Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 04, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Let's get going, folks. 

Tons to chat about. The Capitals are red hot and catching breaks, too. They won 6-1, 4-0, then escaped the Rangers in OT on Sunday. Caps are getting hot at the right time!!! My, how things change. 


Maryland men squandered a big chance to make noise at home, as we approach March Madness, versus No. 9 Michigan. But, they just weren't up to it. Annoying to watch. Are they really "playing better" or is this the start of a fade? Big tests are on the horizon. 


Are the Nats "in" on Craig Kimbrel? Should they be? Also, it's time for the Nats to move --ASAP-- to extend Anthony Rendon through '25. But, as you'd guess, we'll look first at Harper to the Phils. We'll look at a 2-yr-old column of mine which I should have just reprinted every time the Harper subject came up in the last 8 months because it nailed it all, of course, I forgot I ever wrote it that accurately. 


Also, I'm sure you want to understand the deferred money in the Harper contract offers better than most folks do. So we'll explain how to use a link to work out Present Value of Periodical Deposits. (Boras appears to have used 5% as the discount rate in his valuation.) Phils offer ($330m/13yrs) has NPV of ~$238.6M. Padres deal with Machado ($300M/10yrs) has NPV of ~$231.7M). Nats still-mysterious offer of $200M/10 yrs PLUS another $100M paid over the next 25 years, is harder to estimate. The $200M part has a PNV of ~$154.4M. The "leaks" put the value of the remaining $100M at only $30M, which is very low. At any rate, the worst view of the Nats offer is that it was worth <$190M, but that it was a first offer which might have been negotiated.

So, let's get rolling!

Boz, Haper is only 26 but he also has seven years of baseball mileage on his body. Do you think he'll become an anchor in the latter half of his deal?

It's painful for Nats fans to digest but Harper is probably, and I mean considerably more than 50/50, a Hall of Famer. Everyday players tend to be durable, in contrast to pitchers.

A reader said he thought I was was over-stating the case in saying, in a recent column, that Harper was 1/3 of the way to a HOF career. Actually, I understated. 

Harper's career WAR is already 30.7. The average HOF rightfielder has a career WAR of 71.4. So, at his present rate, Harper may have a spot in the HOF wrapped up by the time he's finished his age 34 season.

 

If you triple Harper's current stats (he'd need to play through about age 39 and finish about 27th in games played)), he'd have 552 homers, 1830 runs, 1563 RBI and a WAR of 92.1 which would make him the 29th highest-rated player in history just behind Al Kaline and just ahead of Wade Boggs, George Brett and Chipper Jones. He'd probably get >96% of the HOF vote on the first ballot.

Through his age 25 season, Harper has the 31st best WAR in history. No. 28, 29 and 30 are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds.

With Harper, I think the only question is health. But you can say that about anybody. IMO, Harper showed last year that he has learned how to be a poor outfielder, supposedly he never let his feet in an attempt to catch ANY ball in all of '18, so he could preserve his body as a slugger. That's sort of smart. It would be even smarter if he could find a middle ground where he is an average outfielder. The smaller outfield in Philly should help with that.

Let me note that health is always a very tough prediction. When Ryan Zimmerman was 25, he was 57th on the same list of Best Players Through Age 25 where Harper ranks 31st. Zim's WAR was 24.2 even though he didn't play full seasons at age 19 and 20 as Harper had. So, from 22-through-25 Zimmerman was very close to being as good as Harper at those ages. At Harper's age, Zim ranked between Lou Boudreau and Orlando Cepeda, two HOFers, in best careers through age 25 season.

Zim wanted to win Gold Gloves, too. He threw himself all over the place, injured his shoulder with diving plays or head-first slides into bases. He played hurt, too. The result: After 5 "star years" with an average WAR of 4.84, which is .5 WAR better than Harper's average so far in his career, Zim has only averaged 1.78 WAR per year in the 8 seasons since then.

So much for the "hard 90" and "110% effort" and all the rest of it? No. But it shows how hard it is to find the balance between good hard consistent effort and too much risk. 

Hi Tom, It was interesting and somewhat painful to see Harper's press conference over the weekend. The "bringing a title back to DC" slip was bittersweet. I read Barry's article as well. It almost seems like Harper wanted to play anywhere else but had no other choice because he was chasing the $330 number. It's odd that the Nationals never made any serious play for Harper after he hit free agency. Seem like hurt feelings on both sides to me. However, if Harper had wanted to stay in DC then why didn't he tell them that - even a week ago that would have made a difference. It's a shame that a likely first ballot Hall of Famer will go into the Hall of Fame in a Phillies hat.

 

All very good points.

First, let me give you a link to my "scary" column from December 2016, just a few days after the trade for Adam Eaton. 

...

"Say hello to Adam Eaton. Start saying goodbye to Bryce Harper. They’re connected.

Remember how the Nationals “moved on” from Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann when, two years before they became free agents, the Nats decided they probably couldn’t sign either to a long-term extension? One day, Desmond and Zimmermann were important pieces of the Nationals’ future. The next, they were replaced, even though they were still team fixtures in the present.

That’s probably what’s happening to Harper now.

