Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Dec 10, 2018

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Last Monday you said - "CLEARLY, if these numbers turn out to be anywhere CLOSE to correct, somebody is going to VASTLY overpay for Corbin (expected to get more than $100M)," On Wednesday your column seemed more bullish on the signing when it happened. Other than having Corbin start in the post-season instead of Gio, are there any reasons to think he will be a big upgrade over Gio in the regular season?

IMO, the Nats overpaid by about $30M. That's a lot.

But sometimes teams have to decide whether This Is The Time when an overpay is necessary and smart FOR THEM.

In other words, if your need is bad enough for a LH SP, and the field of candidates for that spot is limited (with Keuchel the only comp to Corbin, but not nearly as appealing, and 35-yr-old J.A. Happ a distant 3rd-best), then this is the problem you are faced with:

Overpay or Pray.

You can overpay for the best available lefty who fanned 246 last year, has an almost unhittable slider and has had back-to-back healthy good years in Arizona and just turn 29, in other words, a pitcher who has a very good chance to be excellent in '19 and perhaps very good throughout '19-'20-'21 period when you also have Scherzer and Strasburg.

Or you can "pray" that you actually sign Kuechel, who says he even wants to come to D.C.

The Nats reached a point where Corbin wanted to come to an East Coast city, near his home and some family in the New York area, but he was open to playing in NYC, Philly OR DC. Iow, all three contenders were "close enough" to make him feel like he'd made a huge jump Back East from Arizona.

At that point, similar to the "overpay" signing of Jayson Werth in '11, you can say, "If we add $1-or-$2-million a year to his Average Annual Value and ALSO add an entire extra year, WE WILL GET HIM. "

You figure the Yansk and Phils might hasve gone up from $100M for 5 years to $105M or even $110M. But they weren't going all the way to $23.3M for SIX years.

It is a big gamble. If you look at the comparable careers to Corbin at the same age, his age 28 season in '18, they are a bunch of nightmare names from age 29-through-35. Maybe good for one or two years, but huge overpays in the back end.

This is the riskiest free agent deal the Nats have ever made. But they may be trapped in the issue of "in for a dime, in for a dollar" because they are so pitching-centric with three more years of Max and Stras.

(Very unlikely that Starsburg opts out because of the way his contract is structured and, with his injury history, how few teams would top what he's curre4ntly going to get. Also, Stars likes DC and the Nats. You'd have to go significantly higher to get him.)

One factor that almost nobody mentions: Corbin is now four full seasons PAST his TJ surgery and he is getting better and better the further into the past it recedes. The current notion is that a New Elbow will add 6-to-8 years to your career. But that guesstimate number factors in all the pitchers who come back from TJ and blow out in year No. 1, 2 or 3 of their comeback. IOW, the longer you stay healthy the more likely you are to be the guy whose 2d elbow last 6 or 8 or 10 or more years. The original Tommy John won 166 more games after he came back. 

Corbin DOES throw a lot of sliders. They tend to be tough on elbows. I will tell one very scary story, for the Nats and their fans. Long ago, I covered Steve Stone in '80 when he won 25 games for the Orioles and won the Cy Young Award. I asked him, "How are you doing this?" Maybe players trusted baseball writers more then, or Stone just trusted me. He said, "I'm throwing 60 percent curveballs." He had a FABULOUS curve. So, curves and letter-high fastballs were almost all he was throwing, except waste or chase pitches. Then he explained that he ASSUMED all those curves might severely shorten his career. It was something he only yhought he could do once, or maybe for two or three years, but JUST ONCE IN HIS LIFE Stone wanted to be GREAT. And he was. He started the All-Star Game. He helped the Orioles to 100 wins. Stone didn't do it for a big payday. He was on a three-year deal with the O's at $175,000-a-year. He just did it to show the wporld, and himself, what he could do.

The next year, he lasted 62 2/3 innings, went 4-7 and That Was The End of His Career.

If Corbin, in his walk year, has pulled a Steve Stone and gotten $140M, and Corbin did throw about 40% cliders and 10% slow curves, then the Nats made a terrible signing. But it is more likely that Corbin resembles many good TJ pitchers who had a bunch of successful years. If he bosts a 10.0 WAR for the next three yearas combined, and he certaibnly figures to be much better than Gio in recent years, then it's probably worth it. Worth it and an overpay at the same time. Just as, in a different time, Werth was "worth it," in total value to the team, even though his numbers looked like he came up a little short.  

Is Bruce Allen the biggest toady in all of sports? And is Scot McLoughan somewhere out there, watching tape at home, and quietly having the last laugh?

It certainly appears that Bruce is in the Biggest Toady photo.

