Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Feb 11, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

How long until you think both are signed? I don't particularly care where they go, but I'm tired of reading about them, and I'm especially tired of reading about Scott Boras and Dan Lozano (it makes me long for the days when nobody, not even rabid fans, knew the name of a single player agent. But, as usual, I digress). I just want it to be over. When do you think it will happen? And -- the horror! the horror! -- what do you think the odds are that one or both could still be unsigned at the beginning of March?

I totally get your feelings: "I don't particularly care where they go, but I'm tired of reading about them."

As far as Washington fans are concerned, it certainly looks like the Nats roster is entirely constructed. They have every spot at least adequately filled for their 25-man opening day roster. I think the operative assumption is that they went ahead and successfully built a contending team without Harper. They still have about $11M in room underneath the luxury tax cap for this year, either for one more move fairly soon or as dry powder for a trade during the season.

Of course, as we always say, Ted Lerner is worth several billion dollars and baseball has no salary cap. He can offer any amount of money to any player, as long as he is willing to pay the penalties while also limiting his team's roster flexibility in the future. The Nats want to maintain good relations with Boras/Harper if his choices end up being quite poor, like Jake Arrieta last spring, and the best-of-a-bad-situation is to settle for some shorter length contract. After all the years that Machado and Harper have waited, I don't think they are very interested in 3-year contracts. Look at John Wall with the Wiz and Alex Smith with the Skins, they took the longest deals they could get (almost like "injury insurance") and they look very smart right now. If you have a chance to get a 7-to-10 year deal, I don't see how you pass it up. It helps other players, even if it's less than you wanted. Also, a "pillow contract" will tend to drive down deals for other players, even if it's for a high annual number. "If THEY can't get paid, who CAN get paid?"

The most important thing to remember about information during the free agency period every winter is that it is exceptionally unreliable. I started covering free agents contracts when I was the Post's MLB beat writer back when Reggie Jackson was an Oriole in '76, then signed with the Yanks. I probably knew almost every major agent, GM and team president back then. I followed free agency in detail for almost 30 years with the Orioles, then with the Nats. Remember when the Nats offered Mark Teixeira $188M a decade ago! Ted Lerner REALLY wanted him. The Nats own people told him that Teixeira was never coming to Washington and was just using the Nats' bid for leverage. But Ted wanted to be in the bidding game, get a feel for it and if Teixeira became a Nat, so much the better. Or remember the possible pursuit of Prince Fielder! Back then Ted learned the value of having a two-way-street with agents, especially Boras. By offering Teixeira what was probably the biggest offer, he helped Teixeira (and Boras, if I remember correctly) drive up the market for the player. That bid buys you some goodwill with the agent and with players who like owners who will "get in the game" and help the auction mentality take hold. Then, many years later, when the market for Max Scherzer isn't coming together as expected, look who gets to get in the game late and pull off the big coup, the Nats. 

Sometimes, you really do find out the contract offers, to the last penny in something close to real time. For some reason, I remember getting the number on Teixeira. But, generally speaking, the same people who will be quite candid with you on many subjects, including personal or touchy ones, will suddenly become unreliable deceivers when you ask about huge contracts. Why? Because their primary responsibility, probably their entire responsibility, is to their client or to the team that they work for (or own).

Basically, you are asking them to "Tell me something you shouldn't tell me" or "Tell me something for the daily rumor mill, even though I know you are trying to spin it to help your side in this negotiation."

This has never changed in 40+ years. But this off-season has been extreme. We are seeing a collision of Landmark Free Agents and a Landmark Crash in free agent salaries. Everything has gone from a secret to a State Secret! 

Nobody, that I'm aware of, has a particularly reliable record on reporting the day-to-day negotiations of either Harper or Machado in precise dollar-and-year terms. Broad picture, yes. Money details? Very murky. Is the White Sox current offer to Machado closer to $175M or is it now over $225M? (You see reports of both.) Have the Phils actually made ANY offer to Harper, that he can sign, yet?

