Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Feb 26, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

We've got a full plate of topics for Today's chat.

Since last Monday, Manny Machado signed for $300M and, temporarily, put an upper band on hysteria (sometimes mine) about this free agency Ice Age producing 3 years of boring, public labor-management accusations and insanely premature talk of a Strike in After '21. Have we seen a needed market correction, driven by analytics, or just a delay in recognizing collusion for what it is? 

We've now seen Harper's Bazaar turn in Harper's Bizarre. Is it possible that Bryce just doesn't love the idea of playing in Philly? Is it just about money and getting $301M? Or what?

As the Harper pursuit CONTINUES to suck all the air out of the spring training mood, can the Nationals at least focus, as they claim they are, on becoming a more fundamentally sound team? "Do it again!" sound like works the Nats should have heard more for the last seven years.

Also, chatters can consider this Open Mike Morning on Robert Kraft. 

Analysis, disguised in the form of questions, about the Caps acquisitions of Nick Jensen and Carl Hagelin to help the Cup II defense, will be appreciated.

Our Kareem Copeland, in an inspired turn of phrase, described the NFL Combine as "the NFL Underwear Olympics." Question for the day: Is the Combine the most ridiculously over-rated event in sports? If not, what is? 

So, let's get it!

I know in my head that Bryce isn't coming back, but my heart isn't fully accepting it until he actually signs somewhere. Have the Nats players moved on from Bryce, or does the slight, slight chance he could come back affect the mood of camp somehow. Have you made it over to Phillies camp? Bryce must really be a distraction.

Perfect question for our starter.

You have a typical "healthy" fan reaction. Why would any fan, after watching the first 7 years of Harper's career, including an MVP season, want it to end? That would be nuts. As I've said before, I think his career, after 7 seasons, is almost identical to Reggie Jackson's after 7 seasons. And Reggie hadn't even done any of his Mr. October stuff yet. On top of that, Harper's whole career has played out two years younger than Reggie. Nats Park has been full of #34 jerseys for years. Bryce's departure is a big emotional loss for many fans and big "fun loss" for just about everybody, including those of us who've covered him.

However, as a columnist, and lifelong reporter, this is a case when I think I do readers much more service by trying to find out how things actually stand. Except for one overly-enthusiastic column in January, I think I've kept focused on the shifting reality of the situation. And that situation is simple. Neither the Nats nor Harper reached out to the other to start serious negotiations at any time in recent years, as far as I can determine. Of course, they talk at times. The Nats, perhaps, didn't want to "bid against themselves." Harper definitely did not want to duplicate Stephen Strasburg's approach which was to tell Scott Boras to pursue a deal and, basically, if you get a fair (but team-friendly) price, let's sign it. 

In September, both the Nats and Bryce acted very well, and intelligently, toward each other. Bryce talked, sincerely I think, about his warm feelings for the team and the town. Left UNSAID was that he has, all his conscious baseball life, appeared to want to "test the market," as many players do. The Nats expressed their sincerity with Ted Lerner handing Harper an envelop with the $300M/10-yr contract offer in it at the last home game of the season in September.

The Nats waited seven weeks (until Harper technically became "free"). According to Nats sources, the Boras camp said nothing. "Silence." No counter offer. This is not unusual. Or wrong. But it certainly sends a message that the player wants to "discover" his market value. Boras' entire negotiating history to have a VERY long process with late January, February or even March (Arrieta last year) as typical signing dates for TOP clients.

The Nats HAD to "move on," especially because their obvious needs at SP, a TOP lefty replacement for Gio Gonzalez, as well as a catcher and a set-up reliever, were essential. The list of "hopes" included upgrades at second base, 5th starter and Matt Adams "type" to platoon with Ryan Z at 1st base.

If things had gone poorly, if the Yanks, for example, had gotten Corbin for $100M (or whatever) and Keuchel had ended up with a quick deal (in Philly maybe), then the Nats would have been looking at a LOT of money dropping off their payroll but no appealing ways to spend it.

THEN they might have said, "Our Plan B, including an outfield of Eaton, Soto, Robles and Taylor, isn't looking so good. Where can we spend a lot of money to stay a contender. THEN you might go after Harper. It would be a tough get, once they are "gone" and free, they usually don't come back.

But the Nats got everything they wanted and, perhaps even to their surprise, much more: LHer Corbin ($140M), set-up men Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough, Sanchez (4th starter), Hellickson (back as a 5th starter), TWO fine catchers (Gomes and Suzuki), a starting second baseman (Dozier, Adams his own self as well as a 100 mph relief prospect in Tanner Rainey (acquired for Tanner Roark.)