I certainly hope Scott is getting some last-laugh pleasure out of this, but he's such a good loyal football guy that, mostly, he probably just feels bad for all "his guys" who are still suffering through Skins Syndrome. 

Rizzo has done a nice job of making significant changes to the club, from adding a quality left handed starter, to significant catcher upgrades to adding some quality arms to the pen. Does it make sense, for Rizzo to try and add Britton to the mix? He is a quality lefty reliever, who has a long history of closing games. Adding him, would be a great insurance plan in case Doolittle or Rosenthal struggles or gets hurt.

I like Britton. But he might be expensive for a team that already has a lefty closer and a decent middle-inning lefty in Matt Grace. I suspect they may aim at someone older with a shorter contract. They've always liked Dave Robertson, 35. 

But, yes, I'm with you, the name I'd like to see, out of Familia, Kimbrel (too expensive after such a shaky '18) and a half-dozen others is Britton, if they can tolerate the $$$.

Something is really wrong here: I mean, a red zone taunting penalty when you're losing by 24 points? Seriously?? 12 defensive men on the field on a 3rd down giving them a first down?? Really?? These are the symptoms of a completely out-of-control team that lacks leadership at critical positions. I really like Jay Gruden, but unfortunately he is the captain of the this sinking, leaderless ship. But let's get real: who would want to come to this team to replace him? ever?

You have nailed the problems. Gruden is a good guy, a pretty good offensive coordinator, but a mediocre head coach at best, and all his flaws show up at a time of team disintegration. He doesn't scare anybody. There are lots of ways to motivate, and some of the best coaches use several ways. But "fear" is a useful tool to have as long as it is not your ONLY tool, you know, like somebody that would have a book about him entitled "Fear."

Gruden's always had Skins teams that were at the "lax" end of the NFL spectrum. The 15 penalties on Sunday were incredible, plus two other penalties that were declined. Sure, having third-string guards and 3rd and 4th string QBs was a big factor. But still, 15? Including 12 men on the field on both the offense and the defense in the same game!

If I had to bet, I'd bet that the Skins go 6-10 or 7-9 and Gruden gets fired. Especially because, after that 40-0 score on the board at the start of the 4Q on Sunday, Snyder HATES to be mortified and mocked. THAT makes him act, even if ends up with a bingo caller as his offensive coordinator.

Here is his pattern in such situations, and he has done this FOUR times in the last 17 years. First, Snyder replaces the coach that he has fired, or who quit early (Gibbs) with a coach who is not as good, certainly not better, than the coach who just left. The Skins NEVER hire good coaches because nobody wants to work for Snyder, Gibbs only did it out of organizational loyalty and for a pile of money. Spurrier loved the money, too, didn't mind taking his shot at the NFL, then went back to the college ranks laughing all the way. Zorn was a punch line. Then, because the new coach's offensive and defensive systems will be different, the Snyderskins blow up the roster, which usually means about 20 (yes, 20) new players. For the following two years, they put up a record of 12-20 (this has happened twice) or 11-21 (which has happened twice. All of that nonsense gets you back to ~.500. Then something bad happens, injuries or whatever, and Dan feels embarrassed again.

So, he fires the coach and we start all over again.

Here's what's different. Every time he does it, fewer people are fooled and fewer people remain suckers for the next iteration of this Grade Z soap opera. Less fans come to games or watch. Snyder takes out more and more seats at FedEx. TV ratings go down.

"We are watching the destruction of a great franchise."

Why is the Skins current path almost certainly downward for multiple SEASONS? The answer is the total disaster at QB. 

I doubt that Alex Smith will make a full comeback. No inside info. I'm just reacting to that awful feeling in your gut when you read that an NFL team has sent a bus-load of players to visit the injured QB in the hospital to lift his spirits because things aren't going as well as expected two weeks after the initial surgery following an awful injury.

Colt, bless him, is fragile and not the answer to anything. Mark Sanchez was (statistically) one of the very WORST QBs, relative to the era in which he played, in the last 40 years. His awful career QB rating of 73.2 is the second-worst of any "active QB." To find anyone significantly worse, you would have to broaden the category to "living QB."

Josh Johnson is a nice one-week story. I wish him well, hope he wins a game so they end up 7-9, not 6-10.

With their 6 wins already, the Skins won't have a high enough draft position to take a shot at a Next QB in the '19 draft. They won't even have the trade pieces left to trade up to a spot to grab a QB, in what is considered a weak college QB draft class.

And, finally, nothing good is going to happen either the rest of this year or the next COUPLE of years because Snyder is not going to use the ONLY VIABLE FOOTBALL OPTION he has, which is making a phone call to Colin Kaepernick to get a fair shot at being the team's starting QB in '19.