What we end up with, usually, is the general shape of things and the sensible ballpark numbers. For example, if you had to handicap the Harper pursuit, I'd say it was Phils, Phils, Phils, Nats (if Ted Lerner wakes up one day and suddenly has a considerably different conception of his relationship to his money) and, then, as ugly long shots, because Harper should not want to play for these teams who don't look like contenders, the White Sox, Giants and Padres. But those last two teams just seem to want to keep a finger in the game in case Harper/Boras reach a point where they want a shorter-length contract.

 If I had to take the over-under on whether Harper and/or Machado would sign by "players report" day, which is next Sun-Mon for the Nats, I think I'd take the "over," it'll take more days than that. Boras like to go slowly. Arrieta didn't sign until March last year. Also, Commissioner Rob Manfred said something the other day about how good it would be to get these players signed by reporting day because it would be good for promoting the players and their new teams, or some such. Made me want to chuckle. That's just the commish of the moment trying to poke the players/agents. "Lets get movin'." Which, of course, means that the players/agents will be inclined to do the opposite.

This is the most complex off-season I've ever seen. I understand that plenty of fans are sick of the wait. But I'm going to be very excited, as an observer of the game, to see how these final chapters play out. 

 

 

MLB says they want to shorten game times. Good goal. They also say they want to expand the DH to have more offense. But offense means more batters which takes more time. Are these two goals mutually exclusive?

One nice thing about being a life-long sportswriter is that you develop a habit of mind in which your first reaction to many questions is: I wonder if there actually IS an answer to that question, and could it even be a MEASURABLE answer? Then, over the years, you begin to find places that are good quick sources of information. Often, the result is that, in a few minutes, you can give some semblance of a real answer. Or at least the framework of an answer. This chat frequently has those kinds of questions, which I enjoy. And this question may be one of them.

Last season, the AL scored 9.06 runs a game. The NL scored 8.74. That's +0.32 runs a game --about a third of a run. As I mentioned in my column on rules changes last week, a few of the new suggestions might improve run-scoring --perhaps by 1/2-a-run-a-game in the NL and a smidgen in the AL. Making a reliever pitch to a minimum of three men (or until he retires the side) would be one way --fewer match-up advantages that favor the pitcher. Of course, the DH would help the NL with a bit more run scoring.

To try to answer your question, how many more hitters reach base in the AL to produce that extra 1/3 of a run? This is not an exact answer. I'd have to look at it harder. But my first thought was "I bet that the increase is quite small and takes almost no extra time."

The AL's walks-plus-hits-per-inning (WHIP) last year was 1.312. In the NL, it was 1.296. So, in the AL there were 11.808 men on base by walks and hits versus 11.664 in the NL.

In other words, a tiny difference.

A more complete answer requires more work! In the DH era, what is the average time of a game for the AL vs the NL? That wouldn't take long to figure out. (But more time than I have.)

So, my answer would be that the DH would add time, but not much. Remember, pitchers only bat about twice a game per team, then you see pinch-hitters late in the game. So, you may be talking about 4 times per game when the starting pitcher hits.  (Nats pitchers had 304 at-bats in 162 games last year.) 

 

I was surprised to read an analysis the other day about Victor Robles rather low exit velocity on contact which I believe placed him in the bottom 10% of the league. "MLB has logged 777 hitters with 50 or more balls in play over the past four seasons. Of those 777 hitters, Robles ranks 733rd in average exit velocity." I was sort of hoping that Robes was a long term solution in center, however, his lack of power gives me some pause. Is this a legit stat for concern? Or will Robles be cast more in a Adam Eaton mold (high average, swipes a lot of bags, but less than 10 HR/season)? Thanks! Don

Robles hit a 430-foot bomb in Miami late last year that answered any questions I had about his raw power. How OFTEN will he hit the ball exceptionally hard? That's a totally different question. But the power is there and will become greater with time. His elbow injury last year must not have hurt him TOO much. I did notice that in Dominican winter ball in 25 games Robles hit .265 with a .662 OPS and only one homer in 98 at-bats. So, if you want to fret, be my guest. But that's a small sample.

It is important to remind everybody that Robles is a rookie, still, only 21, and that patience is usually needed. There are very few who debut like Juan Soto with a polished game.

I think the only number or read on Robles that makes any sense is his production at "All Levels" including his 93 plate appearances in the majors so far (.277, .843 OPS).

