Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Dec 09, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

This is Hot Topic Monday! 

The Nats hit MLB with a blockbuster last week. Owner Mark Lerner says that the Nats will try to sign Stephen Strasburg OR Anthony Rendon, but not both. Wise? Or just "penny-wise?" 

Also, let's look at the OTHER side of the coin. 

Why do players --like Ian Desmond & Jordan Zimmermann in the past, or Bryce Harper last year, or perhaps Stras and/or Rendon now, constantly keep trying to get the last 5% on a contract rather than consider the larger question of where they will be most HAPPY? Why? 

Nats DO sign Howie Kendrick (.344 in '19) for '20. That to me is VERY important because they can STILL put together a complete high-quality lineup --not as good as '20, but quite good-- in '20 w/out Rendon. 

Skins didn't stink during the loss in GB. Haskins has guts. But how much is he improving? 

Is the NFL great? Like SF 48, NO 46. Or ludicrous/comic? Bad refs or bad rules in Saints and Patriots games? Or is it just stomach-turning ultra-violence as, imo, there are more dirty, intended to maim or concuss plays in the NFL NOW than there have ever been. Why? 

So, let's go!

Re: Mark Lerner's comments about being unable to afford both Rendon and Strasburg. Was this posturing for Boras (to drive down the price), the fans (to manage expectations), or does he really think that?

That's what he really thinks.

This is exactly like Mark's comments one year ago with week when he said goodbye to Harper, adding that Nats would make a nice video retrospective for Bryce when he returned to DC in '19 wityh his new team.

Boras spent 3 months trying to stage manage the appearance that the Nast were NOT "out on Harper." But they were completely "out." Even when Phils offered "only" $25.7M x 13 years -- Nats showed no interest. They'd built their next team.

Also, whenever an owner says "We don't want Player X" or "We only want Player X OR Player Y, but not both," all the otgher owners CHEER! Because it drives down the demand for talent in an auction market. 

Finally, this, in theory, lets both Stras and Rebndon know that there is only enough $ for one of them --and UNSAID is the possibility that the Nats might get a SP and 3rd baseman in free agency --say Josh Donaldson (.900 OPS, 37 HRs) and Madison Bumgarner (203 K) on 3-or-4 year deals for about $100M each and not make an effort to sign EITHER Strasburg or Rendon.

What in the world is Mark Lerner doing? This is the second year in a row the Nats' ownership has come out in the media basically saying, "we can't get a deal done at these prices." This time, the national media and Scott Boras himself called bull-malarky on that. Not being able to "afford them" doesn't literally mean they don't have the cash. It means they think that Rendon and Strasburg would tie too much money up for too long. Do they really believe that? Does Rizzo?

Yes, they really believe it.

Yes, with the big jump in prices for SP --based on the silly $118M/5yr deal to Wheeler-- and demand for Rendon, Rizzo probably thinks so, too. In time, we'll find out if he really does. But he would certainly have REASON to think so because Strasburg and Rendon --if you signed both-- will cost MUCH more than they would have if Nats had lost WC game. Winning the World Series is expensive.

At end of season, Nats offered Rendon ~$215/7yrs with defererals. But, I assume, you can negotiate back a lot of the deferred money. The point is: $215M is on the table. Nats also had reason to assume that if Strasburg opted out, he'd be looking for something like what Chris Sale got last year in a new-contract --$145M/5yrs. That's ~360M combined.

Now, the numbers --at least the agent-leaked drive up the bidding numbers-- are "infinity for everybody." Oh, Rendon will get tons and if Cole gets $280M, then won't Strasburg have to get $200M+?  So, Nats have to wonder if they are looking an combined salaries of almost $450M rather than $360M. These are guesstimates, but you get the idea.

Here is one other point. If you are a fan of the Nationals, do you REALLY want them to imitate George Steinbrenner III with the Bronx Zoo Yankees and try to BUY EVERYBODY and buy pennants? Well, when some fans say, "The Lerners are billionaires. They can buy ANYTHING. So, buy ME all the players I want to see return. Just buy 'em. Both out the luxury tax. Outspend everybody. Just GIMME WHAT I WANT."

I've spent my whole baseball-watching life HATING teams, and ownerships, like that. The luxury tax ceiling is, imo, a good indication of what a BIG payroll looks like. The Nats have been right up against it. And probably will be again in '20 and in the future. One of the many charms of the Nats' WS win is that they did it while staying SLIGHTLY under the lux tax. They didn't buy it --though they WERE one of the top payroll teams.

Final point on this....for now. The Nats have never been higher than 11th in attendance since they came to DC in '05. In '19, the Nats were 16th --sixteenth-- in attendance just >27,000-a-game. Will attendance just to 32,000 next year? That's still not quite Top 10. Can you afford to sign BOTH SS and TTB with the 11th-12th-best attendance? And the MASN money --even if it is "only" $12M-to-$15M-more-a-year-- still tied up? 

