Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Dec 02, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Lots of good subjects this a.m.

This was the Week of the Losers in the NFL as the Bengals (now 1-11), Dolphins (3-9), Skins (3-9), Denver (4-8) all win. Only NY Giants remember how to lose and gain ground in the Draft Pick Bowl. 

Skins played with energy on defense & in-ground game. But where are they now? This is the franchise where a couple of wins is often the seed of a new round of false hopes. What is solid here? And what is mirage? 

The Ravens beat '49ers, 20-17, and rise to the top in the NFL as the Tom Brady Era Fades (again) in a Pats loss to Houston. 

Are the Pats REALLY finally pulling back or were they just a 10-2 team that had a bad sickness bug running through the team and will bounce back fast? 

In defeat, did the '49ers give the first semi-effective approach to slowing the Lamar Jackson Express --maximize HIS touches, but stop everybody else. Jackson runs for 101, passes for 106, but Ravens only get 283 yards. Or was it just the rain that slowed everybody? 

Caps roll& find young stars --this season the emergence of Jakob Vrana (age 23), plus other useful "kids" --Siegenthaler (22), goalie Samsonov (22). This is how you have the best record in your sport for the last 37 years! 

Also, a "thanks" for Nats on Thanksgiving who also re-signed Yan Gomes, in a quiet but important move. 

Finally, I got to find some time for Alabama coach "Crybaby Nick" Saban who claimed "unfair play" --when there was none-- just because his team got out-coached and tricked in the end game. 

Let's hit it!

Any updates? Perhaps naively, I'd hoped the Nats would work something out with Strasburg before December 1. Now, I worry the delay means he (or Boras) is more seriously mulling offers from other teams. I did not get great feelings from Ken Rosenthal's report regarding Rendon's aversion to deferred compensation either. If the Nats lose both and miss out on Josh Donaldson and Cole, what are their options to make this offseason anything other than a complete disaster?

I think we need a boarder framework to look at this, not just the latest day-to-day rumors and gossip. 

Last week, we got a good question --asking how the Nationals could go from a parade to a long era of excellent play, like the Patriots. My abrupt answer --that "nobody is the Patriots"-- was weak. There are other comparisons that are apt without asking the Nats to win six World Series in 16 years, like Brady-Belichick or dominate for generations like the Yankees. 

There is, perhaps, one useful model for long-term success that the Nats might hope to emulate --the '60-thru-'83 Orioles who had the best record in baseball for those 24 years and won three of six World Series.

Despite a mid-market budget (if that), the O's kept winning --sort of-- in '84 and '85, just on momentum and institutional memory. Those Birds built through a great scouting-and-minor-league system, and taught The Oriole Way (great fundamentals, pitching, defense) --before every team in every sport called its methods The Team X Way.

It was quite amazing watching --up close, covering those teams-- as they matched the Yankees (or came close) from '76-through-'83 --when the Yankees bought everybody as free agency began. The symbolic moment was the Yanks signing Reggie Jackson after his one year in Baltimore ('76). Everybody thought that was The End for the Orioles. It was just a new beginning as waves of new players arrived in grand-theft trades --like Scott McGregor, Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez-- or from the minors, like Murray, Ripken, Mike Boddicker, Mike Flanagan and many others.  

In the first 8 years of that Baltimore run from '60 through '67, the O's won 711 games and won a WS. So far, '12-through-'19, the Nats have 720 wins and 1 WS win. Quite similar. And the Nats are also Grow Their Own oriented, though they can be in the Big Free Agent Game more than the O's ever could.

Of note, the O's has a big let down after their '66 WS win and went 76-85 in '67. By mid-'68 they realized that manager Hank Bauer had not been the "answer" in '66, but just a passenger on a great team built by the whole organization, so they fired him, hired Earl Weaver, improved for the rest of '68, then won 109-108 and 101 the next three years! 

The key to the O's long run was front office/managerial continuity with great baseball thinkers, one after the other, like Paul Richards, Frank Cashen, Harry Dalton, Weaver. So far the only key "piece" like that which the Nats have discovered is Mike Rizzo. If the O's ARE the proper comparison to the current Nats, then keeping Rizzo, and all the people he's hired throughout the organization, may be a LOT more important than re-signing any one player. I hope the Lerners would agree --but we'll see.

That said: Sign Strasburg!

