Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Nov 18, 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!

This is a pivotal moment in D.C. sports history --the day when it became impossible to ignore the obvious any longer: The Redskins have lost Washington. 

It's been many years coming. But in recent weeks, with the Nats win in the World Series, the Caps run-up to the top of the NHL standings (after their '18 Stanley Cup win) and the Mystics championship in the WNBA, Washington realizes that it no longer has to pay much attention to his awful-across-the-board franchise. 

The Skins still have their, long-suffering fans. But they endure a constant flow of new embarrassments. After a horrid loss to the Jets, in which they fell behind 34-3 with 10 minutes to play, the Skins are FAR behind the Capitals (most wins in the NHL over the last 37 years!) and Nats (2nd most wins in MLB the last 8 years. How many more local teams will challenge, and probably pass the Skins as D.C. United, with new Audi Field, offers a much better game-day experience. Now, everybody with a good team and a competent, honorably run program, whether pro or college --like Terps No. 7-ranked men's basketball team-- will take more of their fans and their share of the D.C. sports oxygen. 

Also, let's talk about the MLB off-season and how the Nats can handle their '20 roster in an extremely deep free-agent market which offers almost endless options. Also, Tua's sad, and unnecessary injury. Another win by the mighty Ravens and perhaps MVP-bound QB Lamar Jackson. Plus anything and everything else you'd like to discuss. 

Hi Boz, I'm not naive enough to think that Dan Snyder is ever going to sell the Redskins or that the NFL can force him out, but surely the rest of the NFL stakeholders (aka, the other owners and league commissioner) must care that a team in one of its major television markets is now completely irrelevant and no longer has any fans left who are willing to endure the pain of attending its home games, right? Is there anything the league can do to force Snyder to restructure his front office (the only slight hope left)?

Leagues can, after many years, get so disgusted by an ownership that they start to put pressure and, in very blunt ways, punish that club for its mismanagement and the money/prestige it is costing the whole league.

How do we think Washington got the Expos? The No. 1 reason was that Peter Angelos killed the Orioles, ruined a great franchise --cut their attendance by 50% despite having OPACY as a draw. Other MLB owners were so furious that they voted 29-1 to put a team 40 miles away and let him fend for himself.

True, Washington deserved a team on its merits as a sports market. But Angelos kicked open the door with his arrogance and incompetence.

If the Skins reach a point where no local jurisdiction will build a new >$1B stadium for a team owner by Dan Snyder, THEN you may see the NFL take a stand and try to push him out.

I repeat: The only way there is ANY CHANCE to get Snyder out is to incarcerate him in FedEx Field forever. He hates it there. An NFL owner should always be able to find local pols that he can influence --a nice name for...-- to back a new stadium. It is the PUBLIC that must take a stand --in D.C. especially with the RFK site, but also in NVa-- and make it clear that any politician who backs a Snyder-owned team in a new publicly-financed stadium is committing political suicide.

Keep Snyder trapped in FedEx. Then don't go to games at FedEx. Don't watch. Don't discuss. In fact, after a few Skins questions today --because I just wrote a column on the subject-- you'll see a continuing trend in this chat to pay attention to the Skins in direct proportion to how much they deserve it --which is not much. 

But if you want to talk about the Caps (15-3-4) or world champion Nats or classy Mystics or mighty Ravens or teams and sports that have been overshadowed by the Skins for far too long, lets have at it.    

 

How widespread do you think cheating is in baseball? And no, don't waste your keystrokes talking about baseball entire history of cheating. Everybody knows what I'm asking about.

The team most often accused, or even assumed within MLB to cheat is the Astros.

That's one reason that the Nats' Game Seven victory was very popular within the game --everywhere except Houston.

It was a terrible World Series for the Astros image. As everybody knows, they fired an assistant GM --though not NEARLY quickly enough and not with nearly enough apologies-- who tried (and failed) to intimidate female reporters who cover the Astros with a tirade during a post-win celebration. "I'm so ***ing glad we signed Roberto Osuna" he yelled at them over and over. Osuna was suspended for HALF-A-SEASON for domestic abuse by MLB. The amoral Astros, with their Wall Street flexible-values world view, were right there to pick up a "distressed asset" that was available at a cheap price. Oh, yeah, tell me about the "market inefficiency" gods. (Like the Skins pouncing on Reuben Foster as soon as they could grab him.) 