If every future contract kicks in, that means the Nats committed to $240M in future contracts.

To say that they "moved on" is an understatement. They rebuilt the roster and did it in such a way that they can, realistically, go after (walk-year) Anthony Rendon with the working assumption that they can extend him.

After spending 2/12 through 2/18 in Nats camp, it is clear that the Nats front office, Nats players and the Lerners (who have told some long-term family friends that "Harper isn't coming back") have "moved on." Everybody gets it.

The only loophole, and one that Boras has played as hard as he could, was that he'd done deals one-on-one with Ted Lerner before. So, part of responsible reporting is to acknowledge a TINY chance that Harper comes back. But it is a much larger part of good reporting to say, "COME ON, everybody, this is not happening." 

Nats players, of course, say nice things about Bryce and add that they'd love to have him back. Of course they would. They also know, or the vets with a sense of payroll and roster construction, understand that he's now a very unlikely fit.

The Nats themselves have, I'd say, completely moved on.

If they are wrong, they'd be delighted, as will those of us who get to write a "shock and awe" story. 

It is VERY important to the Nats, and those who run the team, to get everybody to turn the page, stop answering Harper questions and focus on the team they have.

It's a very good and interesting teams. It certainly also has worrisome parts.

Nobody did anything wrong, as far as I can tell, in this entire Nats/Harper saga. Everybody acted respectfully. And the Nats did a remarkable rebuild. The only person who messed up was Boras. It's his job to gerasp, guess or magically discover what "the market" will be like. I doubt very much that he ever told Harper that one plausible outcome would be that, as February ended, he would have only ONE serious pursuer, that it would be the Phillies and that they might not quite get up to the Nats $300M offer, or only beat it by a few percent. To be fair, NOBODY foresaw that. It's a stunner.

I doubt very much that Bryce/Boras are happy about needing to talk to the Dodgers about a 3-4 year deal as a fallback possibility. That's a negotiating defeat even if they set a record for highest Average Annual Value. 

The longer this goes, the more you have to wonder: How much does Bryce NOT want to play in Philly? That could be for many reasons. Wants the West Coast. Family concerns. Whatever. But the Phils and their fans can't be enjoying this too much until they get a resolution. Then they can be VERY happy.

 

How much, if at all, does the Nats' long-running (endless?) fight with the Orioles over TV money influence the Nats spending plans? Does the team assume they will prevail on that in the long run and thus factor that money into their plans?

Not much. And, yes, they assume it will be resolved.

How's that for a short answer to a long subject!

 

I've noticed that Max has not been as dominant in the post-season as during the regular season. My theory is that he or his arm is tired by then. I think that's because he is so ultra competitive every time he goes out to the mound and doesn't want to leave games until he's spent, so he racks up huge innings during the regular season. I'm thinking Martinez should mitigate that and take him out of games before he's spent. Somehow I'm skeptical Martinez has that in him but what do you think of my theory and prescription, as well as my thought on Martinez.

That's not just a Martinez issue. It's more of a '16-'17 issue when Dusty Baker was the manager because the Nats reached the post-season in those years. They never got a sniff of it last year, so it was never an issue. And Max's 300th strikeout was one of the highlights of a disappointing season.

Remember, Max was injured (stress fracture in a finger, if I remember correctly) for the '17 playoffs and had to come out of a key playoff game after giving up an HR on his 100th pitch. He made his last half-dozen starts with discomfort in his pitching hand that, when the adrenalin kicked in, didn't bother him, or didn't bother him much.

So, yes, to a degree I agree with you. But that's something you see in hindsight. Max was having magnificent Cy Young Award quality seasons in all those years. He was dominant. Why wouldn't you let him do it his way? Especially since he'd helped pitch the Tigers to a World Series when he was in Detroit.

But I think this year, if the Nats are fortunate enough and they will HAVE to be fortunate for this to happen, to have a decent lead in the NL East or a deep enough bullpen that they can "save" a little bit of Max, then I think it would be a good idea. No, not every start. But try to find him an extra day between starts. Or take him out BEFORE the start of the 7th or 8th inning, rather than let him get into the inning and have to bulldog his way out.

Problem: He ain't gonna like it. And you can't PROVE that he's wrong. If you take him out at 100 or 105 pitches, not 110 or 118, Max may say, with some cause, how can you expect me to be strong if I don't extend myself. He is max-effort Max.

But I've noticed his relatively normal average-pitcher numbers in October and wondered if he should be burning so much "gas" in August and September.

I would describe this as an easy cheap "second guess" on our part! But I also think it's worthy of discussion, by fans and by the Nats.

