Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Aug 21, 2017

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, the NFL and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

He now has 6 years in the major leagues. But he's only been healthy for two of them. He'll now have 3 years with lengthy DL stints and one year where he didn't go on the DL but apparently played with an injury most of the year which wrecked his production. For whatever reason, he can't avoid injuries. So how do the Nats justify paying him some record setting deal when the chances he stays healthy are so slim? How much does this latest injury affect the Lerners' calculation as to what to do with him? And do you think this scare makes Harper more willing to try and get a deal done rather than risk another injury next season?

Forgive me for resorting to facts.

How much has Harper already been worth to the Nats?

FanGraphs (you know, the site Daniel Murphy loves and studies) puts a value IN FREE AGENT DOLLARS on every player's performance every year. In other words, how much would it cost to buy this level of production on the free agent market (as opposed to the artificially depressed prices paid for great players before they become free agents.

FanGraphs puts a multiple on its WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Starting in '12, here are its values for each Harper season: $29.6M, $29.4M, $10.8M, 76.0M (!!! for a 9.9 WAR season), 27.8M and, so far this year, with "more WAR to come" $38.9M.

Total for six years: $212.6-million to the Nats.

Or $35.4M-a-year. (Plus some more this year.) 

That, plus inflation, is how it is so easy for people to think Harper can get a $400M/10-year contract EVEN WITH HIS INJURIES so far in his career. He's still 24!!

What if he gets a little better. Or has years like '15 and '17 almost every year? Or gets hurt less?

The only reason the Nats MIGHT be able to afford him -- just my opinion -- is that he HAS gotten hurt, or played hurt (and performed poorly in '16 because of it) in the past.

What if he averaged 155 games a year? The bidding would start at $500M.

It would be a dream for Harper to do what Strasburg did and approach the Nats -- at a high number, but with the hope of signing. As I've always said, I don't think that's the way to bet. I think D.C. and Bryce are a very good fit. Because he has never played in the NYC, LA, Boston or Chicago markets, he doesn't know what it's like. And those are the only places, probably that could afford him. I hope he doesn't go. In part because, a year or two after he's gone I suspect he'll think -- though never say -- I was pretty happy in D.C. Was it worth the aggravation for the extra dough.

I've seen it happen a hundred times.

A lot of national writers have said that the Nats are one of the most likely destinations for Giancarlo Stanton. I don't see that happening. I don't think the Nats have the prospects to get it done, I don't think the Marlins trade him to another NL East team, and I don't think the contract makes sense (unless they prefer Stanton to Harper and are intending to let Harper walk or are going to trade him this offseason). Have you heard anything about Stanton potentially going to the Nats? And on a broader note, how to reporters come up with these rumors?


There 10 rumors that mean nothing for every rumor that has substance. And 10 rumors with substance for every rumor that comes true.

Anybody would like to have Stanton. But he's not a gift. You have to give (a ,lot) to get. The Nats don't need Stanton now. They are leading the scoring. They don't need him next year. Eaton will be back. I mean "need" in the sense of needing something badly enough to give up prospects to get him.

Why would the Marlins WANT to trade him.

I only answered this question because, if Stanton hits 62 home runs this season I think it will (probably) make him the all-time HONEST home run record holder.

At my house, where I have baseball jurisdiction, Roger Maris is still the single-season home record holder and Hank Aaron the career record holder.

So, yess, I'll be very interested in whether Stanton (playing in a HR-UNfriendly park) can hit 61 or 62. I'll be rooting for him.

Mr. Boswell, I haven't been able to find an article that explains how Ryan Madson sprained his finger. I know baseball players (and pitchers especially) can find strange ways to hurt themselves, but the spontaneous finger sprain is a new one to me! Was there a precipitating event that caused this injury? I'd almost be more concerned if he hurt himself merely by throwing the baseball. Thanks for filling in the gaps!

At this point I don't think it means anything except that his finger hurts because he throws baseballs for a livcing and with enough rest it'll stop hurting.

I suspect the really aggravating aspect of this is that he is a monster this year and when you're rolling like that you don't want to take a total break from throwing, then try to gear back up to 100% Will your mechanics, etc., be as perfect as they were before the layoff?