In Eaton, the Nats just got a first-rate outfielder for the next five years. At bat, on the bases and in defensive value, Eaton is comparable to what Anthony Rendon provides at third base. Eaton’s first two years in Washington probably will be as a solid center fielder. But his real knack is right field, where last year he graded as one of the best at any position. And that’s where he would fit on the 2019, 2020 and 2021 rosters if Victor Robles, 19, approximates his elite-prospect status and takes over in center field.

Where does that leave Harper? Probably in some other city.

Maybe that’s why his one-word tweet reaction to the Eaton deal was “Wow.” And perhaps why he didn’t show up for Winterfest last weekend.

Last week, USA Today wrote that Nationals executives were annoyed that Harper (or someone in his camp) mentioned “$400 million for 10 years.” Who knows? But such numbers show how impossible it is for the Nats and Harper to talk a deal now — or any time soon. Harper was too great in 2015 and too dreary in 2016 to put a price on his next dozen years. By the time the picture is clearer, Harper (and agent Scott Boras) will be much too close to free agency to do anything except test the waters.

It’s nobody’s fault. But it means that Harper is where Desmond and Zimmermann were — extremely likely to leave. So the Nats have to make “move on” decisions.

Nobody in baseball can “value” Harper right now. Is he worth $150 million or $500 million? The last five months of 2016, he hit .231, was helpless against heat in his kitchen, fouled off “his” pitch constantly and could handle pitches only on a diagonal from up-and-away to low-and-in. Harper has had no postseason surgeries, so he wasn’t significantly injured. In a way, that really hurts.

Excluding 2015, in Harper’s four seasons with the Nats he has averaged 453 at-bats, 73 runs, 20 homers, 59 RBI, a .264 average and .813 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. In his six years as a Nat, Jayson Werth has averaged 452 at-bats, 69 runs, 17 homers, 61 RBI, .267 average and .795 OPS. That’s the same player. But in his “other” year, Harper was Ted Williams.

How do you make a “career” offer to such a player at such a time? You don’t. And you don’t paralyze your franchise waiting for an answer. Is it possible that someday, as happened with Stephen Strasburg, Harper will call Boras and say he really wants to stay in the District? It happened once. But you don’t wait by the phone. You sign Eaton. You plan a long-term future without Harper.

The Nats aren’t complicated. Owner Ted Lerner and GM Mike Rizzo are fair-minded but hardheaded. They leave the door open until one day, sorry, the door is closed. They’re not mysterious. What they will do in the future is what they did in the past."

...

I think the Nats wanted to keep Harper, but not a whole LOT.

I think Harper wanted to remain a National, but not a whole LOT.

The Nats wanted a team-friendly deal or else they were prepared to move on. UNLIKE the Desmond and Z'mann cases the Nats DID come back to Harper with an offer at the end of his walk year. Ian and Jordan never heard "boo" after they turned down $107M and $123M two years before they were free agents. The Nats REALLY "moved on" from them. They only semi-moved on from Harp. Maybe they wanted to duck bad PR. More likely they just wanted to leave the door ajar for him to come busting back in and say, "Let's make a deal -- as Stras did." That's why (maybe) they didn't trade him at the Aug 1 deadline --to keep the relationship intact. Maybe that's why they gave him an offer with comically flexible terms hey, we know you aren't going to accept $100M deferred until you are 36-to-60  years old. So, make a COUNTER offer if you really want to stay. Max has his $210M deal spread over 14 years, $15M paid and $15M-a-year deferred. Can we spread your "deferred" $100M over 10 years instead of 25 years?" 

OTOH, the Nats offer to Harper also says, "We don't HAVE to have you." It's not a love letter. It's a "like" letter. I think Bryce prefers love letters.

Now, look at the other side. Harper-Boras NEVER --to THIS DAY-- have ever made a contract proposal/suggestion/framework to the Nats. It was just a tacit: Make a Bid, then Bid Against Yourselves. The message Harper/Boras ALWAYS sent to the Nats was 100% consistent: This superstar is GOING to test the market and find out his true full market value. And that's exactly what happened.

If you LOVE DC and being a Nat, that's just not how you play it. So, the Nats always had a Plan B (Eaton) and never said, "We love, love, love you." and always sent the message that We Will Move On if you test the market and jam-up our team-building for months while you decide where to go and get the richest.

If I'd been the Nats, I'd have played it EXACTLY as they did.

If I were Harper, I'd have played it EXACTLY as he did!

The only person who made a serious miscalculation, one that can be understood and commiserated with, was Boras. He saw the awful free agent market of '17-'18, but he didn't believe its message. Boras never told Harper: You may have a VERY weak market. You may have VERY limited choices of which teams and cities in which to play. You may not get $400M. Maybe its more like $300M. And, most important, once the Nats "move on" from you, if you don't like your options, if the Dodgers, Yanks and Cubs don't come after us, it will almost certainly be too late to get back to the Nats.

If Boras had told Harper anything like that, then maybe in those 7 weeks of silence after Ted Lerner handed his rich, but also kinda tepid offer to Bryce, maybe Harper would have said: Lets seriously engage with the Nats, even before I reach free agency. Lets see if their 'last and best' offer is really something that does interest me.

