Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Feb 19, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

The Nats offered Harper a $300 million which in retrospect looks pretty fair. Do you think that may affect Rendon's approach to extending his contract here? I know both are represented by Boras.

The Nats have a long history of making offers, which in hindsight, were fair to all of their home-grown players. I assume Anthony sees that pattern and has some respect for it. The Nats don't "low-ball' although, like almost all teams, they seek a "hometown discount." The Nats offered Ian Desmond (~$107M), Jordan Z'mann (~$123M), Ryan Z'man ($100M extension) and Strasburg ($175M).

Everybody in Florida says the obvious: the '20 free agent class will not think that entering the FA market is as wonderful an experience as they always assumed. MOST important, they now see that they may not even have the option to go to one of the teams/towns that they REALLY want. Nobody thought Harper or Machado wanted the final teams in their chase to be the Phils, Padres and White Sox! That's a disaster for them.

So, yes, I think that Rendon will weigh these factors. I also think, like Strasburg, comfort and peace of mind matter to him. But Anthony is VERY private. He may have his own ideas on where that comfort and peace of mind exists. Maybe he thinks there is a place that's even better for him than D.C. (I think his answer on that WOULD be D.C., but he really keeps his deepest feelings to himself.)

I was shopping at Whole Foods in West Palm Beach a few days ago. There was Rendon, by himself, filling up his shopping cart. Nobody noticed him. Certainly, nobody spoke to him. Of course, as I shopped I looked a few times to see if he'd been "spotted." No way. As I left, he was in the check out line, still anonymous. No, I didn't bother him.

The Nats No. 1 priority this year, by far, is to re-sign Rendon. They can't talk to him until Boras finishes his work with his other clients. But Anthony, whom the Nats love, is Job One.

In fact, if they do extend Rendon, but not Harper, they'll feel like they did a good job all around since they made Bryce a fair offer and he wasn't interested. If they don't get Rendon, they'll think of the double defeat as a major problem, a real forehead smacker.

So, we still do no know where Harper is going. If we believe rumors, he is probably going to the Phillies. He is projected to be about 5 WAR. For the Phillies, he is replacing a replacement level player for 30+ mill, putting the team offensive war from 21.5 (meh) to 26.6 (Good). For the Nats, he replaces Adam Eaton and his 2.5 projected WAR (I think that is low). So the Nats go from 27 to 30. Not a huge improvement. But the delta between Nats and Phillies goes from 10 extra WAR for the Nats to 1 extra WAR. But, Bryce is extremely inconsistent from year to year. If he was going anywhere other than ATL/PHL/NYM, I would say let him walk. Phillies, you have to think. I do believe the Nats are better than the Phillies even with PHL having Harper, but marginally. The question then goes, how much is he worth to not be on on the Phillies. I also think that his defense will be better (less ground to cover), and he will always have 40+ homers in PHL. Max vs. Harper will be fun to watch. Stras ate Harper alive in spring training a few years ago.

Most chats touch on many different subjects. As you can see from my first answer, this isn't just "any chat." This week we'll start with the free agent sweepstakes.

No, Bryce Harper is not coming back to the Nats, according to Nats FO sources, Nats players themselves who've analyzed how much the team has spent this winter and even Lerner-family friends who've been told that "Harper isn't coming back."

There is only ONE source who has NOT confirmed this. Punch line: Ted Lerner. And he's the only one who could actually say "Yes," to bringing back Bryce at something like $315M for 10 years. So, all NORMAL reporting says that Harper to Nats is a "NO" and that the team has not engaged with him, besides a social visit on 12/23, since the original $300M offer to which the Nats never even received a counteroffer, just six weeks of silence until after Bryce became a free agent. But the Nats are not a normal team on which to report. Ted and Scott Boros have done major deals on which the only two people involved were them.

That's why normally responsible reporters continue to throw the Nats name in the pot. It's the Ted-Scott Factor. So they (we) all smack our heads and give Boras an extra card to play by acknowledging that "the game ain't over until Ted doesn't sing."

Now, to this chatters question. Yes, the Nats have to be aware that Harper to Phils is NOT the same in its impact on the Nats future as Bryce to White Sox, Pads or Giants. And it sure looks/feels like he's going to the Phils. Also, those who think that "nobody is worth a 10-year contract," may want to consider that if Bryce is a Phillie, then his prime-of-his-prime will be '19-'20-'21 at ages 26-27-28 and that exactly overlaps with the Nats Scherzer-Strasburg-Corbin window with three top pitchers on the same staff.

If you crunch the numbers, in a way similar to this chatter, using the forecasts for '19 on Depth Charts__ the Nats have improved themselves by +7.0 WAR already this off-season even if they do NOT sign Harper.

But if they did sign Harper (projected 4.9 WAR) and traded Eaton (projected 2.5 WAR), the Nats would improve by 9.5 wins.

