Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Feb 19, 2018

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Hi Boz. Early yet, but what are major differences between Baker and Martinez at Spring Training? 

Martinez has shorter, quicker practices. He also has daily meetings to make points, presumably bearing on team culture as well as other subjects. Davey is high energy __everywhere all the time. He also gets a bit excited about a pitcher having a "great" throwing session __on Feb. 18th. That worries me a little. Tell 'em to back off a little, not cheer 'em on. But that's his style.

It's assumed that Davey will be a better in-game strategist than Dusty. Baker is still beloved here. But you don't have to have too many conversations before you hear about two big decisions of Dusty's that blew up. 1) Starting Gio over Roark in Game Five __mostly because of Tanner's reputation for competitiveness. 2) In the 7th inning of Game Three, Nats up 1-0, one-out double by Zobrist off Scherzer, the Nats did NOT do what they had done the last two months of the season __keep it simple and use Kintzler in the 7th, Madson in the 8th and Doolittle in the 9th. Dusty reinvented the wheel when it wasn't necessary. Schwarber and Heyward were due up. Kintzler __his whole career__ has had "reverse splits"__ meaning that he gets out lefthanded hitters better than righties __by about .100 OPS points. Maddon would never have embarrassed Schwarner or Heyward by pinch-hitting for them against a RIGHTY. So, the Nats would have gotten good match=ups.

Instead, Dusty brought in (LH) Solis and the Cubs pinch-hit Almora __who singled home the game-tying run. 

Then, having gotten the K-M-D formula for the 7-8-9th all messed up, Dusty ended up with Oliver Perez, a tough vet but still his 10th or 11th best pitcher in '17, facing All-Star Anthony Rizzo who got the game-winning (bloop) hit.

Maddon didn't have a great series either. But it's generally considered that Dusty had a poor managerial playoff. Not awful. The players still lose (and win) the games much more than the manager, especially in a short series.

But there is certainly hope here that Martinez will not only teach fundamentals, but harp on them, and be tough on players who screw them up. Dusty was a "player's manager," which can be good. But the Nats made too many killer mistakes vs the Cubs, as I wrote in a column in October. They MUST tighten up their game mentally, not because it'll be needed to win the still-weak N.L. East, but because the details of the game undress you in public in the playoffs. Like Lobaton being picked off first base in the 8th inning of Game Five by a Cubs catcher whose TRADEMARK is his habit of throwing to 1st base behind the runner (I think 86 times in '17).

 

ing what the Nats had been doing the last 

Does he have a realistic chance to win events anymore - let alone Majors?

He's playing pain free. He has a changed swing that allows him enough freedom to attack the ball off the tee. And, with that lack of pain, he can practice more. All that is good. Also, he played well in San Diego in his first tournament of the year.

But there is plenty of bad __like shooting 72-76 (six over par) to miss the cut last weekend at Riviera, a course he loves and has played well. Great players, top 20, or even top 40 players miss VERY few cuts in a season, much less within their first two starts of the year. Sure, he's rusty, but that would explain a mediocre week but not a missed cut.

In recent years, Tiger has had the chipping yips __a rarity__ as well as putting yips __more typical for a player of his "advanced" golf years. His confidence will be severely challenged if he gets in contention. This must be about his FIFTH swing in the last 20 years. How do you keep from reverting, in mid-swing, to one of your past muscle-memory patterns? It's tough. He was very wild off the tee in S.D ., but scrambled well enough to score well. At Riviera, from what I heard (didn't see it), that caught up with him.

If you ever see him finish Top 10 in a major event again I think it will be a fairly amazing accomplishment and worth lots of praise considering everything he's been through. Woods has been so physically battered, and psychologically bludgeoned, often by his own mistakes, that I tend to think of him __and what can be reasonably expected of him__ as 10 years older than his actual age. IOW, think of him as a formerly amazing 52-year-old golfer, not 42, then ask what his limits may be.   

 

Just how bad is it? Chicago taunting in the NHL, Boston doing it to MLB? What the hell happens to people once they buy a ticket to a game? Do they leave their brains at home? 

This needs to be addressed, especially after the Caps' incident involving fans in Chicago yelling racial slurs at Washington's Devante Smith-Pelly.

No, I don't think they leave their brains at home. I think the tenor of the times allows them to think it is safe to say things that this country decided __collectively__ generations ago were totally out of bounds. 

I don't think the nature and amount of racism in the U.S. has changed much in recent times. But I think racists' sense of freedom to express those feelings has increased considerably. Some cowardly animals stay hidden until they think the coast is clear to come out and show themselves. That's my impression of racists. They keep their views to themselves and a few others __or at least they have in recent decades. But when someone powerful gives them "social cover," they get bold and show who they really are. While it's probably good __in the long, long run__ to get a "head count" on how many of these people there are, it's painful for the large majority of Americans who do not hold racist views to get a clearer, but demoralizing sense of your own countrymen. 

Now, since the last presidential campaign, there has been a national change of tone with some very ugly people coming out from under their rocks. There is no question as to the source of the change. Sometimes things really are exactly what they seem.