It is the height of irony that the Skins, with the burden of Smtih's contract acting as a salary cap anchor, desperately need a proven, mobile QB who, for some wild combination of circumstances is not old (31), is in great shape, had a 4-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio in his last season (12-3), has a 89.8 QB rating for his career and WILL WORK FOR THE TINY SALARY of maybe $4-or-5-million!!

There he is: Colin Kaepernick.

And there is NO WAY the Skins will touch him because Snyder has put all his new-stadium eggs in the Trump Basket with his big contribution to the Inauguration. Right now, Snyder and the Skins are trying, with the help of the GOP, to (quietly) push through actions that would make it easier to get a stadium built on the RFK site. But they know they have to do it before the Democrats take control of the House in January.

If you haven't read it yet, don't miss this one.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/redskins-dc-working-with-congress-to-slip-stadium-provision-into-spending-bill/2018/12/07/bfb40de8-fa3d-11e8-8c9a-860ce2a8148f_story.html?utm_term=.76d47045247d

Of course, on top of that, Snyder/Allen may oppose Kaepernick on political/protest grounds or because they don't want to break what certainly looks like an NFL blackballing of Kaepernick.

The Skins are the ONE team in the NFL that MOST NEEDS a quarterback exactly like Kaepernick for '19, yet they are also the team in the NFL with the most reasons, most of them bad reasons, that they will never do it. Yeah, even the team nickname, which annoys me but generally doesn't send me into a rant.  

Folks, I think it is time that we, and definitely me, start paying more attention to the gritty Caps, who are playing so well despite all their injuries, and just (largely) ignore the NFL football franchise. Unless you just love to spend the holiday season feeling sad or mad.

Bos, what are your thoughts on the “Old Timers Committee” electing Harold Baines and Lee Smith to the Hall of Fame? Seems to me that Smith, a dominant Closer for a long time, is deserving. But how about Harold Baines? A nice guy, a “good” ballplayer, but is he really deserving of HOF induction? He had 384 HRs, 1,628 RBIs, .289 BA, and an OPS of .820. He never came close in the voting of the baseball writers. What changed?

The Old Timers Committee or variations of it with other names, tend to be soft touches when it comes to HOF voting. I knew both Lee Smith and Harold Baines pretty well from their time with the Orioles and I like them both. I thought Smith was a borderline HOFer who probably, 60-40, should be in Cooperstown. I was in the minority in that opinion. I thought Harold was a narrow miss. But congratulations to them both. 

Footnote: In '90, when my mom passed away, I found my old '50's and early '60's baseball cards in the back of a closet in my parents home. So, for a couple of years, I got the baseball card collecting bug. I'm pretty sure that any shrink would say this had something to do with associating those cards with my happy youth, my parents young and healthy, etc. It was a little weird. But, intuitively, I think people who knew me, and friends, "got it," even though I didn't for a couple of years: it's just a reaction to one parent dying and the other being old and sick. Anyway, my No. 1 card-collecting nuttiness was trying to find Lee Smith Rookie Cards. On the road, and this was during the baseball card craze, I'd go to shops and ask if they had any of those cards. At that time, every rookie card of every Hall of Famer was worth close to $100-a-card. When I'd ask for Lee Smith's cards, the owners would look at me like I was a crazy lost soul. They'd find a dozen of them, or sometimes a lot more, and sell them to me for one or two CENTS each. One guy just gave me a whole stack, just saying, "He has no chance. He's a reliever."

I kept them in the back of the back of the attic for years, my little defiant stand on Lee Smith DESERVES to Be in Cooperstown. Somewhere along the way, maybe after he got so little support in the BBWAA voting, I just laughed at myself, I do a lot more of that than you might suppose, and threw them in the trash. These days, baseball cards, except for the pre-'70's ones, are so hated (glutted market) that you couldn't sell 100 Smith RC's for $1.

But just for a few minutes when Smith got in the Hall, I got to have a little chuckle. It cost me a few dollars, and some wasted time on a nutty short-lived hobby, but I was RIGHT. (Sort of.) 

Smith and Baines were BOTH examples of players who made ZERO effort to promote their names or their fame. They were quiet, friendly homebodies, at least as I remember it. I seem to remember that Lee Smith once left the Wrigley Field bullpen in the early inning, went across the street, and bought Big Macs and fries for the whole bullpen to eat during the game. Lee didn't have much use for reporters, but we got along really well. His velocity went down from 100 when he was young to lower 90's late in his career. But as his velo dropped, his command, which was always good, became amazing, especially for a man who was 6-5 and more than 250. He could throw it in a tea cup. And if the ball was six inches off the plate, that's because that's where he wanted it.  