Astro analytics, yes. Corporate ethics, not so much.

Who else cheats --besides the '51 New York Giants?

Maybe MLB will use this opportunity to try to find out and get tougher on those who try.  

 

I don't get Trout winning given that Bregman played more games and played on a play-off team. I don't object to the MVP being from a losing team if the player's performance is clearly superior to others in the league. However, when close, I feel being on a team that makes the play-offs should be a fairly heavily weighted consideration. Your opinion?

First, a confession: It's been many years since the Post allowed its writers to vote for awards --long ago I was one of the A.L. Cy Young Award voters every year and, like everybody in the BBWAA, voted for the HOF. I agree with this policy. But it means that MVP, CYA, etc., debates tend to interest me a bit less --"that's somebody else's problem now." This year, with the Nats run throughout October, the Awards debates didn't i nterrest me much at all --aside from the obvious-- Bregman and Trout were close. So were Bellinger-Yelich. 

However, when everything is close, I think its fair to include some weight --not much, but sometimes a tie-breaking amount-- to playing on a team that makes the playoffs. 

Man, were Trout and Bregman close --FanGraphs had Trout ahead in its WAR by 8.6 to 8.5. Baseball-reference had Bregman ahead 8.4 to 8.3 in its WAR metric. Also, Trout had leads, but not big ones over Bregman in wOBA (.436 to .418) and wRC+ (180 to 168). In defensive value, FanGraphs had Trout as slightly negative (-0.3) and Bregman a positive defender (+4.8).

So, 'beloved analytics metrics" --all bow down-- were not going to settle this one.

Hello, counting stats. If you play more games --Bregman 156 games, Trout 134-- your counting stats go up. And you team gets the benefit of them. Trout 45-4 in homers. Bregman 122-110 in RBI.

I won't belabor this: I'd have voted for Bregman --narrowly-- as an instance when playing more and playing on a winner had some value in an otherwise eye-lash race.

"In other news" Bellinger and Yelich tied in Baseball-reference.com WAR at 7.8 while FanGraphs had Bellinger far ahead --9.0-to-7.1.-- with Bellinger a better defender (+3.4 to -3.9). I'd go with Bellinger, and not close after Yelich's season-ending injury.

Among a hundred factors in the Nats title, Yelich, a  rightfielder, missing the wildcard game certainly helped. Hard to believe that he'd have misplayed Soto's 2-RBI single into an error and a three-run game-losing disaster.

Of some interest, Rendon ranked 7th and 10th in WAR in MLB accorfding to FanGraphs (7.0) and Bball-ref (6.3).   

Good morning, Boz. The Redskins front of reminds me of a very difficult period I went through in my life many years ago. I was young, just out of college. I was hired for a job that I wasn’t a good fit for and struggled, especially my first year, and everyone knew it. And when you’re not good at your job, people talk. I’d walk into a break room or common area and people would stop talking in mid-sentence, followed by awkward silence. A couple of colleagues even came out and told me I didn’t belong in the job – how right they were. It was a horrific situation. However, I had a patient boss who wouldn’t fire me. For whatever reason, he kept giving me more chances to turn it around. I guess he didn’t have the heart to fire me. I finally decided that, if my boss wouldn’t fire me, I’d end the misery myself. I salvaged what was left of my pride and resigned, without having another job to go to. I feared staying in the job more than unemployment. I landed on my feet with a good job four months later, and now I’m thriving as a computer programmer. I’m considered the ‘go-to guy’ for programming in my division and am even coveted by other employers. As for the Redskins front office, think of Bruce Allen as me in my story and Daniel Snyder as the boss who wouldn’t fire me. Just like Bruce Allen, my reputation was taking a beating because of my poor performance. I did what was necessary to salvage my career, my self-respect, and my happiness. Bruce Allen should do the same. Just as in the case of Vinny Cerrato, Allen will probably never work in the NFL again after his Redskins tenure, but he’ll probably land on his feet. He has excellent business connections in the D.C. area after being team president for so long. My boss wasn’t doing me a favor by not firing me, but my story had a happy ending. Bruce Allen’s will too. But he needs to walk away.