Keep in mind that last year the Nats SHOULD have won 90 games based on run differential, which, when you are trying to anticipate the NEXT season, is usually giving you a number closer to the truth of a team's ability than the previous year's W-L record. IOW, the Nats were 82-80 last year but I think of them as an ~86-win team. If they've improved by 7 wins with their off-season moves, and have better health this year, they are a 90-95 win team.

That and $5 will buy you a latte.

Your main point is the key one: The ONLY reason that the Nats might even consider jumping back in is that Harper-to-Phils impacts them so directly. But I still don't think they'll get in the game, at any number. I think they like their current team, a lot. They like being slightly under the lux-tax ceiling (by $11M) so they have a LITTLE flexibility to make a move if they have injuries or want to add a player at the trade deadline. And, most of all, they will avoid what they consider to be the too-heavy burden of $30M+-a-year added to their future salary commitments if they got Harper.

Tom, there's been some speculation as to the context in which the player told you to "write it" in re Harper's fundamentals. Was it the dig it appeared to be or something more nuanced? Hard to imagine Harper seeing that and wanting to return... Thanks.

First, let me say that I have been making this same point for years. EVERY Nats veteran during Harper's time in DC has said the same thing. Nobody, and no player, is perfect. A Nats vet, who really likes Harper personally and thinks he's an outstanding player, told me that Bryce only had one important drawback: "Bryce gives 100% effort, 85% of the time. That makes it tough to police the clubhouse."

I've nagged Harper about this many times in columns, chats and in person. Compared to all the OTHER flaws that players can have, it's minor. You have "clubhouse lawyers" and "clubhouse cancers" and "back-stabbers" and plenty of talented players who give "85% effort 100% of the time!"  

Eleven months ago (3/26/18) I wrote about this issue of  clubhouse culture at length in a chat which was also "pulled out" to run as a story in the print edition. Here's the pertinent part.

...

"From 43 springs of covering the Orioles, and later the Nats’ teams in spring training, I can promise you that there is no connection, whatsoever, that I can find between W-L record in Florida (or Arizona) and eventual W-L record. Nor is there a connection between individual numbers in March and the regular season. Sorry. I’ve looked and looked. And given up.

However, I do have an anecdotal sense that the overall quality of play — mental sharpness, lack of mistakes, the tone and feel of the way the team plays — has some relevance. Not always. But I watch for “slipshod,” because I don’t like it in any form anywhere and don’t think it ever leads to good outcomes. To me, the Nats have looked mediocre-to-slipshod all spring. If they start poorly, or if, all season, they are simply not a team that plays tight baseball — in the good sense of “tight,” like “they run a tight ship” — then that’s going to point back at [Manager Dave] Martinez. That was probably the loosest team, in a good sense, and the loosest ship, in the dubious sense, that I’ve ever been around in spring training.

Martinez himself, and his coaches, are very intense during games. Watch them in the dugout. They are very much on top of details — more-so than Dusty [Baker], I suspect, and, because he’d spent so little time as a coach (much less manager), more so than Matt Williams. Will the Nats “tighten up their game” to match their manager and coaches once the season starts?

That’s certainly something I’ll watch, especially because I don’t think the Nats, in this 2011-2018 period, have ever paid enough attention to fundamentals and have never come down hard on players who get away with basic baseball mistakes, like Harper. Bryce, whether he knows it or not, should be a much sounder ballplayer now in his seventh full season, than he is. He still overthrows cutoff men or tries to make flash throws, then when something goes wrong he’s not mentally back into the game by the next hitter. He got thrown out at third twice in one game in Florida. He’s much too smart a person to keep showing up on the TOOTBLAN lists. At times, he plays smart. He really is a student of the game in many ways. But at times, he plays like a kid. If he leaves after ’18, the only “plus” that I can imagine is that, maybe, the Nats can clean up some of their mistakes by cracking down on everybody. [Jayson] Werth tried. But he wasn’t the manager.

Harper’s style may be connected in some ways to the grandfatherly version of Davey Johnson who managed the Nats in Bryce’s first two years. Overall, that was a huge plus for Harper because Johnson, correctly, saw a future hall of famer and MVP, and a teenager who was, at heart, a wonderful young man. Davey never let any of Bryce’s adolescent moments detract from his overall clearsightedness about Bryce and how to encourage and support him, especially since he had many haters then. But the ’11-’13 version of Davey was quite different than earlier times when I covered his teams. Davey had several personal tragedies to deal with and almost died himself during the long period when he was out of MLB as a manager. It mellowed him a great deal. That had advantages. But he was a different manager.

Nobody was ever more on top of things than Davey at his best with the ’80s Mets or ’96-’97 Orioles — that’s something the Nats probably never quite saw. His players loved him in Washington; if they’d had him 15 years earlier, they’d have loved him quite a bit less, because he’d have been all over their butts more often, but they’d have thought he was an even greater manager. Davey’s first task in Baltimore was to define who the top dog was between him and Cal [Ripken Jr.]. That didn’t take long. If I remember correctly, and I’m a little fuzzy on this one, he pinch-ran for Cal late in a close game. Nobody had ever done that. When we asked him why, he acted like it was no big thing. Cal, then in about his 15th season, was pretty slow. Davey was the boss. And Cal liked that.

