Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jun 19, 2018

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

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So is this another case of the District of Cheapness being the Destroyer of Coaches? Or is it a case of overreach from a coach who wants to be paid like Scotty Bowman even though he has been to, and won, as many Stanley Cup Finals as Randy Carlyle or Bob Hartley? Or, worst of all, is it just a case of grown men disagreeing over the relative value of the services of one of them? (I'm hoping you won't tell me I have to be a grownup about this. It's been so much fun to be a kid for the last 12 days.)

It's going to take a while to go from Initial Hot Take to Sensible Final Opinion on this one.

First, once a relationship starts to sour, it's hard for it ever to get back to where it once was.

The TWO horrible season endings to the Pens after TWO President's Trophies meant that Trotz had failed to do his job very well in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

The Prez Trophies showed, or at least seemed to show, that Trotz had all the talent he needed to go to the SCF or win it, Pens or no Pens. Especially in the spring of '17 when the Pens were a smashed up mess and should never have beaten the Caps. That final 2-0 defeat at home had to be seen as a coaching/motivational/psychological failure for Trotz. His team may have been making progress under the surface for three years toward handling pressure better, Trotz certainly believed that in real time. But it certainly didn't show up in that 2-0 defeat.

That loss just slashed up everybody's guts. The Caps probably thought Trotz was pretty lucky to get another chance.

So, the Caps form a not-so-flattering view of Trotz based on three YEARS of data. As a result, they extend GMBM who built the roster while NOT extending Trotz and having a coach-in-waiting sitting over his shoulder.

That virtually guarantees bad feelings, especially in Trotz if he succeeds in the post-season this year.

Apparently, Trotz asked for $5M-a-year for 5 years, near the top of the NHL coaching ladder. That makes him the Caps coach for eternity, nine years. Essentially, that salary request, and I respect it, is, "This is partly a coaching contract for the future, but it's also a well-deserved bonus because I just won you, or helped you win, a STANLEY CUP.

If you view $10M of that request as "bonus for Cup," then maybe Trotz was asking for $5M x 3 years, then fire me and eat the last $10M which was my bonus anyway.

That may make sense to Trotz. But it's a head-shaker to the Caps because you're doing a deal that feels like a fire-the-beloved-coach-who-won-the-Cup is already baked into it.

Trotz asked for too much, partly because his feelings were hurt and also because there probably is somebody (Islanders) who'll give him close to $5M x 5 yrs with a team that isn't as dependent on aging superstars (Ovi and Backstrom).

The Caps should have torn up the old "extension if you win the Cup" addendum as soon as the clock went to 0:00. That's common sense AND decency. That feels like it's on Leonsis. Just say, "Forget all that stuff in the past. We luv ya. We start from zero." Then offer $4M x 3 yrs. 

But none of that reasonable stuff appears to have happened.

Hard feelings and money, which is a fair measure of how much you are valued by your employer in pro sports, won the day.

To me, Trotz got a little huffy and greedy. But I think the Caps made the biggest mistake by not saying instantly, "That automatic extension stuff at about $2m/yr for 2 yrs, that's dead. You just won the Cup. Your status in the sport, with us and in DC just changed forever. We recognize that. Let's negotiate."   

I think Trotz had a wonderful year on the mental side of the game,  reaching his players to finally be "all-in." They don't win the Cup with any other coach this year, IMO. It took Trotz four years to change the culture, but he DID.

Now they don't have him anymore and have to start again.

Too bad. I give the blame this way: 40% Caps, 30% Trotz, 30% Life is a *****.

So Trotz can walk away from his contract and is immediately a free agent. Why haven't the players in any league yet negotiated this kind of right?

Ha!

I see your point, better yet the humor/irony of it.

Actually, every MLB free agent, once he's a free agent, is in the same position as Trotz, when he left the Preds. You and the new team negotiate a deal. The Trotz-Caps agreement was a four-year deal, with a two-year extension if he won the Cup.

It took Trotz 51 years to get that leverage. Players get it after varying lengths of time in various sports, six years or four years. So, the players are doing just fine. 

As a golfer and former golf maintenance worker, it is hard to fathom Saturday's afternoon course conditions. Compared to the Masters greens, which are quite quick but receptive, how did Saturday's greens compare? What was the speed of the greens Saturday? Was the closely mowed green surround situation different from the Masters?

The central complaint of players on Saturday, and it was entirely justified, is that the Masters, British Open, and PGA Championship NEVER "lose the course" so that it becomes unfair. The USGA did, and this has happened repeatedly.

What is unfair? One of the Top 10 players in the world said after Saturday's round that, on a few holes: "If you get above the hole, downhill, downwind, you can EASILY three or FOUR-putt from 3-4-5 FEET."