Bruce is lucky if he can turn on a computer, much less program one.

Tom I loved your Redskin column, too bad you had to write it. I was around like you were when Sonny came and Norm left, when the Redskins were losers but lovable and despite their record, DC Stadium/RFK had an actual waiting list. But we had Sonny and Charlie and Chris and Bobby and Jerry ... and Otto and Bill McPeak, before The Coach showed up for a season. They were losers but we cared. Now they’re losers and we don’t care. How can one man be so destructive?

I doubt that any of the crew on Dan's new $100M yacht tell him that he's doing a bad job.

If I'm so dumb, how come I'm so rich?

Well, sometimes it just works out that way.

This seems bad, very bad. Plenty of evidence unearthed on Twitter of the "banging" for off-speed with the help of a video guy in the dugout tunnel. Seems to me they're flat-out busted. Two questions: is this something "all teams do," or at least more than a few? And secondly, what's the appropriate punishment?

This is NOT common.

But teams look for rivals who play, or hit, far better at home than they do in the road. And if they are suspicious, they sometime go to considerable lengths to make sure their signs are not being relayed --stolen-- by a hidden CF camera.

Barry did a wonderful column last week about the lengths --the most I've ever heard of, by far-- that the Nats took to combat potential cheating by the Astros in the World Series.

How suspicious --or perhaps absolutely convinced-- do you have to be that another team is cheating to institute a system like the one explained below. It's easier to steal the nuclear codes that it was to steal the Nats pitch signs in the WS. (Of course, Trump probably yells out the codes --just to show off-- during his unprotected phone calls in restaurants.)

"Given the general paranoia about sign-stealing — legal and not — that grips the game now, the Nationals began to mix their signs more elaborately as they faced the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card game, the Los Angeles Dodgers in the division series and the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS...

"When the Nats had their first workout after sweeping the Cardinals, the coaching staff revealed to the pitchers their counterintelligence plan to fend off the Astros.

"'We were 100 percent on board with it,' Doolittle said.

"There were some layers to the Nats’ plan for Houston. First, each pitcher had to have his own set of signs, and catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki had to be familiar with each one. So the staff printed out cards with the codes and had them laminated. The catchers could have them in their wristbands, a la an NFL quarterback with play calls strapped to his forearm, and the pitchers would have them in their caps. Each pitcher had five sets of signs, and they could change them from game to game — or even batter to batter, if necessary. Using the set labeled No. 2, but worried the Astros were catching on? The pitcher could signal to the catcher to move to set No. 3.

The Nationals also decided that they would use multiple signs regardless of whether there was a runner on second base or not. No one on? Runner on first? Let’s make sure the catcher runs through a series of signs anyway, just in case...

Next came the way the Nats employed their signs, which was nontraditional. Rather than just use, say, the second sign the catcher put down, the Nats might “chase the two.” That meant the pitcher would watch for the catcher to put two fingers down, and then throw the pitch that corresponded to the following sign. Or they could play “outs plus one.” So if there was one out, the pitch would be the second sign the catcher put down. If there were no outs, it would be the first sign. “Strikes plus one” worked the same way.

AD

That’s a lot of thought, right? But it’s a small cost in preparation if it frees the mind of the pitcher in competition."

My view: The Nats won the World Series despite the significant competitive disadvantage of feeling that they had to use a complex --and potentially concentration-damaging-- sign system just to compete on a level field.

Also, this tells me one other thing, too --I can't prove it, but I can intuit it-- Mike Rizzo thought that if you prevented the Astros from cheating, you'd suddenly discover that they were not as good a team as their record --60-21 at home, only 47-34, or .161 points lower on the road-- would lead you to believe. 

Time will tell --as the investigation of the Astros continues- if this World Series will be remembered as the year the Nats won FOUR games in Houston, in part because they prevented the Astros from cheating or, at the least, were certain that they could prevent them from cheating if they tried.