If the Nats average >35,000 next year --and such jumps have happened after WS wins, then the Nats may think differently when Trea Turner is a free agent after '21. And so forth --with Soto, Robles, etc., in the future.

In the last two chats you’ve noted that the most recent draft may turn out to be quite good (of course it’s still too early to judge). If that turns out to be the case, shouldn’t much of the credit go to Doug Williams, as he is VP in charge of player personnel? And how long before he is ousted in the service of Bruce Allen’s fragile ego?

Both good points.

Doug probably deserves plenty of credit.

Bruce will, absolutely, want it for himself.

 

Any chance the Nats consider switching Trea Turner to third base in a worst-case scenario where Rendon and Donaldson sign with other clubs? Trea played third his freshman year at NC State, and seems like less of a risk at that position than Kieboom.

When you said, "Trea to third," I thought you meant Trea to No. 3 in the batting order to replace Rendon if Anthony leaves. My reaction" Wow, we've been thinking the same thing!"

First, no, you would never move an All-Star quality SS who is an average or "plus" fielder to third base because it is SO much harder to find a good-hitting SS than it is a good-hitting 3rd baseman. 

Second, and very important, what would the Nats lineup look like with Rur ner hitting No. 3 and Victor Robles No. 1 with Adam Eaton between them?

Remember, it is the NORM for young players to improve over their first few seasons and, perhaps, peak at 26-through-29.

If Trea Turner had played in 160 games last year (and he played in 162 in '18), rather than 122 (due to broken finger), he'd have had 126 runs, 203 hits, 49 doubles, seven triples, 25 homers, 46 steals (7 caught stealing) and a slash line of .298/.353/.497!

THAT stat line CAN hit No. 3. Turner has NOT proved himself to be a good RBI man relative to the men he had on base last year --and the bases they were on when he came up. (You can look that up at baseball-reference under "game logs '19.") But it would be almost impossible to hit .298 with 203 hits and 341 total bases --Turner's rate in '19 if he'd played in 160 games-- and NOT drive in 100-or-more runs.

Also, who says that Truner cannot get better --especially if the surgery on his right index finger, which he couldn't make into a fist after his injury last year, is successful?

After all, Rendon got MUCH better in is age 27-28-29 seasons, slashing .310/.397/.556 for a huge .953 OPS. But what was Rendon's career slash line when he was Tutrner's current age --through the age 26 seasons for both of them?

Rendon thru age 26: .274/.345/.433 for a .777 OPS in four seasons.

Turner thru age 26 ('19): .291/.349/.467 for an .850 OPS.

Maybe/probably Trea never gets to .953 OPS in his prime. But his OPS was .850 in '19. Why couldn't it get somewhat better and make him a very good No. 3 hitter in '20, if needed?

Also, it is a big mistake to assume Robles will not improve. He almost certainly will.

Here is Rendon's slash line as a rookie at 23 in 394 plate appearances: .265/.329/.396 for a .725 OPS.

Robles as a rookie last year at age 22 in 617 PAs: .255/.327/.431 for a .758 OPS.

Robles was "better younger" than Rendon. What did Rendon do in his 2d season? His OPS jumped 99 points to .824.

Without Rendon, here's a hypothetical lineup:

Robles-CF (RH)

Eaton-RF (LH)

Turner-SS (RH)

Soto-LF (LH)

Kendrick-(RH)

Zimmerman/Adams (if they're signed)-1st base--RH/LH platoon.

Carter Kieboom-3rd base--RH

Suzuki/Gomes-C platoon--RH.

I haven't mentioned this possibility before because it seemed so negative and it anticipate the current scenario --Strasburg probably stays, Rendon probably goes (imo).

If the Nats are LOGICAL in team-building, they should want Strasburg more than Rendon because elite SP who are best in Octrober are so hard to find. Only Cole would be as good or better. There are LOTS of No. 3 starters the Nats could get to go behind Max and Corbin. But none of them make you the threat in Oct that Max-Stras-Corbin would.

Also, the Nats actually already HAVE a prospect that they think is in the home-grown Zim/Trea/Rendon/Soto/Robles mold in Carter Kieboom. He could end up being good-very-good-or-excellent. But it'll be a shock if he isn' at least "good" --and improving-- in '20-'21-'22.

It's always interesting to me that relatively few Nats fans seem to look at the Nats method of roster-building in the same way that the Nats (Rizzo) do. They are not trying to build a 100-win team RIGHT NOW with a narrow window, but also high risk of bad long-term contracts --which is what they might end up with in '20-'21 if they signed both Rendon and Strasburg, and Kendrick, Zim and more bullpen.