In D.C., Davey always felt Harper needed support in getting established and tried to keep him from getting jumped by critics or other players for every little thing. Twice, when Bryce made mental mistakes, Davey benched him the next day to make a point to him, but covered for him by saying it was just a “day off.” It’s been hard to roll that back. Harper and Matt Williams hit it off instantly and Matt really helped Bryce emerge as a great hitter — as a sounding board from at-bat to at-bat, day after day. Williams doesn’t get enough credit for that. But by the time Dusty arrived, it was already Harper’s fifth full year, he was MVP, the [Jonathan] Papelbon thing still hung in the air and it was no time to nag Harper about every little thing. The view was that Harper was a great player and an established (and essentially “finished”) player, too. Any mistakes were just his aggressive nature, or something, and that wasn’t going to change.

At times, the Nats have definitely protected and “babied” young, under-big-pressure stars like Harper, Strasburg and Rendon in their first two or three years. All-in-all, it has worked out very well. But, in some vague way, there has been a price. I watched the ’16 World Series between Terry Francona’s Indians and [Joe] Maddon’s Cubs and thought, “The Nats don’t play the game as crisply, aren’t as demanding of themselves in every moment, as these two teams. The Nats are very good at focus. But these teams are a level better.” And that’s one (of many) important elements in October."

....

So, this is (very) old news to anyone who is on or around the Nats, and to most Nats fans. There is almost NOTHING good about losing a Bryce Harper. The only SMALL silver lining is that your clubhouse should be able to have much greater accountability and fundamental soundness when everybody stands on the same level ground. Rizzo has definitely tried to add veteran leaders who WILL police the clubhouse, some with sharp words, others with a softer tone. The '19 list looks like (in no particular order): Max Scherzer, Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick, Brian Dozier, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Zimmerman, Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. That's a LOT of player-semi-managers. This team should not even NEED a manager, Davey Martinez or otherwise, to play the game the right way.

To illustrate, the Nats have so many veterans this year that 13 players who may be on the roster on Opening Day were at least TEN YEARS OLD when Juan Soto was BORN. Or as Jeremy Hellickson said when he saw the list, "That's insane."

Doolittle, Hellickson, Justin Miller, Sanchez, Max, Solis, Strasburg, Gomes, Suzuki, Matt Adams, Dozier, Kendrick, Zimmerman. Matt Garce and Eaton missed the list by a few weeks.    

After reading your article on the fundamentals being the reason the Nationals would be better without Harper than with him, and I have to disagree. If the coaching staff is allowing Harper to be the player who "can’t go 10 days without failing to run out a groundball etc." - I also think this is completely overblown, but one question at a time - then why is this a Harper issue, not a management issue? This team will be better than last year because of the additions and (hopefully) the attention to detailed management has preached so far. But to say this current team would be better without Harper is blasphemous. The Nats have been an excellent team with Harper and his "warts" before, and him returning would instantly make this team much better.

I didn't write the headline. And I don't think there is ANY way that the Nats are "better without" Harper. That's ridiculous. But all teams, when a star is subtracted, say, "Is there ANYTHING about this that we can turn to the good?" In Harper's case, that's pretty obvious. BUT there has been no indication over the last seven years that the Nats have ever been more than "pretty good" at fundamentals. At the World Series, I've been known to turn to Dave Sheinen or Barry and say, "The Nats are not 'fundamentally unsound' or they couldn't win as many games as they do. But they are NOT as sharp and alert as most of the teams that get to the World Series every year." 

Do the Nationals players or staff spend much time with their counterparts on the Astros during spring training? Seems like the Nats could learn a thing or two from the team that shares their West Palm home field.

I have never seen an Astros player, manager or exec in all the times I've walked into the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. That's how huge the whole complex is. It's like saying, "Do those Army and Navy guys just bump into each other at the Pentagon. 

Okay, it's not 1/1,000th as big as the Pentagon. But they are separate worlds even though they are just the first base side (Nats) and third base side (Astros) of the same stadium (in the middle).  

Boz I’m not usually one for feed ‘em to lions, but I’d try to trade Zim or Waive him. He is a leader by example who can’t example at the plate. Ok that’s nuts but I’m at a loss to figure where the leadership this team needs for urgency and accountability will come from? Cora did such great job in Boston. Did he do things better or different than Martinez? What’s the difference bt the two?

Please stop with Zimmerman. Harper's career OPS is .899. Zimmerman's OPS the last two years in 229 games is .892.