IOW, I don't really blame anybody that Harper left. In fact, I've assumed, and written several times since the Eaton trade, that this is how it would work out. ONCE, in January, I fell into the Boras-rumor-baited Nats-Can-Have-It-All trap of thinking the Lerners would change the methodical, but somewhat-chilly way they do business and blow through the lux-tax ceiling to get Harper on top of everybody else they'd added. Yes, I wish I had that one back. But part of writing columns is looking at things from different angles, not just staking out one position and saying, "This is how it is (or should be)." The world will tell you "how it is." You have to keep listening.

But I wish I had "listened" to that Dec '16 column because it would have helped me even-out the balance of feelings about the two sides. At the end of that column, I wrote:

"

In hindsight, the 2015 Nats were a clubhouse full of ghosts, including Doug Fister and Denard Span. Were feelings hurt, internal bonds loosened? Was that one more factor in a team disintegrating? Do the Nats, in balancing the current budget, “team control” and future rosters, leave their players — right up to a Bryce Harper — feeling expendable?

The Nats want to know, “Do you really want to be here? Will you sign a team-friendly contract far in advance so we can plan our future? Or are you trying to make up your mind or wait for a moment of leverage?...

In every context, from building malls to ballclubs, the Lerners have patterns of doing business. They expect loyalty. They stick to contracts (and hold you to yours.) And they live with the results of those methods...

That’s how the Nats operate. It’s logical. It’s a bit chilly. It’s produced lots of regular season wins but no inspired postseasons. Now we will see how the latest episode of “time to move on” plays out."

 

Why would the WFT draft a QB when they've just LOST TWO TO BROKEN LEGS because of O Line deficiencies, whether due to injuries or lack of talent in certain positions? If I'm GM, I build up my O Line before I draft or recruit an FA blue chipper. Stick with McCoy and Johnson for 2019 and presumably tank while positioning for a better QB pick after the O Line is stabilized. QBs seem to be as plentiful or more so next year. Thoughts?

If a team is willing to endure one pathetic 3-13 season with Colt McCoy at QB, for as long as he stays healthy anyway, then "others," for the sake of a high draft pick and a longer-term "rebuild," then such a team could consider NOT going after a QB now.

But the Skins are NOT that team. They always tend to act out of desperation. But they are REALLY desperate now! Their fan base is eroding at a shocking speed. Their "waiting list" mythology has evaporated. Their reason-to-exist quest for a new multi-billion-dollar stadium, with huge subsidies or whatever from the available cast of political suckers, has never looked more precarious. 

They just can't fathom the idea of a major Give Up season, and more lost fans, more mean jokes and (probably) firing Jay Gruden as a scapegoat after that season. Especially not when the Capitals may make a giddy run towards a second-straight Stanley Cup. Even if the Caps don't make it, it will underline the success, fun and upbeat competence of the Caps. Also, the Nats see this open window to grab fans and join the Caps atop DC sports in a few years. They have to win something. But in '19-'20-'21, they just might. 

A desperate NFL team can't sell a no-hope product in such a ground-shifting period in its history. The Skins, imo, are trapped by their 20+ years of past mistakes. Just watch, they will make a "flash" move to keep 7-9, 8-8 or 9-7 with a wild card spot in play. Or at least they will TRY to make such a move. But they are also constrained by all their organizational phobias and twitches, for example, their jealousy/resentment toward the Ravens success. They couldn't even THINK about going after a Ravens Reject like Flacco. That wouldn't just be "eating Raven," it would be "eating crow." Joe Flac-crow.  

Bos, I have to admit that when I read the first stories about Harper, I wanted to think he had hurt himself not taking the Washington offer, and only wanted to beat the Stanton contract. I thought he also should have considered the enormous Dodger offer. But reading the fine print, I realized the Nats offer was far less than the $300 million advertised, and Harper was really serious about staying on one team (no opt-out, no trade). I respect his decision now. Maybe his marriage affected him. Your thoughts?

Please, please, the Phils, Philadelphia and Harper may work out great. BUT the no opt-out, no-trade stuff is 100% about Breaking The Stanton Record (by 1.5%) and trying to convince Philly fans that the delay was NOT about a reluctance to come to their town. I would bet my left arm, I still like my right one, that the delay in signing was just Boras trying to drum up mystery teams or mysteries offers rom the Giants and Dodgers so he could nudge the Phils over $325M/13yrs that Stanton got so he and Harper/Boras could say, "Look! We won! It all worked out just like we planned and just like we wanted!"

Please. It worked out the best it could after Plans A and B fell apart. The Phils are a much-improved team. Harper did not end up in Loserville like Manny in San Diego. Go on, tell me AGAIN about the Pads Great Farm System. (Believe it AFTER you see it.)

You can never tell what players Philly fans will love (or not). It is a really smart, though (flip side) harsh baseball town. They may have a 13-yr love affair with Harper. It's trendy now to say that Harper and Phils, because it was a kind of shotgun marriage, won't work out well. Yes, that's possible; but it's not necessarily so. I had a friend, who is REALLY sharp about MLB, call and just start laughing about the thought of Bryce and Philly being poured into the same beaker in the chemistry lab! 

