Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 09, 2020

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Hello Friends!

Yes, I know about Covid-19, the oil war, the stock market correction and the Presidential Election, among other things. 

They all interest me. 

But my views on them probably DON'T interest you. 

Luckily, in the sports corner of the Washington world, we have four very interesting "contending teams." We may have had more such teams at one time, but I don't remember it immediately. 

The Washington Capitals, after a 5-2 thumping of the Pens in Pittsburgh on Saturday, have the 5th-best record in the NHL, both by points and points-percentage. Are they figuring out how to get back to their best style of play at the right time after a 10-week case of the blahs? 

The Maryland Women's Basketball team is 28-4 and is No. 6 in the country in the most recent rankings. They won their 17th straight game (over Ohio State by 17) to win their fourth Big Ten tournament championship since joining the conference in '14-15. It was a big game/moment for seniors Stephanie Jones, Blair Watson and Kaila Charles. 

The Nationals, who are rated the 7th-best team in MLB --18-to-1 to win the World Series, and slightly behind the Braves and Mets at 16-1 in some Vegas parlors, are about to hit the serious part of spring training when important decisions must be made --who plays 3rd base, who bats third, who is the 5th starter, etc? 

And moving down those rankings, the Maryland Men's basketball team just beat Michigan to clinch a tie for the regular-season Big Ten title with a really first-rate performance on Sunday. They'll probably move up from their No. 9 national ranking to perhaps No. 8. 

So, there we have teams that are No. 5, 6, 7 and 8 in the nation in four big sports. What are your thoughts/questions about them? 

Also, Jerry Brewers has a fine column this morning from Seattle -- the center of the Corona Virus problems-- about the impact of the disease on sports. 

That ought to be MORE than enough topics! 

And, yes, I'm headed to West Palm Beach this week, as long as airplanes are flying. But I plan to bump elbows with the Nats, not shake hands.  How far will each of these teams go in 2020? Some of that will be decided in the next month or so. Some may not be determined until summer or fall. But it's quite a collection of teams.

Here we go!

Bad jokes aside, I worry that's where things are heading. I'm glad to see the Nats are being proactive w/ their autograph policy, but I suspect that will not be enough to stem the tide of the spreading coronavirus. For example, are teams really going to play games in Seattle (the Nats have two games scheduled there in mid-April) unless the health situation there changes? The DC region may face a similar concern by then too.

Editors at the Post (and in the sports department) have meetings about such things every 15 minutes. Okay, okay, every couple of days, it seems.

I talked to two friends over the weekend who are doctors --one a pathologist, the other a general practitioner. The pathologist said that someone my age was most at rik and that I should be careful --wash hands, wipe airplane tray tables. The GP, who has been dealing with flu patients his whole life, said, "Go have a good time (in Florida). Sure, wash your hands. Bu you're in good health. Even if you somehow got it, you'd be OK. When the weather gets warm. it'll disappear. Then it'll come back in the fall. But by them we'll habve (treatments) for it."

I responded, "That's not what Bill Gates says," meaning that Gates, whose philanthropy deals a lot with vaccines, said  this was a virus that wouldn't probably be knocked out by warm weather. "Don't worry," said my doctor.

"So, I'm more likely to get killed driving to the airport?" I said.

"Right," he said.

So, I have NO IDEA. But, in my own life, I'm not changing much now. But in a MONTH, by the time of the Masters --which people travel to from all over the world-- by THEN we will know a LOT more. Will the Masters by a TV-only event? Will we see an MLB season played before empty seats without reporters being allowed into ballparks?

I'm not stupid enough --or smart enough-- to offer an opinion. In last week's chat,before Super Tuesday, if you had given me a multiple-choice on how many Democratric candidates would be left in the race by the Michigan primary (and others) this Tuesday, I would have guessed every available number BEFORE I picked the correct answer --two.

Things change fast. Someone that I always quote once said: "Everything changes everything." It feels like we're seeing that played out --the inter-connectedness of consequences-- in many areas right now.

But seriously, we’ve said for years players watch how organizations treat players ... the Stras shutdown, which was good, the nurturing of Harper, which was good, etc. now, with Superstar Soto in a contract that’s basically minimum wage, won’t he (and his Superstar agent) be much more likely to go elsewhere when FA hits? Or were their demands just way out of line and this is what they deserve? Hard to believe he’ll hang around after this.