Then other pieces may fall in place. But Rendon's probably waiting to see if Stras returns --or who "replaces" him-- before he decides what to do. Put yourself in Rendon's shoes --isn't that what you would do?

The contrast between the Baltimore and Washington football franchises couldn't be more stark, and it makes me wonder if there would be (already is?) a not insignificant percentage of DMV fans switching their allegiances? As you're well aware, the Orioles had broad support in DC for many years when they were good pre-Nats. It still lingers for many whose childhood heroes were Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray. I'm sure there are DC kids in their formative sports fandom years who are asking their parents for a Lamar Jackson jersey for Christmas. I wonder if you have any sense as to whether this is, or could, be happening to a degree?

 

Oh, it's been happening for years. Lamar Jackson --with RGIII as backup!-- may just accelerate the process.

I can't tell you how many friends, who were long-time Skins fans, have told me --more each year-- that they've switched loyalties to the Ravens. The Ravens are a much more interesting team to follow. 

The Skins feel the pressure. And the Ravens love it. 

It's the contrast in cultures that strikes me the most. The Ravens aren't perfect. I could make a list of their issues over the years. But it would be a finite number --and similar to other well-run teams. For the Skins, the list of embarrassments and ugliness would be almost endless. 

Quite a few years ago, after he'd owned the Ravens for some time, Steve Bisciotti stayed in the same group house at the Masters for a couple of years with several of us long-time golf scribes, including John Feinstein and Dave Kindred. He brought one of his sons who, I think, caddied for Tom Watson in the Par Three contest on Wednesday. Most of us arrived, and took the best rooms in the house, before Steve got there. So, only the worst room in the house --sort of an attic with a sofa and a pull-out bed-- was left. We laughed and offered to move around so they could have better rooms. But Steve looked at the room and said, "We like this one. That way, my son and I can can stay in the same room." I don't know which one got the sofa.    

We figured, "Well, HE'LL never be back after getting stuck in the room we all disliked for the Last To Arrive." The next year, if I remember it right, Steve and his son were back! They played by our (house) rules, got in a day earlier and got a better room. (Pretty sure I was last and got the "ATTIC.")

I think I've probably told this story in a chat long ago. But, as everybody who knows him says, Steve is a good guy, easy to get along with, very down to earth --even at the breakfast table when nobody has had their coffee yet! (No, we didn't talk about the NFL. Or not much. He and his son were there for the golf. So were we.).

Side note, LONG ago I knew a guy in the Annapolis area, Jack Norris, who built heavy-duty docks, retaining walls and piers. Really hard labor with a barge and crane, working from the water more than land. Somehow, Bisciotti's name came up. Jack said, "Yeah, he worked for me when he was young." When he was college age, I'd guess. On the barge. In the heat of summer. Really tough manual labor. So, how was he back then, I asked. "Great kid. Worked his ass off," said Norris.

If you are a fan, unless you just have an incurable Skins Jones, I can't imagine why you wouldn't prefer the Ravens --or at least root for both. Skins OVER Ravens? At least to me, that almost sounds like a joke.

 

What are the chances that the Nats keep Rendon? If they don’t, how do you replace him?

It is very unusual to see a team in the position of the Nats right now. Usually, if you have TWO mega-free-agents that you might lose, then there is no way you can imagine re-shaping your team, at lower cost, with less long-term risk, while remaining a contender. I think the Nats could, although I much prefer that they sign Rendon and Strasburg.

If the free agent market is as disappointing --to players-- as it has been the last two years, then I'll make a radical prediction --Rendon won't be offered much more than the $215M/7yrs that the Nats have offered already, BUT the Nats may have to get rid of their deferred money fixation. Also, Strasburg won't be offered much more than the Nats could give him with a one-year extension of his previous contract --IOW, something like $130M/5yrs versus the $100M/4yrs that he opted out of.

There are TWO power-hitting 3rd basemen available: Former AL MVP Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas, 31, who hit 35 homers last year. Moustakas, whom analytics doesn't like very much, had a 3.2 WAR last year in Milwaukee and is a steady decent 3rd baseman who makes about 12 errors every year. It's unusual to have two Plan B guys. Also, Carter Kieboom, 22, could come up from AAA and go to 3rd base and the Nats could upgrade elsewhere. Like where?