I'm not starting from the position that we now need to look for villains and "losers." Nobody got all wound up when Jordan Zimmerman left. The only difference is that Harper is a better performer and a MUCH bigger star with a huge branding apparatus around him. I expect Harper to average at least 35 homers a year in that bandbox park.

But my LONG view is that a Harper departure has been coming for at least two years. My question was always: How well will the Nats cope with the possible loss of Harper, Murphy, Gio Gonzalez, Wieters and Madson in the SAME offseason? Can they stay a 90-win contender? If they make it through THIS set of rapids, the paddling may be a lot smoother as Soto, Robles, Carter Keiboom and others arrive and develop. We don't know yet if the Nats have made that transition.

It sure looks like they could, as I always repeat, use "one more big arm" in that bullpen. Last week I said I would deny that I wrote in the chat that I wouldn't sign Craig Kimbrel for $16Mx4." Looks like the Nats are mulling or monitoring that one, especially if the Braves or Phils seem  close to getting him. Nats are still ~$11M under the lux tax penalty for '19 and could possibly (I'm not a lux-tax-ologist) restructure Zimmerman's contract to afford Kimbrel and stay under it.

Yes, there will be a full Kimbrel answer coming. And the short version is: Kimbrel now has the lowerest ERA, by far, of any pitcher in MLB history with >500 games, 1.91. Mariano Rivera is 2.21. Among the top 10 in saves in history, only two others are under a career ERA of 2.85 --Billy Wagner (2.31) and Jonathan Papelbon (2.44).

Papelbon's career is a near-perfect match for Kimbrel at the same age and with the same career arc. The Red Sox thought Papelbon's best years were past at 30 when he'd had two years with an ERA of 3.41. The Phils signed him as a free agent. BOTH the Red Sox and Phils were right! Papelbon was NOT as good as he'd been at his best in Boston, 1.74 ERA over a four year span, but he was also a LOT better at age 31-32-33-34 in Philly than he'd been at 29-30. In Philly, he had a 2.38 ERA in 256 game and saved 130 games.

I expect Kimbrel will be the same, wonderful for the next three or four years, but not his old 1.91 ERA self. But a few years of 2.50 ERA and legendary stuff is worth the risk.

The big asterisk: Last October. In the post-season, Kimbrel pitched 10 2/3 innings, gave up nine hits, seven earned runs and walked 8 with two homers. THAT is the only worry. And that is why teams are freezing at the switch with a chance to sign one of the top 5 (maybe top 3) closers in history.    

As you well know the NFL punishes players for what they deem as misconduct. Also the league rules let's them punish owners. What makes this so bizarre, and possibly disgusting, is that he drives up in a chauffeured Bentley to pay a woman who may be a sex slave $100 for favors. My question is what do you think the NFL should do and will do? Thanks,

I assume that a whole lot of people who deserve to be caught in their worst behaviors are never caught at all. They sail right through life and seem to get away with almost everything. As to Kraft: if the charges are correct, he's the kind of person that you'd think would skate right through everything.

Well, he's not going to sail through now in the world of public respect and image --that's for sure.

Whatever the NFL does to him, it will be a tiny fraction of the punishment he's already gotten, and if the charge is correct, fully deserves.

The NFL SHOULD discipline him, too. Exactly how, is WAY beyond my grasp of every punishment Goodell has handed down to players. But the larger point is that he got caught at all. This reminds me of the day that the Mitchell Report came out and the whole world said, "Roger Clemens did WHAT??? And MLB caught him, almost by accident!? And there are NINE pages on what they've got on him?!!" The situations are not similar, but the shock is similar, somebody who seemed untouchable is suddenly lit up like a neon sign.

Boz, I know you said there are plenty of red flags on Kimbrel - I agree. BUT - would signing him mean not signing Anthony Rendon? If the answer is "no" then, well - it's all not my money so go for it, because he is a) obviously a substantial upgrade over the WORST current reliever in the bullpen, and b) as Jesse Dougherty well covered, between Doolittle's frequent injuries and Rosenthal coming back from TJ, anything you can do to keep from leaning on them every night is a huge deal. Or is the cost and risk too much? (I suppose it also is a question of what exactly that cost is - Wade Davis money, 3/$52 would be okay)

This is a case where scouting and "scuttlebutt," meaning that your inside information is actually WORTH something, really helps make a valuation. And I don't know what the Nats "inside" view is on Kimbrel. As I mentioned last week, I thought it was worth noting that the ONLY topic on which Rizzo was crusty and abrupt was when I brought Kimbrel's name up in Florida and nagged him that "you're one big arm short in the pen." (Or maybe he just felt like bopping me in the head w  "big arm.') 

Perhaps the most important thing, for fans and perhaps for the Lerner's, is to understand where Kimbrel STANDS in the history of relievers. Especially ones who have pitched in 542 games, not just young guns with a cannon who do it for a year or two and can't keep up their spectacular level. 

Kimbrel's CAREER ERA is 1.91. Here are the career ERAs of the Top 10 in career saves,

Trevor Hoffman --2.87.

Lee Smith --3-.03.

K-Rod --2.86

John Franco --2.89.

Billy Wagner --2.31.