I bet the two most amazed people in baseball that Smith and Baines are in the Hall are Smith and Baines. It's kind of nice that of all the Cooperstown-ish players I can think of those two probably cared the least about making the Hall and "politiced" for it not at all. Yet they both made it. That appeals to me. 

I watched the Ravens game on Sunday. Lamar Jackson was great, but can somebody, please, ask him to stop running like Robert Griffin did on the Redskins? I know they have Flacco over there almost ready to return but Lamar has to think about what happens to his NFL career when NFL linebackers eventually blow him up. Marvin Lewis was right; running QBs don't last in the NFL unless your name is Russell Wilson.

RGIII threw an excellent deep pass on the last Ravens play of the game that was almost caught to set up a makeable field goal to win the game. He was inches from being one of the day's big highlights. I never thought I would see him make even one relevant play in the NFL again. Wrong again, as is not unusual.

First off, do you think M.Lerner was sincere - in Harper being gone? I assume so given the $$ for the lefty. If that's the case, then do they spend that entire $300M on others or drop from the top in total salary for a few years at least. On salary - some outlets report that the Nats will have some bitterly dry seasons when the deferred money kicks in - am I to assume that the Lerners are just dumb (I don't feel that way), so, in your opinion what will happen with all the deferred money in the future?

 

Let's not make this too hard. Nobody, fan or scribe, likes to let go of a wonderful long-running saga.

Mark Lerner meant what he said. It was just the final "dot" in a coherent, consistent two years of "dots" that kept getting connected which said that the Nats were planning to 1) make Harper a decent, fair but not wonderful offer late in '18, 2) then move on with trades and off-season signings this winter, including a BIG one ($140M to Corbin) and 3) STILL have enough money left to, they hope, sign Anthony Rendon to a long-term deal that will be huge, but not nearly as huge as Harper's because, with Tony Two-Bags you are ONLY paying for the STEAK and adding nothing to the price for the Sizzle. Also, Rendon's "vibe" is more like Strasburg and peraps, just perhaps, he will go the Starsburg signing path in the months after the Harper Bazaar is finished. 

Everybody knows that Scott Boras does these big deals in sequence, unless his client is adamant that it be otherwise. Many fans forget that while teams are completely in the driver's seat in controlling players during their first six (or seven) years, the teams have NO CONTROL whatsoever with free agents. It's obvious, but it's forgotten when reasoning out why teams do what they do, including the Nats right now. When the Nats make their plans for '19 and beyond, they are enormously aware that their desire to keep a player, like Harper, MEANS NOTHING. They can build their whole off-season strategy around landing their own guy, and then one day he signs with the Dodgers. And you just spent the winter sucking your thumb, waiting and watching all the options that could have kept you a contender in '[19-'20 and '21 being picked off by other teams.

Running an MLB franchise is an enormous juggling act with all your options in the air at the same time. It's got to be nerve-shredding. There are moments of decision. You think, "We can GET Corbin! We can CLOSE this deal if we add one more year to the contract! But that brings the chances of keeping Harper AND Rendon down to zero." When you say, "Yes," to Corbin, something you couldn't have been sure of a few weeks ago, other options become more or less plausible. Harper becomes so remote that you want your fans to understand that it just isn't going to happen even though, until something is done and signed, there is still some tiny chance of almost anything happening. 

I think one aspect of the Harper situation gets soft-pedaled. The Nats really like Harper. And he really likes DC. But that is not the same as Unconditional Love. I'm venturing out of my comfort zone here, but you don't ask every person that you date, and whom you really, really like, to marry you.

I don't think the Nats want to marry their franchise to Harper and his fame, his big personality and his drama for the next 10 years. The day he signs such a contract, doesn't he become the most important, and perhaps most powerful person in the franchise for a long time? Is that something you want to find out about, though his MVP years (and I bet he has at least one more) and his down years and the seasons when he may show his age? Man, you are getting hooked up with one high-octane person for a very long time. 

The personalities of Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmerman and Rendon are also well-known. But if you sign Rendon to a deal until he is 35 or more, do you have the same trepidation about how his personality may impact the team. With Harper, you gain charisma and add-or-retain some #34 fans, but you add potential drama. And you better have a strong manager.   

I saw some tape of Harper hitting on MLB-TV the other day and I MISSED HIM ALREADY! He was such a show.

They also showed a close-up of some hideous baseball shoes that he was wearing in a game that looked like a Louis Vuitton bag, in pink, that had caught the measles.

When I think about Harper's future, I look at the list of the 10 players in MLB history who were most statistically similar to him after their age-25 seasons.

Reuben Sierra, whom I was certain was going to the HOF, was a total bust with a -1.9 WAR after he turned 25.