Depth Charts predict that Zim and Adams will combine for 35 homers (24 by Zim) and 113 RBI in 785 plate appearances. (They're assuming that one of them DHs in interleague games and also gets plenty of PH chances). Streamer only gives them 740 PA, which is probably more sensible, with 33 homers (21 by Zim) and 96 RBI.

1st base is not a problem (on paper). There are now defensive stats that say Zim was one of the best defensive 1st basemen in the NL last year. All of us reporters got a chuckle out of that, more opportunity to mock "advanced" defensive analytics. But maybe it means Zim has improved a bit over there.

The Nats don't need to get rid of Zimmerman. They need to restructure his contract. They owe him $18M this year and a $2M buyout of '20 (they'll never pick up his $18M option, obviously). They need to re-do the deal, since they already owe him the $20M, so that it's broken up over two years with, perhaps, some sort of incentive for doing it. Maybe you make it $11M + $11M and he's part of your platoon in '20, too. I've talked to both Rizzo and Zim about this. Ryan makes it clear he'll end his career in DC but also wants to keep playing as long as he's still hitting (.824 OPS last year). He just wants to stay healthy. Riz has no reason to be in a rush to get this done. But it was my sense that it might be a way to get some more flexibility (several million) under the lux-tax for this year. But I'm not an expert on how that works.  

The Redskins get all the coverage with good reason, but their success seems recent in comparison to the Wizards, who have been mediocre or worse for 40 years. Now, with Wall out and bad money tied up with his contract and Mahinmi's (at least next season), it looks like they'll stay that way for the foreseeable future. Growing up as a Bullets fan I told myself they'd eventually become good and it would all be worth it. Now, I'm telling the same thing to my children. The worst part is that I think Abe and Ted actually want to win, but they also don't want to fire bad GMs (Wes and Ernie). DC should be a great basketball town, but 40 years of mediocrity is a long time.

Everybody who grew up in and around DC in my time, and for MANY years after that, knows that this area is basketball crazy, city and suburbs. It's just a core part of our sports culture. But the Wiz are the only team in the NBA not to have a 50-win season in the last 40 years, just as the Skins are the only team in the NFL not to have an 11-win season since '91 (27 yrs). We have our burdens! But the Caps have been good-to-excellent for 30+ years and now have a Stanley Cup. The Nats have been one of the best teams in MLB for the last seven years and think that they will "win 90-a-year for the next several years" at least.

I assume that the Otto Porter trade will be the latest example of how poorly Ernie does his job. Porter has been completely misused as a Wiz. I'm with Charles Barkley on this one. After Otto had 37 pts the other night, Charles said (paraphrase): It's amazing what happens when somebody passes you the ball --it's a new thing in the NBA.

I've always thought that Porter was a wasted star --wrote a column on it last year-- based on his advanced stats and effective field goal %, etc. The Wiz kept nagging him to "be more aggressive" to get his shots. That's backwards. How about nagging Wall to "stop being so selfish and get the ball TO your best all-around shooter." Or how about running some plays for the guy. Brooks always said, "He's a glue guy." No, he isn't. If you use him right, he'll be a scorer who's also an unselfish glue guy. Yes, of course, Porter has to stay healthy.

But in his first four games with the (lousy) Bulls, he's average 22.5 points in 34.8 minutes with his usual 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and an amazing .716 eFG% which would lead the NBA by miles. The current leader is at .654, Curry at .619, which is great. Of course, nobody is going to stay anywhere close to .716. But at least the Bulls have seen a glimpse of what Porter can be if he is one of the featured players in your offense. 

I know, that's not what you want to hear because it's not Wiz Good News. After the Wall and Alex Smith injuries, I'm fresh out of optimism and cheerful ideas about those two teams. I'll keep LOOKING for them. But I'm not going to invent them. Of course, firing Ernie and Bruce would be a start. What have you got to lose --"continuity????"

Tom, Any insight regarding the Nats' box office results heading into the 2019 season? On a purely anecdotal level, it seems like a lot of my friends and coworkers have either given up their season tickets altogether or consolidated into larger ticket groups (purchasing fewer season tickets). I think this has more to do with the All-Star Game and a weak secondary market, but I worry we could see an attendance dip in 2019 unless the team is successful over the entire season - i.e., last year's results again will result in a rather empty ballpark many nights. Thoughts? Thanks as always for doing these chats.

I sense a sag in ticket interest, too. It's just so easy to get tickets on the secondary market.

OTOW, I really think there is a LOT of justified enthusiasm about an off-season that added Corbin, Rosenthal, Gomes, Suzuki, Dozier, Sanchez, Barraclough and brought back Adams and Hellickson. That's one of the best winters I've ever seen a GM have.