I assume he'll rebound just fine as long as he doesn't push too hard to come back too fast.

Remember, last year Max Scherzer had a stress fracture of the ring finger on his pitching hand simply from throwing the ball. (Or, I suppose you could say, throwing the ball "all his life.") He started his last 9 regular-season turns with the pain, plus two in the playoffs. He thought it was "just" a sprain/strain. Then he had doctors look at it again in the off-season: fracture. Took all winter to heal.

Looks like Madson listened to his body sooner. Or maybe the Scherzer experience with "my finger hurts" has alerted everybody to take it more seriously more quickly.

Mr. Boswell, Now that the relief that the MRI showed no structure damage in Harper's knee, it's about time to clamor for an update on when he's going to return! Actually, I hope he takes his time and is indeed one hundred percent healthy when he does get back in the lineup. However, considering the Nats have a bit of a history of missing injuries in their initial diagnosis (e.g. Werth having fractures in his hand a couple of years ago even though he was initially cleared to play), I was wondering if Harper has been showing some expected signs of improvement. I'd also be interested to know if he got multiple opinions on the initial diagnosis. Thanks.

When the Nats get home on Friday I'm sure that will be asked. It's still too early to think he's close to returning.

The Nats will have to be very careful in trying to "help" but Harper and Scherzer return at a sensible (slow) pace. They have chances for the Cy Young Award (realistic) and MVP (less realistic). It may only be in the back of their minds. But it's an incentive to come back. You can TELL Trea Turner or even Werth -- who are both on rehab assignments playing in AAA now -- that they need to wait. It's harder to tell guys who are the No. 1-2-or-3-best player and pitcher in the league.

A case could be made that Mike Rizzo is by far the most valuable Nat of them all. Sure, he will sign for hundreds of millions less than Harper. Nonetheless, it is Rizzo who is mostly responsible for putting all the players on the field, at all levels. He produces all the wins. He has to be among the best GMs there are. We have seen some lousy GMs over many decades here in DC, in all the sports. Ownership must know that. What's the reason for not locking him up for lots of years?

You state the case in its strongest possible terms. That probably needs to be toned down A LITTLE. But not much.

When fans ask me the most valuable National, I usually say, "You mean the one that would be hardest to replace, the one that could unravels many parts of your organization if you lost him and the one your are barely paying the MLB-average salary for a player?

That's Rizzo. The acquisitions of Doolittle, Madson, Kintzler and Kendrick, as well as the development of players that he SAID would turn out like this -- like Difo -- underline the point.  The Nats "control him" through '18. The Nats "controlled" Stan Kasten as team president until the end of '10. He quit the day -- okay, maybe not the exact day, but close -- to the earliest he could get out of his contract. The Lerners were shocked. Honestly, they were. His friends had known what he was going to do for a year. It sure was a coincidence that he announced he was leaving within hours of my column that he...might be leaving.

It's hard for a GM to get a top-of-the-market contract until he has won a World Series. Or at least been to one. The worst thing that can happen to the Nats in the short-to-medium term, imo, is that they don't advance far enough in the post-seasons of '17-'18 that the Lerners and Mike reach an extension because those post-season "failures" obscure Rizzo's value. Trust me, others will grasp it.

OTOH, Rizzo really loves what he's been such a big part of building in D.C. He's tied emotionally to the players -- and the entire FRONT OFFICE and scouting system that he's assembled. He doesn't WANT to leave. He wants to stay. Besides, if he leaves before he wins a World Series how is he going to get that statue out front across from Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson or Frank Howard? It could get crowded out there by 2030 or 2040. Oh, I know, Washington will NEVER again win ANYTHING in any sport. But it'll happen, just like it happened with the Gibbs' Skins -- sooner or later. I still remember the O's 23-year run as the Best Damn Team in Baseball. The GM's (Dalton, Peters), the whole farm system and the manager (Earl) were just as essential as the guys named Robinson. And, yes, Earl even got a statue. I'm always fascinated at how easily people can imagine worst-case futures but have great difficulty imagining best-case futures -- or even very good ones.