By now it should be clear that they are trying to build 90-win teams that are "built for October" with lots of top starting pitching, but have only 3-4-5 monster contracts (>$100M) at any one time which might blow up and become "anchor contracts" for a bunch of years. 

....

I'd like to flip the assumptions behind a lot of question that I now see in the chat this a.m. Many questions are based on: "Why don't the Nats just pay up and keep 'em." There IS a case to be made for that. 

But let's ask a different question --one that a fan sent me this morning by e-mail. I doubt he'll  mind being quoted. (Besides, if you send me an e-mail and you DON'T want it "on the record' so to speak, they say, "Hey, Tom, please don't use this, even without my name.")

This Nats follower writes: "I can't help thinking how sad it is, after such a memorable season, to face losing Strasbourg and/or Rendon.  

"II think pro athletes are unduly influenced by their agents.  Isn't it wiser to take 80/90 cents on the dollar and sign w/ the best organization, one that almost always contends, than simply going to the highest bidder, earning more money that you don't need?  
"Stephen's situation reminds me of Flacco after the Ravens won the SB.  SS seems to have a higher ceiling than Joe, but I'm not sure he will be productive to elite for 6 or 7 more seasons.  I'd go for 6 with 28-30 per season...7 is a stretch for that body and injury history.  He was at his peak this postseason. Is it wise to pay for his peak?  Will he enjoy playing for the Angels, who have been mediocre for years?
"IS $5 million more THAT important?
"Looks like we may re-sign Rendon. He's younger...it makes sense.  Maybe he goes "home" to play for the pitching-starved Rangers, whose new ballpark is thought to be a huge lure. I don't get it.  Why leave adoring Nats' fans?"
My answer:

Fans ask me if players are "smart." I say, "Normal range." What I should add --because so many are young or spoiled-by-being-stars-at-age-10 or rich-too-soon or overly influenced by peers, family, status-seeking or agents-- is that they are NOT as "wise" as the general population. And the wisdom of the general population isn't THAT high a bar!

 

With hindsight, every star player the Nats have ever developed would have been better off if they had taken the best offer the Nats made to them (at least in my opinion): Desmond (>$105M), Jordan Zimmermann ($120M) , Wilson Ramos ($30M just before he blew out his knee), Harper ($300M --he could have negotiated back most of the 'deferred $" issue). With hindsight, the Nats were VERY lucky that they --as a group-- didn't.

 

Harper may --or may not-- be unhappy in Philly at some point. But, if he'd stayed in DC, he would have taken any risk of outright hostility. In DC he would always have been a hometown hero with his flaws minimized out of deference to his 400 or 500 home runs.

Like MANY, Bryce simply thinks there is NO CHANCE that the worst-case scenario happens to him --the way it's happened to nice Jordan Z'mann in Detroit where he's now (almost) the worst pitcher in MLB.

 

In the press box in Oct you'd hear that Rendon might go to Texas --then EVERYBODY would say "and never be heard from again." I agree. If Rendon goes to Texas, he'll just become the Arenado of Dallas --but invisible in October. Tony's very religious (and lives it), loved growing up in Houston and may just feel more comfortable with that familiar culture, and being closer to family. It's not that he dislikes DC, it's that he LOVES Texas. Also, some players ARE wise enough to understand that it could be nice to be 240 miles from home (Dallas to Houston) rather than 1,400 miles (DC to Houston). Do you REALLY want to move back right into your old home town so EVERY friend, family member (or leech) that you ever knew can land on top of you because you are rich and famous? That's just a guess. But at least it would be a "life reason" not just $.

 

I have a hard time believing that Strasburg will be life-dumb enough to leave DC. But you never know. Other players, union, agents --and especially Boras-- are ALWAYS preaching the company line that the TOP free agents are setting the market "for everybody else;" so, the argument goes, they have a moral/financial obligation to go for the extra 5% or 10% or whatever so that it trickles down to the guy who plays several years, but never gets a big FA contract but, through arbitration, may have a couple of fat pay days and make $5-to-$10M --which ends up being a couple of million in the bank when he retires that has to subsidize the last 50+ years of his family's life. So, the guys who hang tough and go for the biggest contract are not just greedy, they are --over the MLB generations-- moving the salary structure of the sport upward --VASTLY upward over 10-20-30-year periods.

 

Personally, I'd HOPE that I'd be too "wise" to give those peer-pressure factors more than "some" weight. I certainly wouldn't let player-solidarity define where I played, made my professional identity and, perhaps, lived the rest of my life.

Short version: My GUESS is that there is NO team, NO town and NO price tag where EITHER Strasburg or Rendon has as good a chance of being BOTH rich and HAPPY as staying in the city where they just won the World Series.