In 1956 plate appearances, most in the low minors, but those are still useful because he was young compared to other players in those leagues, his slash line is .296/.386/.456 for an OPS of .838.

So, he can hit. But nothing like Harper or Soto when they came up. Perhaps think more in terms of Trea Turner, who had a cup of coffee at 22 and is also a blazing runner. In the minors (1215 PA) Turner's line was .312/.375/.453 for an .829 OPS, very close to Robles now.

In the majors, Turner has slashed .289/.346/.456 for an OPS of .803.

The Nats would be very happy if Robles, with his defensive skills in CF and his base running, had an .803 OPS after a few years in the majors.

For reference, and to get our hearts started for a new season, Soto has had almost exactly 500 plate appearances in both the minors and majors for a total of 1006. His slash at All Levels is .329/.420/.565 for a .985 OPS.

That's just insane. And he hit .362 at all his minor league stops combined. He doesn't have to equal '18 to be a truly special player. Just sit back and watch.

With Robles, we can be a bit more nervous. It should actually calm the Nats, and Robles, a bit that they have another CF as OK as Michael A. Taylor. 

Can we send the Redskins into the new league in exchange for Orlando/Spurrier?

If only!

Of all the star college coaches that have come into the NFL in the last 20 years, the one I hoped would be a success the most was Spurrier because he's so funny. honest, edgy. He was a bust and, by NFL-obsessive standards, wasn't a fanatical worker.

Maybe you'll enjoy looking back to Spurrier's retirement in '15 and my column: "The Value of a Life Spent Basking in the Fun." I enjoyed this one.

 

 

 

I know that attendance usually trends in conjunction with the last season, but how do you see this season's attendance trending with a very active offseason, even without Bryce Harper?

I think there will be a lot of interest. I doubt that attendance will go down unless the team plays poorly. The impact of No Harper, if that's how it turns out, might show up in future. But, as many have pointed out this winter, no One Player makes you a winner in MLB. Mike Trout has made the playoffs once for one brief series. The Red Sox finished first just once in Ted Williams entire career.

This is a very entertaining club with Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin starting ~60% of its games and a lineup with Rendon, Soto, Turner, Eaton, Zimmerman, Robles, etc. A lot of speed and rising talent, but also plenty of questions, which makes it interesting (as long as the answers are pretty good.)

IOW, Harper's gate appeal might be of more importance to the Nats if they averaged 81 wins a year in the next 10 years. If they average 88, which might mean a distribution from 78 to 98 wins in various years, then they'd probably get in the playoff more than half of the time, and they probably wouldn't miss Harper too much at the gate.

(BTW, 880 wins for a decade would be a remarkable level --that's 140 games over .500. Few teams do that.)

Hello Boz, With all of the pitching prospects the Nats have traded away in the past 2 years (Pivetta, R Lopez, Giolito among others), do you know if they currently project anybody in their organization as at least a middle-of-the rotation starter aside from (maybe) Joe Ross or Fedde? With their top arms on the big club all over 30 or close to it, I would be concerned about this if I were Rizzo.

The BIGGEST reason that the Nats may not, and at the moment looks like "probably won't," sign Harper is the overall poor state of the Nats starting pitching at the end of '18, both in the majors and the minors. Harper's departure, if that's how it ends up, has far more to do with the Nats need for starting pitching now, and probably down the line, too, than it does with Harper himself.

What if ANY TWO of these things had happened?

Joe Ross never gets hurts, or comes back from injury looking like a mortal lock No. 3 starter. At one time, that's what the Nats thought he was. Or Erick Fedde, a first round draft pick, has developed into a quality starter. 

Or if the Tanner Roark of '17-'18 had been a continuation of the 2.85 ERA Roark of '14 and '16?

Or even if post-age-30 Gio Gonzalez had turned out to be a speed-changing soft-tossing rubber-armed lefty that the Nats could, perhaps, have extended for several years. Histiory is full of junk-balling leftie3s who kept going forever.