And yet companies like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google and Berkshire Hathaway -- make your own list -- keep getting created decade after decade. There'll be another great  franchise in DC. Maybe we're seeing it now. Maybe not. But it's a lot more likely to come into existence when driven by diligent optimists -- like Dusty Baker -- or confident builders who assume they will win -- like Rizzo.

Bos, Do you expect to see a difference in the Wizards' 2017-2018 season compared to the last few? Or will it be 2nd round loser again?

I think the Wizards will continue to be the best NBA team in Washington since the late-'70's, just as they have been recently. I plan to enjoy them. They are fun to watch, have an excellent coach whose full impact probably hasn't been felt yet. With Wall, Beal and Porter as a still-young foundation, they have a chance to nail a draft pick, make a great Eureka trade or simply jell into an even better team and become a genuine title contender.

Or they may win 50+ games and "lose in the second round." Or in the third round. In which can, they'll still be worth my time because they are a really good entertaining team. And they seem to be hard workers, too.

This reminds me, today there are cities all across America that are in the path of a Total Eclipse! They are winners! They are the ONLY winners. Let's have a parade for them! GO CHARLESTON, SC! What character! What teamwork! However, Washington is only going to get a partial eclipse. Typical D.C. choke job! LOSERS! Personally, I am going to refuse to go out on my back porch and look at this PARTIAL eclipse because IT ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME! As a fan of both the sun and moon, I deserve a FULL eclipse. They are BOTH letting me down -- damn overpaid sun, miserable choking moon -- and I'm going to find somebody to blame for this, too!!

Watch this space: I'm going to get both those heavenly spheres FIRED! 

How much of a difference will we see in the Redskins' offense with Jordan Reed on the field compared with what we have seen so far?

It greatly improves their chances of making a first down against another team's first-string defense. Or, for that matter, their back-up defense.

With Jordan out there, they may even make TWO first downs in the same possession against a defense not manned primarily by special teamers who will be cut in a couple of weeks. 

Seriously, it'll make 'em better. But, last year, the Skins had an "A" quality receiver at all four types of pass-catching roles in the NFL. Maybe A-. But really good. 1) The stretch the field bomb threat in DJax. Now, they have NO real deep threat. One must be established. Candidates? 2) A tough, precise, route-running possession receiver who has long experience of teaming up/practicing with your starting QB. Last year, that was Garcon. This year, it is Nobody -- so far. Josh Doctson? We'll see. 3) A really good quick slot receiver. They still have Crowther. 4) A dynamic, hard-to-cover TE. They have that in Reed, when he's healthy, which is about 2/3 of the time. It's also nice to have a good receiving back out of the backfield and Thompson is OK at that.

Still, even at full health, this is NOT the receiving corps of '16 and I doubt it even has the potential to be. I keep hearing talk-show praise for the wonderful receiving corps. I keep thinking I'm hearing Bahgdad Bob.

But at least the passing game looks good compared to the (shudder) running game with Kelley getting 11 yards in his first 10 carries against the Packers.

Here's the goods news: They can't be THIS bad. And when things get a little better their energy level and willingness to play recklessly will go up instantly from their current state. And what is their current state? Every time the camera cuts to the face of almost any Skin, he seems to be napping or mildly annoyed. As soon as one deep pass was completed up the right sideline for a big gain, everybody came to life! Amazing!

Of course, it is preferable if you are ENGAGED with the game that is in progress before someone on your team does something to awaken and inspire you.

Just repeat: They were 8-7-1 last year. They aren't this bad -- just because they have:

1) A new GM (OK, no GM, just reshuffled job titles).

2) A new OC and DC (OK, just reshuffled coaches who were already aboard).

3) The head coach now calling plays.

4) New receivers who propbably aren't as good as the old ones.

5) A QB who's been squabbling with his team prez (and maybe owner, too) for 2 years.

6) A defense with "new faces" which are mostly old faces from other teams who are hoping to bounce back, or not get injured again or...

I'm sorry. In a month, it'll all look better after they win a couple of games. Cousins will learn his new receivers. I still think the new improved defense is, actually, a little better than the old awful defense.

But, remember, this is a team that has not won as many as ELEVEN games in a season in more than a quarter of a century. That MIGHT be the dominant pattern that is in play here, rather than back-to-back winning seasons. THAT is really what this season is about. Was 9-7, 8-7-1 a Scot-aided blip in a longer Danny Doom continuum? Or are they really a somewhat better team and Gruden a pretty good coach?