FWIW, Dusty Baker, who has deeply felt and well-thought-out views on many serious issues, really held his tongue last year for the sake of not politicizing his clubhouse, especially on a team based in Washington. But I'm pretty sure he was smiling every time Kerr and Popovich had their say in the NBA. 

If Michael A. Taylor hits this year how big of an impact will it be if Bryce Harper leaves and Victor Robles replaces him? I can think of ways to better spend $30-$40m in payroll (hint: Clayton Kershaw)

If Adam Eaton returns at 100%, Taylor hits as he did last year and Robles emerges as a star of some level __not Harper level, but a budding star__  then the Nationals will be in a remarkable and almost unheard of position in baseball. Much as they would love to keep Harper, they would not NEED to keep him to stay a contender. And it would be a valid question to ask whether that enormous amount of money might be better spent in other ways.

When was the last time that a 97-win team had ONE area orf surplus talent and it was at exactly the same position as a past-M<VP who was about to be a free agent? That is a major piece of good luck. But also good planning. As I've written, the Nats were willing to pay such a high price for Eaton in Dec of '16 because they foresaw a '19 outfield of Robbles, Eaton (under contract through '21), Taylor and teen prospect Juan Soto.

The Harper situation is very simple. "Harp is driving the train."  Strasburg was "driving the train" in '16; his decision was to tell his agent Scott Boras to get the best deal he could with the Nats BUT get it done with the Nats and do it now. Few people think that Harper will drive his train the same way. He sees himself as more of a national sports figure and may want to test the market. But you never know. I didn't think Strasburg would EVER sign before testing free agency once he'd come so close to it. But he did. And he's pitched wonderfully, and seemed more settled and happy ever since. His spectacular performances against the Cubs looked they were being produced by a man who was happy with his decision and pleased with where he played. (And how is that "shutdown" looking now?)

I would be delighted to be as surprise by Bryce as I was by Strasburg.

Are teams getting smarter when dealing with Scott Boras hyped clients or has the market turned ice cold?

The question of what's going on with free agents right now __and not just Boras free agents__ is one of the hottest and most controversial issues in the game. No, it is THE hottest.

Bryce Harper, at his spring presser a couple of minutes ago, was asked what he thought was going on with the whole situation. "(As a fan) I'd want my team to sign the b est players they can....Jake Arrieta is still out there (unsigned). I'd put him on my staff any day of the week."

Before anybody writes a head line that says, "Harper Demands That Nats Sign Fellow-Boras Client Jake Arrieta __or Else," just remember that with the next breath Harper said the same thing exactly about J.D. Martinez and Adam Lind (both unsigned) and nobody thinks the Nats have any reason to sign either. 

However, Harper DOES like to have input on what players the Nats might add. Sometimes it's years later when he'll say whom he thought they might have had but didn't get. He's always hoped for a right-handed 40-homer power bat to hit directly behind him and, one year, he hoped it would be Yoenis Cespedes and wasn't quite sure why it never happened. Not angry. Just that every player has his dream list of teammates he'd like to have in his free-agent Xmas stocking.

There's concern among players that MLB is using a fairly centralized source of data crunching to evaluate the worth of all players. If you put the 'same data in" you'll probably get the "same contract offer out." That's not collusion in the '80's sense of the term. But it may turn out to be an interesting twist on it. Players are concerned, as they talk with eachother, that a mid-level free agent may get three crummy offers from three crummy teams that are IDENTICAL, but not hear a word from his former good team at all. Is that an accident of this free agent class? Or just the market at work with more modern analysis? Or is it some combination of those things plus teams that have found a new way to, shall we say, help their common situation. You'll be hearing about this for the next FOUR years untiul the next CBA has to be hashed out.

FYI: Harper said he wouldn't take ANY questions "about '19" __meaning his pending free agency__ but to "call Scott (Boras). And that if he got one (even one) question that subject "I'll be walking right out that door."

But, just to help you out, Harper really likes Washington, has enjoyed an unusually impressive list of managers and teammates who have helped him grow up as a player and as a young person in an intense spotlight. He couldn't have topped Davey Johnson (who loved him and had "HOF" on him when he was 19), or Matt Williams ("Who helped with my approach to hitting") or Dusty who "taught me how to have fun more than anyone." Of course, he's been Jayson Werth's personal puppy for years, talked to JW all winter and again "yesterday" and put in a plug for some team to sign Werth. He said he's been helped by LaRoche, Zimmerman, outfield coach Tony Tarrasco.

BUT, if you ask me, Harper will be worth more, and be a better fit, for some other team, not the Nats. So, that other team (or teams) will offer more. IOW, Harper, as I mentioned, will have to "drive the train" to Washington. If he just goes to Free Agent Station in November, hje's going to end uip hopping a freight to some other town.