Dennis Eckersley (in 710 relief games) --2.85.

Joe Nathan --2.87.

Papelbon --2.44.

See a pattern? There sure aren't any 1.91 ERAs in there!

There are different eras. But every one of those guys was trying to "miss bats." None of them missed 'em as Kimbrel has. He's averaged 14.7 strikeouts per 9 innings. MORE than half of his outs by K. Yeah, no wonder his last name starts with "K." 

The case against Kimbrel (or against signing him for big $$) is that He Isn't That Guy Anymore.

No, he isn't. His first four years, he had a 1.43 ERA with 14.8 K/9. But the last four years his ERA has been 2.47 with 14.5 K/9IP. My take is that '18 was not unique; it was a continuation of his '15-'16-'17 seasons put together. He's moved down from the Mariano level to the prime Wagner or Papelbon level.

If you sign him, then you do it based on his entire '18 REGULAR season -- and you cross your fingers and toes that October was an aberration. Last year, his ERA was 2.74 and his WHip was 0.995 (not too far from his career of 0.920). Also, in '17 he had an unreal 0.681 WHIP.

I've been shaking my head "no" on Kimbrel based almost entirely on seeing him look worried and sometimes wild in the post-season. That's important. But was it because he was sore? Was he tired?

I'd base any offer to Kimbrel on the assumption that he's like Papelbon, 1.74 ERA in his multi-year peak period, then 3.41 ERA at 29-30 and lots of worries that ended up with him a free agent. But then he comes to Philly and has four very good years, 2.38 ERA. Also, he moved from the AL to the NL, as Kimbrel would move from AL East to NL. 

IOW, I'd say that "Wade Davis money" is warranted. Good call. It wouldn't stop you from extending Rendon for something like $150M/6yrs or even a bit more. For '20, about $29M drops off the payroll from Zimmerman, Dozier and Kendrick. Rendon already makes $18.8M now, so even a huge extension probably only moves him up (max, imo) $8M. So, there's room for both Kimbrel and a Rendon extension.

Nats currently are $10.5M under the lux-tax for '19.

This is a very tough call. If you can get him for either 3 or 4 years, overlapping with Max, Stras and Corbin in '19-'20-'21, it has a lot of appeal. There is a lot of difference between a possible $50-$60M mistake and a $300M+ risk/reward. Doolittle and Rosenthal both have arm problem histories. Not big in Sean's case, but he's not Mr. Durable. Glover is already hurt. Rainey is no instant help.

This is why they pay Riz the (not-really-so-big) bucks. 

Could you see the Nats trading Michael A. Taylor to SF for Will Smith or Tony Watson? The Giants could use an outfielder and the Nats clearly think they need another high-leverage reliever. Another lefty would be nice to go with Doolittle, Grace, and maybe Solis or Nuno. Andrew Stevenson has also fared better as a fourth outfielder, which makes Taylor relatively expendable. I'd personally prefer this scenario over signing Craig Kimbrel.

An interesting alternative. And well laid out. Thanks. Michael A. Taylor is having (another) fine spring. He's been a tease for years. This time, has he "found it" so that he becomes Mike Cameron? If the Giants, or any trade partner, thinks so, then maybe this is the time to move him for your sake and his sake. But I admit he's a "favorite" of mine and I'd like to think that cutting down his swing, to almost "nothing," will finally do the trick. This is Taylor's TENTH season as a pro player. He's always had all the five tools, except "hit," as in "hit the ball pretty consistently when you swing at it." If you have a chance to "sell high" on him, one last time, based on a few spring training games, maybe you do it. Of course, depends on what you get back.  

Aren't they just the Redskins with a PR savvy owner? They haven't been relevant as a contender for decades. This season, they'll finish right around the NBA equivalent of 7-9 after finishing the NBA equivalent of 8-8 last season. In other words, they're bad enough to miss the playoffs, but not bad enough to land a coveted top prospect in the draft. Plus, their GM is reviled by local fans, but seemingly enjoys a lifetime contract. Their most important player heading into this season is due a ton of money over the next few years, will not play next season, and may never return to play at his star level. Behind him, they have some talent (Beal), but nobody who is truly a top NBA star, just as the Redskins have some top players (Williams, Kerrigan, Norman), but nobody who is a true star capable of elevating the team beyond mediocrity. And the fanbase has moved beyond disappointment to apathy. Thank goodness for the Caps and Nats. And all the more reason so many local sports fans need the Nats to remain contenders post-Harper.

Very good analysis. The Wiz are the Skins, minus all the Snyder stuff that makes your skin crawl.

If your analogy holds, you realize that, 15 years from now, the Skins will STILL be as bad as the Wiz are NOW.

Hey, the Cubs had "a bad century." The Wiz are working on a "bad half-a-century." The Wall contract, then injury, then surgery, then a worse re-injury, certainly has a "Cub" feeling to it.

Do we need to explore the Ex-Wiz Factor?  

Recent reporting suggests the front office wants Kimbrel, but management is reticent to exceed the luxury tax threshold for a third straight year. Would Zim agree to restructure his contract for a few more years, a few more dollars, and a lower AAV to squeeze Kimbrel in under the threshold? Would any of this even matter if incentives kick in and push up total salary during the year?