Last point: Can you IMAGINE what this chat --and every conversation among Nats fans-- would be like if Howie Kendrick's fly ball had NOT hit the RF foul pole, the Nats had gone on to lose Game Seven by a run and THEN the "Astros cheat" stories had broken? Talk about "bad for ball" as well as rotten for the Nats.

Finally, in the "throwing rocks in glass houses" department, I have never heard anything about the Nats being suspected of cheating. That doesn't prove anything. But it's one small data point. Also, I doubt that a team that DID cheat would explain at length how it had gone about preventing other teams from cheating.

The hoopla over Kaepernick recently made me think - why does no one sign Sam Bradford?

No info on Bradford. I will comment on Kaepernick. I've heard some blowhards in the media take the easy cheap-shot position that Kaepernick blew up his chance because he insisted on having a workout that was "open to the media," rather than the closed-to-media session that the NFL wanted.

If I were in Kaepernick's shoes, after being black-balled for three years-- there is NO WAY that I would have a closed-to-media workout where anybody in the NFL who wanted to blast me could say, "He was terrible. He's washed up. Time to move on from this Kaepernick stuff. This is a dead issue." 

Kaepernick has no reason whatsoever to trust the NFL to give him a fair shake in any regard, and plenty of reason to wonder whether they'd play dirty with a workout if they could.

Why would the NFL even MENTION "closed workout" --unless they wanted to put Kaepernick in lose-lose: either you workout in an environment we control or else you move your workout and look like a "problem player."

You can spot the NFL shills in the media by how quickly, and how hard they came down on Kaepernick as unreasonable or the bad guy or even equally-at-fault with the NFL.

 

 

Strasburg has said that he wants to play for a team that is "committed to winning". This seems to put the ball in the Lerners court. Strasburg has been such an important part of this franchise since he was drafted, and has evolved into a loved teammate/great clubhouse guy, a dominant pitcher with incredible stuff, a top 5 Cy Young pitcher year in and year out, and a historically successful/intimidating playoff pitcher with a World Series MVP. Rizzo has said countless times the Nats are built around starting pitching. The Lerners just made who knows how much money from this playoff run/$800 SRO tickets. Strasburg moved his family here. If the Nats are, to use Strasburg's phrase, "committed to winning", is there any scenario in which they don't sign him? They HAVE to sign him, right? Couldn't so much goodwill with the fans disappear instantly if Strasburg goes to the Yankees or Angels for an extra 3-5 million a year? This seems to me an incredibly unique point in the franchise history, where taking a chance, and being bold - Sign Strasburg, Sign Rendon, Sign Zimm and Howie for 1 year each - while taking advantage of how cheap Soto, Robles, Eaton and Kieboom would be, has to be taken advantage of. This is my dream scenario (I'm afraid Rendon is gone, and Howie will go to the AL/DH), but The Lerners HAVE to get Strasburg signed to keep the WS momentum/fan interest going and continue to compete with Atlanta, Girardi in Philly and the Mets. Maybe this isn't really a question, but more a desire to for you to tell me the Nats will get the Strasburg deal done.

You make many good points --or else I wouldn't have published such a long "question!" I agree with much of it.

The Nats priorities are 1) Strasburg, 2) Strasburg, 3) Rendon, 4) Rendon, 5) Rendon, then everything else, starting with keep Kendrick and adding to the bullpen. I've already written a whole column --in September-- on how important I think it is to sign Rendon.

I don't think there is much mystery about the general range of prices at which these deals can/should get done.Of course, Boras will spread much higher numbers --that's his job. It's MY job to tell you that --usually/almost always-- contracts are done on the basis of comps --just like real esstate-- and then to point out what those comps are. And, remember, in MLB you are always comparing salaries between players AT THE SAME AGE. Harper and Machado got as much as they did last winter --even though it was a lot less than expected/predicted by most-- because they were SO YOUNG. Part of what they had "For Sale" were their Age 26, Age 27, Age 28 and Age 29 seasons. Those are prime, peak years.