(And, unfortunately, because I like him, I'm concerned that he won't be as happy Wherever It Is as he has been in D.C. I don't know if he understands how obnoxious/entitled he was in the minors, how hard-to-handle he was in his early years and how deeply the Nats have been concerned about him as a person, right up to Ted Lerner's wife Annette who adores him and treats him like one of the grand kids. Bryce has always had an outstanding family background. But the Nats deserve a chuck of credit too for helping him become the fine person he is now.

Strasburg was VERY aware of what a pain in the butt he was in some ways in his early days. And he really appreciated how much the Nats helped him grow up, and how much they'd tried to protect his career. I'm not sure Harper is quite as conscious of the similarities in the two cases because they are such totally opposite introvert-extrovert personalities. But, in 25 years, they'll bump into each other and say, "Think of all the horsebleep teams with the No. 1 draft pick that we COULD have been drafted by, and been locked up there for 6-7-8 years as we were developing into adults. It was quite a break to have all those years with an elite team that also surrounded us with so many different kinds of mentors and minders."       

Should the 'skins franchise Kirk Cousins for a third time? They would unable to be active in the free agency market, but is there anyone out there that they could or should target? What would happen if Kirk did not sign the tag? Should the 'skins file a grievance against Kirk and his agent for not negotiating the last two years. Is this comedy or incompetence?

As I like to quote, "That way madness lies."

Which probably means the Skins will be magnetized and mesmerized by that spiteful last-laugh quicksand option.

Let him go, take the 3rd round pick as comp and break your arm patting yourself on the back for getting a 90%-Cousins-clone __though much older in NFL years/mileage__ in Alex Smith.

Cousins is hard-headed and not nearly as "nice" as he seems. I'm pretty sure I can tell you what happens if the Skins tag him. Cousins, obviously, will file a grievance. And I would make a fairly large bet that, after using his leverage so relentlessly for so long vs the Skins, that Cousins will keep right on using it. He'll do what he has done several times before in this long porocess __he'll thwart the Skins by doing NOTHING. They'll have $34M locked up in the stupid tag which will screw them in free agency. Cousins will (I think he's allowed to) have back-channel talks with other teams, just as the Skins-Smith trade is a back-channels deal that hasn't even officially happened yet. Cousins and the team of his choice will reach an agreement __just as the Skins and KC did in their trade__ and neither side will renege. 

Result: The Skins will run the risk of screwing themselves in free agency just so they can spite Cousins, and thwart him in his quest to reach a contending team and Ultimate Happiness. But, in the end, Cousins performance the last three years and his high character will convince one of the quality teams that wants him to WAIT for him.

So, there stare-down ends with the Skins, maybe, tying their own hands with an unnecessary $34M set of handcuffs on their wrists while Cousins ends up where he would have gone anyway. And the Skins never realize their fantasy of a tag-and-trade deal that makes them look smart __like "they won." 

Throughout this whole thing the Skins have tried to act like they had the upper hand, that they wouldn't lose face, that no player (or anybody) was going to say "No" to them when the Skins asked them to go to the prom. When you are looking for motivations for behavior in Ashburn, the first word that should come to your mind is "childish." What would the immature or insecure person or team do in this situation?

It just galls the Skins whenever anybody dares to try to get over on them or reject them. Then the back-stabbing and character impugning starts. They can't just "let bad enough alone." They have to make it worse. 

We'll know about this tag issue in a day or two. I hoipe it goes away. Getting Alex Smith was a REALLY GOOD salvage operation. Made me happy for Jay Gruden. Brainy coach with another brainy QB. The only big worry is that Smith has never been asked to carry an offense. He has ALWAYS had strong running games, good receivers and solid-to-excellent defenses. He's been asked to throw for over 3,000 yards a season, but not over-4,000 yards every season. Well, right now, the Skins have zero impact running backs (until Thompson on third down), a 29th-ranked defense and below-average wide receivers. Smith has always been mobile, even more than Cousins lat year, and he still should be at age 34 next season. He's going to need to be.  

Welcome back, Boz. Your position that Dusty (and staff) may be responsible for the game 5 loss and that Davey Martinez would not have allowed it to happen is interesting. And while I am 100% behind Davey and hope he and the team does great, I still cannot put that loss on Dusty. Would the Nats have even been in the position to lose game 5 without Dusty? It was a very challenging season in a lot of ways, yet the Nats ran away with the division anyway. Could a rookie manager have managed all of that adversity as well as Dusty? And I think you yourself have stated that the manager has more value over the course of a 162 game season than he does in the postseason, where anything can happen and it is all about the players. Anyway, glad you are back in spring training and keep up the great writing.

Dusty has always been a wonderful regular-season manager who can handle every kind of person, exude authority effortlessly and be a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen, for a young player like Michael A. Taylor after his father died last year during spring training. Long ago, he improved in problems areas __especially burning out pitchers arms. And he's not a bad game manager, although he's far from the best.