Kimbrel is a tough fit. That $10.5M that the Nats now have under the lux-tax ceiling is very useful. For example, the Nats are not going to sign Gio Gonzalez (I assume) but they would have much more than enough room to do it. That $10.5M won't buy a big star, but it could patch a couple of pretty big in-season problems. 

Given your spot on analysis of the Harper situation, what do you see happening with Rendon?

They definitely want to sign him, badly. He wants to stay, says he wants to talk about it with the team IN season, but he's certainly not desperate to stay. So Rendon has leverage. Nats may have to go higher than they would like or (Ha!) defer less money, BUT they need to get it done. No excuses. The Arenado extension helps Rendon, but it also gives a framework, which is helpful. 

 

Do you think Ted regrets not signing Trotz to a coaching extension? He has been amazing in NY ( a team not expected to do well). Do you think the Caps players like playing under Reirdon? He just doesn't seem to have much personality.

I was always a big Trotz fan, maybe more than I should have been at times. As a person, an "A," as everybody says, but also a "B+" coach, I thought, even when they got knocked out in the springs of '16 and '17. My take: Come on, how much better can the Caps do than this guy? I think there are very few coaches who could have gotten them over the hump in '18 after what they'd been through. Whatever he lacked in the '16 and '17 playoffs, and I may not be the one capable of defining it, he certainly had special personal and motivational qualities last spring (and summer). 

But I like Todd Reirden, too. I suppose I was half-hoping he'd be tested in the regular season, face slumps, periods of low-energy play and some criticism, rather than face it for the first time as a head coach in the playoffs when it can eat a team up before they know what hit them. That's what happened. And the Caps are playing better now, right on schedule, plus what looks like two very smart, very needs-specific trades at the deadline, too. Like Mike Rizzo with the Nats, you've got a really good GM in Brian MacLellan. When that's the case, then the priority is to get the best possible sync between GM-and-coach with the GM having the last word on who that coach is. When you see Brian and Todd together it's clear that they work together very smoothly and the tandem could last a long time if the results allow it to work out that way.

The Caps are currently pulling off a very Pens like turnaround at exacly the right time, including getting a little luck at the right time, too, on Sunday against a poor Ranger team. Tied 2-2 with about 3:00 left in OT, Holtby made an outstanding stop that almost led to a breakaway Ovechkin goal. Ovi was stymied. But Holtby may have saved a point there. Then, in the shoot out, the Caps trailed, then Backstrom saved the OT with a goal before Ovechkin was awarded the game-winner on a thrown stick by the Rangers' goalie. I mention this because the first call, after the officials huddled, was that Ovechkin got "no goal." It was obviously a bad call. But sometimes bad calls stand. Reirden refused to accept the decision, got it referred to league replay and the Caps won. That's standard for an NHL coach, but you don't HAVE to do it right in your first year. Just a good little moment for Reirden, I thought.

Reirden is certainly outwardly bland, but he's also smart and a logical precise thinker about hockey. Obviously, the playoffs, with a defending champ that's playing well and has no big weaknesses (OK, no weakness if Holtby plays well), will be an extremely important, but also valid test for Reirden. By the time the season ends, I doubt that anything he has done so far will matter much at all. How does he handle the playoffs? They are a different animal, far more intense and strategic, game to game. It's going to be fun. And thanks to Trotz and his bunch from last season, Reirden won't have to function under the largest black cloud in sports.            

It certainly seems like the Lerner family isn't willing to spend a dime more than the Nationals take-in in revenue, or is there a different interpretation to their habit of wanting to defer payment? That has to be of more value to them than to the players, isn't it?

Let me give an example of what deferred money can do. And also of the impact of what "discount rate" or interest rate that you plug into the Net Present Value formula. That "rate" is arbitrary. You can make it anything you want and get hugely different results. What matters is that you use the SAME interest rate when comparing offers, like the Phils and Nats, so that you get "apples to apples."

By reasoning backwards you can see that Boras used 5% (or very close to it) as his discount rate. That's reasonable. The extremes would be 3% at the low end, the current Fed funds discount rate also called the "risk free rate of return" because a 30-yr US bind is as safe an investment as exists. The high end of assumed returns would probably be 10%, the rate of return on the S&P 500 since the Civil War (and also the stock market's return in most generational time frames since then).

Max Scherzer's contract is a beautiful example of why the Lerners, or anybody with good business sense, wants to defer payments. If you earn ~10%-a-year, CAGR, compound annual growth rate, for seven years, your money will DOUBLE. It's very tough to get 10%-a-year. The stock market does it, but in a very choppy fashion. I bet that the Lerner Company makes 10%-a-year! You don't become a multi-billionaire unless you CAN sustain returns at that kind of level.

So, in '18, Max earned $15M, but he also had $15M of his '18 salary deferred for seven years. What does that mean, to the Lerners? In seven years, they probably think they can take that $15M of Max Money which they didn't give to him and earn another $15M with it! By deferring the payment, and assuming a 10% annual return, you, in theory, pay half of Max's contract with "free money." 