I watched the Nats game Saturday with the pitching clock. It struck me much like speed chess, a fun variation when you don't have time for real chess but not really satisfying. I agree games must be shortened, this doesn't strike me as the way to go. What's your take?

If it bothers Max Scherzer and gets in his head, then I may have to rethink my enthusiasm for it. He's not a slow worker. 

I have little sympathy for hitters who take a lot of time. I realize that some of them are revising their "plan" for that at-bats based on the count or based on the last pitch. But that's not brain surgery.

I have more sympathy for pitchers. This is subjective, not logical. It just "seems to me" that pitching requires a bit more time. Also, countless fine pitchers have talked to me about the crucial skill of "reading the bat." The previous pitch, and how the hitter reacted (or failed to react to it), is often THE most important factor on the decision for what to throw off the NEXT pitch. I've mentioned this example before, but a HOFer once asked me, when I was a young reporter, "If you throw a fastball on the outside corner and the bat is late and fouls it off to the opposite field, what is the NEXT pitch?" He clearly thought there was only one correct answer. I'm pretty sure I said, "I give up." He said, "A fastball on the inside corner. If he can't get around on the fastball away, then he REALLY can't get around on the fastball IN." 

Just swing a bat, or any stick, in slow motion and you'll see that you have less reaction time to get to the inside fastball.

I don't honestly think this is "the right answer" for every hitter all the time. It's just an illustration of the importance of watching the previous pitch.

Sometimes, when I record and rewatch MLB games, I ONLY watch the hitters and their reactions and only pick up the pitchers, the ball and their delivery with peripheral vision. That is when you can really see which pitchers destroy timing and which are simply escaping because the hitters are right "on" them, timing their pitches perfectly, but have just not squared the ball up yet.

Watch hitters when Scherzer is throwing well, they look almost comical at times, their butts sticking out as they poke at a slider that they can't even reach. Patrick Corbin's slider, which he throws at various speeds, is also a Timing Destroyer.

Watched Joe Ross' first outing the other day using this method. I wasn't very impressed. His pitches are still too similar and he doesn't get many of the advantages of "sequencing." I'm afraid "fifth starter" may be his ceiling. That would be too bad because he looked like a solid middle of the rotation guy, his first two years. But there's still lots of time. Let's wait and see. Hellickson doesn't seem to have much stuff at all but he reads the bat VERY well and really "sees" what the hitter is thinking and crosses him up. His changeup has always been excellent and "slows down the bat."

 

Tom, In most free agency periods, the most highly sought player is signed first and then the others follow. For example, in the NBA Kevin Durant signed and then the other dominos fell. So, why do so many commentators assert that Harper will get more money than Machado? Hasn't the market spoken that Manny was the grand prize and Bryce is a close second?

Boras likes to "go last" and then top the best bid that anybody else could get. Sometimes he has to invent "mystery teams" and try to con teams into believing they have non-existent competition. But a couple of times, there has actually been an "unsighted" mystery team, like the Nats for Scherzer. All's fair in war and free agency. But as a reporter you have to try very hard not to be USED by Boras, because he'll certainly try to sell you a bill of goods by subtly phrasing something so that he's not fibbing, but you reach the wrong conclusion. IMO, you just have to confront him and say, "Scott, that's ridiculous and you know it. Here's why." He won't back down. But he'll go down a different misdirection avenue and give up the previous angle of attack. 

This may be the first time in Major League Baseball that the "go last" trick backfires. It hasn't failed yet. We'll see. If the Phils, Pads, everybody, rated Manny as MORE valuable after all his image-damaging issues in post-season, that's not a good look for Harper. 

It’s his problem, not mine (ours) but why should he feel “trapped” into signing a contract with Philly? Why not take that short term offer from the Giants or whomever for 3-4 years and try again when the market has shifted, which it always will? Better to make a little less (say 150 mil over 3-4 years, the horror) than 300 mil over 10 if you don’t like the team. Some things worth more than money!

I've always thought Harper was a fit for the Dodgers, all the obvious reasons. For years, I thought his "best homes" were 1) Dodgers, 2) Nats and maybe 3) Yanks.

Scenario 1: He has no problems with Philadelphia and just wants to get $325-to-$350M by dragging it out. That's fine for him. Home run hitters ballpark. You never know which athletes Philly fans will love (or not). They may love him.

Scenario 2: Bryce has some kind of Philly issue. Who knows? (I don't.) Harper thought of Jayson Werth as a big brother. Phils fans cheered when Werth, who'd helped them win a World Series, broke his wrist trying to make a sliding catch. I don't know if Harp cares about that. (I WOULD care about it.) Another possibility, Bryce has always loved glamor and attention. It's a Las Vegas thing, glitz, day-glo personality. So, LA would suit him. Boston, Chi, too. DC has also moved up the glamor rankings over the years. 