Note: Scott Boras cares about setting contract records and he's 100-per-cent aligned with the union in this we're-all-in-it-vs-the-owners sales pitch to his players for hanging tough.

Sometimes, this aligns Boras' interests with his players interests. And sometimes it does NOT. And Scott may not even realize it. He's preached the same sermon so many Sundays to so many players that he believes it --even when it doesn't apply. If you want to STAY where you are, you have to get Scott in a headlock and scream in his ear. He does not listen to whispers.

 

Finnegan seems like a typical Rizzo low-risk bullpen acquisition. He seemed to be stuck in the high minors with Oakland. Will a change of scenery get him over the hump like Giolitto and several other Nats pitchers who blossomed elsewhere?

He certainly looks like a good low-risk pretty-good-reward proposition.

But it also shows how weak the free agent market is in relievers.

What are the chances that Snyder can’t get a stadium deal done and will be forced to sell?

If he DOES get a stadium deal --anywhere-- he will NEVER SELL.

We KNOW that.

So, opposing a new stadium for him ANYWHERE, especially in DC on the RFK site (because that's what he WANTS) is THE central issue for all Skins fans who would like to enjoy a Snyder-free future on some distant but still blessed day.

What do you think of MLB's decision to require relievers to face at least three batters, all in the name of speeding up the game? I've always been a fan of guys like Oliver Perez and will miss seeing such specialists. And as you pointed out, it is possible to have a playoff game take less than three hours if the pitchers work quickly. I sometimes wonder if Manfred even likes baseball. To me, his changes at the margins aren't improving the game but do threaten its character. And if he really wants to speed things up, oh, I don't know, maybe don't use a juiced ball from the factory MLB OWNS. But I digress. Love the chats, no matter how long the answers take. Thanks, Tom in 316

Last week, SI reported that while MLB has the ability to implement the "three-batter rule" for '20, nobody knows --not even the teams making trades/signings-- whether MLB will actauly do it. It is their choice. (The union agreed not to challenge the rule as part of negotiations. But players always hate change and, in general, are against this idea.)

If the 3-batter rule had been in effect in '19, what would have happened in the 7rh inning of Game Seven with Houston ahead 2-1, Soto on first base, one out and Kendrick, Cabrera (switch-hitter) and Zimmerman (or PH Adams) due up?

Context: Hinch, semi-joking, said after Game Six that Will Smith might be the most "over-worked man" in America. So, if there had been a three-batter rule, would Hinch have had Gerrit Cole warmed up --on the theory that he had 2 days rest and had the stamina to maintain his stuff through 3 batters (or more)-- rather than Smith who faced Kendrick (homer), Cabrera (hit) and then got the hook for Osuna.

That's just one example of how much it changes the game.

I want to see more testing of this in the minors to see if it cuts the time of game enough to matter --and if it increases the pleasure of fans who hate watching 3 or 4 pitchers used in one inning.

A three-batter rule would probably increase the value of multi-use pitchers who can start games, because they have three or four types of pitches (to use on both LH and RH hitters), but can also be used for three hitters, or multiple innings, in the bullpen. Like Joe Ross, Austin Voth and Erick Fedde, for example.

Has the protocol changed this year? It seems that once a player goes on it now, he's on it a long long time.

Let me twist the question a little bit. (Sorry.)

My wife watched a segment on Gronk on CBS on Sunday --on his physical and mental issues that forced his retirement at 29. She barely knows Gronk from wonk, but she was so sad/angry after watching it that she said, "How can ANYONE watch that sport? Or allow their child to play it. It is completely sick."

Every year there are more, and more viciously effective hits to the head in the NFL than there have ever been since I started watching in the late '50's. Lots of types of plays have been outlawed --clothes-lining to crack-back blocks. But every player now knows that the ultimate weapon -or threat or fear tactic-- is to try to cause a concussion. Helmit to helmit is only on method. Every tackler seems to have learned methods to whiplash a ball-carrier so his head slams the ground. On tackles and sacks, the tacklers have studied how knee and ankle injuries have been inflicted in the past and they deliberately imitate those ways of twisting knees or trapping ankles under the body with twisting tackling. Don't tell me they don't do it --I watch it every week.

Almost every team --or maybe just "all of them"-- play to maim. What is 15 yards in penalty if you can KO a star player for the game, or for weeks? The first time Skins TE Reed TOUCHED the ball this year --in an exhibition game-- he was hit helmet-to-helmet and has not caught a pass all year. You can't read minds but it sure looked deliberate to me.

I've got a couple of more Skins games to cover this year. But, long ago, after many years of covering prize fighting from local DC clubs or DC Armory cards up to Sugar Ray Leonard's title fights, I decided that --much as boxing lends itself to good (often sad) writing and colorful characters/crooks-- I just didn't want to touch the sport again.