The Nats are now part of a hot trend in baseball. That always worries me. Dodger manager Dave Roberts is the New Model for the modern manager. He studies the numbers. Whatever brilliant strategy the front office gurus cook up __like taking starting pitchers out of the game after facing 10 hitters in the World Series__ he says, "Yes, sir. You guys have all those fancy Ivy League degrees." Martinez career path and experience are almost identical to Roberts when he took over the Dodgers after Mattingly had not been able to get a Loaded Team past the first round of the playoffs. Roberts then beat the Nats in '16 and got to Game Seven of the World Series. The Red Sox new manager Alex Cora is EXACTLY the same guy. Roberts = Martinez = Cora. I won't go through their resumes because, except for Martinez being older __but also having spent a LOT of time (10 years) near Maddon__ they are the Same Candidate.

There's just one problem. Can you manage?

Roberts can. He's proven it now. But you never know, and you CAN'T know, until you watch a manager's work over 162 games and also how he reacts to the playoffs. Matt Williams SEEMED to check almost all the boxes. "Everybody" agreed.  But there were two things they couldn't know. 1) He'd hash up the '14 playoffs with his pitching moves. 2) When things got bad in '15, he went into a shell.

Harper just pointed out that Martinez would use analytics more than the Nats had in the past. And he also said that (smart) ideas that started in the front office would make their way to the field. (Harper was also really psyched about the Nats getting hitting-guru Kevin Long as their batting coach. "Wow, a great asset. I didn't even think his name would come up," said Bryce, who LOVES to talk hitting and has had three straight managers who were true students of hitting.) 

"Let me make one thing perfectly clear...." Nobody in baseball EVER fires a respected manager like Baker after he has 1) taken over a broken clubhouse (Pap vs Harp) and won 96 and 97 games, then 2) lost in two FABULOUS close Division Series in the last game by one run when the Dodger were forced to use Kershaw out of the pen on one day's rest to survive and the Cubs had to ask Wade Davis to make the first seven-out save of his life to escape Nats Park last October.

Nobody in baseball has ever fired THAT GUY. That's not how you do business. That's not how Mike Rizzo does business. But everybody has a boss, except The Boss.And when the Boss, the ownership, has a firm position __and it is NOT a crazy position because you have gotten knocked out AGAIN in a Game Five at home, and you have lost five straight one-run games in the playoffs with Baker__ then you defer and accept that your call isn't going to be the final call. And, hey, it was a close call, so maybe your call wouldn't haved been the right one anyway. Then you get with the program __enthusiastically__ and go after a solid candidate like Martinez. And hope. 

Rizzo, and the whole front office, could make a list of every second-guess you could make of Dusty vs the Cubs. But every team that EVER lost a series as close as these two can always find things to second guess. What if Solis pops up Almora in the 7th inning of Game Three. Same pitch. But Almora doesn't quite square it up. Then some of us say, "That Dusty sure has a feel for the game. And think how much that will help Solis' confidence for the rest of the playoffs after the big (game-losing) hit he gave up to Ruiz in '16."

BTW, I don't think, or say, that Dusty (and staff) are "responsible" for the Game Five loss because of the complex, confusing passed-ball incident in the 5th inning of Game Five when Wieters was hit in the head by Baez' backswing. Heck, it took Joe Torre two weeks to say the umpire's call was wrong.

It was a fluke play that is VERY rarely seen. I've never seen it before in a situation where the "dead ball" call ENDS the inning __even though the darn catcher MISSED the ball before he ever got nicked in the head with the bat. Talk about a blundering player (Wieters) being saved by the letter, rather than the spirit of the law.

I asked Wieters about the play. He said, "I wish I had been more vigilant at the time" in raising a fuss that he'd been hit in the head with the bat and was __in his mind__ from that instant on, 'protected under the rule.'

There was a couple of minutes of confusion after that play with Dusty going out to home plate. If Rizzo, or anybody in position to call the dugout, had screamed "Play the damn game Under Protest, then they'll have to check the whole thing with New York," the Nats would have saved two runs. It wasn't just Baker.

Besides, focusing on one play makes for good high-dudgeon ranting, but it was a FIVE-GAME series, not a one-play series.

Besides, who screwed up worst? Come on, we know. And he knows and acknowledges it. Wieters missed a ballk he usually blocks, then he threw wildly to first, where he had no play, instead of running the ball to (uncovered) home plate. And even after Wieters threw it, both Zimmerman and Murphy had chances to catch it and missed. 

Anyway, yes, I'm glad to be back. As I said in October, Dusty is a good manager, but not such a great manager that he can't be fired. But before you don't bring him back, you must have somebody lined up who is Better Than Dusty to replace him. And that isn't easy. 

We'll see if that is Davey Martinez. He seems to be off to a good start. And I think fans, like most people, will take to him. He's very direct, diligent, has a sense of humor (though he's not a story teller) and has a great open smile. There's a lot to be said for beaming sincere smiles in somebody who's 53. There's a famous saying: "By 50, you get the face that you deserve." If that's so, then Martinez face speaks well for him.   

Buster Olney says Nats lose WS. I would be sad but ok with that result - are pre-preseason prognostications ever worth more than what you paid? Or are they just for bragging rights (if correct)?

Mine are meaningless. Including the ones that have been correct.

But I agree with Buster's pick: Indians over Nats. Out of all the permutations, that has a sensible feel to it.