Tony Conigliaro got hurt. Career WAR after 25 was -0.5. Players get hurt. That's why it's a good illustration, though THE example, to have him in this group. 

Andruw Jones and Jose Canseco averaged 2.5 and 2.1 WAR-a-year for the next 10 years. They were good in some of those years. But you'd have been sorry you paid either of them $350M.

Ken Griffey, Jr.? Would you sign him for his 26-through-35 seasons? You probably think that you should. But his average WAR was 2.61, probably a $23-million-a-year player. And his later, post-injury years were a fade.

But if Harper turns out to be like Frank Robinson, Miguel Cabrera or Eddie Matthews are those ages, 58.9 total WAR, 48.5 and 57.4 respectively, the Nats and their fans, and me, are probably going to be beating our heads on hard objects in disappointment that he is doing it somewhere else.

The two active players who most resemble Harper stat-wise through 25 are also illustrative, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. We don't know how either of them will do in their 30's. But, once again, it shows the coin-flip nature of these momentous team decisions. If Harper is two-thirds of what we think Trout will be, then think of the remorse for not  making a crazy bid to him at some point. And, of course, it is still not ILLEGAL for the Nats to make just such a huge bid anyway they want to make it. And Boras will SELL that idea to every person in the media in every city in America on all eight days of the week. You will hear it CONSTANTLY, Harp back to DC, whether it is true or not. The Nats would have to insult every member of Harper's family and his DOG, TOO, to stop the talk. And they LIKE Bryce, and will have to do more business with Scott. So they aren't going to say any such thing.

That is why what Mark Lerner said last week has weight. It HURT Harper's leverage. It did not HAVE to be said. It opens thr Pandora's Box of "why doesn't the team that knows him best want him more?" You can daydream that this is all a complex Nats strategy. But here's what blows that idea up, Mark just HURT Harper/Boras' bargaining position with every other team. How much? Nobody knows. But Marks' words, including "We thank him for his time here" and the discussion of what a nice scoreboard tribute they'd put together for him when he comes back "with another team," THAT does NOT make Boras/Harper happy. Maybe it doesn't make them VERY mad. But it does NOT increase the chances that you WANT to return. Everybody in baseball is going to say, "Mark Lerner does not have that much imagination! The reason he's talking about scoreboard tributes when Harper comes back to DC is because Mark is a straight forward guy and that is what he is really thinking." 

If the 100-to-1 shot comes in, we'll all cheer, because the FRobby, Miggy Cabrera, Eddie Matthews outcome is absolutely possible. But I don't think anybody can complain about the way the Nats have figured out a Plan B and seem to be executing it. You just can't ask them, with all their needs, to wait for Bryce, or anybody, to make a potential $400-million decision, especially when you can't even know if YOUR $400M offer would be the one that got accepted. 

Enjoyed your column. But I actually have a morbid fascination in how inept this owner is. We don't get epic January victories on the field around here. We get to read about petty backstabbing as one failed regime crumbles and a new one jets in to vow greatness to come. And they will fail, miserably. No smart up-and-coming NFL assistant coach or GM would go near this job. Which leaves Snyder looking for his next Cerrato / Allen sidekick, and then overpaying some washed-up big name (Cowher) to save face. Getcha popcorn ready!

I like that Paul Newman popcorn. As "salty" as the mood the Skins put you in. Think I'll stock up.

It's been a rough half-century or so to be a Redskins fan, but does this season represent a new low in your opinion?

It's certainly a new low in fan disgust that's actually expressed in their own home stadium.

It's certainly a new low for bad luck/karma with TWO QBs breaking their legs. Good lord.

But I don't think a 6-7 season with everything that's gone wrong is anywhere NEAR a new low. The second half of Shanny's last season, with the every-Sunday-a.m. leaks about "I hate you even more than you hate me....nah, nah, nah, so there, and your mama, too," will probably always take the prize for me. Talk about two guys who were made for each other. 

Great job by Rizzo and Lerner to acquire Corbin! Seems like Bryce will be getting his $400 mil from some West Coast team... What other need should the Nats pick up before the 2019 season begins---2B, 1B, another starter, more relievers, a closer like Kimbrel?

That bullpen is not good enough. But do you wait to see how everybody shakes out, then see which relievers are available in July, and whose arms are still attached to their bodies? That is Rizzo's MO.

I wonder if they are pointed toward another quality starter, like Morton, who'd cost enough money that they'd be right up against the lux tax threshold. If you want to go crazy, go to Cot's Baseball Contracts and Baseball-Reference to try to figure out EXACTLY where the Nats' payroll is right now. Good luck! Have fun going down that rabbit's hole.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-t4BlpC_npBSj6KFivtDkuqtmEu5Vlk2yPvMZD_UkuQ/edit#gid=1393584019

What does the Redskins President do that the Redskins Cosch does not do? I don't understand the division of labor here. Thank you for your chats. I enjoy them every week.