If I were the Nats, I'd make Soto a $175-million/10-year offer right now. And I'd find a way to leak it so that everybody knows that they were willing to DOUBLE the number of years that they still control him from five more years, through '24, to 10 more years through '29 when he will still only be 30.Through his first 10 years --all with the Angels

Where does this number come from? Mike Trout played 40 games in '11. In his 3 pre-arb years, he only earned $2,000,000 --although in his 3rd year he DID make $1M (vs Soto's $600K+). In his 3 arb years, he made $57M --but some of that was because he signed a long-term deal early. Through his first TEN years, Trout will earn $181M --but he's also guaranteed ANOTHER $297M through age 38!

No, Soto ($175M) is not as good as Trout ($181M). But that is not apples to apples. If Soto signed a 10-year deal, he might not get the mega-mega-extension that Trout got long before he was 30.

IOW, that hypothetical $175M to Soto would probably turn out to be a BIG home-town discount for the Nats. If Soto is a 3.0-WAR player for 10 years, you probably get your money's worth. If he's a 4.0-WAR player, he's a bargain. If he's >5.0-WAR over the decade, it's a steal, even factoring in that you can still get him for peanuts in '20 and not-his-real-value in '21, '22, '23 and '24. that's 30 WAR.

However, if something happens to him --hit by a meteor-- then that is a huge waste iof money. But the Caps never regretted their "forever" contract to Ovechkin.  

Such a deal --and we're just having "fun" this a.m.-- would also be a lifetime of wealth for Juan Soto's great-great-grandchildren. It would also probably set some kind of record for Boras.

Is that --or anything like it-- going to happen? I doubt it very much. Plenty of teams with young superstars have NOT been given $100M+ offers by their teams after two seasons in MLB (or three) and it did not damage relationships.

Also, with hindsight, it appears that Harper was always going to test free agency and Rendon was probably going to also. So "bidding against yourself" when you still control a player for FIVE more years  --especially with a Boras client-- is probably not a precedent you want to set.

What I suggested above is entirely outside normal MLB thinking --to go THAT high THAT early.. So, maybe I'm nuts. But I would want Soto to know, "We WILL offer you an insane amount of money right now --but it is also an insane amount which you will probably be worth, and maybe MUCH more-- making it a bargain for us, too. After you've done that, I don't think you have to return to the subject. You've let the player know how much he's "loved." 

When I get to WPB, I'll ask around and discover the 10 reasons why this shoot-from-the-hip idea of mine is insane.  Or at least that no owner would do it for fear of being shunned by other owners forever.

I'll report back with just how dumb I am and why.

The Terps have been so fun to watch this year - women and men's teams. Can't wait to see how far they go in the tournament!

I watched the women win a game recently by about b50 points. Sometimes it's fun to watch a lopsided game when players can relax and show their gifts --knowing that they'll win. I know the experts say that South Carolina (25-1), Baylor (27-1) and Oregon (28-2) and maybe UConn (27-3) are the "elite" and that Maryland is just below them. But I still like their chances to go to the Final Four. 

As coach Brenda Frese yelled into the mic in Indy, with a shout out to the men, too, "What a great day to be a Terp!"

Frese has a team with stability at the point, lots of veteran leadership and an improved defense over recent years. This should be a fun team to wat h in the tournament. Also, Frese has the confidence that goes with winning a national title already at Md ('06). 

I was worried about the men's team on Sunday. Coach Mark Turgeon feels pressure and admits it at times. After the win over Michigan, when a 13-point halftime lead was cut to three points later, before expanding to an 83-70 win, Turgeon said, "There was a thousand-pound gorilla on my back. It's gone now." That is something that a good honest man might well say after a whole season with a team that's burdened with high expectations. But it's not the sort of thing I've often heard a great coach (in any sport) say in a season with so much still to play. Turgeon was very relieved in his post-game interview. But I tend to look at those incredible DEEP wrinkles in his forehead --it's looks like he's wearing a Spiderman mask. Maybe it's just a family trait. But he just seems like a coach who believes in "try harder," "train harder" and "care more" as solutions to problems. You can burn out teams before a season is over that way. So, I was glad to see that the Terps had so much left to counter the Michigan run. When the Terps hold down their turnovers and get balanced scoring, they are a wonderful team to watch. Ayala (19 points) and Wiggins (15) each went 3-for-4 from three-point range, much of it down the stretch. So Cowan, who had an excellent all-around game) and Smith didn't have to do it all. Don't know what the limits of a "six deep" team are. But when you've been challenged by --and won-- a league that will probably send at least TEN teams to March Madness, you are truly tested. 