But then I think that was my pick __and about 100 others "pundits" picks__ before the playoffs last year. I think every Post "pickler" except one had Clev-vs-Nats. I don't think any of us had LA vs Houston.

Baseball is to be ENJOYED, not predicted.

I looked back at my game story after the last 9-8 loss. And it brought back what my immediate feelings were at the time: What an AMAZING THRILLING GOOFY HELLACIOUS game.

There are loses like Game Seven of the World Series that feel "blah" if you are on the wrong side, as the Dodgers were. But sometimes __and Game Five for the Nats in both '12 and '16 qualify, too__ that game, and the whole series are so wonderful, so much the reason that we stay so interested in sports, that our sense of appreciation and pleasure is so great that it rivals, or surpasses any sense of disappointment. 

The Nats dismal tense showing in '14 vs the Giants didn't inspire any nice feelings. It was just "what a huge ugly blown opportunity with the Door Wide Open to win it all."

I watched the Cubs-Nats series, all the games, over again before I came down here. I was left shaking my head because it was just one amazing, unexpected exciting thing after another. And, BTW, Strasburg transformed into a Monster. The Cubs were OVERMATCHED, as some of them said afterwards. "Best we've seen all year." If he stays healthy, those two starts may be a springboard to the kind of year __April through October__  that everybody has always hoped Strasburg would have at some point in his career. He's been through a lot. Looks like he's come out the other side a tough customer.

What do you see as the best solution for the declining skills of Matt Wieters and too-young Pedro Severino catcher combo? A short-term FA deal for a veteran like Alex Avila or a more aggressive move like trading prospects for J.T. Realmuto?

One of my rules for sports writing is to look for an absolute consensus on a subject that is actually not clear-cut at all __then contradict that consensus.

Wieters has obviously conditioned himself like a fanatic all winter. He looks many pounds lighter __and he wasn't fat__ and years younger. His bat was painfully slow last year. It bhurt to watch him. We'll know in April if he's gotten any bat speed back. I'm going to guess that at 32 (in May), he's not washed up yet. One of the smartest players ever. Book smart and baseball smart. If you are a Nats fan, what you want is NOT "another catcher." What you want is one solid Wieters comeback year __like hundreds of similar comeback years by players at the same age who've had high quality careers, like his four All-Star games (including '16) and two gold gloves.

"I predict" Wieters will play fewer games (112) with 395 at b ats, 14 homers, 54 RBI and a .252/.314/.412 slash line and a useful dignified 1.8 WAR. Whjy? Because that is his career AVERAGE season __not even one of his good season.

You doubt!

High-quality people do surprising things, especially when their backs are to the wall. Last year, not one person down here thought Ryan Zimmerman was anything except "washed up" and dead weight. Well, except Dusty. He LOOKED at Zimmerman in the cage and said, "He's my pick to click." So, after .303, 36 homers, 108 RBI, who looks smart?

Wieters LOOKSD, and sounds, to me like a guy who has a bounce-back year in him. Doesn't mean the Nats should avoid a big move if the deal is right. But Wieters with Severino and (a Martinez fav) Miguel Montero in the picture, too, may not be a problem.

Or should I say Snyder! It has his fingerprints all over the possibility of franchising Cousins a third time so that they can sign & trade him to get back something. What would make anyone think that Cousins would sign with the Skins for any reason. They could offer him $100M/yr till he is in his 50s and Cousins is still smart enough not to sign. Snyder is football's version of the Keystone Cops. Having money does not equal brains. Sorry but the Redskins will never amount to more than a hill of beans as long as he is the owner.

If they tag him AGAIN, he might NOT take $100-million-a-YEAR.

Dan Snyder playing "I double dare you" agaiunst an excellent NFL quarterback does not sound like an even fight to me.

The Nationals are working out in Florida, the temperatures here in DC are in the 70's the next couple of days, and best of all, you are back from vacation! Are you as excited about the Nationals this year as I am?

The Nats have won 95 games four times in the last six years. The Cubs have won 95 games four times since World War II __73 years.

These ARE the good old days. ENJOY them, for crying out loud.

My column this morning had some "grump" in it. But that's OK. The Nats seem to me to be a little grumpy, in a good way, about their "hump."

Would you rather have six seasons when your team goes 86-76, 76-87, 86-76, 76-86, 86-76 and 76-86 __which is the .500 NORM for all teams__ BUT  a couple of those teams get a wild card berth, and one of them wins a first-round series so you can say, "We made the LCS! The Final Four!" Or maybe even one of those teams loses the World Series. 

Would you rather have that or:

98-64

86-76

96-66

83-79

95-67

97-65.

Discuss among yourselves.

If the Nats lose Rizzo...that will be the last straw for DC sports teams for me. I gave up on the Redskins after McCloughan got fired. The Wiz/Bullets have never won in my lifetime and the Pittsburgh Penguins have stomped on my heart one too many times with the Capitals. Tell me the Lerners are going to stop messing around.