The Rendon comp is obviously Nolan Arenado. Next year is Rendon's "age 30" season. For his age 30-through-35 seasons, Arenado will get $199M for six years (average annual of $33.17M). I've talked to Anthony about this --that he's selling age-30-and-up seasons. He gets it. The Nats have already offered Rendon about $215M for SEVEN years, through age 36. Avg annual of ~$30.7M. (But how much of it is deferred, and how far into the future?) Lets not get bogged down --instead, lets ask 'what is the right BALLPARK figure for Rendon?' If you give him every benefit of the doubt --that he's slightly better than Arenado and worth slightly more than an AAV of $33.17M and that he is worth one MORE year --through age 36-- than Arenado, then you arrive at about $235M/7years with none of it deferred.

Much more than this and even I wouldn't sign him, much as I love him as a player/teammate. Now, on to Strasburg.

Statistically, the player in MLB history who is second-closest to Strasburg's numbers through his age 30 season is Max Scherzer. Boy, did this just get easier. The Nats gave Scherzer $30M-a-year for his age 30-through-36 seasons or $210M. Half of it was deferred from years 1-through-7 out into years 8-thrugh-15. So, maybe a fair offer to Strasburg would be $30M-a-year for his age 31-through-36 seasons --or $180M for 6 years.

With similar deferred money --which the Lerners adore because they think they can get a 11-to-15% return on money-in-hand. If you get an 11%-a-year return for seven years on the $15M of Max's contract that gets deferred, guess how much money you make after seven years? That's right --about $15M. IOW, by deferring half of Scherzer's salary, the Lerners may be able to make enough money through investments so that half of Scherer's salary over the whole $210M period is essentially FREE.

No matter how you structure it, if Strasburg gets $150-to-$180M for five or six years, that is a big bump from the $100M for 4 years on the deal he opted out of.

Can the Nats afford to pay Rendon and Strasburg roughly $400M combined, making them Nats through '26 and '25 respectively? Yes. I think they can. But it's a stretch.

(At this point I always have to add: Does Rendon WANT to stay in DC? How much does he want that? Come on, nobody knows what Anthony wants. He's the Mystery Man. We'll find out. I hope it's "DC.")

I'm sorry to give you this much detail --but that's why this is a "chat answer," not a column and thus presumably for people (like me) with an abnormally high interest in the subject.

ANOTHER comp to Strasburg is Chris Sale. And this one shows you the risks in all pitchers --a much higher level of danger than a hitter like Rendon.    

Last year, after they won the WS, the Red Sox gave Chris Sale a big extension, coming off a 12-4 year with a 2.11 ERA, but a year in which he was only healthy enough to pitch 158 innings. But everybody ASSUMED --on an extension that covered his age 31-through-35 years for $145M/5years, with a $20M vesting option for age 37, that he was the Same Old Great Chris Sale. He'd fanned 308 and 237 in '17 and '18.

What happened? Sale went 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA last year and had injury problems. That's how fast a big contract for a GREAT pitcher can look bad very quickly. That's also why I mentioned $150M/5yrs for Strasburg for ages 31-through35 as sensible, rather than just the $180M/6yrs that lines up with Schrzer. Max has never had any major arm surgery. Stras is working, wonderfully, in his eighth season on his second elbow. 

What if --horros-- the Nats don't get Strasburg and/or Rendon? I have to admit that I was stunned to read a ranking of the "79 top free agents" this winter, done by USA Today.There are a lot more options for reshaping the Nats --and still keeping them a 909-win-or-more team than I thought.

If you DON'T have Strasburg or Rendon, then who is available, at lower, or much lower prices for fewer years to fill their roles. And still give you, in theory, pennant contending teams in '20 and '21 when you know you still have Scherzer on hand, as well as Corbin, and ASanchez in '20. 

First, Gerrit Cole will probably get even more $$ than Strasburg because he is two years younger and had a 2.50 ERA in the AL. Counting post-seaason, he fanned almost 400 men. I doubt the Nats go after Cole. But somebody will. And that will suck a LOT of dollars --and the No. 1 competitor-- out of the market for pitching. if they can't re-up with Stras: Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner (age 30, 34 starts, 203 Ks), LAD's Ryu (33, poor end of year, but great '18-'9 combined) and Dallas Kuechel. Also, Rick Porcello, 31. Julio Teheran, only 29, has lost velocity but become a (good) command and cutter pitcher --a reinvention. Somebody may get a steal there.  