In other words, an interesting 9-7 team despite all the turmoil or 6-10, 5-11 with the past as prologue?

His name isn't like Max, Kershaw or Grienke, but Gio seems to have pitched as well in 2017. Does the cloudy injury situation make him the current front-runner for this year's award?

He deserves a lot more attention and praise than he is getting. I hope to contribute my two cents to altering that.

But I suspect that Advanced Metrics will kill any chances for Cy Young. All those numbers say that he has had a very good year, but also a very lucky year. He is No. 2 in MLB in leaving runners on base which is seen as good fortune that will regress to the mean UNLESS you are a dominant famous pitcher like Kershaw (1st in LOB%) or Max (3rd in LOB%). Seems kind of unfair, right?

Worse for GIO, we are in the age of FIP (3.81) and xFip (4.25) -- stats which estimate what SHOULD have happened with normal luck) -- not old-fashioned ERA (2.39) --which is merely, aw, shucks, what actually DID happen.

Gio has a very low batting average on balls in play (.242). Last year, I used this to point out that most of the Cubs rotation was not as good as their ERAs, even though they were REALLY GOOD. Just not THAT good. And this year they have come back to earth to roughly the degree you might expect. So it's tough for me to say "ignore all the 'good fortune' stats for Gio" when I applied them to the Cubs last year.

HOWEVER, I do think that Gonzalez is a better more fully-matured pitcher now because 1) he is simply a calmer more adult fellow (father of two), 2) Dusty Baker showed as much confidence in him in '16-'17 as Matt Williams showed NEGATIVE CONFIDENCE in him in '14-'15, 3) Matt Wieters really understands how much Gio's change-up has become an excellent dependable pitch that, together with a super curve that Gio now throws at slower speeds, allows his 89-to-92 sinker to look much faster.

I never thought I'd say what a PLEASURE it was to watch Gio Gonzalez PITCH, rather than throw. But I am saying it now, with capital letters. He's always had the rep of having a unique curveball that doesn't break quite like most other people's curves (his dad taught him the Gonzalez-family curveball method) and of having a live rubber arm that let him throw "easy gas." Add to that the mixed compliment of "effectively wild." He doesn't know where it's going, exactly, so how can you "guess with him." 

That's not who he is now. NOW he is a major key to the Nats post-season, not a potential hindrance to it. All season, he's been able to throw his change-up low-away to RHers, either for strikes or chase strikeouts. He's consistently spotted his best fastball on the hands of RHers or gone up and away with fastballs -- up the ladder. His back-door curveball to RHers is almost unfair at times because it seems to start on the LH batter's box, then break over the outside corner. It must feel like you're being pitched to by the first baseman. He never had such good command of his curve before. It seems like he has slowed down EVERYTHING -- the speed of his FB, Change and CB, but also the beating of his heart. He looks confident, happy, proud of himself -- and "acting himself" like fielding that bat (thrown) back to the mound in Miami during his near-no-hitter and pretending to throw the bat to first base for an out. I hate to even say the words: Can he be that cool and collected in October? If he can, and Scherzer and Strasburg are healthy, the Doolittle-Madson-Kintzler-Perez-plus-others bullpen is functioning and almost all of the "names" in the regular lineup are ambulatory, then I just want to sit back and watch. They may get beaten becauise the Dodgers have been amazing. BUT that version of the Nats team would be a championship QUALITY team, whether it won a title or not. There are season with zero "championship quality teamsd, imo, but somebody wins anyway. And there are years with two or three of 'em, but only one can win.

Many have noted that the Dodgers incredible 51-9 streak was the best since the 1912 Giants who went 52-8 from April 17 to July 3. That me wonder, "Well, what happened to the 1912 Giants? Did they stay hot? Did they win the World Series?" I knew they had HOF pitchers Christy Mathewson, Rube Marquard and manager John McGraw. 

After their 52-8 streak, the Giants reverted to being very fine mortals. They went 49-37 the rest of the way to go 103-48.