Think about that: You can EASILY four-putt from four-feet. Because, if you get the first four-foot putt even a few inches past the hole if will roll 8-or-10 feet past, so you either have to "lag"your way back, and accept a three-putt from four feet, or else attempt to make it up the hill and risk being right where you were before, downhill, downwind, unstoppable putt from 2-3-4 feet that you HAVE to make or you'll be there all day.

That player was asked what the solution was: "DON"T get above the hole by more than a foot or two. Or, if you do, MAKE IT."

The USGA, especially under exec director Mike Davis, who, IMO should be fired, has some extreme theories about golf which they believe in with an almost religious, and certainly messianic conviction.  

First, they think that somebody died and put them in charge of setting up a course that is so "near the edge" that there is almost no margin for error in weather forecasting or wind forecasting. In other words, THEIR course, THEIR event, THEIR reputation and THEIR golf values are more important than OUR national golf championship. It takes a very insular, arrogant and hermetically-sealed group, who constantly reinforce each other's beliefs, "You're right, I'm right, we're right....and, another thing, did I tell you that I not only think that you are RIGHT but that all those people yelling at us are WRONG", to get stuck in these positions repeatedly and never face up to the degree, and number of their screw-ups.

How do greens get that fast? Too much mowing or rolling or both. Not enough watering as insurance against "carnival golf." Not enough margin for error is you get less rain or more wind or wind from a different direction than you expect.

Also, the greens at Shinnecock are incredibly sloped. You look at them from the fairway and wonder if you could WALK on them without falling over much less get a ball to stop on one of them.

Davis has a "vision" of what US Open golf should be. I'm leery of people with "visions," especially if it empowers them to be more important, get more attention, than the people who can actually play the game at the world-class level or build courses at that level. Davis hasn't done either.

Under Davis, almost every U.S. Open venue looks like the one the year before, ugly. Oh, sorry, like a barren wind-swept gorgeous links course beside the North Sea. Even if your artificially created "links course" is set in the center of forests in Wisconsin (Erin Hills) or in the great timber country of the big Northwest (Chambers Bay) isn't gotta be the USGA's way.

At Chambers Bay, they chose a new-ish course that had so much elevation change that if you walked it from 1-through-18 it was the equivalent of walking up and down the Washington Monument (555') one-and-a-half times. Jason Day collapsed in a fairway from dizziness. (He has a vertigo-like condition.) They were lucky fans didn't have heart attacks. But then they made the course so impossible to walk, with ropes cutting you off from any logical way to "walk the course", that fans just gave up and sat in bleachers, which is what the USGA wanted.

The USGA says it wants to set an example for water conservation in the 21st century. Fine. But they cut down hundreds of trees, or "encourage" or incentivize clubs to do it when those trees were originally part of FORESTS. You don't irrigate a forest!! Ever hear of "rain."

Gary Player called Chambers Bay "the worst course I've seen in 64 years of playing golf."

The closely mowed areas around the greens at the Open were basically the same as those at the Masters. That's intentional. But, somehow, the Masters always finds a way to allow players to find a path to the hole, even though it looks like there are elephants buried under half the greens.

Here's the documentation on how bad Saturday was at Shinnecock: The USGA called a press conference to apologize! (Be sure to call me if the WH does the same.) 

Luckily, the course played decently on Sunday, even though the greens were browns and the poa made putting bumpy. I was rewatching the last round. I was very impressed with how BADLY Koepka played and still kept his composure. He hit some wild drives into rough on a course with very generous fairways. He put himself in complete jail at No. 11. He missed a couple 6-foot birdie putts early which is supposed to unnerve you. Nothing got to him. He says, "I just keep plugging away." As every golfer knows, that's HARD. The entire sport is designed to UNPLUG you. 

And I was surprised (again) at what a lousy putter Dustin Johnson is for a Top 50 player. Sure, sometimes he gets on a roll. But the last two days, he was lost. And he still had a chance to win.  

Any creative ideas for what might help get Bryce back on track? He ended four innings last night with nothing making it out of the infield and he was on deck in the 9th when the game ended so could have easily been five the way things have been going. Give him a few days off? Drop him in the order? Or maybe just hope he mashes 50 HRs in the home run derby and it alters his mechanics for the better? Maybe there should be a draw a walk and slap a single derby...

The best comparison I can come up with is also one of the first that I came up with long ago: Harper reminds me of Reggie Jackson. Except that Harper hits in an easier era for batters. Yes, easier. Reggie came up when pitchers were so dominant that they had to lower the mound to get the game squared away. So, to compare them, you probably have to use stats like OPS+ which adjusts OPS for era and home park.

In his career, Harper's OPS+ is 139. Reggie's was 139.

In Reggie's first 7 years, through age 28, his OPS+ was 155! Harper's the last five years, leaving out age's 19 and 20, is 145.