What if Lucas Giolito had been so dominant, when he was called up late in '16, that NOBODY would have thought of trading him?! When he was drafted, he was supposed to be the Next Starsburg. By the time he came up, he couldn't even get a swing-and-miss out of anybody, looked like he'd lost speed and confidence. That ALONE, if Giolito had been the Giolito who was touted, would have made a huge difference. They traded him, in part, because they saw what many fans and reporters saw, probably not a top-of-rotation guy and maybe not that good at all. If Lucas had panned out FAST, he might still become good, then we might be talking about how the Nats fine pitching pipeline allowed them to pour tons of resources into signing Harper.

The opposite happened. NOBODY developed. Only the pitchers that they got, or kept, by spending huge amounts of money, Max and Stras for a combined $385-million, are still in the rotation. They HAD to sign either Corbin or Keuchel this winter if they were going to contend in '19-'20-'21 while they still had Max and Stras under contract.

When the Nats look FAR into the future, they face the same issue. Max's deal is up after '21. What will it cost to extend him, if he's still very good? Very expensive. Or replace him if age catches up with him. That's very expensive, too. And, remember, Scherzer's "seven-year contract" is really a 14-year contract for $15M-a-year with all his deferred money. His original deal will be impacting the Nats' expenses, the actual money spent, year to year, although not the luxury tax computation, through '28. 

What happens when Strasburg's deal is finished in '23? How will his arm hold up until then? If you had a great pitching pipeline, you could say, "Let's take a chance on a huge long-term spend on Harper because we know our pitching will carry us, no matter what."

The situation is exactly the reverse. When the Nats look at the future they have to say, "Our OUTFIELDERS will probably carry us for many years. And our rising MIDDLE INFIELDERS. We'll have Soto through '24. We'll have Robles through '25 (I think). We even have Adam Eaton through '21. Trea Turner is ours for four more years. Our hot minor league shortstops --Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia-- haven't even made the majors yet! They might still be our middle infield in 2026! THAT'S where we save money! We should NOT spend on outfielders (like Harper) or middle infielders. We need to save that money for PITCHING in the '20s."

Which pitchers? Which years? As free agents? In high salary-trades? Who knows? But the Nats know that they will probably have to spend a lot of money on starting pitchers to remain contenders and spend it for a long time.

They CAN (probably).

But you have to economize somewhere. Maybe on $325M outfielders.

What's amazing, in light of all this, is that the Nats offered Harper $300M for 10 years in September!! When they KNEW they had to go out and buy starting pitching! If they had never made an offer, it might have been rational. Fans would have gone nuts. It might have damaged relationships with Boras and his clients. And it would NOT have continued the Nats' pattern of always making a big (but team friendly) offer to free agents before they could leave, Desmond ($105M), Zimmermann ($123M), Zimmerman, Strasburg. They even offered Wilson Ramos $30M (before he blew out his knee late in '16), even though they assumed he'd go to the AL has a DH after surgery/rehab. But they MADE HIM AN OFFER. Call it a "thank you," or just good form. Ramos ended up (after his injury) going to the AL (Tampa Bay) for two years and $12.5M.

Now that the Nats HAVE spent $198M on new players this winter, plus plenty more if players hit vesting levels for '20  (Trevor Rosenthal is guaranteed another $19M if he just appears in 50 games this year) or the Nats exercise team options (like ~$10M-a-year for '20 and '21 for Yan Gomes), are they STILL in position, I mean sensible position, to offer Harper a huge contract even if, for example, it is "only" for five years or seven years?

Everything I wrote about earlier, all the likely need for expensive extensions or new deals for more starting pitching over the next five years, are NOT GOING AWAY just because Harper decides, "I'd like to come back, but for fewer than 10 years."