Boz, Suffice to say that, given my politics, the Nats' visit to the White House, and antics while there, were a bit of a buzzkill for me. I'm not naive - I know what the politics of baseball clubhouses mostly are - but still, it wasn't my favorite. That said: what a TERRIBLE look, for the President and the Nats both, that they're off golfing yesterday in the middle of a national crisis. I know the Nats are jus' ballplayers and spring training is long and boring... but people are DYING, while the government dithers. Indian Wells (tennis' "fifth major", just down the road, is CANCELLED. It seems pretty likely there'll be real disruptions to the Major League season. I'm not asking the Nats to adopt my politics, but goodness, *read the room* folks.

You make a very good point about "read the room."

But there is another side. Sort of. I think --to a degree-- I understand the feelings of some of the players. I've been lucky enough to be invited with my wife to the WH by four Presidents (both parties) over the last 40 years, at least two of whom I thought were doing a very poor job. (With hindsight, I'd have to admit that they were both doing better than I thought they were --in other words, I wasn't so smart in real-time evaluation.) I accepted for every one of them, regardless of policies. In part, I was curious to meet them, have a conversation and observe them up close.

If you had a chance to have a meal with U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee in 1864 wouldn't you accept both invitations because you'd want to get a good close look --and get a feel of-- both of them, even though you probably thought at least one of them was profoundly wrong?

I understand that history may place Trump in a different category because he is so extreme in so many ways. Perhaps it already has. But I don't demand that pro ballplayers make such distinctions. I'm in a "live and let live" mood today.

I will say this: When they are 50, some of them may have changed their political views --or FORMED firm political views for the first time in their lives-- and look back with a cringe that they were in that Sunday golf group photo. (And I bet some others will still be proud of it.)


The Skins gave TW permission to negotiate his own trade, which tells me the Skins exhausted their trade options. My Q is what team would trade a ~3rd-round pick for a one-year rental knowing that TW would want $18 million/pa or more for an extension? Is there any NFL team that desperate in a year of plentiful draft OTs? Perhaps the Skins hope that private negotiations will reveal TW's actual value. I say the Skins will refuse any offer below a 3rd-rounder and tell TW 'You're playing under contract for 2020 or you're not getting paid'. If TW refuses, he will be a 32-year old OT with an extensive injury history who hasn't played for two years. Only the Skins could have arrived at this imbroglio.

I talked with a doctor in the last week who's familiar with the condition which Trent had. Not Trent's case, but that disease --the danger and the damage it can causes. He's followed the story because he's a football fan. He said, "There's a pretty good chance that he HATES them."

I think that is the X Factor.

I agree that this is a case of "Only the Skins could..." 

The DMV is overwhelming blue. The president was resoundingly booed during the playoffs. So why do so many Nats players continue to publicly display their politics -- and join him in this activity during a pandemic outbreak and massive economic disruption. It is tone deaf and alienating. -season ticket holder

This opportunity to play golf with Trump in the middle of various crises reminds me of a story from my boyhood days when I was a camp counselor on the Mattaponi River in Virginia about 120 miles south of D.C. Once in a great while we spotted what we thought was a (poisonous) water moccasin in the reeds at the river's edge. Of course, we were told to "stay away" and keep the campers away. But one day I was with another 14-or-15-year-old counselor named Kirby-Smith who was the great grandson of Confederate general Edmund Kirby-Smtih --or he certainly said he was and I have no reason not to believe it. We were on the shore and spotted what we thought looked like the pictures we'd seen of a water moccasin. My reaction was: "I'm getting the hell out of here. I'll go tell the Camp Director." Kirby-Smtih found a stick and charged into the water after the snake, beating the water with the stick. He didn't catch it. Or it didn't catch him. When he came back, I said, "WTF????"

He said, "When am I ever going to get another chance like that!?"    

I was happy to see Mark Turgeon, Anthony Cowan and the rest of the Maryland men’s basketball team win a share of the Big 10 regular season title - well deserved. But I am gobsmacked by the women’s team - a likely No. 1 seed and so much fun to watch. Brenda Frese deserves ENORMOUS credit for taking a big chance and a big leap by adopting the Texas Tech defensive scheme. She’d already been successful, but she recognized that the program needed to take another step to be competitive with the rising national powers of women’s basketball. I LOVE watching Blair Watson play defense. Ashley Owusu has visibly matured this season to become an amazing weapon, Kaila Charles and Stephanie Jones provide mature senior leadership, and Shakira Austin in the post, plus Taylor Mikesell bombing the 3s, make a great TEAM. Yet Terp fans stay away in droves. They’re missing a great show and demonstrating their gender bias at the same time. Where’s the fan support?