However, in a word association game, I would think that "glamor and glitz" and "Philadelphia" would almost NEVER go together. How does his wife, or his family, feel about Philly, or just the distance from Vegas? Harp had a VERY close personal relationship with the Lerners. They're very down to earth, were just crazy about him. Has he "clicked" with owner John Middleton yet? How about Phils manager Gabe Kapler? What about teammates, clubhouse vibe? I have no idea. 

But Bryce THOUGHT he was going to have a LOT of beautiful choices, not just ONE realistic choice for a 10-year deal. THAT is where he and Boras have to feel like they are in a box canyon, not so much the money, maybe he gets more than $325M. But to be FREE and only have one choice of CITY, owner, manager, etc, that is NOT what you bargained for. 

Tom, I understand the arguments - laid out in your most recent column - why signing Harper to a monster deal doesn't fit with the Nats' current 5 year plan and would condemn them to ongoing luxury tax problems. Here is what I don't understand: (1) why on earth did the Lerners veto the midseason deal with the Astros that Rizzo negotiated that would have allowed the Nats get value in returning for Harper leaving (presumably greater than the comp draft picks) if the Lerners weren't determined to make a serious play to re-sign Harper??, (2) even if the Nats now believe re-signing Harper isn't in the Nats' best interest, why aren't they still making a play for him to drive up the price for the Phillies?, (3) Mark Lerner said last week that the Nats haven't heard from Boras on this in months, why wouldn't Boras try to lure the Nats back in, even if Harper wouldn't accept a price the Nats would offer, solely for the purpose of driving up Phillies bid?

That's a lot of questions. This is also an illustration of how hard it is to GET AWAY from Harper. That shows how powerfully he and Boras have BRANDED the Harper image. Even if Harper ends up a HOF player, he may have a much larger image/presence than his actual ability, the opposite of Mike Trout. 

Sometimes, teams MISS a big presence in the middle of their lineup. He WANTS the pressure and that helps others. THIS may be where the Nats miss Harper the most.

On the other hand, sometimes big PUBLIC personalities do warp the space-time-continuum around themselves. They change clubhouse culture, or a manager's ability to function in some ways even though they don't try to do it. You can, justly, say that the manager should be "stronger." But the world, including the MLB world, is FULL of "easier said than done."

Back to your very good question: The Nats will probably take the position that they made a mistake, with hindsight, in not pulling off the Astros trade for Bryce.

BUT I think that the Nats REALLY wanted to handle Harper like somebody they really wanted to keep. They viewed him as a central illustration of how they treat their players, like the Strasburg shutdown. Do they treat you like a piece of meat (an exaggeration) or do they treat you like "family" (also exaggerated). When you trade a superstar for some decent prospect, let's face it, you are saying "So long, buddy." When Murphy and Gio were traded the whole baseball world knew that one of the things it meant was "this guy is almost certainly not coming back." With a lesser player, like Adams or Hellickson, they understand that they are pawns in the chess game. But somebody like Gio who has given you SEVEN years and been a big part of four NL East titles, when you trade him it means it is over. I sat with Gio long after a game last season not long before, he was traded. I tried to be optimistic about his return, even if he was traded, in '18. He said, paraphrase, I'm not coming back. Meaning: It's over between us. Good memories. Not hard feelings. But the end of something.

My take is that the Nats, if Harper did NOT come back, wanted to feel that they had never done ANYTHING to drive him away. They turned down a decent return in a trade for him, NOT a big return. They offered him $300M, which may turn out to be more than anybody else offers him. The then-92-year-old owner hand-delivered the contract offer to him. They left that offer on the table for seven weeks (maybe six) and heard nothing back. They want to be able to say to themselves, and also to the public: What are we supposed to do that we didn't do? You can't MAKE somebody want to re-sign with you for 10 years and turn down the chance to test the market. We really appreciate Harper as a player and a person. But it reached a point where we HAD to 'move on."

And they HAVE moved on. Once you do, it's a bit like a relationship ending. You don't mope over the significant other that's gone forever. In fact, you may even, out of emotional self-defense, focus on the less-than-perfect parts of the person who's no longer there. I think of this as a classic syndrome: "Sure, I broke up with JLo but she wasn't THAT good a cook." 

Some of the current under-current, I like that "current under-current,"  in the Nats clubhouse about really becoming a fundamentally sound and mutually-demanding team is that "JLo's Gone" reaction. You have to find SOMETHING good about "no Harper." And they have. It's real. (Like JLo burning scrambled eggs.) It IS harder to "harp on fundamentals" when Harp is as big an offender, in his 7th season, as anybody on your team. 