After seeing, talking with Dozier yesterday, it just reinforced my sense that he'll be one of the "steals" of this season. In the four seasons before '18, he averaged 32 homers, 106 runs, 17 steals and 85 RBI (usually batting leadoff). That was his "prime." But I bet he'll be 90% that good this year now that his knee (bone bruise) is OK. I asked if he planned to be a "reformed tough guy" --and not ignore injuries and refuse (ever) to go on the DL. He said it'd be hard to change but he was going to try. My prediction (oh, brother): Dozier will hit 28 homers, with 80 RBI and 85 runs and .252 average while batting 5-6-7 in the Nats order. And he'll teach Trea Turner DP tricks and they'll be a nice DP combo. That's not a rose-colored glass projection. The stat crunch sites have him with 22 homers, 67 RBI and a solid 2.2 WAR.

I know that he’s a Boras client so the path to an extension is complicated, but should the Nats be more proactive in locking up Soto than they were Harper? Something that gets him a big payday now, while buying out his arbitration years and first few years of free agency? If you can’t feel safe giving a 10 or 12-year contract to a 20 year-old star, who can you feel safe giving one to?

I can't find any agent listed for Soto yet. I should probably know, but don't. If somebody knows, let me know.

Right now, I'd give him as long a contract for as much money as anybody has ever gotten very early in their career to buy out his arb years and two years after free agency. Through '26? Through '28? I'd go for it right now. It's very likely to be a bargain because you are buying three years at ~$575,000, then three arb years when there's a limit to how high he'll go in salary. He's not a free agent until after '24.

Yesterday, Soto walked into the clubhouse, quietly, as always. He spotted Patrick Corbin, sitting on his stool, facing into his locker. Soto walked over, softly tapped him on the shoulder, then when Corbin stood up, introduced himself: "I'm Juan Soto." Just like he was 30, not 20. Understated, just right.

Then, sitting at his locker, with a long unopened box in front of him, Howie Kendrick came over and "stole" the box. Kendrick pretended to read what was written on the box: "Player of the Century!!!" Soto looks up casually, a little smile, not much. "It says 'Player of the Century' right here!" said Kendrick for everybody to hear. "It's gold!!" (Like whatever it is is made of gold."

Soto, small playful expression, says, "It's like Seve's gold," meaning Pedro Severino, who has a couple of chains around his neck, but not a lot. Immediately, everybody, led by Kendrick who's speaking Spanish, starts ragging on (the extroverted) Severino about the dubious quality of his "gold," a mock argument that Severino enjoys. Soto has deflected the moment, not denied that he might be The Player of the Century, but also completely downplayed it into a harmless joke about somebody else. Some players just have thr touch. They don't deny that they expect to be great, but they also don't make a big deal of it or act like it makes them better than anybody else. 

I askd Soto if he'd continued working on his speed in the off-season, or whether he'd needed to rest after a long season and a post-season trip to Japan with a team of MLB All-Stars. (When he signed, Soto was considered slow but worked his way up to MLB average by '18.) He said, "Oh, yes. If I don't keep working on it, I'll be bad again." Anything else? "Yes," he said, smiling, "my arm is getting stronger!" It's easy to forget he was just a teenager last year and something as basic as his arm, which was pretty good last year, just hadn't finished growing up.

I suspect that many will "project" Soto's next few years to resemble Harper's years at 20-21-22-23. Harper's WAR's, starting with age 19, were 4.4, 4.1, 1.6, 9.3 and 3.0. In other words, he stayed near his rookie level for a couple of years, then broke out, but hasn't duplicated or approached that MVP season yet. That may be Soto, too. 

However, I've thought since last year that it was eerie how similar Soto was, in style of hitting, ability to know the strike zone and also draw an incredible number of walks as a teenager, position (OF) and early development, to HOFer Mel Ott who retired in '47.

So, I wondered how Ott progressed after his age 19 year when he 18 homers, 77 RBI, an OPS a few points lower than Soto and a 4.1 WAR. (Soto's WAR last year was 3.7).

At age 20 in '29, before MLB switched to the jack-rabbit Depression baseball to increase scoring and retain fans, Ott hit 42 homers, drove in 151 runs and had a WAR of 8.0.

So, don't say that Soto can't improve. Anything can happen, including sophomore slump. But if I had to bet, I'd bet that, like most brilliant 19 year olds, he'll be BETTER at 20 than 19.

Just to help you make it until opening day, here's what Ott did at 21-22-23: 25 homers-119 RBI, 29 homers-115 RBI, 38 homers-123 RBI. Average WAR: 6.9.

Soto has plenty to learn about playing LF (which he knows and is working on). And pitchers have had all winter to study him. But don't Curb Your Enthusiasm. On that Japan tour, Soto hit a ball to right-center field that hit the roof of the Tokyo Dome and fell straight down into the glove of the RF a step in front of the fence for an "out." The ball had JUST started to recognize the existence of gravity a few feet before it hit the roof. "I hit the ball really hard. I got it all. I think home run. But they say no," said Soto. Then he grinned, "But I crush it."

As you'd expect, his English is even better than a few months ago. After five years of French, I could barely say, "Good morning." After a couple of years of studying English, Soto understands and can say almost anything. That impresses me, the language dope, almost more than his hitting. (Almost.) 