Harper's career slash line is presumably the FLOOR for an estimate of his level of play for the next eight years or so. .279/.383/.511. OPS .95.

What jumps out about Harper is that he's capable of hitting .330 ('15) or .319 ('17), which makes him an incredible player in those periods, but he also has entire seasons dragged down by injuries, slumps, bad mechanics, bad mechanics perhaps related to trying to play through some injuries.

It's always said that there is no such thing as a .270 hitter, the long-term MLB average, there are only guys who hit .170 when they are cold and .370 when they are hot.

And some seem more like .140 cold and .400 hot.

Joe DiMaggio's average was .194 in mid-May when he began his 56-game hitting streak. (However, I will note that on the day he was at .194 he had 19 walks and TWO strikeouts. No, we just can't compare eras. The game changes a LOT.)

I'll try to work on the Harp Mystery. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned to him that exit-velocity and BABIP numbers implied that he should be hitting at about his career average. He smiled and said, "I feel GREAT." And I think he meant it. He homered in the next two games.

Since then, in 15 games (a 1/10th of his season) he's 7-for-55 __.127. With one homer and 3 RBI. What's more worrisome is 24 strikeouts in those 55 at bats. That's astronomical. He's swinging through fastballs he should hit. And, for the year, including his hot April start, he's striking out 29.4% of the time vs 23.6 last year.

It's about time for Scott Boras to leak that he's playing with a bum shoulder. Or SOMETHING. That's almost part of an agents job.

Something seems to be bothering Bryce. He just doesn't seem as happy/bouncy as he used to be. Maybe just being in his 7th season is a grind. Maybe he's 25 but has the emotional mileage of 30+. Watching him play, I often feel bad for him. 

I wonder if his whole LeBron-of-MLB lifelong-branding crusade has just gotten burdensome. He's always got to have some new kind of shoes (to sell).

It's much harder to imagine his interior life than it is with many athletes because, his whole life, he's just been....different. More driven. More talented. More criticized.

He's also hit his walk year in an absolutely unique time in MLB's salary-labor-management battle. Others don't think that the last off-season was a monster "tell" about what's coming for this Super Class. I still do. Everything conspired to drive down salaries, as I've written about. "Everybody" says, "Don't jump to conclusions until we wait to see what Harper and Machado get." Well, Machado isn't a drawing card, lightning-rod "Reggie" type player. So, he starts off at $50-to-$75M less on any free agent deal.

So, what the whole sport is waiting for, the players, the agents, the union, the owners, is to see WHAT BRYCE GETS! Don't you think THAT'S pressure? Ian Desmond got it in his head that he owed it to all the players who'd come before him to set the market price for shortstops when he became a free agent. Elvis Andrus had done it. So, it was Ian's turn to raise the bar. It drove him crazy that year and he was awful. I bet, if he talked in his sleep, he'd say that he wished he'd taken the $105M from the Nats and stayed with a team that knew and appreciated him. He could have moved from SS to 2nd to CF. Whatever. Now, it's easy to say, "He was a bust. The Nats got lucky." I'm not sure it had to work out that way.

Everywhere you look there's pressure on Bryce from some different direction. As I've written, from the day the Nats traded THREE prospect pitchers for a right fielder (Adam Eaton) it's been clear that the Nats were moving on from Harper. If he wants to sign a team-friendly deal, we're here. We love ya. Give us a call. But, if I had to bet, I'd say that if Harper/Boras don't contact the Nats first that the Nats will never, now or after the season, make any contract offer to Harper, EVER. It's an incredible thing to say, but a very good case can be made that the Nats are a better team in '19 and especially beyond '19 without Harper, but with that $300M+ still in their pocket to spend to keep Rendon and add other players. (Yes, they'd also get a compensation pick after the first round which, given Rizzo's track record, will probably become an MLB player, not a dud.) The Nats would still have an outfield through '21, at a small cost, of Eaton, Soto, Robles, all in their natural defensive positions, plus Taylor with Goodwin probably a trade piece. Does that business reality, that the Nats would prefer to re-sign Harper, but that they don't HAVE to keep him and certainly aren't going to go crazy to get it done, making a 25-year-old feel unappreciated?    

That one-anonymous-source quote last week about Bryce being 'a selfish player and a loser' actually may have shown Harper one more reason why he might WANT to stay a National. Rizzo went nuts. I loved that he said, since the day Harper arrived in the majors, Harper has played in more WINNING games than any player in baseball. (The Nats as a team have won the most games in that time and Harper has been central to it.) When Rizzo has your back...well, I've never heard a GM say that he was "going to find out" who said it, "if" anybody actually had said it at all, and that after he found out he was going to go after the guy. He didn't say how. But it was certainly a Godfather moment. Harper loves Rizzo (as he should), in part because Rizzo has always given it to him straight, including when he was a brat in his first year in the minors. Harper respects honesty. And he learns. It may bother Bryce that he feels his future drifting away from the Nats, and teammates he likes, and Rizzo and the Lerner family that dotes on him, to some other city and for only one reason, more money. This was supposed to be the season that he was in control, that he defined his future, that he decided where he would live/play the rest of his career. And yet Washington, which would be on that short list, whether it was No. 1-2-3-4, may not be on the list at all, at least not realistically, the way MLB business actually works. 