If the Nats make Rizzo a sensible market-price offer, I'm almost certain he would take it. What is HIS market? Cashman got $5-million-a-year for 5 years. But he's won a World Series. So, Rizzo is below that. I suspect he values LENGTH of contract significantly more than Average Annual Value because he really wants to stay in D.C. Of course, those around him know this, so it doesn't help his leverage. He has invested a big chunk of his life and career in WASHINGTON and he loves the town, the team, and the Lerner family and what he's built. The Lerners, imo, still don't have a baseball sense of when the appropriate times are to offer proper contracts to deserving employees. If you piss off the wrong guy, this could really hurt you. I don't THINK Rizzo is that guy. I hope not, for the Nats sake. I think it is a very high probability that they work it out, though perhaps not in a time frame that most MLB people would think was appreciative of what Rizzo's done. As long as nobody gets huffy, it'll be fine. They are building a fine legacy together.

The measure of what this front office has done is that if Harper, Murphy, Gio Gonzalez, Wieters, Madson and Kelley all leave after this year __reducing the payroll by $70M and taking it FAR under the luxury tax, the '19 teams would have a rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Joe Ross, Fedde, Cole and, no doubt, a quality SP bought with a fraction of the $$ not used on Bryce, Dan, Gio, etc. The lineup would have Eaton, Robles, Turner, Rendon, Zimmerman, M. Taylor, Difo and Severino __but with a big free agent bat replacing one of the weaker spot. The bench would start with Goodwin, Kendricks and maybe Soto. And the bullpen would have Doolittle, Kintzler, Romero, Solis, Glover and others still under control.

When that is your WORST case scenario, and you have tons of money to spend, too, that is a well-constructed franchise. You DON'T subtract the guy at the top of your front office. And all the people he attracted to work with him and do the hard lifting.

(OTOH, if Rizzo leaves, he'll have plenty of offers __literally coast-to-coast. He and Buck Showalter are old buddies from Arizona. Much as I like Buck, I don't think I could stand it.)

I feel bad for him. He declined the option and he is still without a job. This winter market has been really bad for free agents. Did you anticipate it?

Nobody did __on the players side. Lots of Nats feel bad for Lind. 

The guy who's the happiest that he signed pretty much as soon as the phone rang is Brandon Kintzler. He teased his agent to call the Nats first __something you never do because you lose leverage__ because he really liked the fit and the clubhouse in D.C. When the phone didn't ring for a while, he wondered if they were playing it right. Ironically, after his All-Star year in Minny last season, before he came to D.C., the Nats thought that Kintzler might have multi-year offers to be a closer that would be better than what they could offer. "They were kind of giving me a fair chance to test the market and see what I could get. But I WANTED them to call me," he said Monday. At the time Kintzler's two-year deal with $5M in '18 and an option for '18 __$10M team option, $5M player option__ looked like something of a bargain and a break for the Nats since they could keep their Kintzler-Madson-Doolittle back end with three relievers who have all been closers and who work well together and like the mutual support and interchangeability that they have. Now,with so many players out in the cold coveting the same jobs,  it looks like Kintzler is glad he jumped on that phone call. 

Another Nat said, "Can you believe that Mark Reynolds just got a MINOR-LEAGUE contract after hitting 30 homers with 97 RBI last year (in Colorado)?"   

Conscious this year seems to be there are about 7 teams who are genuine contenders. Do you agree and how would you rank the Nats in that group?

Seems like everybody I see ranks the Nats the No. 4 pick of the seven.

Thank God for DVR, because the constant commercial breaks are ridiculous, but how is it possible that what once not many years ago was thought to be almost impossible is now the standard -- quads in skating, height and twists in free skiing, etc etc. From your vantage point as a sports guy, what is the most impressive "leap" in impossible to standard in the Olympics that you've seen? And, likewise, what do you think might be accomplished in 20 years that we think impossible now? Also, welcome back and thanks for making Mondays again something to look forward to!

Thanks very much. I covered the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid ('80) and Calgary ('88). Back then, if anypody had said "quad," you'd have assumed they had to be shot out of a cannon.

It doesn't amaze me that athletes improve every decade. Vastly better medicine. Much better sports science. And every innovative genius player, every Gretsky or Magic in every sport, is merely teaching the next generation a new standard. The Allen Ivereson "handle," which seemed unbelievable when he came to GU, is now standard. Of course it helps that, now, you can legally palm the ball and they only call traveling on the fourth step.

What DOES amazed me is that all the major sports still function in recognizable fashion despite the way players explode old norms of excellence. Ninety feet between the bases still works. "Everybody" now seems to throw 96-98 mph, yet hitters have adapted and MLB still averages 9 runs a game. The NFL has screwed up rules __"what is a catch?__ but the league's real problem is that players are now so big and fast and good at knowing HOW to be violent that the concussion problem is growing and growing fast. The NFL may be the first sport to wish taht it's players HADN'T gotten so much better.

