching-this-in-real-time documentary on Snowden.)

Cheers 'til next week.

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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