So, did Max get cheated? No, he still gets the back end of his salary, $15M, in seven years. What he gives up is the money that he MIGHT have made by investing it. How much would that be? Well, what rate of return do you assume for Max and his money? Maybe Max isn't a genius with money, so he just buys a 3% US Bond. In seven years, that's only going to compound to about $3.75M in bond interest. So, Max gave up $3.75M in "safe" earning power while the Lerners, by keeping the money working in their powerful corporation, may have made $15M with that $15M!

There's a flip side to this. It's not just "look at how shrewd the Lerners are." Every agent on earth knows how to do an NPV calculation. If you are Boras, you can ask the Lerners for MORE total guaranteed salary, for a Scherzer for example, because you know how valuable it is to the Lerners to defer it. Instead of Max getting, purely hypothetical, a seven-year deal for $190M, but with no deferrals, you can get the Lerner's to guarantee $210M, but with half of it deferred.

What just happened? They SPLIT THE POT. Boras gets more guaranteed money for his client over the long run, and may save some in taxes because Max makes less per year, while the Lerners get to use half of the money they just "paid out" in a new contract to invest for themselves until Max's payday is due.

Trust me, nobody is fooling anybody here. The agent/player is saying "If you want to defer payments, then give me more total guaranteed salary." 

One of the side benefits of deferred payments, for both the player/agent and the team owner,is that it is much easier to spin the PR of contract negotiations in your favor when YOU KNOW what is actually in the deal, but reporters and the public do not. For example, word got out quickly that the Nats had offered Harper $300M for 10 years with "some" deferred money." That is correct, technically. The next leak said that the NPV of the Nats offer was $284M. I don't know which side leaked that. But it served a useful dual purpose. It made the Nats look like they'd made a pretty good offer. And it let Boras/Harper claim that they had set a $300M "floor" under Harper's market. And nobody had LIED!

Remember how I wrote in this chat a week or two ago that I'd gotten sick and tired of covering free agent contract negotiations, after more than 30 years of doing it, because nobody told you the COMPLETE truth. They didn't lie. They just misdirect you.

Now, lets flip the coin to the present. NOW, it is in the interests of the Boras/Harper camp to say, or leak, that the Nats offer, with all that deferred money, was much LOWER than the Phils $330M offer. They don't emphasize that the NPV of the Phils offer was ~$238M, not the full $330M. And they don't underline that the Nats offer was their first offer, so you can't know how much higher the Nats would have gone (or refused to go) if you'd negotiated during those seven weeks.

After all this, lets cut to the chase. My take is that the Nats wanted to keep Harper, SORT OF, if they got a team friendly deal. But they had Plan B ready two YEARS ago.

And Harper liked D.C. and would have liked to stay a Nat, SORT OF, as long as he got to test free agency!!! "Find out our market value" was always No. 1 with Harper/Boras, FAR ahead of "I want to stay in D.C." 

Well, that isn't "I wanna be a Nat for life" because by the time you decide where you want to play and for how much the Nats have blown the winter and can't rebuild their roster correctly. The flip side is that the Nats were not pledging undying love to Bryce when they said, "Here's $300M, Mr, Harper, but $100M of it is deferred for decades."  

Nobody is "wrong." Nobody is "bad."

There is a name for all of this. It is "business."

Which is why many of us love the SPORT part of baseball a lot more than we love the BUSINESS part of baseball.

So, after this week's chat, going forward, can we talk about some doggone baseball and stop talking so much about the doggone money?

Otherwise, next week, I'll have to give you a link on how to do a Discounted Cash Flow analysis of a business. Then you have to decide on two variables, a discount rate and a profit growth rate. I'd much rather talk about whether Victor Robles is ready to hit big-league pitching or whether Mark Turgeon will ever get the good basketball players he recruits to Maryland to play as well in March as their press clippings imply that they should. 

(I apologize for the very-low-level amateur business talk today which has every real business person chuckling at me.)

As a first-time visitor to spring training in West Palm, I get that it doesn't matter much which team wins the game, but what should fans be looking for? Are there particular new players "on the bubble" of making the team, or veterans who we need to closely observe for signs of improving or declining skills? In other words, what do you look for most when watching games in March?

Watch the "swing players" who could go either way. For example, we assume we know what the Nats will get from Max, Stras, Corbin, Doolittle, Rendon, Turner, Eaton, Suzuki and Gomes and a few others. I assume that if Z'man is healthy, he'll have a .820 OPS. And I assume that there is no way to look at him in Florida and know whether he will start 130 games and have a big year like '17 or start 60 games (injured) and maybe be without a job next season. We just have to wait for stuff like that to happen. And I have no idea if Soto will have a .900 OPS again, but if that guy isn't an outstanding hitter, then the sun isn't going to come up tomorrow.

But Anibal Sanchez, at 35, could go either way. So could Hellickson. How is Joe Ross? I keep waiting to see his potential turn into a solid 4th starter. How does Carter Kieboom LOOK? On defense at 2d base. At the plate in a tough at-bat against a real MLB pitcher, over-matched or in a good battle? Same with Robles, how does he LOOK? What are the quality levels of his at-bats, not necessarily his production? What about all those "good young arms" in the bullpen, are any of them blowing people away? Austin Adams is a possibility. Some guy named Copeland fanned five in two innings the other day. Mean something? Or Nothing?