But we will reach a point where the atheltes will expl,ode the boundaries. I think I mentioned that Wiz coach Scott Brooks mentioned to me that he thoiught the NBA court should be widened by 18" on both sides because the league is now full of players who can hit treys with their heels on the sideline (as they fall into his lap on the bench). 

Good question. Thanks. 

Is it an indictment of the Wizards coaching staff/front office that they’ve exhibited so little faith in Satoransky over the last few years? If they’d given him the same opportunities (which he’s only getting now because of injuries and the team’s usual depth issues) last year, maybe Wall wouldn’t have been stretched to the point where he was exhausted by Game 7.

I have been addicted to the Wiz since Wall was injured. The quality of their play has rocketed up without Wall. They miss his talent, but they play the game SO much more efficiently and properly without him.

Wall needs to watch and understand. He has had the same game all his liofe. And it's been effective and spectacular. But he has never been a good shooter __10th on the team in shooting percentage and an almolstr unbelievably dismal 12th on the team (.461) in effective-field-goal percentage. Yet who shoots most often __attempts-per-game? Beal 18.7, Wall 16.3, then all the way down to Porter 11.5 and Oubre 9.3. This is an insane and unacceptable misallocation of resources. Also, Wall loves flasy passes for assists, but that also puts near the top of the league every year in turnovers. Lastly, even though he wants to be a team player and a leader, he is a ball hog __not by intention, but just by his life-long basketball nature. I mean "bounce, bounce, bounce" until I want to scream.

Less talented players are now showing what everybody always says (and knows to be true) that the ball MUCH moves better, faster and more efficiently by the pass than the dribble. Wall shouldn't be insulted that Beal and Gortat have made comments about "everybody eats" and "team" play. Wall's smart. He needs to open his eyes and see what his teammates are SHOWING HIM: "Look how good we are if we play team basketball!" If Wall can get teamwork-religion, the Wiz can make a jump when he gets back that I didn't think was in them. They've found another first-rate player for their rotation in Satoransky who has fewer assist, but also feqer turnovers than Wall and who far prefers to pass than dribble. Sato can also play some No.2 and spell Beal. That could be a fine backcourt.

If Wall comes back and all the progress __in cohesive offense and effort on defense__ goes backwards, there may be some real hard feelings and problems.

The whole team has shown it can play together and WANTS to play that way __the 30-assist-a-night way. It happened. You can't "un-see it." The Wiz have an identity now __they are the best passing team in the league, partly because Gortat, Porter and Morris are all better than  average passers for their positions. (Oubre isn't.) If Wall embraces that style he will STILL be a big star, though both his point and assist totals will go down some __for the sake of the team. With career earnings already GUARANTEED of $278-million __yes, $278M__ I think John ought to be able to adapt his style somewhat. Just "somewhat." He's outstanding. But the lessons of recent weeks CAN'T be lost. Everyone keeps saying, "How can the Wiz get to the next level?" It is on display RIGHT NOW.

When Wall gets back, he will either add to that progress, or subtract from it. And a big piece of the Wizard's future will be decided by his ability to do one of the hardest things in sports __adapt your style of play after you've become a superstar.      

As a spring training veteran, how accurate do you tend to find your impressions from the first couple of weeks? Have you often seen players and known right away he's either en route to a big year or alternatively looking like a bust?

The first time I saw Murray, then later Ripken, take battying practice in Miami, I knew. (So did a lot of other people!) The first time I saw Strasburg pitch a side session while standing behind a screen a dozen feet behind the catcher I knew why players called him "Jesus." ("Because when you first see that nasty ***, you just say, 'Jeeeeus!!'")

But this spring I'm pretty impressed with A.J. Cole's stuff, the shape of his breaking ball. But I kinda liked him last spring, too. I can't wait to see Robles take BP. When Rendon first arrived, everybody gathered around the cage like they were about to see a space launch. Players know. And, after 40+ years, even sportswriters are sometimes pretty sure, based on what what they see down here, especially in exhibition games.  

With the Caps beginning to slide, and the Penguins on a 16-4-1 tear since January 1, how much do you think the Caps will try to keep the Stanley Cup window open for this year? They don’t have a lot to offer another team for an upgrade, and their defensemen are a fairly mediocre group. On the other hand, their stars aren’t getting any younger.

I suspect the caps will play it out the best they can this season, but not mortgage the future with trades. They are "overachieving" in W-L record, measured by any stat standard. IOW, pretty darn lucky so far, as well as very competitive attitude and some clutch star vets.

They're better than I thought they'd be with plenty of heart. But they were due to regress. Whatever they do in the playoffs I'll try to enjoy and accept. The last two years were the killers __they're lost and gone forever. But I still pull for them to get as much as they can out of what they have. 

While an exciting finish and happenings at Daytona 500 yesterday, it seems like NASCAR is suffering from an identity crisis. What can be done to make it appealing to a TV audience and Sponsors?

I suspect I am a symptom of the problem. I've watched many Daytona 500s, enjoyed them, though I'm not an auto racing fan. But it's one of The Great Events. This time, I didn't even know it was Race Week. And I'm practically sitting on top of Daytona. BTW, who won? Yes, that's one of their problems __the loss of the casual fan.