Every fan reacts differently. When you see a game as exciting as SF 48-Saints 46, the game drags you back in. But, every season, I think there are more fans who opt for a "trial separation" or even a divorce. 

That day may be coming for me and football. I realize that what I do means nothing, but maybe it is (just one more) indicator of how big football's problems are.

Bos, it sure looks like Mark Turgeon has assembled a very fine Terrapin squad this year. A balanced, deep team. And, of course, led by upperclassmen like Anthony Cowan. Do coaches like Turgeon actually prefer to coach a team with “veteran” players as opposed to the talented but one-and-done flashes? Turgeon seems most successful with that kind of team. Same with others, like Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. But Mike Krzyzewski, with Duke’s incredible recruiting power, seems to prefer the glowing talents of the one-and-dones like Zion Williamson, Kyrie Irving etc. Thoughts?

Almost all basketball coaches prefer "real teams" as opposed to collections of talented players. 1) They love to watch basketball played properly. 2) They get to COACH and show what they can do.

Some, like Calipari, who don't trust their coaching skills that much, like one-and-dones. It serves them well. Coach K has been driven to it because, with time, he's decided that FOR HIM continuing to try to win national title is more important than any other consideration. So, if you can't fight 'em, join 'em. Pretty shabby line of reasoning, in my book, especially for a coach who "stood for something" for decades. Ironically, in K's one-and-done period Duke doesn't have much in the way of hardware to show for it. 

Turgeon likes to coach. He thinks he's really good at it. Even after watching his teams for years, I don't know if he is. But it's nice that the idea of "teaching basketball" appeals to him.

After a clutch comeback 59-58 win --down 16 points to Illinois-- last weekend, it's going to be fun watching the Terp try to live up to their VERY high ranking (No. 3).

Of course, Gary Williams' '01-'02 NCAA champs were led by seniors Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton which made it all the more satisfying to watch.

Submitting early since I can't participate in real time. I just read the 12/2 transcript, and you said this: "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?" I'm not sure I see the logic here. Max, Corbin and Sánchez aren't exactly chopped liver. Do you *really* think Stras makes *that* much of a difference to Rendon, and if so, why?

You have a good point. Rendon could look at a rotation with Max, Corbin, Sanchez and either Bumgarner, Ryu, Keuchel, Teheran or "others," (as well as Ross, Voth, Fedde) and still think that the Nats can go deep in October.

The Redskins organization is led by a couple of buffoons. They cant remember RGIII? From the replay(s) that I saw, Haskins should not have finished that game. It may not be an instant replay (its been what 7 years) of RGIII but he is going to wind up just like him. The owner and (what is he ) president of football operations only sees their players as hunks of meat. As long as they can run, or in Haskins case, limp out on to the field, they play. All you ever hear about Dan Snyder is how much he wants to win. Really Dan? I would really hate to see what would happen if you didn't care so much.

The Skins have a real problem with Haskins: They don't have any confidence in their own ability to project his career, so they think that they have to get as much data, as much tape, as much Playing Time as humanly possible so that even a clown-car bunch like them can figure out if he is "good enough to build around for the future."

As I have written many times in the last 10 years+, the Skins defining characteristic in decision making is almost always "desperation." They are desperate not to lose now or look bad or lose the town (which they already have). There is no WORSE driving force for decision making than desperation. You won't ALWAYS make the wrong decision. But you sure have maximized your chances of screwing it up! 

As I keep saying, Haskins has size, toughness, guts. He keeps showing some improvement. But he's not accurate yet (by NFL standards of precision), he's still learning to read defenses and he averages more sacks than a family of eight leaving Safeway.

Do you believe the criticism of the NFL's officiating is warranted? Even to this untrained eye, N'keal Harry appeared to have a TD last night. Thanks.

The Harry call was HORRENDOUS.

So was the quick whistle that prevented what should have been a "scoop-and-score" by NE rather than just a fumble recovery (after a replay challenge/reversal). And that sequence took away Belichick's last challenge, which he could have used to review the Harry play later. Totally different end game --with NE only needing a FG to tie with 1:03 left.   

It was all so bad that it made you wish Charles Barkley was an NFL announcer.

Don't stadiums have security to prevent the kind of thing that happened with the climate protesters? I can't run on Gillette Stadium to do the same thing. Thanks.

I must have missed this.

My first March was in '63 with my parents to the Mall for "I Have A Dream." So, if I'd been covering Harvard-Yale, I might have ended up on the field with the protesters. Hey, 'right side of history' and 'best available column subject.'

If this is too heated a topic, that's fine, but do you have an opinion of Mike Vick Pro Bowl deal? As a VT grad, I will always love him for putting us on the football map. But Adult Mike can just [redacted] off, always and forever, for what he did. Sure, he's paid his debt, under the laws and plea deals of the time. But that doesn't mean he has to be brought back and actually embraced by The Shield. Of course, the NFL has a fair amount of tone-deafness on any number of subjects, so no surprise. Where are you on this?