The coach coaches. The President sits with the owner during games and tells him whose fault everything is and that it's never the team President's fault!

This was first explained to me in about 80's by Hank Stram and Tom Landry. Stram told me, "Watch out for the guy who sits next to the owner. He's the Franchise Wrecker."

Nothing changes.

Clearly the writing is on the wall that he was leaving all season. Is it bad that I'm hoping that he goes to the Chicago White Sox where we don't have to see him multiple times a season (Phillies), become a big star in the playoffs (Yankees) or even see him in a TV ad every commercial break (Dodgers).

MLB folks who analyze where Bryce is going forget that it is BRYCE'S CHOICE, not just a matter of who bids highest.

Bryce is not going to the friggin' Chicago White Sox if they are the highest bidder by $50M. First, they are the White Sox. 'nough said. And the owner Jerry Reinsdorf, the MLB-union-hating backroom architect of the '94 Strike that erased the World Series, and Boras have hated each other since before they were born.

And I'll believe that Harper goes to PHILADELPHIA when he plays his SECOND game there. Bryce ain't spending the 2020's hawkin' cheese steaks and cream cheese.

Can someone explain how Corey freaking Kluber can reportedly be available and every Nats fan isn't marching on the Mall to demand him? Do you think adding a second Max Scherzer on an extremely team-friendly deal would be good? I do! I'd take Kluber and his contract over re-signing Bryce any day of the week. Go get Corey Kluber!

Sounds good. But as Rizzo said at the Corbin presser, "Free agents only cost money. Trades cost money and PLAYERS."

Spoken like a man who finds and develops players, but gets to spend (up to a point) someone else's money.

Is he eating crow after watching the Redskins tank for a fourth straight loss? It's not the fans fault that we have no faith in the product on and off the field.

The only way you could get Josh Norman to eat crow is if you served it to him under glass and told him it was Duck L'Orange.

Boz, I've really enjoyed watching Harper these last years, though I've never become a huge *fan* of his in the way I am of lesser players. He can be thrilling to watch (at the plate, when locked in), or aggravating (committing a TOOTBLAN, or badly misjudging a fly ball), but always of course, you want him in the lineup. The Nats will miss him. But they'll also be fine. My question about Bryce is - will he be happy? And if so - where would that happen? My take: I've long assumed that if he left DC, it'd be for LA. He'll thrive in the spotlight, mingling with stars of every variety, look great in Dodger Blue, and be close to home in Las Vegas. I would never wish Philly sports fans on anyone, and that certainly applies here; the Yankees have never, for me, been a real option (an already-expensive set of corner OFers, but a real need on the left side of the infield, makes Machado an obvious choice). And I have a hard time seeing him just taking the absolute most money if it's, say, Chicago. So where do you think he lands? And will he be happy?

Bryce would be happy with the Dodgers. I'm not sure that they want him ENOUGH to make it happen.

If the Cubs didn't have SO many outfielders, I'd say he could be happy in Chicago.

He might hate New York. I don;t think he knows that. And I'm not sure. But that'd be my guess.

Houston would grow on him. Texas likes BIG. And he'd end up liking Texas (I think).

He would be fairly happy in Washington, though he has looked a bit out of sorts to those who cover the team daily for the last couple of years. Not every day. Just like he doesn't love the game, or being Harp, or something, as much as he did the first few years. After the Home Run Derby, and all the cheers, it got better. Maybe the LONG wait for free agency, the annual dramas, always about something new, and the mounting evidence that the Nats really appreciated him but weren't going to outbid the world for him, got tiresome.

It's curious. Like you, I think about "Where will Bryce be happy? Or where will he really be UNHAPPY," more than I think about "where will he go." Off the field, he's a very appealing person (to me) but probably not an entirely formed person, despite being in the national spotlight since he was 15. People always ask sportswriters what team they "root for."  If they'd lived the life for a few years, they'd understand why that doesn't apply. A pro sports team is LAUNDRY. Uniforms. The PEOPLE are real. And you get to know a lot of the people __some a little, some a lot. And you end up caring about what happens to the people, but much less what happens to the teams. I'm really sorry that Dusty Baker didn't win Game Five in '17. That bothers me. It didn't sit well with me that Wieters had the worst defensive game of his life that night __then stood up and admitted it, underlined it, wore it. What has that guy ever done to deserve "the game" to FIND him like that __to that DEGREE? And I felt bad for the fans. Probably most for them.

That the Nats __the whole Nats team__ lost it? Well, if they wanted to win it so damn much, then PLAY BETTER. 