Why aren't the Nats playing around at the edges of the Harper situation to play some angle?

Come on, people, it's all part of the same thing. If you really think it's time to "move on," then you have to MOVE ON. You don't keep tearing off the scab.

It's fascinating that the Nats initiated Plan B, the insurance policy, with the Adam Eaton trade more than TWO YEARS ago, but it has only ended now.

Contrast the depth and sophistication of the front offices of the Nats and the Caps, with the additions of winger Carl Hagelin and defenseman Nick Jansen to help with the Caps Cup II defense, just before the trade deadline, with the annual clown show at Skins Park. To stay good for MANY years and the Caps have been good-to-excellent for the large majority of the time for the last 30+ years, you need to do countless things right. Just as you have to do countless things wrong to be as consistently bad as the Skins and Wiz have usually been. BTW, Rizzo really believes that the Nats are set up to meet his goal of being "a 90-win-team" for the next SEVERAL years. He may be wrong. But he is convinced it. When you watch Carter Kieboom, you are probably seeing the next Trea-Turner-Anthony-Rendon-Ryan-Zimmerman level, home-grown player. He's got to do it. But he has the tools and the look.

Dear Mr Boswell, From everything I've read, Anthony Rendon is a very private person. In your view, what contract terms might entice him to extend with the Nationals? Regards, A Nats fan in Pretoria, South Africa

I assume it's good luck for both Rendon and the Nats that there are good comparable cases of players in similar situations in recent times, JD Martinez and Jose Altuve. Martinez, coming off 45 homers, became a free agent and ended up with $115M/5 yrs. His defense is limited. Altuve, who's a bit better than Rendon, I assume, and also a big team leader, got a $151-M, 5-yr contract extension. 

Maybe I'm wrong, but this looks like a five-year extension and you just work out the dollars between those numbers. Also, Corbin's $140M for 6 years is in that range. Hey, let 'em work it out. Nats love Rendon. He knows it.    

I was fascinated to add another hometown team to root for when I read about the D.C. Rugby start up Team. Try taking some NFL players and having them leave their pads and helmets in the locker room and going full contact. It's a miracle that there aren't mega injuries per game in rugby. Will you go see a game? I certainly will try at least one. As an aside, what I really don't get is the lack of 'apparel/swag' when 'new' teams are announced. It took months for Valor gear to become available after their announcement. There's no Old Glory gear available. I even wrote their Team page inquiring. What better way to get 'free' (actual profitable to them) marketing by being seen around town wearing hats, tshirts etc.??

In college some of my friends played on a pretty good rugby club. So I went to games. Wanted to see one guy, 6-3, 215, that played TE in football and had been on the frosh baseball team with me. Afterwards, I said to him, "You must be out of your mind to play that sport." There is no age in my life, and no state of mind that I have ever been in, that would convince me to play rugby. 

Sometimes boxers have "cauliflower ears." I don't understand why rugby players don't have "cauliflower heads."

They picked a poor time to debut their new exploding sneaker. Tell me why again college coaches pass up more money from others to put their kids in these shoes???

In my book, Nike got what it deserved. Maybe the 10-year-old 10,000 miles from the U.S. who was stitching up that sneaker for 10 cents an hour didn't pay close enough attention. That's hyperbole, but twitter blew up with similar comments. 

President Obama, at court side, saying, "His shoe broke!" is going to be around for a long time.

In fact, if I were a Nike rival, I'd either try to use that clip in ads, or else use those words at the least.

"Brand Z: Our Shoes Don't Break."

Once again we confront the exploitation of top athletes by colleges where everybody else gets paid or benefits but the player only gets....I know, a free education. I've changed on this subject over the years. I don't know the answer. But I know that if I were Zion Williamson I would be asking myself about the sanity of ever playing another game for $0.00.

Why would he want to go to the Skins? You really think he wants Colt McCoy slinging it to him? I don't see it happening.

Skins execs and Skins fans are always talking about the wonderful players who are a "good fit" for the team.

It's all I can do not to laugh out loud. It has to be a fit BOTH WAYS.

This is like the KD to DC insanity.

If the superstar has a CHOICE, he doesn't come to the Skins or the Wizards. Unless he knows he's past his prime and just looks at Dan Snyder and sees a gigantic human ATM.

Antonio Brown may be hard to handle but he is still GREAT, hence his chances of becoming a Skin just plummeted to near 0%.