2nd base: Orioles just released their BEST player from '19 --Jonathan Villar, 162 games, 111 runs, 24 homers, 62 ExBH, 40 steals in 49 attempts, .274/.339/.453 and a switch-hitter. They didn't want to pay him what he's worth --in arbitration-- just to keep him during '20, which is his walk year. There are so many 2d baseman --Starkin Castro, Schoop, Dozier, Astrubal Cabrera, Eric Sogard-- that I suspect the Nats could re-assemble their 2nd base platoon from '19 at pretty modest cost.

I've never seen so many free agent starting pitchers. That HAS to drive down the market: Gerrit Cole, Strasburg, Zack Wheeler (overrated), Bumgarner, Ryu, Keuchel, Teheran, Porcello, Roark, Miley. On and  on.

I just think Strasburg and DC are an excellent natural match and they'll work it out. Hey, he went 5-0 in October to help win a world title and the Nats taught him how to hug!

 

The focus of hot-stove season has been on Nats free agents, in particular, Stras and Rendon, as it should be. But, don't the Nats also have a dilemma when it comes to Martinez and Rizzo. Isn't the 2020 season the last year on their contracts? If so, can the Nats afford to let them go into the season as lame ducks, knowing that many teams would be ready to make them lucrative offers? Would you re-sign either or both to big deals now?

If I were the Nats I would sign Rizzo FIRST --before any of those players.

WHY? Because a BIG part of why those players --including Strasburg and Rendon-- find Washington attractive is because they trust Rizzo so much to keep the team at or near the top in the future. Who closed out the World Series --Daniel Hudson! That's like...come on...GM Magic.

If the Rizzo situation is unsure, if Rizzo --with some of the key front office and scouting people he hired probably leaving eventually if he does-- is a question mark, then do you want to commit to a team that hasn't committed yet to the GM who built the World Series winner? 

Now that he has a World Series winner, and with a team that was tied for the ELEVENTH SPOT (at 17-to-1, with Colorado) to win the Series on Opening Day, Rizzo is now at the same level with almost any GM in the game for his next deal.

Dave Martinez can sleep well. He'll be managing for quite a while.

Guice's second big run reminded me so much of Riggo in the Super Bowl vs. Miami. I played the two side by side and they were crazy similar. Do you see Guice as a Riggins kind of back? And do you think Chris Thompson will be able to contribute as much as he was back when he was on fire before he got hurt?

Don't get TOO excited too soon! Riggo was one of the most durable, rugged runners ever. Guice has stayed in one piece for a couple of games.Alo, Riggo was fast (for a big man) in 1982. Everybody is faster now. Being as fast as Riggo "side by side" isn't quite the compliment it used to be! Also, Riggo was 230+ in an area when that was BIG, while Guice is 225 in an era when that is "good size."

BUT it certainly does look like pass-loving Jay Gruden overlooked the possibilities of playing both Peterson and Guice and getting them both enough carriers. Benching A.P. for Game One !??

What I like best about Guice is his average gain WITHOUT his two big break-away plays --the 60-yard run and 45-yard screen pass TD. He's averaging a solid 4.0 in his 36 rushes exluding the 60-yarder (which brings him up to 5.5). And his 5.6 yard on 6 receptions isn't so bad without the 45-yarder.

What I like best about the Skins this year is their WHOLE draft class: WR Terry McLaurin, WR Steven Sims, Jr, WR Kelvin Narmon, CB Jimmy Moreland, LB Montez Sweat (1.5 of Skins SEVEN sacks on Sunday), LB Cole Holcomb (big game vs Jets) and Haskins, too.

The danger with enthusiasm is that it can help the wrong people stay in their jobs --like president Bruce Allen and probably coach Bill Callahan. Skins will be favored over Giants at FedEx. If Skins win some games, finish 4-12 or 5-11, will the "everything is OK and we're 'close'" mentality return to the owner's box?  

The big tough call will be Haskins. I'm REALLY glad he has four more starts to give us more information. He looks better to the eye than his bad stats --58.5 QB rating when humble Case Keenum was 94.8. A TD-INT ratio of 2-6 with five fumbles (one lost). Keenum, who sort of defines NFL mediocre, was 9-4. And Haskins has been sac ked 22 (!) times versus 133 pass attempts behind the same (bad) line where Keenum was sacked 12 times versus 188 pass attempts. Looks like Marcus Mariota is the only QB in the league who i ALMOST as easy to sack as Haskins --25 sacks vs 159 attempts. 