Yes, maybe you could probably put Eaton in a deal for a starting pitcher. But the main point is: It's complicated! And the Nats No. 1 need, because their young pitching pipeline DIDN'T pan out or got traded, including good relievers in deadline deals, is NOT an outfielder, any outfielder. Their need is SP, Corbin now, and probably others over the next few years. Ted is rich. But he's not "as rich as Croesus."

has Manfred lost his mind? Post-dead-ball-era is like the safety bicycle, still recognizable after all these years, despite the changes in technology. I watched highlights of the Senators World Series win, and it looked like … baseball. I don't ant baseball to change its rules every year so that it becomes the NFL. What's broken in baseball, the time between pitches, is easily fixed. The rest—shifts, strikeouts—will be taken care of by teams and players making adjustments. And as someone who considers extra-inning games free baseball I cringe at the idea of putting a runner on second base to start the 10th inning. Insane. I'd apologize for the rant, but I'm actually holding back. --Tom in Alexandria/Section 316

I like the view from Section 316! If my wife didn't have a fear of heights, we'd probably be sitting near you. I even took her up there the first year in Nats Park to see if she could take it. "Nope." 

Thanks for the rant. I realize that my column last week on the new rules wouldn't sit well with everybody!

Also, just once, it's fun to see someone write the words, "I miss Bud Selig." 

It is amazing that those ancient newsreels from almost 100 years ago do look like -- baseball.   

I posted a similar question yesterday but edited it a bit. If you want to respond to either or neither it's all good, thanks for everything you do. The Wizards/Bullets have not won 50 games since the 78/79 season, so 40 years once this season is complete. They have only finished in the top third of the league one time during that span, in which they won 49 games and finished 9th in 2016/17. If every year was independent, there would be a one in ten million chance of never finishing in the top third for 40 straight seasons. If you say it takes three years to turn your team over, so only about 13 chances in the last 40 years, still odds of 1/200 to never finish in the top third. The Wizards are the only team coming close to this type of futility. Here is a quick summary of what you would think of as the worst franchises over the last 40 years: NBA 50 win seasons over last 40 years: Wizards: 0 Kings: 5 times, including a 60 win season Clippers: 5 times, all in last decade Charlotte: 3 times New Orleans: only once, but only been franchise for 20 years Timberwolves: 4 times Nets: only once, but 49 wins 3 times, and went to finals twice NFL 10 win seasons in last 40 years: Lions: 5 times, including 11 win season in 2014 and 12 wins in 91 Browns: 6 times, including 11 wins twice and 12 wins one time Tampa Bay: 7 times, including a 12 win season and a SB MLB: seasons finishing in top 1/3 of standings Padres: 98 wins, 4th overall in 1998, several other years with 90+ wins Pirates: twice in last five years, 5 times in last 30 Rockies: 2018, 2009, 2007 since expansion 25 years ago And those are the closest comparables! There are many types of pain in rooting for a team, but the Wizards is that they peak at a little above average. Their peak season was worse than every other franchises peak season for the past 40 years. I'm no longer excited about making the playoffs with no real title hope. Finally a question: Given this history, would you support a 76ers style tank to take a shot at a higher ceiling? They won't be out from under Wall's contract until five years from now anyway. I definitely would.

Thanks. This is Rant Monday, I guess.

I remember, maybe 15+ years ago, that I used to nag Kornheiser and Wilbon for their interest in the Wiz. I'd say, "Don't you realize how bad they are and how LONG they've been bad?" Abe was a nice man and built an arena in downtown that turned out to be important for the city and will probably be remembered, fondly, longer than the records of the NBA teams that played in it. But Abe was a very poor owner for a very long time. I remember walking around the concourse of that old sway-backed thing on the beltway with the top exec of another NBA team. He looked at all the bigger-than-life-size photos on the walls of players from the Golden Era of the '70s. Or even parts of the '80s. "This franchise is locked in a time warp," he said. He was right. They lived in the past. The same people ran it for years. Everybody was comfortable. Nothing changed. When Ted Leonsis took over, I thought, "Well, HE won't let the SAME people make the SAME mistakes for 10 years at a time."

I was wrong. Leonsis has let Ernie Grunfeld make the same mistakes for SIXTEEN years at a time.

Since the Wall injury, the Wiz just make me sad. I thought the Porter trade was a semi-tank. Look at the history of Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker in Chicago and they both averaged 14 pts a game this year off the bench. But both are inefficient players with almost invisible career VORPs.

Then in their first game with the Wiz, they combined to play 51 minutes with a monster combination of 37 points, 17 rebounds, 11 assists and five steals with 2 turnovers!