Looks like Vick has turned something very bad into something pretty good; his work with the Humane Society strikes me as a sincere example of seeing the light and making amend, to the degree he can. Good for him. Rooting for him. But I don't see any reason he should be honorary captain of the Pro Bowl. What on earth is THAT about --except the NFL deciding that, no matter what, it will flip every PA disaster into something it can claim is a victory.

I'm a forgive and forget kind of guy --but with a real world twist: Forgive completely and forget a whole lot, but don't forget everything.

(A-Rod sure is doing a great job on TV, isn't he? What a sweetheart of a guy.)

As a long term season plan holder who has been at every one of the Game 5 losses, I was thrilled to finally get to use pretty much all of the postseason tickets they sent me. So excuse me if I take some umbrage at your providing cover for Mark Lerner. They truly CAN afford both. If they CHOOSE to not bring back both then that is fine. But I will be very upset that the season after they get 8 posteason home games and all the ancillary income from winning it all that they choose to let two model citizen, home grown players walk to save money. Winning does cost. So spend the damn money!

Well put.

Clearly the Lerners are taking the position that they WILL NOT try to sign both Strasburg and Rendon. They just don't want to say it that bluntly. Obviously, they COULD sign both. They can't hide behind "can't." That's ridiculous. They "can" --and they can within the context of what other teams have done over the years, not just within the context that the Lerner family may be the richest in MLB.

The biggest downside with taking a public position that you are not going to retain two of the three or four biggest stars on your WS winning team is that you slam the wide-open window of Growing Fan Base support on your own fingers.

If there is EVER a time to make a major decision that you think will probably be an over-pay of perhaps $100M --on both players combined-- then it is probably now. What is the value in GOODWILL in a World Series win, PLUS an after-glow season to enjoy it throughout '20, then a general feel-good glow that can last a decade or more?

Couldn't that be worth $100M or a lot more?

Hi Tom, Thanks for doing these chats. Is it time to wonder if Scott Boras and Mark Lerner do not get along? It sure seems like Lerner and Boras both battle each other to control negotiations and undermine the other. Ted Lerner seemed to run silent like Rizzo. Also, there is not better way to undermine the good feelings from a World Series than listening to one of the richest owners in all of sports, whose team plays in a stadium they didn't pay for, complain about not "being able to afford" two of their own players. They seem to be ok spending big money on free agents, just not their own. I'm not buying it.

I think it's important that the Lerners FULLY understand this point of view. They got off VERY easy last year, in terms of PA damage, when Harper left because many fans could understand all the reasons for rebuilding-on-the-fly the way they did.

It's going to be a lot harder to sell the public the argument that the Nats have a really smart Team Building Theory and that they are simply continuing to employ it.

Other WS-winning teams have lost a star who went free agent after that championship season and got a huge contract. But the Nats better not lose BOTH Rendon and Strasburg. Only getting Cole would fix that disaster.

Well, at least for now, that World Series glow sure has dimmed somewhat. OTOH, lets let the WHOLE off-season plays out before we pass judgment. There are hundreds of mocvuing parts here.

And, with the Winter Meetings about to start, we may get to see a whole bunch of them by....next Monday!

See you all then, at 11 a.m. Have a great week.   

I've asked this question before - did the Nats do any lasting damage by visiting Trump's white house? I think many of us were hoping that they wouldn't go at all, the way other teams have (i.e. Golden State Warriors)

Leaving aside political policy discussions, just looking at the voting patterns in the greater DMV area, including suburbs, which are VERY heavily "blue," I'd say the Nats are much more likely to lose a few fans, or put a sour taste in months, with that visit than anything they might gain. The MAGA hat (Suzuki) will win a few friends, but lose more fans in this area --that's just a voting-pattern fact, not an opinion. Will that impact be large? No. Will those who love to turn anything into a political argument have much luck drumming up anger on this topic? I doubt it. How many fans think that pro athletics are political philosophers? How many think that they are even particularly well-informed, compared to the general public? How many fans base their own political views on the opinions of ballplayers?

OK, I'm waiting for that all-important show of hands? I don't think I see any yet.

My two cents: Find some other way to make yourself miserable. (There are plenty of choices.)

The Nats just let the players who wanted to go --or didn't want to Not Go-- have a chance to make their own decisions.

FWIW, the Lerners themselves --not every one, I assume, but the family as a whole-- has long been associated with the Democratic Party. OTOH, they certainly DID go to the WH. Sort it out yourselves --if it's something you care about. 