Good Morning Boz, thanks for these chats, it's a weekly lunch (and then some) pleasure for me. Anyway, article today about batting a leadoff player 9th as after the first inning it's said that it does not matter. Well I read a number of reader comments - and the one that stood out (for me it's a memory of Frank Howard batting leadoff at the end of a season to get an extra at bat or two - it's the idea that the best hitters need to bat at the top to get that extra at bat. If Martinez puts Robles in the 9 spot, are the Nats getting the best from their bats? On that note, another reader said something (snarky kinda about resigning Harper - or another big bat), I tend to agree - it appears that they are relying on Rendon and Soto as the RBI producers - I know it's just the beginning of Spring Training - but where is the power on this team? If Soto and Rendon have great years they are looking at what combining for 50 HRs? Then they have several other players that may get 10 to 15 give or take maybe Zim hits 20+ but his injury status makes me wonder - so, where will the power come from? Or is small ball with some pop what we can expect this season? Side question - will the Lerners and/or Rizzo have patience with Martinez this season - or a short leash? Didn't I read somewhere that many (most?) rookie managers don't do well with their first team, it's with the second that they do better?

Nats power: I went through the stat-site "projections" for every Nat. I ended up using Depth Charts. I was impressed that they understood that Dozier would be the regular 2nd baseman (560 PA), that Suzuki and Gomes would split catcher (307 PA each), that Zim and Adams would split 1st base and that Robles (144) and Eaton (147) would both play >140 games with Harper gone. They had Soto playing 152 games, Difo betting only 170 PA, Kendrick 166 and Taylor 233. IOW, they REALLY understood exactly how this team was built. It was a "Wow!" moment for me. I'm usually the mocker on some of this stuff.

Thought you'd be interested in the "projections" for all the main Nats. But first, to answer your question, last year the Nats had 190 home runs from everyday players and one from a pitcher (AJ Cole) for 191. This year, they project to 183 homers (plus whatever they get from pitchers and a few random call-up guys like Stephenson.) So, at least on paper, "No Harper, No Power Problem." I find that hard to believe. 

Here are the Games, HR, RBI, BA, OPS and WAR that Depth Charts projects. (Streamer is very close or identical in most cases.)

Rendon...153 --.23 --.88-- .287 -- .860 -- 5.4 WAR.

Turner...153 -- 17 --66 -- (40 steals) -- .287 -- .795 -- 4.4

Soto...152 -- 29 -- 93 -- .292 -- .910 (!!) -- 4.5.

Eaton...147 -- 11 --57 -- (12 steals) -- .283 -- .778 -- 2.5.\

Zimmerman...129 -- 24 -- 80 -- .263 - .804 -- 1.4 (poor defense).

Adams...(245 PA) -- 11 -- 34 -- .254 -- .776 -- 0.7

Taylor (233 PA) -- 6 -26 -- (11 steals) .237 -- .683 -- 0.4

Robles...144 -- 13 --63 -- (28 steals) -- .274 -- .752 -- 2.3 (nice).

Dozier ...133 -- 22 -- 67 -- (10 steals) -- .242 -- .760 -- 2.2

Suzuki...(307 PA) -- 10 -- 34 --.269 -- .746 -- 1.3

Gomes...(307 PA) -- 11 -- 37 -- .241 -- .703 -- 1.3.

That's a big improvement at second base and catcher.

Of course, these are "average" seasons. Some will have good or "career year" seasons. Some will get hurt or have bad years. But I still think the whole picture, what a team looks like "on paper" before they play a game are good reference points. WHY? Because this (using their own math folks) is a big part of how teams, including the Nats, "build a team" in the off-season.      

Ovie continues to have a strong post Stanley Cup season scoring 2 against the Kings. If the Caps do anything in the playoffs this year it will likely in no small part be because of Ovie’s contributions. So, could the Nationals be making a mistake by not signing Harper if they have any thought that Harper may end up being the baseball equivalent to what Ovie is to hockey?

YES, that is THE point that keeps coming back to me. Ovie as immature for years, much more of a problem in the Caps minds than Harper, "the nice young man," has EVER been for the Nats. Ovi grew up to be a leader. (But don't forget all those heartbreaks with him at the center of them.) Will Harper grow up to be a comparable leader and complete player? And we'll say, "Do you remember when he was young and he did all that wacky stuff? Man, did he turn out to be totally-amazing in every aspect, or what?!" 

I always say that Bryce is the Reggie Jackson of this era, minus the great October performances. But Reggie became Mr. October AFTER he was Harper's age. It's entirely possible that Harper will be Mr. October II, and do it in Philly.

There's one huge point that needs to be underlined. You can't MAKE a player stay with your team. That's what the word "free" means in "free agency." Some players, and Harper is obviously one of them, have obviously always wanted to Test the Market, as is their right. All you can do is support them, help them develop as players and people, have their back during controversies and, in the end, make them a fair-market offer before they leave. It looks like the Nats have checked every box in that list. The $300M/10yrs looks right on the money, and it wasn't a "last offer." They were clear about that.