When, where, why, how and who did a dog show come to be considered a sporting event, covered in the sports pages?

Red Smith loved it. Stamp of approval!

My wife always watches every minute.

And she gets me to watch it.

Since dogs are the best creatures on earth __and our dog Mac the Mutt is the best of the best__ people can call Westminster the Greatest of All Sports Events for all I care. 

 

After watching the games since Wall's injury, I can't help but think this team would be better off building around Beal and adding a stronger two-way point guard than Wall. I'm not sure Wall gets that he's a terrible shooter and how much his hero-ball style bogs down the offense. Thoughts?

No, no. Just make it all work together. Wall is a good guy. The Wiz recent play is GOOD news, not some new "problem."

Boz, how can the basketball hall of fame continue to overlook Lefty Drisell? 

I don't know. He belongs. But I suspect that Len Bias death hurts him. He's not responsible. But tragedies have collateral damage.

Will he be a Nat by opening day ?

Bryce sure was talking him up today.

And Rizzo points out all the $$$ thjat's coming off their books in '19. They'd take a luxury tax hit (30%) this year, but they've be under the tax nextb year.

The real reason the Nats won't go for Arrieta unless thee deal is fantastic in their eyes is that they'd have to give up a No. 2 and No. t5 drfat pick AND $1M in international signing money.

"These days, that represents a ton of value," said Rizzo, not commenting on Arrieta, just the state of the game and valuations in trades and signings.

My Mom surprised my Dad and me with Friday Master's tickets this year. It has been a life long dream to go. Do you have any suggestions for first timers? We're thinking we'll follow an early group so that we can see the whole course then find a place to park for the afternoon.

You nailed it.

You've GOT to see the whole course __in order. The flow and drama of the place. Don't go with a star group __the gallery will b e too big. The Masters is shameless about letting m ore and more people in all the time, but won't admit it. Being in the gallery is brutal. Follow some interesting nobodies.

But you can't get a feel for the amazing play around the elephant-buriual-grounds greens unless you stake out a seat and watch a lot of players come through. Try to pick different holes on different days. On Sunday, leave in town in time to see the Back Nine on TV. The single WORST live ticket for the conclussion of a great event is the last two hours at the Masters on Sunday. I've covered it more than 40 times. They've semi-ruined The Ending. 

But you will LOVE the whole week. Don't miss the Par Three Contest on Wednesday. It's about 50 yards from the 10th tee and plenty of people never even know its there. Have fun!

When is Trey Turner going to start bunting? It would really electrocharge the Nats running attack, esp with Eaton leading off.

Trea probably needs to sharpen up that part of his game. The Dodgers and Cubs have had good ideas on pitching to him the last two Octobers. When they start messin' wih you, you gotta start messin' with them right back. They won't enjoy a Turner who's a fine bunter. And they can't take that away from you with dominant pitching in October.

Boz, I assume that outside of his September/October cup of coffee/necessity, Victor Robles (and props to Jorge Castillo for a wonderful profile of my next new favorite Nat) is one of those "call him up and he's never going down again" players. So: when do you think that happens, barring injuries? 

JMHOI, but I think you have to play Eaton almost every day early in the season to get him reestablished as a force, and I think Taylor may be a star. You have to find out. MUST find out. So if Robles has to be a little patient in the first half so you get more info on Eaton and Tatylor, then that's the way I think it has to be. We'll reevaluate that around the All-Star break. But he is definitely a player who comes up once, then plays every day for the next XX years. I'm concefned about his utter fearlessness, especially getting hit by 35 pitches per 600 ABs so far in his career. Don Baylor survived it and FRobby, but it's not ideal. 

Would you rather have that or: 98-64 86-76 96-66 83-79 95-67 97-65. That's hard to say, but the way our sports culture is aligned, it's win the title or nothing else matters. I think many folks would trade a championship for a whole bunch of good seasons. As a Caps fan, I know I would.

For a championship, yes.

But what about just "advancing" a time or two. Or getting to one WS? It's one of those pointless abstract questions, I guess. You try to enjoy whatever happens that's a pleasure, rather than moaning about the good thing you don't have.  

Can you prove to me that there is a God after the Caps lose to the Pens for the third straight year in April?

That era is over. There's pain and then there is the pain of losing back-to-back years to the same nemesis team when you're won the President's Trophy both years. And, last year, your nemesis has about 17 injuries. And you don't have any. That's unique hockey suffering.

After 35 years of no baseball in DC, I'll take it.

I definitely know how you feel.

(My dad and I were in the third base seats for the last game in '71. No, we didn't "charge the field" (and forfeit). I kinda wanted to beat the Hated Yankees one last time.)

MLB released their new pace of play rules today. There are no in-game penalties for pacing violations. Only fines after the fact. Thoughts?

By next week, I'll have an opinion! See you then.

What, no Super Bowl questions! Time moves fast in sports __that's like YEARS ago.

See you next week. Than ks for all your good thoughts. Guess I'll go watch some Nordic Combined.

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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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