Have you heard what the plan is for Ryan Zimmerman this spring? Last year he played hardly at all, and got off to a slow start. He hasn't been in the lineup for the first few games this spring. Same approach, hope for better outcome?

Zim plans to play some baseball this spring, in baseball games, I believe.

I backed his idea last year because I thought it would help him stay healthy and strong for...October. Ooooops.

I'm going to be interested to see how much of a shock to the system the current "Do It Again" program will be for the Nats. Are demanding drills going to lead to better baseball or to more March injuries? Or will they lead to better-conditioned players and fewer April-through-September injuries?

It is important to remember that Zim has heel issues and doesn't need to be standing around for dozens of extra hours in spring training when he could be off his feet. It's a compromise. But, last year, he clearly wasn't up to "game speed" on defense at the beginning of the season. He needs to play enough to get that '18 monkey off his back but not leave his fight in the gym in Florida.

It always bugged Zim that he hit about .380 in spring training every year (it seemed) with seven homers. He always wanted to save some of them for the real season. That may have led him astray a bit last year.

https://www.mlb.com/news/nolan-arrenado-extension-with-rockies Third baseman Nolan Arenado and the Rockies are working toward finalizing an eight-year contract extension worth more than $260 million, sources tell MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. The deal includes an opt-out after three years, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, which would give Arenado the largest per-year salary of any position player. Any immediate thoughts about how this sets the market for Rendon with the Nats? the high AAV is a little scary, does it change your previous prediction at all?

Just saw this a little while ago.

What a nice day to be Tony-Two-Bags!

This is going to set up an incredible showdown between traditional counting stats (which love Arenado) and analytics including WAR (which love Rendon).

OK, everything loves BOTH of them. (Rendon is 28, Arenado 27, so similar.)

But, by FanGraphs WAR, over the last 5 years, a perfect time frame for a great data sample, Rendon is 6th in MLB in WAR at 24.8 while Arenado is 11th t 23.5!

Does this mean Rendon is suddenly worth >$200M?

When you look at the oldest of old-fashioned numbers you see why Arenado has just made so much. In 5 years, he's played 743 games (VERY durable) with 176 homers, 564 RBI and a .295 average. He is Mr. Gold Glove at third. And he plays in Colorado so he gets extra home runs and RBI's.

In the last five years, Rendon has played 672 (including only 80 in one season), with 95 homers, 385 RBI and a .288 average. He considered a Gold Glove contender, but Arenado wins.

The gap between 176 homers and 95, and between 564 RBI and 385 RBI is going to carry weight, Coors or no Coors, and per-game-rates or not. Arenado puts up BIG totals.

On the other hand, the last TWO years, Rendon has played "only" 32 fewer games than Arenado and has a stunning 13.0 WAR to Arenado 11.3 WAR.

This is going to take a lot more analysis and not just FanGraphs analysis.

It's a great debate. BTW, over the last 5 years, Harper is 17th in WAR at 22.2. Which is part of the reason that the Nats, while going hard after Harper, always understood that they might face a choice between two of the game's very best players, and there may only be enough money to pay one?

 

 

Doc Rivers called a timeout with 9 seconds on the clock to pay tribute to one of the all-time great. Nowitzki looked very confused at first, but expressed gratitude after the game. He also noted that he hasn't actually said he's going to retire. Classy act or awkward situation?

I'm going to go with "classy" out of deference to Doc.

Thanks to you and your colleagues on the excellent tributes to my favorite of all the Orioles. I heard someone say that if you had to list the 3 most important people in the history of baseball they would be: 1)Babe Ruth; 2)Jackie Robinson and 3)Frank Robinson. Agree?

That would require some thought. But Frank's up there very high.

Someone who was at Frank's private funeral wrote to remind me of a column I wrote about Frank the day he was told he wouldn't be back with the Nats after the '06 season. IN effect, he knew that his 51 years in uniform were over. He still wanted to come back with the Nats in some capacity, but it didn't work out. That's a bad mark against the Lerners, Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden who were running things then, I suspect Stan most. I wrote saying that a way should be found to make Frank part of the organization for a few more years. Considering how bad the team was from '07 through '10, how much damage could it have done? And it might have just been a good move all around. 

I'd forgotten that after he got the news and went down to the field it rained that day and that after the dugout cleared out, but (if I remember correctly) before the game started, Frank and I just sat there in the dugout and talked for about a half-an-hour.

Reading the column, I could hear him saying some of those things. I've always said that I wrote so I could remember what happened that day worth remembering, almost a diary to myself. And my first rule has always been, though like most rules I frequently forget it, that if anything WORTH remembering in a year or so actually happens, for heaven sake GET IT IN THE STORY. Use a crowbar if you must.