But once a player passes that deadline on the calendar and becomes "free," we are back to that old phrase: "Everything changes everything."

The Nats go after Rosenthal, Suzuki and Gomes. And they get them. If Rosenthal pitrches 50 games this year, he gets a $4-million  bonus and a $15M deal for '20 for a total of $26M over two years. Suzuki got $10M. Gomes, if the Nats pick up his options in '20 and '21, and they hope he plays well and they do pick them up, that'll be $30M.

So, there's $66M that you have to assume you've already spent __or would like to spend if Rosenthal and Gomes work out well.

THEN you are in a battle with the Yanks and Phils for Corbin who is THE PLAYER that you have identified as The One We Need. (That's how Rizzo puts it.) The other teams are at $100M for five years with the assumption that they'll nudge up the AAV. So, the Nats steal a march and go straight to $140M for 6 years! And Corbin, who grew up loving the Yankees, becomes a Nat! (One Nats exec said, "If the Yankees go a sixth year, he's probably a Yankee now. There's no way you can know. But that's what I think.")

NOW, the Nats have committed as much as $206M in future deals and it's only December 7th!

Where the heck is the Harper Money? Especially if you think that Harper and Rendon are of roughly equal value except that, because of the age difference, you can probably get Anthony for half of the total dollars that Bryce would cost? Would you rather have a really good shot at getting Rendon for something like "Corbin money" or do you want to get in a bidding war with unknown teams to keep Bryce? By going high and buying the market to get Corbin, you made a choice. You'll have Corbin in hand and hope like hell that you can sign Rendon, but there's really no longer a fit for Harper.

At the Corbin presser, Mark Lerner laid it all out in a local radio interview. Harper's not coming back, he's going to make more money somewhere else, we've had to move on and, if we spend that much money on one player, it will crimp our ability to build our whole TEAM for many years. But we'll make a nice video board presentation when Harper comes back with his next team 'cause we love the guy and appreciate everything he did in DC. That wasn't strategy.

"Mark was just telling the truth," said a Nats decision maker.

On Dec. 23, Boras and Harper had got together with Ted Lerner in Palm Spring (if I remember correctly). That's normal. Boras tends to check in with Ted in the winter. But, as far as my reporting goes, no offers, or intimations of offers, have been made to Harper since the Nats withdrew their original offer the day he became a free agent.

These situations are fluid. The Nats moved on SO WELL, but at such a significant cost, that the Harper door was closed to them unless they wanted to blow the budget out through '23 at least. Look at this chart, then add $32M-a-year for Harper to each year and see how far ahead of EVERYBODY the Nats would be in future salary commitments. NO flexibility. Little chance to re-sign Rendon. What do you do after '21 when you have to extend Max or else replace him, both expensive. Then where do you get the $$ for Trea Turner who'll be a $100M player (probably) when he's free after '22. 

Nobody did anything wrong. Harper really liked DC, but not enough to throw every other consideration out the window and sign in mid-'18 the way Stephen Strasburg did. And the Nats really like, and appreciate Harper, but not enough to wait all flippin' winter for him to make a decision. They HAD to "move on." If Corbin had ended up a Yankee and the Nats had settled for Wade Miley on a two-year deal for $10M, then maybe the Nats would be "in it" for Harper right now.

It just didn't work out that way.

It's not always "Heroes and Villains." Sometimes, it just works out that way.

....

My desk says that it appears that Boras does represent Soto.

....

Now, lets get to Manny Machado developments.

 

Just a wild thought. Why wouldn’t the Nats switch direction and sign Machado and move Turner back to the outfield? More bang for the dollar and trumps the Phillies.

As we all know by now, it's been reported by multiple sources that Manny Machado has signed with the San Diego Padres for $300M for 10 years!

He got the Nats-to-Harper deal! Manny gets to play in great weather. He didn't get to the Yankees where he has always wanted to play. And the Padres are a 96-loss team that can claim a lot of "hot prospects." But that's all they are, prospects.

If Manny Makes them six games better, they're STILL a 90-loss team. That's a long way from a 90-win team and contention.

This is good news for every contender in both leagues, Manny is not going to be stealing any of your WS rings any time soon.

It's also good news for Harper. It's been rumored that Machado had moved ahead of him in the eyes of all three remaining teams, the Phils, White Sox and Padres.

But I assume he'll now top Manny, because of crowd appeal, for one thing, and go to the Phils. He can't possibly want to play for the White Sox. So, maybe $325M for 10 years is out there for him.

But it's going to be an odd feeling. Most assume that he could have gotten $310-315M from the Nats back in Sept-Oct. Was it worth all this to drive a couple of hours up 95 to Philly?

Bryce dreamed of free agency for years. And he ends up with the choice of the Chisox or Phils?