 

Should the Nats be interested in the reds trying to move scooter gennett?

No.

There may be a pretty darn good second baseman still unsigned, and almost unwanted, on Ground Hog Day. I'd wait and see if that guy exists and how cheap you can sign him to a one-year deal. Don't block Carter Kieboom in '20.

A year from now, we may say, "The Nats were lucky that they never signed a free agent second baseman and, as a result, didn't block Carter Keiboom in '19!"

Does Mr. Snyder's political affiliation with our current president interfere with the ability to make football decisions, like giving Mr. Kaepernick reasonable consideration? Has this sort of political test ever come up in any other sports context in your career?

Everything interferes with Snyder's ability to make football decisions. Every person, place or thing that enters Snyder's line of vision becomes something with which he could potentially damage his team. It's the 8th Wonder of the World. Why would a President be any different?

Precedent? Not precisely. But from 1926 until 1948 __"only" 22 years__ everyone in MLB knew that Satchel Paige was as good or better than anybody who had ever pitched and yet not one team ever offered to sign him.

Things that seem unbelievably ugly in hindsight sometimes seem almost normal to an alarming number of people in real time.

But, gosh, I just can't come up with any contemporary examples.

Stars play by their own rules. It's not just a Harper thing, it seems to be a well-known matter throughout US pro sports. I'm not bashing Bryce here. But: Bryce played lackadaisical defense, overthrew cutoff men, got picked off or thrown out on the bases far too frequently. In a prior chat you once mentioned him swinging for the fences in the 9th inning when down by 2-3 runs in a 3-0 count with nobody on base. Is it possible that the silver lining of Bryce's departure will be that fundamentals get cleaned up in general, since cracking down on infractions may be easier in Bryce's absence?

"Cleaning up fundamentals in general" is a good thing.

A .900 career OPS is a very, very, very good thing.

If you can't get No. 2, or if you feel you must "move on," rather than be paralyzed indefinitely by someone else's decision, then you may have to settle for No. 1.

Rizzo nailed it a while ago when he said that he agreed that the Nats would still be a good team, with a good outfield, if they didn't have Harper BUT that he strongly DISAGREED with the statement that they would be a better team, in any meaningful way, without Harper.

Nobody in their right mind PREFERS to lose this guy.

There may be MINOR compensations __such as the one you mention. And there may be major compensations if you spend your payroll wisely in other ways. But that's what they are __compensations__ not celebrations.

With dozens of free agents still unsigned, and most of the signings to-date being one-year deals, I guess it's fair to say that the jury is still out on whether MLB owners have colluded to suppress the free agent market. But with a $300 million offer to Harper and the $140 million deal with Corbin, can we at least conclude that, if there was collusion, the Lerners didn't get the memo?

All the facts you mention have been noted by people around baseball, including agents. To date, there's not enough data for any conclusions, even though only three of the top 40 free agents have signed and I believe one of them re-signed with his old team (Eovaldi) which owners consider a "win" for their side.

It appears clear that the Lerners did NOT get the memo. Although, it you want to get conspiratorial, a team that broke ranks might want to get back in line by saying that it could no longer afford even the paltry $300M offer that it had previously made to itsd likely-future-HOF player.

I do NOT think that is what happened. But it is going to be a VERY interesting winter. And the first insult has not even been flung yet. The Winter Meetings will not tell all. But hey'll tell something. So far this off-season, LOTS of trades, including big names, and lots more big names (Klubeer) being mentioned. But precious few free agents signed. And only one of them an "overpay." 

By this time next week, I suspect this will be a dead issue. Seems to me trhat things are more likely to heat up.

That's it for this week. See you next Monday at 11 a.m. Thanks for all your questions, and I understand why so many are on the Skins or Nats because they are multi-level hot topics with possible firings, Kaepernick issue, Harper, Corbin, etc. But next week, lets start thinking more about the Caps, maybe. As always, it's up to you good folks. 

Footnote: The Miami Miracle TD was comprised of 100 elements. But it appears that Bill Belichick's decision to have 6-foot-7 Rob Gronkowski ANYWHERE ON THE FIELD is the sole strategic element that deserves criticism.

This is what happens when you strike an attitude for a dozen years and it ticks other folks off. Though I have to admit that it took a LOOONG time for that attitude to wear thin on me.

Last thoughts: Congratulations to the Maryland men's soccer team on its unlikely NCAA title on Sunday __with a 1-0 win over the Akron Zips. The Terps 5th straight shutout.