Anyway. it's sad to look back and see that the Nats, imo, blew it by not keeping Frank in the org, cranky as he could sometimes be. But that half-hour looking out at the drizzle, I can still hear him.

"After So Long, So Long."

 

Hi Tom, I understand your reply of the Nats have moved on and thus aren't considering bringing Harper back in the 11th hour. However, isn't the inability to see all that has happened this offseason and not checking back in on Harper another mistake? Isn't allowing him to go to the Phillies as the only team offering him a legitimate contract a mistake as well? It has been really strange to see the Nats blindly refusing to consider bringing Harper back just bc ... well that is what they decided back in October???

No. This is the opposite of the static situation you describe. It has been just the opposite, fluid. In October, they didn't know that they would sign or trade for everybody that they wanted: Corbin ($140M), Sanchez ($19M), Gomes (who may get $30M in '19-'20-'21), Suzuki ($10M), Rosenthal (who may end up getting $26M in '19-'20), Dozier ($9M) and more. A total potentially of $240M.

As I wrote, "it ain't (absolutely) over until Ted hasn't sung."

But the Nats world has changed a lot since Oct. (Has anybody ever said, "Everything changes everything.")

It seems that everyone that Nats addedexcept Corbin is old. C 1B, 2b, and bullpen arms added are good solid baseball players, but I think many could breakdown during the season

I had the same impression. I looked up the ages of everybody on all the rosters of the other major contenders this year. A few are older than the Nats. They are not "out of line." BUT they are definitely a veteran team built to win now or in the next year or two. 

Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, 18, are serious prospects. But the Nats need some pitching to develop over the next two years or they will be old.

Also, Corbin's "career arc" hardly calms the nerves. He throws >50% sliders and curves and is 29. His age and tried on his tires shouldn't be a problem in '19-'20-'21, you'd hope, but there were sensible reasons the Phils and Yanks would go past five years for him. They probably thought that Year Five was a big risk. The Corbin signing was an opportunistic, but also a slightly desperate "window" signing because they have Max and Strasburg through '21. I like it. Corbin's stuff is really nasty. But they paid $525M for the top three in their rotation, so those are three elbows and the shoulders to watch very closely. Of course, $170M of that $525M is already "in the books" from seasons that are now completed. 

Quiz: Scherzer has been on his deal for 4 years. Strasburg has been on his extension for two years. How far are they "ahead" or "behind" what they have been paid, at least by FanGraphs WAR valuation? I don't think many will get this right. I wouldn't have.

Basically, Max has already "earned out his whole $210M contract in four years --currently $204.1M. And Strasburg has "paid back" $63.4M in the last two years of his $25M-a-year deal. So Stras is $13.4M AHEAD.

This is another reason it mildly annoys me when "all anybody ever says" is that Strasburg gets hurts sometimes. In the last two years, in 50 starts, he's 25-11 with a !3.15ERA in 305 innings.

And that doesn't count his 0.00 ERA in two starts in the '17 NLDS, which are definitely "worth something."

So, the two of them have paid back $267.5M of their $385M already, at least by one measure. As I said, I'd have missed that "low" by quite a bit, even factoring in FanGraphs "generosity."

 

 

When Ian Desmond turned down the Nat's 9 figure offer, Plan B ended up being Trea Turner with overlap (2015). When Jordan Zimmerman turned down the Nat's 9 figure offer, Max Sherzer was signed, again with an overlap (2015). When Bryce Harper turned down the Nat's 9 figure offer, Adam Eaton was already in the organization and Juan Soto came out of nowhere (2018). So what's Plan B for Anthony Rendon?

Carter Kieboom.

And Plan B for Turner after '22 is Luis Garcia, now 18.

They are both top prospects in every rating. Nats think Garcia is the youngest player who is actually IN the main clubhouse of any MLB team. Yes, getting a locker in the main clubhouse is a distinction. Juan Soto didn't have one last year.

I looked at ZiPS projections (Dan Szymborksi) for '19 which also included the "most similar" player in MLB history at a similar point (and age) in their career. Very interesting. The Braves look VERY good by that method. Nats probably look even better.

Juan Soto = Ken Griffey, Jr. (Szymborski noted that "you don't see that often.")

Turner = Rafael Furcal

Rendon = Davey Johnson (!??)

Adam Eaton = Pat Kelly.

Brian Dozier - Jose Valentin

Victor Robles = MILTON BRADLEY (Nats can only hope).