Haskins looks a little better, especially under pressure and in important spots, each week. He needs to improve a lot. But, right now, he IS improving. 

In the NFL, you get 4 seconds to throw your pass, maximum. After that sacks and turnovers happen at an alarming rate. You're a big, tough kid who must learn how to keep the drives alive and avoid negative plays.

True.

Good morning, Boz. I'd like to comment briefly on the 'Skins and Patriots. Even with all of the dysfunction in the 'Skins front office, I was surprised to learned that the Redskins have the most money tied up in players who aren't even playing: Alex Smith, Trent Williams, Vernon Davis, and Josh Norman. Alex Smith I understand, but the other four are on the Redskins. They should've traded Trent. They could've released Reed, Davis, and Norman - especially Norman. The team's not giving up nearly as many big plays in the passing game since his benching. It's no coincidence that they're 2-0 since his benching. As for the Patriots, I disagree with Mark Maske's article today. Unless something has changed, 10-2 is still a darn good record in the NFL. His post mortem on New England is premature. Maybe it the Patriots' own fault for setting the bar so high, but the same thing happened last year. The Patriots had lost 2 games in a row late in the season. And even though one was on a fluke play in Miami as time expired that the Dolphins couldn't do again in one hundred tries, people were saying the Pats were done. They promptly won the Super Bowl. If this were a court room, opposing counsel would sat Maske is "arguing facts not in evidence".

Mark is my NFL guru! Never miss him.

Josh Norman has been an anchor for a couple of years. I keep pointing it out --can't cover any more, always gambling to make a showy play (and seldom doing it). But he talked a great game and blustered his way into making it tough for coaches to bench him. Kudos to Callahan for that.

Now that they have won 2 in a row it seems Bruce may be able to claim a turnaround and an I told you so and keep his job. Tell me it isn't so.

Jerry Brewer nailed this subject in his column today. Even when something goes right with the Skins, it seems to have the opposite of a silver lining.

OK, what IS the opposite of a silver lining? A fool's gold lining?

As I watched the Patriots game last night I saw Tom Brady make a bunch of bad throws. Some commentators said that the receivers weren't where he expected him to be, whether because of strong defense or poor route running. But I saw him throwing balls not just to empty spaces but out of bounds, past the end line, etc. He's got to run out of steam one day. How can we tell when it's happening?

That's what I saw, too. And he was flustered, upset --but not in a way that inspired confidence. More like "is this what the beginning of the end looks like."

Did you see the end of the Ole Miss / Miss State game? Ole Miss player scores a touchdown to supposedly tie the game in the remaining seconds, proceeds to get down on all fours and pretend to urinate like a dog to the Miss State fans. Gets called for 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty so the chip shot extra point becomes as far as a easily missable field goal. And the kicker misses it. Game over, and Ole Miss coach Matt Luke gets fired this morning. Hahaha. Couldn't have happened to nicer people. Hahaha.

No, you can't make this stuff up!

As EVERYONE has said, "Ole Miss pisses away the game."

As you can see in this video, the PAT would have been "good" from 15 yards closer (because almost every kick that gets up 'clean' from point-blank range is always "good.")

Now, Ole Mis coach Matt Luke has been fired. And the latest news reports quote an Ole Miss player as saying that "half the team" will consider transferring if he goes.

My wife and I took a road trip that included a stop at Ole Miss a few years ago. Seemed like nice enough folks. Nobody lifted a leg on us anyway.

Who is the corresponding "Joe Flacco" on the current Nationals' roster that should be thanked for the World Series (Super Bowl) win and then moved on from? The St. Louis Cardinals were very brave and wise by not resigning Albert Pujols. Who is the equivalent on the Nationals?

Nobody.

That's a problem.

In the current relief market, I think you want Daniel Hudson back. But he's not elite --and doesn't claim to be. But he had a wonderful season and a truly clutch post-season, espcially when you consider that he comes rioght out and says he doesn't like closing and doesn't think he's all that well suited to it because he doesn't have quite enough swing-and-miss stuff. His swing and miss of Corey Seager to end game G2 against the Dodgers with the bases loaded for a 4-2 win was pretty big to me!

Howie Kendrick is the player that I DO want back. His last three years combined he has the same slash line as Jose Altuve. And Kendrick's .344 was the highest average in MLB last year for anybody with 300 PA.  If you haveto bribe him to keep him out of the AL, then try your best to DO it. He's a better hitter now at 36 than he has ever been. It's not a fluke. He's not going to hit .344 again. But he's a wonderful piece of a team and twice as valuable in October when he can play every day.