Good questions. It's especially brave for a coach like Frese with so many key seniors, and so much success with them, to change to a new defense this year. That's a gamble to get to the very top level.

I don't understand general sports fans who don't enjoy --or in some cases have no interest whatsoever-- in women's basketball. I remember asking my editor to go to Iowa to interview Molly Bolin when she was the first player signed by the new Women's Professional Basketball League in the late '70's. She'd averaged 54 ppg in high school 25 ppg in college, etc.  Her salary with the Iowa Cornets when I went out to interview here? $6,000. I figured all that would change with time. It has. But not NEARLY as much as I thought.

I covered a lot of basketball for a long time, but our sports-section needs changed when Ovi came to the Caps, the Nats came to D.C. and Joe Gibbs II retuned to the Skins. So, I've drifted away from one of the sports I always loved. Only 24 hours in the day. But I'm very glad we have the champion Mystics here in D.C. And I'll be with you in following the Maryland Women's team in the Tournament.

Have you heard anything about delays to the baseball season or playing games without fans if things get worse? For cities who are hard hit (of which there may be a lot soon), it wouldn’t be smart to have 40,000 fans sitting next to each other for 3 hours. We are not there yet, but it’s possible.

Obviously we need a GREAT DEAL more testing in the U.S. to find out what our true infection rate is. I'd guess that tons more information would arrive in the next 3-4-5 weeks.

When we have more facts, we'll be able to discuss what's sensible. I'm out of my (medical) depth on this, obviously. I'll be interested to hear what various Nats have to say about the possibility of playing games --as they are in Japan-- in empty parks (except for TV).

A few days ago LeBron James was asked what he thought of playing games "with no fans" in the stands. He said flatly that he wouldn't play without fans. He said it about four different ways. 

If the NBA decides that public health and NBA finances dictate that Games Without Fans is the way to go, I'll give you 100-to-1 odds that LeBeion will change his mind.

The Master is already a TV show. Spectators on the way-over-crowded course can hardly see anything --unless you stake out a seat early and stay in one spot. "Following the leaders" in any meaningful sense disappeared over the last decade. Ironic, since the Masters may be the Most Prized Ticket in sports.

The Post baseball writers -- you chief among them -- turned me into a baseball fan in 2019. And this was before the Nationals turned things around in the regular season. Thank you. In many articles I've read of what tough decisions there are getting the Nationals batting order right. And this player or the other might get moved up in the order if he improves. I don't get it. After the first inning, so far as I can tell, you don't control an inning's first three at-bats. It depends on where you are in the order at out 3, right? So if every player has, say, 4 at-bats over 9 innings, why does batting order matter? Thank you for the chats.

Here's a link to a FanGraphs story from 2012 on "optimizing batting orders." This is the best I can do for you quickly. But if you get hooked on this stuff it may be the end of your life as you know it. My short take: optimizing the  batting order is a good ide, but it's not NEARLY as important as getting as many good hitters as you can INCLUDING the much neglected bench players who often get 1500 or more plate appearances in a season. Give me a bench with a .775 OPS and I'm not too worried if the batting order is less than (theoretically) perfect.

The Nats did NOT follow this "optimal" method last season and they scored a ton of runs. Hitting Trea Turner and Adam Eaton at No. 1 and No. 2 --and letting Eaton BUNT (OMG) at times-- looked so 1958 it almost bothered ME. 

The Nats do NOT need a GREAT No. 3 hitter to replace Rendon. "Optimization" doesn't demand it. But you definitely need a very GOOD hitter at No. 3. Right now, it's not obvious (to me) who that is.

Per guidance from medical professionals you shouldnt fly and avoid all social interaction. Dude telework just be safe!

No way.

FWIW, the Washington Post is very concerned about the health of its reporters. It's my choice, of course. But they have no problem --as a matter of policy-- with me flying to Florida for a few days.

I've always considered safety (somewhat) overrated. OTOH, I did NOT chase that water moccasin!

That's it for this week.

Lets chat again next Monday at 11 a.m. Stay well.


If the Caps quietly stumble out of the season, is Reirden's job safe?

If they keep playing like they did on Saturday in Pittsburgh, he is VERY safe! That is exctly how he has been asking them to play for many weeks. (OK, except for the 5 penalties.)

Coaches matter. Leadership from star leaders matters more. JMHO.

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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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