Who is available at 3rd base for less money and fewer years than Rendon, but still provides a middle-of-the-order bat? Josh Donaldson, 34, who had a .900 OPS last year and will probably get about $75M for three years. Elite glove. Nobody-loves-him Mike Moustakas, 31, who's hit 38, 25 and 35 homers the last three seasons but always has to find  new home as a free agent. 

Also, there is offense you could add with Yasmani Grandal, 31, at catcher, if you don't try to bring back Yan Gomes. There's punch that could be put at first base is you say goodbye to Zimmerman, like Jose Abreu, 33, 33 HR & 123 RBI with White Sox. Marcell Ozuna, a 30-homer man, is only 29 but probably won't be a big expense an might be moved from LF to 1st base. 

Final point, few teams have ever had such an obvious opportunity to improve themselves by 50-to-75 runs in run differential --which could be 5 to 8 more wins-- than the Nats with their horrific 5.66 ERA pen. They need to bring back FA Daniel Hudson, imo. But Drew Pomeranz and Jordan Lyles were quality relievers last year who could also go multiple innings.  

Finally (I know, I said that before), what about the Nats chemistry/depth with so many pieces now free agents? On that list of Top 79 free agents, I was surprised how low all the Nats were. Kendrick was only 34th, below Tanner Roark. (Maybe you CAN lure him back --no, no, Howie don't go to the A.L. as a DH. They'll never luv ya there like DC always will!)

Brian Dozier (68th), Zimmerman (71st) and Astrubal Cabrera (74th) are ALL ranked at least 25 spots below old still-gettin'-'em-out Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen. Gomes and Gerardo Parra don't even make the list of Top 79!

Maybe this band --or equivalent-- isn't as tough to get back together as we think. But the Nats are lucky to have a Mike Rizzo to try to sort it all out.

 

Why build a new stadium for the Redskins when they can just move into Audi Field? It would be a better fan experience, and they might be able to brag about having a season ticket waiting list again. And nobody could stop them from continuing to announce "attendance" numbers of 56,000+.

Hey, good idea. Nobody in road-team jerseys allowed! I doubt that they had 21,000 Skins fans in attendance at FedEx on Sunday.

Steve Martin used to joke that he’d written a book called “How I Turned $25 Million in Real Estate into $25 Cash.” That, to me, describes the Dan Snyder era. How can an owner – someone who acquired enough wealth to own a pro sports franchise – be as wretched as Dan Snyder or James Dolan? What qualities consistently make for a bad pro sports owner?

Just had to get that line in here. Thanks.

This "Wizars" team is a sports enigma right now. They are 3rd in the NBA in scoring per game at 118 a game behind the Rockets and Bucks. They are 2nd in the NBA in team assists at 27.5 per game. They clearly struggle on the defensive side of the ball and because of that have cost themselves three wins. Those games being the Spurs on the road, Rockets at home, and last night versus the Magic. Bradley is in the top five of NBA scorers after 10+ games. They are young, but they aren't bumbs. Markieff Morris would help this team right now. Is this a result of Scott Brooks or the summer turmoil over taking too long to hire a GM? What do you make of all of this Boswell?

I haven't had time to make anything of it yet! But I will --trust me, I will. Or at least I'll convince myself that I have. 

Hi Boz, Did you happen to know the late Phila Inquirer columnist? I was saddened to hear of his passing this weekend. I spent my formative years in the Philadelphia area, and found him to be among the top at his craft. He once sent me a very nice (and unexpected) note in response to a complement I had sent to him about a particular column he wrote that touched me deeply, and from what I've heard since, I was far from the only one who ever experienced such an act of thoughtfulness on his part.

Bill was a great guy and a wonderful writer. Always looked forward to seeing him anywhere. So sorry about his passing.

Bill, who died at 81, wrote about his battle with Alzheimer's in recent years and, at times, nicknamed it "Al."

See you all next Monday. Have a great week. 

In This Chat
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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