Giving Bryce a big hug, as Martinez does, may not be a bad idea. He looks to me like a 25-year-old who could use a few. (Has anybody ever said that "Money and fame don't always buy happiness.")

Banning shifts? Why, because hitters can't adjust to them? In trying to make the game more attractive to younger people, he's liable to alienate the people who are paying for tickets now. The mound visit thing I get, but I still think he made a mistake with changing the intentional walk. I'd say he ought to focus on potential collusion with respect to free agents and potential tanking, and let the offense take care of itself. Banning shifts isn't lowering the mound. Thanks for the chats. --Tom in Alexandria

Let's just take our time with banning shifts. Let's take a LOT of time.

In about two-to-three seasons (according to Matt Wieters when we talked about it), hitters picked up on the idea of launch angle and made it an ever-growing part of the game.

How long do we think it'll take to beat the shift or beat it with two strikes. The Nats have a 19-year-old, whose natural style is shift-proof.

The first stat to look at for the Health and Balance of the Game is the simplest: Runs-per-game. When it is around 9.00, the game has always been healthy. It has to get close to 8.00 before fans have rebelled in the past. Above 10.00 is too much and even offense-dazzled fans get it. In the past, the public has never cared how those runs get scored, speed in the '80's for example, but not many HRs.  Just so it's ~9.

Is it "different this time?" Maybe. But I know that, as a baseball writer for many years, there was nothing I loved more than a Change of Trend. Something to debate!

Shifts and high strikeout rates are both worthy topics. But let the game have enough time to solve itself. It almost always has. Doesn't mean it always will. But it does mean that baseball deserves the benefit of the doubt before medieval doctors, or commissioners, start saying that the only cure is "leeching."   

Is this the end of Shawn Kelley's time in D.C.? To me, it's pretty safe to say Doolittle, Madson, Kintzler, Herrera, Miller and Solis are all locks to remain on the roster. I would be amazed if Kelley sat above Collins, Grace and Suero on the depth chart. The Nats don't like to eat money, but I can't see any other way this works out unless you're OK with Suero and Collins in the minors and Grace getting DFA'd.

I have a column up now on the Kelvin Herrera deal, which was very impressive.

Everybody loves Kelley. Unfortunately, the last two years that has included quite a few of the hitters who faced him.

You could be making a SMALL mistake in leaving him out of your bullpen. But that's all,  a small mistake. His 4.11 ERA isn't bad. But his FIP (6.16) is the tip-off. Just gives up too many homers. A useful lefty is harder to find, and Collins looks like one of those. Suero is good minor-league inventory and helped himself in his time up.

Given the Nats position in the division, it makes sense for the Nats to pull the trigger on Herrera. Q: did this force the start of trades between contenders and non-contenders? I'm thinking of the Mariners and Yanks moving earlier than expected.

Sounded like a starter's pistol to me.

The Nats have issues at catcher, 5th starter and, depending on Murphy's knee, second base. And they didn't use ANY significant trade pieces to get Herrera.

However, in my book, building a long deep high-quality bullpen, when Doolittle, Madson, Kintzler (and maybe Miller) already have you so close to that goal, was the biggest improvement that you could make and at a modest $4M rental cost for Herrera, who'll be a free agent.

Thanks for the questions. See you next week. When, no doubt, we'll decide whether Phil Mickelson should have been DQed for doing something that has tempted EVERY golfer, whack a moving ball toward the hole with whatever club is in your hand before it can roll into some hideous place from which you may never return.

Cheers.

Bos, A lot is made about team culture and chemistry, and a couple of recent stories in the Post speak volumes about how good they are with the Nats. In a typically wonderful piece by Jorge Castillo, Justin Miller said, "This clubhouse is probably the most laid-back, close clubhouse I’ve been in. Everybody is just super personable. Not just the players. The staff, everybody. Everybody like, it feels like everybody is like, I would say family.” And in Chelsea's article on the acquisition of Kelvin Herrera, Dooooo relates how Rizzo immediately sought him out to make sure he (Doo) didn't read about it on his phone, saying "It was awesome that there was that transparency and that communication, and obviously it’s awesome that they’re looking to help us out.” Two things stand out. One, that the Nats' culture obviously starts at the top. Two, WaPo readers are spoiled by the fantastic writing we get about the Nats day in and day out.

Good points.

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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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