What??? They can't even tank correctly! The next game, the Wiz win again and the new pair played 64 minutes off the bench with 30 points, 17 pointrs, 10 assists, 4 blocks. 

We'll see if they revert.

It'd be just like Ernie to make a good trade for players who won't be here long enough to help when Wall gets back but will help keep the team from losing enough this season and next year to get lottery picks. 

I feel bad for Wall. But I really had a hard time watching him this year, even though his numbers were good. He has amazing skills. But he just doesn't play anything remotely like Team Basketball. Everything that's ever been said against his game, or his ability to blend with teammates is semi-true. He over-dribbled. He was a ball hog. He took bad shots. He burned the 24 second clock time after time and forced others to make poor decisions in the final seconds. With age and injury, his defense became somewhat slack. He can make the flash defensive play, the chase-'em-down block from behind or the steal in a passing lane. But just hard-nosed continuous defensive effort, no. In part because he spent so much time controlling the ball at the other end.

Can Wall spend the next 15+ months improving his shot, analyzing his game and figuring out how he should play when he comes back, older for sure and and maybe half-a-step slower?

Wall has so much heart, played injured, remember the damaged wrist in the playofffs. And they played as a team when they had Paul Pierce FOUR years ago.

Here's what's really sad. Who says that tanking would even help the Wiz? In effect, they have been tanking for most of the last 40 years! Look at the seasons of 50-or-more loses just starting with '89-'90 and working up to recent times: 51, 52, 57, 60, 58, 61, 53, 63, 57, 63, 56, 59 and 53. In that time, they had 10 picks in the Top Six. Hello, Kwame Brown.

Yes, I'd tank.

Unfortunately, it's harder to tank now because, usually, there are several teams trying to race to the bottom.

Good Lord, the weather outside looks as cheerful as winter in Bulgaria. Lets try to find a more upbeat subjects.

I wanted to talk about my favorite Frank Robinson memory. In 2006, the League-owned Bowden-led Nationals thought that they could get a leg up on the competition by getting more offense from the backup catcher position (it was a bad idea). This led them to run out some guys who were really more emergency catchers than true backup catchers. One of them was Matt LeCroy. LeCroy's issues throwing out runners had been brewing for a while, and one day the Astros stole seven bases on him (the Nats still won the game). At the post-game news conference, Frank Robinson was very close to tears -- because he had been involved, however indirectly, in embarrassing a major league player and teammate. Seeing how much he cared about his players, he really couldn't do any wrong in my eyes after that. (LeCroy never did catch again for the Nats).

Good story. I wasn't there that day. But those who were say that he actually did cry a bit.

LeCroy reportedly said that he didn't blame Frank at all: "My father would have done the same thing."

Do you think Ted Lerner gets the final phone call from Boras, the last chance to match a bid from SF or Philly or wherever, before Bryce signs?

By now, it might not be a bad idea to call all 30 teams for a "last chance," but when they answer, just say, "Oh, sorry, I must have 'butt dialed' you by accident. But since you're on the line, what about $300M for 10 years? That sounds pretty good to us now."  

Boz, Last year in the first two times through the order (good for 82 IP in 25 starts), Jeremy Hellickson had a 2.30 ERA and a better than 6:1 K:BB ratio. Davey was certainly pretty aggressive about pulling him after that but when he wasn't, Hellickson was totally lit up (9.1 IP - 14 ERA, .419/.500/.721 slash line). Can they take this as simply proof positive to never, EVER let him face a lineup a third time and just take those 4 innings with 0-1 runs allowed every five days (even if it means another 2 innings for the bullpen)?

Glad to see they brought him back. As the options started disappearing off the free-agent board, I started to think, "They aren't going to let Hellickson slip away, are they? You need EIGHT starters. They only have six now that Jefry Rodriguez is gone."

Hellickson is  a really smart pitcher, good change-up and sneaky fast for a while. (Or are his other pitches 'sneaky slow?') I've never seen anybody embody the third-time-through-the-order issue as dramatically as he did last year. Maybe it's in his head by now. Maybe it was a little fluky. 