Also, my adult son, the Maryland grad and sports semi-nuts, is VERY happy at the signing of Mike Locksley as Maryland football coach. After our mutual declaration that we have finally sworn off the Skins forever __this is not the first time__ he went into an eloquent celebration of all Locksley's good and Maryland-appropriate qualities and history with the school. "He seems like a great person and a great hire," said my son. Anything else. "Well, of course, in a year, I may say he's an idiot. But I sure hope not."

Fans, ya gotta love 'em.   

Mike Rizzo stated that he picked up Corbin because it didn't cost him any players only money. Isn't this a false narrative since he forfeited a 2nd round pick, 5th round pick and $1m in international money? That's at a minimum three players and a pretty steep price to pay.

Yes, those are players, too. But Riz would maintain, I think, that those "picks" are projections and not "players" who have, in most cases, played multiple seasons of pro ball in the minors and established a track record that's a useful analytical tool. 

I can't help but take notice of the differing strategies for building an MLB club. Take the Nationals for example. They went from back-to-back 100+ loss seasons to a contender in a few years and have remained in contention ever since. Each time they have a setback, they tweak the team around the edges and try again. Contrast that with what the Diamondbacks and Mariners did this offseason. Both were winning teams right on the cusp of breaking through. But instead of trying to build around their core, they blew everything up to try again. At least that's the perception from 2,000 miles away. I don't know which strategy is more likely to yield a World Series title, but I sure appreciate the continuity of players and consistently quality product of the Nationals over the alternative.

I think the Harper decision, "monumental" as it seems, is viewed by the Nats as part of that continuum. They'd have been delighted if he'd taken the $300M. Thought they had to assuem he wouldn't. What I suspect matter MOST to them was that WAITING for Harpr to decide impacted, and delayed, SO MANY important decisi0ons that they had to make.

If Harper had become a FA in a year with no other major Nats players walking out, too, then they might have waited. But they have known for two years that they were goiong to have to replace their best LHP (Gio), their catcher (Wieters), their second baseman (Murphy), and multiple bullpen pieces, including their setup man Madson.

Now, in part because they did NOT waited, they have substituted Corbion (6.2 WAR) for Gio (1.5 WAR), Gomes and Suzuki (who, combined for >150g would have had more than 3.0 WAR based on '17-'18 prodcution) to replace catchers with NEGATIVE WAR the last two years combined.

In their dreams, the Nats have always thought that Eaton was an unidentified WAR star while Harper's value (4.4 WAR average over his 7 seasons) has been fully (and appropriately) appreciated.

In '19, we'll see if the post-major-injury Eaton is a 1.0 WAR or a 2-3-or-4 WAR player. FanGraphs WAR adores Eaton __so I don't use it. Baseball-Reference WAR seems more sane and even IT says Eaton was a 5.1 WAR player his last three years in Chicago. Do you know how GREAT that is? But the last two years, he's been 1.5 WAR in 410 Nats at bats. Or, maybe, 2,.25 WAR in 600 at bats. Eaton turned 30 last week. (Happy birthday!) That's not old. IF his leg is really back to 95% or more. Will it be? 

Not often you see a huge guy once nicknamed Mondo replaced, in a sense, by a guy called Mighty Mouse.

No question, Boz -- I just want to say that the way the first question was posed in the manner of a tough White House press corps query, and your willingness and ability to field it with a long, thoughful answer clearly demonstrate why fans love this chat. Well done, sir, and keep up the great work.

Geez, now I'll have to go read it. What did I say?

(Welcome to the Bizarro world of the chatosphere.)

Lets forget the local NFL team for a bit, as you suggest. The Caps are leading the Metro division, and have been playing some mighty fine hockey despite a slew of injuries. What are some things you might say to look for entering the New Year for them, or maybe around the League?

How well will Tom Wilson recover from his concussion. And will the NHL culture offer him the same protection from refs that it accords all other humans. Or is it OK to target Big Bad Guys, who aren't really all that bad.

The Caps are probably going to have to have his back now, just as he's always had theirs. 

Bos, It's a very scary situation for Alex Smith. It's not about whether or not he'll play again, but if he will lose his leg if they can't control the infection. I'm worried about his life, not his return to the field, which I hope he never does regardless, for his own sake. What is you view? How much money is he due in guaranteed payment? Thanks.

I have no opinion, and no inside knowledge on this. My only hope is that I see him walk into a press conference again. In the course of a day, Smith's health probably crosses my mind more than any other sports subject. Respect his privacy. Thoughts and prayers. 

I dream of the day that the Nats playoff games are outdrawing the Redskins. In my vision, DC, MD and VA voters aren't interested in providing any funding for such a poorly run and poorly attended team. Snyder sees revenue declining and no hope for improving them with a shiny new stadium, so he sells before he loses any more value. Have I any hope?

'Tis the season for making wishes.

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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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