Carter Kieboom = MICHAEL YOUNG

(Holy bleep! Young made 7 All-Star teams from '00-to-'13 with 2375 career hits. In a 9-year span, he AVERAGED 202 hits a year and hit .311. And like Kieboom profiles, he played 793 games at SS, 465 at 3rd and 448 2nd. Nats can only dream that he approaches that. But Kieboom is slightly bigger and projects to have more speed and power. And more K's. Young could RAKE.) 

Scherzer = Greg Maddux !!

Strasburg = Bret Saberhagen

Corbin = Andy Pettitte

Doolittle = Billy Wagner.

(The rest of the bullpen guys all equal "semi-bums," as do Sanchez and Hellickson.)

Bryce Harper = Elbie Hatcher.

I had never heard of Elbie Hatcher. Broke in at 18. Lots of WAR because he was an incredible "walking man" in the late-'30's and early-'40's with OB% well over .400 until he went to the real WWII and missed '44-'45. Didn't do much after he came back.

(It's still a stupid comparison.)

That's it for this week. See you next Monday at 11 a.m. Thanks for all the great questions. And sorry about some technical difficulties early in the chat.

To answer my own question, the NFL Combine is not the biggest fraud in sports. You do get accurate heights, weights, speed, strength, explosiveness and raw physical talents that can be measured.

The combine only misses ONE thing: Can you play FOOTBALL????

I loved to hear Joe Gibbs about how HE evaluated potential future players. He loved to get them in the film room with an overhead projector to talk about formations, recognition of plays as they developed, real football IQ, not the Wonderlic intelligence test. Gibbs said that much of football IQ was visual, not verbal, it was what you SAW and recognized INSTANTLY on film and on the field that matters, not how well you could talk about it. (Or, I'll add, give a TV interview to Jon Gruden about what you THINK about playing QB in the NFL in the future.)  

Having a team full of "specimens" is nice. But it can be a cop out if you don't really know what you are doing. You can point at "facts" and say, "How could Josh Doctson NOT be a great WR. Look at his height, his speed, his vertical, his....yeah, his short arms in traffic, his inability to get separation, his poor recognition of what he's looking at and how to read-react to it..."

It's also a really good idea to have a lot of "football players."

Stat sites are very excited about our top three starters and Dolittle, but are “meh” about the rest of our staff. Do you think Sanchez and Hellickson are good enough for a team whose goal is winning an improved NL East?

Four TOP pitchers. A comeback question mark in Rosenthal, but with legit closer stuff in the past. Barraclough has the arm. Had good seasons in '16-'17. But has to prove it over again.

Other than that, a LOT of decent but unspectacular pitchers. Can you get .500 ball and a ~4.00 WRA out of them and let the others push you toward the top? Cabn you get one big surprise.

So far, the only "surprise" is that Koda Glover may be hurting again.

At least that's better than the news in Dodger camp where Clayton Kershaw is just not feeling right or throwing right and....arrrggghhh!

In the last 8 years, Kershaw is 127-46. To a greater degree than any other pitcher to any other team, he IS the Dodgers. He's 81 games over .500 in 8 yrs BY HIMSELF. So, you start from 86-76.

Kershaw had been hurt four of the last five years and will be 31 next month. Lot of mileage, an unorthodox delivery with a deep hitch in it (not good for your back, a Kershaw problem) and a lot of post-seasons, too. Kershaw = Koufax. Lets hope that does NOT apply to longevity, too. 

Tom....although it was a short interview with Mike Wise regarding Ernie's status with the Wizards, it finally appears that Ted has come to the conclusion that the Wizards will not meet their goals with him. Talent level in East is drastically improved and even teams like Indiana and Detroit are further ahead of the Wiz in their rebuilding. Is this the summer that Ernie is finally let go?

When your boss essentially says, "We'll see how it goes," that's not too good. For you.

What are your thoughts on the Nats pursuing him? Obviously not for the 6 years he wants, but maybe 4 years or something. With Glover already battling injuries I feel like our bullpen could use another weapon. My only concern is would you upset the balance they have by bringing in a big name guy.

Nats have always loved him. But you are "buying at the top." Rizzo was testy when I asked about Kimbrel. The only subject that got him prickly. Don't know why. Of course, the deal the Nats offered Mark Melancon, outbid by the Giants, would have been a total disaster. That would scare anybody on buying "hot relievers" who've been used hard when they're no longer real young and have, in Kimbrel's case, looked shaky at times last season and especially in October. (I'll deny I said this, but I wouldn't touch him, even at 16 x 4.)  

The luckiest breaks in Nats history have been the contracts which were TURNED DOWN or where the Nats went high but were outbid by somebody else.

Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Mark Melancon. That's over $500M of mistakes accidentally avoided. Please add to the list. (Next week.)

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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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