I think you can let him go further if he has a 3-4-run lead. That won't happen often, but give him a chance if he does.  Last year, that was seldom the case. I thought Martinez left him in a bit too long a couple of times when the score was close. With him, I think you have to pick your spot. In a close game or behind, get him VERY quickly. But when he has a lead, act like he's (almost) a normal pitcher.  

Had Nats not pounced early on Patrick Corbin, would he be stuck in Free Agency purgatory with Bryce and Manny? This really feels like collusion.

Yes, it FEELS exactly like collusion, which I covered. That doesn't prove that it is. But if I were a player, I'd assume something was fishy, but until new events pushed me in a different direction.

However, I'm NOT a player. So, I can still wait and watch. Until the Harper and Machado cards fall, we don't REALLY know what we are talking about.

However, when only ONE free agent has signed a contract for more than four years.....

When you cover a game, don't be in a hurry to tell the game how it should turn out just because you want to get started with your writing. Let it play out, let it teach YOU something. Don't try to teach the game.

Same with Harper, Machado, Kimbrel, Keuchel. Let's see what we can learn, what we can infer, rather than pretending we know how it will all turn out, before it happens. 

 

Boz, You've been consistent in saying the Nats need more starting depth. Well - as of now they have, 1-8, Scherzer-Strasburg-Corbin-Sanchez-Hellickson-Ross-Fedde-Alvarez, with Will Crowe a possibility later in the year. You can never have enough pitching of course, but - is that sounding like *closer* to enough?

I still think they are a quality arm short in the bullpen. But I don't have a clear sense of Barraclough. Also, I think they want to give a fair chance for their young or inexpensive arms, Glover, Suero, Miller, Grace to establish or reestablish (Grace) themselves.

However, this is a far cry from starting the season with a healthy trio of Doolittle, Madson and Kintzler. They were THREE potential closers if somebody got hurt. Madson and Kintzler had poor seasons. But you needed a crystal ball to know that. On paper, the Nats went into the season with the back end of the bullpen as a strength. You can't say that now. Doolittle is excellent. But he's had his injuries, too. This is the one area that doesn't quite seem covered. 

But, come on, overall, this is a remarkable offside. Getting Dozier for one year, just what you need, on top of all the other fixes, that' very strong. When you seriously upgrade your weakest spots, 3rd starter, catcher (with TWO good veteran catchers), second base, that's remarkable.

Tom....after seeing Parker and Portis play a couple of games, granted against weak teams, the trade of Otto to Chicago seems to be more than a salary dump. With Portis a RFA who is only 24 and would fill the need for an athletic big, could you see the Wiz trying to resign or match offers from him? I like what I've seen from Parker, but with a $20M team option for next year would assume the Wiz would not pick it up? Thoughts?

They needed to get rid of Otto's salary after Wall got hurt. So, that's good. It gives them options. Of course, you don't want to get rid of Beal and you CAN'T get rid of Wall. So, it had to be Porter. You always hope that any new players do well, and both, as I mentioned, are off to very good starts. When players leave DC in any sport, we always hear about the benefits of a "change in scenery." Maybe Parker and/or Portis will benefit.

Hi Boz, This is old, but right after the blown call in the Saints-Rams game, I saw someone on Twitter say that if we have to have pass-interference replay, then it should be at full-speed only. That is, you're only going to change the ruling on the field for a truly blown call. I think this is smart and I'd love to the see the same in baseball for the was-he-or-wasn't-he safe calls in baseballs, which are driving me crazy. What do you think?

I'm afraid that's "not good enough" for me. I'd get rid of MLB replay on tag plays. It worked just fine for a century with no replay. The number of ridiculous "overturns" now for players who are clearly safe but then go off the base by one inch now FAR outnumbers the "blown calls," which usually aren't blown very badly anyway.

You're going to see unnecessary injuries with players scrambling to stay on the base after slides. Sometimes a change is just stupid on its face. This is one example. The out-safe call on tags on the bases has been made on a sense of "justice," he SHOULD have been out or safe, for generations. Go back to that.

On plays at the plate? Hmmmmm? Maybe keep replay on those. It's the "second tag" on a caught stealing that drives me crazy. It is "not baseball."

What do you make of reports that the Nats will have final dibs on making or matching an offer? If that’s the case, they can’t really let him go to Philly, the only team likely to make him a long term offer, can they?