In the World Series, they met the Red Sox whod actually finished strong and went 105-47. It was one of the greatest of all WS. The Red Sox won 4-3-1 (with a tie, called on account of darkness, in one game). Game Eight (the winner-take-all game) went to the 10th inning tied 1-1 with Mathewson in the whole game versus Smokey Joe Wood (pitching in his third inning of relief on no days of rest). The Giants scored in the top of the inning. In the bottom of the 10th, Giant CFer Fred Snodgrass dropped a flyball. Afterward, he couldn't explain why except that the ball just worked its way out of the (old-fashioned) pancake-ish glove and fell to his feet. With one out and the bases l,oaded, score 2-2, the Giants having issued an intentional walk to set up a double play, the  Red Sox' Larry Gardner hit a walk-off sacrifice fly to left off Matty for the first walk-off win in a winner-take-all World Series game. In all the years since, it has only happened in '24 (Senators), '60 (Maz HR), '91 (Larkin hit), '97 (Renteria single) and '01 (Mariano loses). 

Seems odd to me that I've covered three of the six, saw the '60 game on TV as a kid and have heard all my life about the bad-bounce ground ball that won the '24 Series for Washington. Yet I completely missed the Snodgrass muff which made both runs unearned that beat the Big Six.

Yeah, okay, I love this stuff. 

Seems like he should be. What do you think?

He should be.

I failed to mention in an earlier answer that he is now 9th in WAR in the N.L. (2.9). The leader is Scherzer (5.0), followed by Jeff Nelson (4.3), Grienke (4.2) and Kershaw (4.1).

Obviously, Max will be motivated -- I hope not more than he should be -- to "hold his lead" for a third CYA which, imo, would be a huge part of a case for him to make the Hall of Fame someday. Yes, contrasting forces/influences, all of them valid in their own way. 

On the old-school side, Gio in second in the N.L. in innings (!), third in ERA and ninth in strikeouts. The Nats awful bullpen (remember those ancient days of yesteryear) cost him at least two wins, maybe three. If he had those 15 wins, not 12, then I think he really WOULD be "in it" even with the (smart) advanced stats leaning hard against him.

That was an intriguing start in San Diego. He's been used for multiple innings numerous games this season. Is it time to anoint him as the bullpen long reliever / spot starter?

After Sept 1, rosters will expand. So "long reliever" will be covered by A.J. Cole, Grace, maybe Fedde if he hasn't hit his innings limit. Until then, I think I'd bring Cole up. Can you ask Grace to do that twice if Max or Strasburg have a recurrence and (wisely) take themselves out early or before a start? But whom do you send down? Lot of good contributors. Don't wan t to hurt feelings. Tough one. (IOW, I cop out.)

NBC 4 should have shown the Skins game on their secondary channel and broadcast the NASCAR race. Bristol is one the best races of the year. While Skins stunk up the joint again. Its going to be difficult for them to go 4-12 this season.

If I were a NASCAR fan, I would not be happy.

But NASCAR vs NFL exhibition (or probably NFL OTAs) is a non-contest.

I know this is now a week out of date... but the issue remains. Why does MLB force teams to play in unsafe conditions. Bryce 'dodged a howitzer' (in your words) but I think the wrong lesson is learned--oh, the Nats 'escaped' a bad situation, how lucky... but the fact remains, under other circumstances, no one would force teams to play under unsafe conditions (slipping on wet grass, slipping on wet bases etc). But because it would be inconvenient to fly a team back across the country, or just mutually agree to skip a game which at this point in the season would not statistically affect either team's standing, a player (not just Bryce, but ANY player, was FORCED to put his health and professional career at risk by playing in unsafe (slippery) conditions.... Just think: what IF Bryce suffered a career-ending, catastrophic injury to his knee? For a stupid game, delayed 3 hours, playing in the rain..., not consequential in the long run? Would anyone in MLB really care?

MLB always says it is trying to manitain the "integrity" of the 162-game schedule when they jam in, no matter how long the wait, a game that will otherwise be lost to logistical near-impossibility. 

What they are really trying to do is defend the "gate" -- the ticket revenue that has already been pocketed. They don't want to honor ~30,000 rainchecks that can be used for any future game. 