You can be sure Boras is trying to bring the Nats into play, pair them off vs the Phils. Wouldn't YOU???

This should be a fascinating finale! Will "auction mentality" return?

Even though Machado "only" got $300M, that's still huge and I think it will squash talk that the free agent market, and baseball's method of dealing with free agents, is a major problem. This is good for baseball. Players are not going to be happy about ALL of what went on this winter. But Machado at $300M prevents salary carnage.

Now, what we have over the last two winters, is an extreme market CORRECTION, but not an all-out crash. If Harper gets his $325M or whatever, it's not $400M, it's a big "miss." But I think MLB will let out a sigh of relief and we can all move on from Armageddon.  

Looking at this from the satellite view, it seems that some of the outlying fields have different outfield fence configurations. Is this to simulate other MLB parks?

Yes. It is to simulate their OWN homefields or come quite close. That's my understanding anyway.

The Nats (and the Padres!) have been big spenders in a cautious offseason for a lot of teams. Do you think this helps the team in an intangible way? A lot of players have said they appreciate it. Or do the good feelings not translate into good "chemistry".

Yes, I think so. Lots of good vibes from players about being glad to be on one of the teams willing to spend and get close to *(or over) the lux tax ceiling to try to win.

There's also buzz that the Padres will go hard after Harper, too! Mind-blowing, and why you love free agency, despite how much you sometimes hate it. Manny and Bryce BOTH to a "hopeless" franchise, that sure wouldn't be hopeless anymore.

This a.m., the Pads had $111M of payroll room under the luxury tax ceiling! That's how low their entire payroll was, even with Eric Hosmer at $18M-a-year.

No, they could give Harper (for example) $32M x 10 years and STILL be $62M under the lux tax for '19!

Everybody raves about the Pads farm system. Can they convince Bryce that with Manny and Hosmer, he'll be somewhat protected in their lineup and that by '20-'21 they'll be a serious contender in the prettiest city on earth? (That's what San Diego says anyway.) He'd be on the West Coast.

You better believe that the Nats, Braves and Mets are all down on one knee chanting/praying, "Padres, Padres, Padres, go to the Padres, Bryce!"

This is going to be a beautiful "read" on Harper's true feelings about the Phils, their future, their fans, their manager (Gabe Kapler) and the importance to him of being on the West Coast near his family in Las Vegas, in great (no rain delay or cold) weather AND pretty darn close to all the glamor of L.A., Hollywood and branding opportunities just 120 miles up the highway in that City of the Angels.  

BTW, here is that Luxury Tax Calculator spreadsheet that I promised you showing all the Naats future salary commitments.

You can bet that, right this afternoon, Boras is trying to convince somebody with the Nats that "this can work. It's not as crazy as it looks. You can't let the Phils get Bryce. Go for it!"

The fact that Bryce's price probably just went UP because of Machado getting $300M, rather than the rumors of $250M for 8 years from the White Sox that I was hearing in Florida, just makes it a little bit harder for the Nats to make such a leap.

Any chance the vast sums of money the Lerners are saving by not paying Harper and by getting under the lux tax threshold will result in lower Nats Park prices for beer and hot dogs? Also, any chance Bryan Harper makes the team and is assigned #34? I'd like to be able to continue wearing my favorite jersey.

I'm not optimistic about lower beer prices!

I've gotta go work on a Machado column, after three months of waiting for the Machado-Harper log jam to break.

One note, FWIW, there were plenty of ball writers in Florida who thought that Harper for 10 years to the Phils would be good for them. But that signing Dallas Keuchel would help them more RIGHT NOW in '19-'20 because starting pitching is their weakness.

It's been assumed for many weeks that as soon as Machado "went," that Harper would quickly follow, then Keuchel and Kimbrel. Fascinatin'.

See you all next Monday at 11 a.m. Thanks for all your great questions. (Now I have to go start my workday.)

At this point, we're Ted Lerner away from losing Harper to a division rival. I get that and accept that as the true state of affairs. I also think that every WS winners since 2009 Yankees were built on reasonable to bargain bats (pre-FA or older vets on reasonable contracts) and pitching. Obviously, that's Rizzo's approach to team building. Blowing the budget to sign Harper cause the owner wants it screams, well, Snyder to me. But I'm still rooting for that scenario to have Harper back in DC (and perhaps just as much, not lose him to a division rival). It's not rational. It's not smart. But there's something different about rooting for a team with that singular superstar who is must watch TV (at least he was during his MVP year). Maybe it's also because the last time Ted overruled Rizzo, it got us Max. I'm sure 90+ win season and some post-season success changes everything, but it's gonna be a pretty sad feeling to see Harper go to Philly.

Great "question" on all points. I feel ALL those things, too. Thanks for putting it so well.

do you think that Harper and Machado have been talking with each other?

If they weren't before, I bet somebody in SD is asking Manny if he'd give Bryce a call right about now.

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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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