If you were Boras wouldn't you want the idea of "last dibs" to float around in the atmosphere, to put a little pressure on the Nats?

What really ought to put a bit of pressure on the Nats is the Phils getting Realmuto AND maybe getting Harper, too. Before the Realmuto deal, I thought the Phils were still a paper tiger, even if they got Harper or Machado. Now I don't. I assume the Phils will get one or the other. And I think the NL East looks like a wonderful four-way brawl.

At the beginning of free agency, I wrote that the Lerners really needed to "get out their wallet," to sign Corbin, improve the catching, get one of the many starting 2nd basemen, bring back Adams. Good night, they did everything I was whining about and a couple of other things, too. So, when they (accidentally) do what you suggest, you're kind of stuck with it! In a normal division, I'd say the Nats look like a base-case 90-92 win team. (I've seen stat predictions that they are 87.5 wins. I think that's low Also, Braves were at 83 wins. That's ridiculous. Atlanta is way better than that.). However, it's going to be tough to gather cheap wins, and maybe a WC spot, in the NL East. Fun to watch. But what a tough test.

Since his latest (and most serious) injury came when he wasn't wearing the protective boot he was supposed to wear, can The Wizards negate his very expensive contract? Should they?

Got to say that I smacked my head when I read that. As to your question: I don't know. I'll ask around.

Wall was quoted as saying that maybe God was trying to tell him something (with the injury). I realize that this is an innocuous comment. Still, it's hard not to think that it would have been nice if Wall had listened to what his DOCTOR actually DID say, keep the boot on, except in the shower.

Obviously, John will regret this a thousand times more than any of us.  

Boz, Now that two of the Big Three are gone, what can we expect from the Wizards, not just for the rest of this season, but next season too?

Lot of (sad) Wiz questions this a.m. But almost none on the Caps. They concern me two-thirds of the way through the season. We're accustomed to seeing the Pens pull it together and come roaring into the playoffs in good form. Can the Caps do the same? That is almost entirely dependent on their ability to play better defense. They take FAR too many minor penalties: Only one team (Col) has given its foes more power play opportunities than the Caps. And they are 23rd on the penalty kill. They take penalties, then they can't kill 'em.

Is that connected to having a rookie head coach and other new faces on the staff? Trotz always preached defense and jumped on those who weren't doing a good job.

How much of the poor defense is the blueliners in front of Holtby? And how much is just that Holtby may now be past the best three seasons of his life and, last season and this year, has tailed off somewhat? Remember, he was benched last year before he got hot in the playoffs.

In his three best seasons, '14-15, 15-16 and 16-17, his goals again averages were splendid, 2.22, 2.20 and 2.07, and so were his save percentages, .923, .922, .925.

Last year and this year, the drop off has been dramatic: 2.99 goals against last year and 3.07 now, with save percentages of .907 and now .906.

Last year, the Caps were tied for the 6th-best record in the NHL. They were hardly anybody's favorite for the Cup. This year, they have the 10th-best record. They are a hard team to figure out. They were loaded with talent in the two years they won the President's Trophy, but they were a far better TEAM last season, with a commitment to playing defense, hitting, blocking shots and mental alertness, especially in the playoffs.

Which team are we going to see the rest of this regular season and in the playoffs? I'd never have guessed that Ovechkin would be leading the league in goals, shooting the best percentage of his life (17.5% vs 12.6% career), and even be blocking more shots and dishing out more hits than in the past, yet the Caps would be 30-18-7. I figured Ovi and Backstrom (who's now on his normal point-a-game pace) would be pooped after the Cup win. But that Kuznetsov would blossom. Like the song says, Goes to show you never can tell.

Not to make anybody feel bad, just to perk myself up since some of the topics today were a bummer, spring training starts this week! First on the field workout for Nats pitchers and catchers will be Thursday. Which means that most of the new Nats, Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Rosenthal, Gomes, Suzuki and Barraclough, will all be there. Looking forward to meeting them. And feeling the sun! Lets get together again next Monday at 11 a.m., when I should have lots of fresh stuff to get us rolling.

 

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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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