My friends and family are out some $$$ because they played. At 7:55 after almost an hour delay, we saw the Mothership Storm in the West, saw the ugly radar, grasped that 10 p.m. would be a lucky starting time -- but also realized that they would "wait all night" to play even if it was 10:30 or who knows when. Also, the storm was so threatening that nobody was allowed to sit in their seat. That was wise. But it also made the whole place look like a scene from Les  Miserables with everybody sitting on the ground. One member of our party had a recent fall and wouldn't have done well sitting for 3 hours. So we split, got to the car a minute before the rain, then drove for an hour in a monsoon to get home. 

My feeling is that, as an experienced fan, I knew that "this makes no sense" but that "they will do ANYTHING to play." It was clear to me that MLB maintained its habit, which I've watched in such circumstances for 40 years in ballparks everywhere, of pocketing the money first and worrying about the fans' interests second (or third or fourth...)

Today would have been a great day for an afternoon game. Mother Nature grooved a changeup (hung a curve?) and MLB took a called third strike! During the eclipse, they should play Shadow Ball. Yeah, I need a vacation....


Yes, the eclipse is even going to make this a chat of semi-sane length. I'll be out of here very soon. Lets hope this establishes a New Normal.

Ryan Zimmerman's great start in baseball, then his struggles, and his comeback season, remind me so much of Cal Ripken's career. Stats are almost identical--BA, OBP, SLG, OPS--except Zim has played almost exactly half as many games so far, for awhile both at third base. And great, great positive forces in the clubhouse and for baseball in general. And played entire careers for one team. Do you see it this way?

Yes, except Cal was one of the greatest DEFENSIVE shortstops ever -- it was the strength of his game, not his hitting. Advanced metrics get this one right, imo: Here's the Top 10 by Defensive WAR in history (baseball-reference).

Ozzie Smith 43.4

Mark Belanger 39.4

Brooks Robinson 38.8

Cal Ripken 34.6

Joe Tinker (SS)

Luis Aparicio (31.6)

Rabbit Maranville

Pudge Rodriguez.

The only acive MLB's in the top 60 all-[time are:

13. Adrian Beltre !! (27.8)

31. Yadier Molina 22.5

43. Andrelton Simmons (20.9)

I don't see any mistakes there.

See you all next Monday at 11 a.m. Thanks again for all your great questions.

Do you ever follow professional road cycling? The Grand Tours this year have been great - the Giro d'Italia, Le Tour and - just starting - the Vuelta. I know there are only so many sports one can follow, but the endurance of professional cyclists is a wonder to behold.

Long ago, when nobody knew her, I wrote a few stories in the Post about Mary Jane  Reoch who is now in the cycling Hall of Fame.

Miji had a big performance in D.C. in '77. Really nice person. Beth heiden, Olympic speed skater, was also a fabulous cyclist and a great interview. More interesting than her brother, I thought.

There is something I have not covered. I just don't know what it is. (Oh, yeah, I forgot: a World Seriees in D.C.)

Boz, I know people want to talk about playoff experience and blah blah blah, but really, at this point in their careers, I'd rather see a healthy Goodwin in LF vs a healthy Werth. Any chance maybe Dusty platoons them?

I'd rather see Werth, by a lot. Crushes LHers and the Cubs and Dodgers are both stacked with lefties.

A tougher call. Trea Turner can't hit lefties at all. One career homer. All his others vs RHers. Hitting about .150 vs LHers this year. Difo is a similar defender at SS. He's hit almost .400 against lefties this year. Turner is The Futrure AND The Present. So he'll play, I'd bet. But in '19, I wouldn't be surprised to see Difo at SS and Tturner at 2nd. Then we may look back and say, "Why did we think it was so obvious that Trea should start every post-season game?

Yes, I'd go with Turner. He's the big disrupter.

Cheers. Wear those eclipse glasses!

I laughed, thanks.

You're welcome.

hi mr Boswell. I often read your chats after the fact. The odd thing is that when I read them you often have an answer that says essentially at the end "and that's all, folks...". But then you manage to answer another 3-4 more q's after this. Why is this? Don't get me wrong. I love this. It seems that you just can't tear yourself away. I just find it funny and interesting!

I find it odd and interesting.

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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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