 

 

Watching yesterday afternoon's KC-NE game made me think a bit about the Caps. While hockey is a different sport and there are plenty of top-shelf caps besides Backstrom and Ovi, boy is it going to be a different experience to watch a Caps game without those two. Hope it doesn't happen for another six or seven years, but I was reminded of how special a time this is for our team.

Excellent point.

What a clutch shot that was on Saturday vs Illinois. This is where having the ability to determine if you are NBA caliber and if not, return to your school for another year, really pays off. One wonders if Bruno Fernando wishes he were still running with the Terps rather than languishing on the Hawks bench. UVA demonstrated what a difference upper classmen leadership make. This could be a special Maryland team. Next two away games vs PSU and Seton Hall will certainly tell us how special.

Good comparison to UVA last year.

I don't often include them among recent champs in this area with the Caps, Mystics and Nats, but, if you cock your head just a LITTLE bit (116 miles), they fit right in there.

The good old days --are right now.

Amazing how many former Skins players are starting and excelling around the league, especially on defense. Lorenzo Alexander, Trent Murphy, Breeland, Kendall Fuller, Orakpo, and P. Smith in Green Bay. Looks like the local team can recognize and keep its drafted talent.

Ha!

And who leads the NFL in QB rating at 112.00 out of 30 passers with 250 attempts: Kirk (Stat Man) Cousins.

He seldom wins the big one, and (hard to believe) he looks even MORE like a nerd in that Vikes helmet, but how bad can you be with 24 TDs and 4 INTs?

How are the ex-Skins assistant coaches NOT identified as future quality NFL coaches by Bruce Allen doing right now? Kyle Shanahan this year after Sean McVay last year.    

Boz, current season ticket holders had to decide on renewing before the end of the season. But, those who dropped could sign back up. As mentioned by you in previous chats and columns, the Nats saw a big decline in tickets in 2019 (missed playoffs? early season underperformance? Harper departure?). Does ownership understand that letting Stras and Rendon leave may erase much of fan goodwill from the WS win? Or that keeping both would be an investment in long-term fanbase growth? The Marlins won two World Series yet never really took hold because they had no long-term commitment after those victories. We've heard year after year that the Nats can't sign Zimmerman or Desmond because they need to save for Harper, Harper because they need to save for Rendon, Rendon because they need to save for Turner and Soto, and so on. The fanbase will get wise to this approach. Or this could be the Nats' chance to jump into the top ten in tickets after all these years.

Good points. But the Nats DID sign Corbin for $140M, Scherzer for $210M and will go down swinging, I assume, trying to sign EITHER Strasburg or Rendon for a number that will be in that range --or bigger.

 

Now that Miller is headed to the hall of fame, shouldn't Flood be there too?

As I tweeted on Miller in the HOF --"it's about damn time. 20 years beyond ridiculous.

Flood is very important in any telling of the history of the game. I've never given proper thought to whether he's a HOF candidate. I'll think about it, ask around. Thanks.

It's been my observation--going back to Koufax and Drysdale--that negotiating in the press never works. When an owner says effectively no matter what you contributed I won't try to keep you both, the owner will lose both. And what message does this send to the rest of the team? IMHO, it's "you're auditioning for the rest of the league because if you do too much for us, we'll wave at you on the way out." Why would any free agent want to come to Washington? It's the Snyder/Allen culture on a slightly higher plane. Yes, this could have been ultimately the decision behind closed doors, but why play this out in the press?

Stephen Strasburg has just re-signed with the Nationals for $245-million for seven years.

Here is our Post spotry.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/12/09/stephen-strasburg-contract-nationals/

I used this chatter's question as an introduction to this late-breaking subject for two reasons. When this question was written, even with its negative slant, it probably seemed reasonable to the person who wrote it --including the confident prediction that "the owner will lose both."

Dear cherished Chatter, WELCOME TO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLUMN/OPINION WRITING where you can be proven completely wrong in the next MINUTE! 

Second, not only does this show that "negotiating in the press" is not necessarily counter-productive but, also, that the message that the Nats have just sent to future players is: If You Win Us A World Series we will give you one of the most astronomical OVER-PAY contracts in the history of sports --so, Stephen, here is your extra $145M on top of the old $100M contract that you opted out of. We love ya!"

This is a stunningly huge, and very risky contract to give to a 31-year-iold pitcher who has just completed his 8th season with a "second elbow" --especially when the Nats organizational view of pitchers who have Tommy John Surgery is that the second elbow probably lasts, on average, 6-to-8 seasons. Some last much longer. BUT the Nats are now paying Strasburg to last for 15 years on his second elbow.

To fans who are inclined to say that the Lerners will not pay up to keep their own players, they need to change they're complaint to "Are the Lerners so insanely grateful to a player who went 5-0 in October that they have now become so generous that we must conclude that they have LOST THEIR MINDS!?"