Have fun! That's the main thing. And, remember, it's always 35 degrees warmer in West Palm than it is in D.C. (Except when it's 40 degrees warmer.)  

They've been winning despite losing their "Franchise Player" and yet each win feels like a lose in the grand scheme. Win too many games and you may miss out on the NBA Lottery or, worse yet, become a sacrificial lamb 8th seed and ensure two more years of Ernie G. Please give me the light at the end of the tunnel Boz. How do they turn it around?

I grew up in the Bad Old Days when all pro teams in D.C. were awful and had been awful for many years. Except in the sports where we didn't even HAVE a team. So, I enjoyed all the wins. And I really enjoyed watching the games, THAT game, that day. It's the same as when I played in games, at my low level, the fun is in what's happening that instant, what's being created. When you grow up on the DP combo of Rocky Bridges and Herb Plews, you learn how to take pleasure in what exists, not grow sad imaging what might be.

A Washington baseball team just lost an MVP winner who'll probably be in the HOF someday. And the sun still came up the next morning! Also, FanGraphs, post-Bryce-to-Phils, just predicted the NL East this way: Nats (90 wins), Phils (86), Mets (84), Braves (83), Marlins (66).  

I'm not "easy to please." But I do know when things "aren't bad at all."

See you next Monday at 11 a.m. Thanks for all the sharp questions and have a good week.

I've watched many games this year and at times they look like a tourney team and at times they look like the worst team in the NCAAs. I do believe Ewing will become a pretty decent coach over time but right now I think he's average at best. Thankfullly he has some talented freshman. If they win the last two and make a little run to the Big East semis, I think they make the Tourney. Your thoughts?

Well, Coach Ewing certainly was happy after that double-overtime win over Seton Hall on Saturday. This is the time of year when every coach and every team SHOULD be looking for that "springboard win" that starts a 4-1, 5-1 or 6-1 streak that gets you invited to the dance and maybe even wins a game or two. And suddenly MAKES your season  

In the comments section to Barry Svrluga's column yesterday, there is a lot of unhappiness with Turgeon's performance this past month or so. From my standpoint, he's got a young team and is playing in the toughest conference in the country. Not to mention, their conference record is very good - the only ugly loss being to PSU, which also beat Michigan on their home court. They are currently set up for a 5 or 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, according to the experts. Are the fans being realistic with this team? Also, what's up with the Maryland fans chanting "You are ugly" to Brazdeikis when he stepped to the foul line yesterday? Coach had to admonish the crowd, which they did not like. Chants are supposed to be fun and maybe even tease the opponent, but his one just seems mean and without class.

The PSU loss left a sour taste, I think, which influenced reaction to the Michigan game. I watched the Michigan game in real time and could just feel it slipping away. That's discouraging. In games like that, even against a No. 9-ranked foe, you like to think that you can "feel" the impact of good coaching on the floor with the players as an extension of the coach. I felt that for Michigan in the last 10  minutes or so, not for Maryland.

Of course, those four Simpson hook shots kind of helped Michigan! And the "Cliff Hagen hook shot" reference on TV made me smile.

The last 40 years have seen the invention of countless "moves" and shots that earlier times never imagined. It's basketballs level of invention and continued evolution that has given the sport so much energy and growth for the last 50 years. The NFL doesn't change and improve AS FAST. Though it does change and does improve.

Only three things have been lost since the dim dark beginning of NBA times. One of them, the two-handed set shot, is probably no loss. Although HOFers like Dolph Schayes and Richie Guerin, as well as Clyde Lovelette, made set shots from further than Steph Curry now takes them. But they didn't shoot a Curry-like percentage! And they only got two points for it. I don't think NBA "analytics" was very far advanced back then.

Hagen and Frank Ramsey of the Celtics, both about 6-foot-4, proved that you could make running hook shots off the glass of 10-to-16 feet with regularity and they were almost unblockable. These days, where are the 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-8 players who add that shot? Of course, the mid-range hook might be just as bad a percentage play as the mid-range jumper has now become.

Finally, D.C. 's own Sam Jones shot most of his jump shots off the glass, 15 to 23-foot running or stop-and-pop BANK SHOTS. He thought it was easier that way, because you got a "soft bounce" off the glass. The basket supposedly "received the ball" better off the kiss, at least in Sam's HOF world. Counting playoffs, Jones scored more than 18,000 points, had a scoring average as high as 25.9 in '64-'65 and from '58 through '69 averaged 18.6-pts-per-game on TEN NBA world champions in 11 Years! Sure, "Bill Russell."

But shot .456 from the floor for his career with his primary weapon being a 20-foot-layup off the glass. What would his eFG% be today with the 3-pt shot?

Has anybody else EVER used the bank-shot jump-shot even half that much? Why Sam and nobody else? No, he didn't use the glass when he was "straight-away."

Don't know if you'll get this four-minutes of Sam in action.

Enough of that. And probably too much.

Cheers. 

Doesn't the increase in Kimbrel's ERA from his first four seasons to his last four coincide with his move from the NL to Boston?

Good point. Thanks.

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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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