The unsung hero of the post-season was Patrick Corbin with FIVE relief appearances. The first was horrible --SIX earned runs. He'd never relieved before. If he had said NOTHING, he probably would not have been used again in relief --his silence who (maybe) have spoken loudly enough. Instead, he sought out Martinez and ASKED to be used again out of the pen. Then, a key mid-inning out vs Dodgers, then four HUGE outs in Game Five and finally nine outs (no runs) to get the win in relief in Game Seven of the WS. 

Unselfishness rewarded.

In that case "no good deed goes unpunished" does NOT apply.

One player does fascinate me --Astrubal Cabrera. I think his market will be soft --but it's hard to find switch-hitting vets who can play 2d, 3d and 1st, and in an emergency SS, while slashing .270/.336/.453 for the last four years. That's about what he hit in '19, too. Soft hands, limited range. At 34, would he accept a bench, do-everything role gracefully? Probably.

 

Love your work Boz but would you admit now that Craig Kimbrel would Not have been the answer last summer? You were all on board that one.

I was wrong.

I don't think "it seemed like a good idea at the time" is going to work for me on this one.

Daniel Hudson tuned out to be Craig Kimbrel, or close enough, after the Nats got him August 1 with a 1.44 ERA in 24 games, then effective in 8 of 9 post-season appearances.

And Kimbrel turned out to be a big scary 6.53 ERA disaster in 23 games with two more years on the books for the Cubs for a total of $33M. Kimbrel helped the Nats --but by helping knock out the Cubs. 

Knock me over with a feather.

During October, Rizzo said the lesson (for him) to take from Kimbrel was that if you are going after a reliever then DON'T sign him in mid-season when he never has a normal spring training. He still thinks Kimbrel may come back strong in '20'21.

 

I'd like to caveat this by saying that I KNOW it wouldn't happen, but I think the following is fun to think about. What if you were to close your eyes and wake up three months from now, and find out that the Nats had resigned Stephen Strasburg, and in a shocking twist, signed Gerrit Cole as well, but missed out on Anthony Rendon. Cole would become the #1 starter, and Scherzer and Stras (in whichever order) as the #2 and #3 guys, Corbin as your #4 guy, and Sanchez as the #5. The Nats starting pitching would be dominant, and they'd have clear advantages over every #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5 pitchers that could line up against them. This, IMO, would more than offset the Rendon loss. I KNOW IT WON'T HAPPEN, but what if it did? :)

Then you just put Kieboom at 3rd, reassemble those platoons on the right side --some combination of Zimmerman/Adams, Dozier/Cabrera/Kendrick-- and just try to do it all again...and again.

Well, if YOU have thought of it (and I have thought of it), I bet the Nats have thought of it --at least as a wild hypothetical. Even after Scherzer's contract runs out after '21, you'd still have Cole, Strasburg and Corbin together through '22-'23-'24.  

Nah, it's too crazy.

Even though the Phils did try to assemble the Four Aces --Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay--  several years ago. They won 102 and never got past the NLDS.

"Ole Miss player as saying that "half the team" will consider transferring if he goes." That might be a blessing in disguise. They have a bunch of players that can't hold on to the ball, even when its placed in their hands, and a quarterback who always runs and never throws.

Bet there are some people in Oxford saying the same thing today.

 

luv your work and these chats Boz. But its 11:53 and one question/ respose has loaded, this is not a “live chat.”. Same every week

You certainly have a point!

I start prepping for the chat about 9 a.m., then try to start writing answers by 10:30, so I can post 'em at 11 or a few minutes afterwards, as well as an intro. But sometimes I'm "late for school." Sorry. 

But play nice. There were 900 words --the length of a column-- up by 11:30. And (I checked --just for you) the chat has about 4500 words up now.

Length, or the time taken, doesn't guarantee quality. But, at least in my case, if I DON'T think about my answers, and take a reasonable amount of time to compose responses --as well  do some digging around for more info, or links-- I can guarantee you that the quality will NOT be there.

I appreciate your indulgence --really. And I appreciate all of your collective input to the chat.

That's it for now. See you all next Monday at 11 a.m. Or thereabouts! Cheers.

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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