It's really sad, too bad that the Nats will now lose Rendon. Because if Strasburg just got $245M --no matter how much of it is deferred for how long-- then Gerrit Cole, two years younger than Strasm is going to make MORE. And that is (probably) going to elevate the whole market --including the market for Rendon. 

My guess is that Tony Two Bags is now going to get about 245 bags --each with $1M in it. The Nats offered him $215M for 7 years BEFORE he drove in 15 runs in October and had an incredible streak of clutch hitting in elimination games from the seventh inning onward.

Earlier in this chat, I said that the Nts COULD sign both Stras and Rendon but that they had DECIDED not to do it. But, imo, they did have the CHOICE.

Like this question from out chatter, it has only taken about 1 hour for me to be proven wrong.

NO, the Nats cannot run a sane, responsible franchise --no matter how much private wealth the owner has-- if you give ~$500M to two players on LONG-term deals, either one of which can turn into a nightmare albatross contract.

You can't do it ESPECIALLY when you ALSO have five more years due on Patrick Corbin's $140M contract and two more years on Max Scherzer's $210M contract AND when you want to be able to sign STAR shortstop Trea Turner after the '21 and when you KNOW that someday you WANT to pay Juan Soto more than Harper got last year. Remember, the Lerner's love Max, too. Yes, he'll be ancient when he's a afree agent after '21. But you STILL might want to keep him as your 3rd starter in '22-'23 when you will STILL have both Corbin and Strasburg!

Remember how many games the Braves won, and how many times they went to the playoffs with Maddox, Glavine and Smoltz!? In '02, Maddox and Glavine were 36 and Smoltz was 35. Galvine went 18-11 (2.96), Maddox 16-6 (2.62) and Smoltz saved 55 games as the Braves won 101 games!

What's even more amazing --yes, I know all three were future HOfers and maybe only Scherzer looks like that now-- but that trio won ANOTHER 195 games after '02. That's not a typo. Smoltz went 14-7, 16-9 and 14-8 at age 38, 39 and 40 which is, frankly, about what I think Scherzer will do at those ages. You'll still want him then. Glavine went 15-7 at 40 and helped the Mets to the playoffs. Maddox went 48-28 at ages 36-through-38.

Analytics would have us believe this can't happen, almost that it must not have happened --we were just fooled back in the '00s. But the Nats are banking on it --big time-- now.

The appropriate, imo, reaction of most Nats fans should just be to say, "Thank you."

The identity of this franchise for the last 8 years has been Starting Pitching. As I wrote about 10 days ago, Strasburg is the player you MUST keep so that identity has a chance to stay intact.

The Case of Rendon is somewhat like the Case of Harper. Of course the Nats wanted to keep them both --in a dream world. But they knew that they had conflicting needs. In both cases they had a Plan B, years in the planning, and in both cases they had to use it.

Adam Eaton was Plan B for Harper --get the Big Pitcher (Corbin) to replace Gio Gonzalez in the rotation, then hope that Eaton, plus arriving youth (Robles) could compensate (though not replace) Harper's production.

Carter Kieboom is Plan B for Rendon --keep the Big Pitcher (Strasburg) in the rotation, then hope that Kieboom, plus more free agent signings, bullpen improvements and natural development by the 22-year-old Robles in '20 can compensate (though not replace) Rendon.

We'll see if it works. But it is A PLAN. The Nats always sem to have one. As I mention in another answer, the Nats now have a coherent offensive-lineup for '20 --one which they may still find ways to improve.

Winning a World Series is wonderful. But it has costs, big costs, because ALL our your key stars go up in perceived value --they are all at "market tops." How many of them can to keep at crazy prices --because it makes fans happy, because its the best available alternative and because it lets everybody continue to feel good about the title you just won?

The answer for the Nats appears to be that they can, and probably will keep together ALL of their key pieces in '19, plus Kieboom, plus signings to come --while "only" losing Rendon. In other words, this HURTS.

But all other choices --as you're "punished for success"-- are probably worse.

My gut is that I'm very happy Nats fans will get to see Strasburg, Scherzer and Corbin together next year with a very good lineup behind them --though not as good as it was with Rendon-- and probably a MUCH better bullpen.

With the quiet signing of Gomes and Kendrick, then the nuclear detonation of Strasburg at $245-million, the Nats have kept faith --perhaps too much if they are unlucky with Strasburg's health in the 'out years'-- and should be a powerful contender again in '20.

For those who feared that the Nats team --as a contender-- or their culture --with hugs for Strasburg and a sense that they were part of a quality organization-- would fall apart this off-season, this is a moment to relax. And even celebrate until Xmas.

You can't have EVERYTHING in your stocking. But, by real world standards, the Nats and their fans just got a LOT!     

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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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