Ask Boswell

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2008; 3:00 PM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, Nov. 14 at 3 p.m. ET, to take your questions about the Phillies' World Series victory and his latest columns.

The transcript follows.

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First Base Side, Nationals Park Upper Deck: Enjoyed your column this morning; in a similar vein, are the Nationals really going to be serious contenders to sign Teixeira? Step One Is Just the Start (Post, Nov. 14)

Tom Boswell: Lots of spin on this one.

First, Kasten/Nats were annoyed that in last week's chat they got the impression that I was giving the impression that they had given the impression in public that they were making a run at Teixeira, but that I'd left the impression that such a pursuit might not be entirely sincere.

Got that?

The Nats will almost certainly make a high bid, or at least fairly high, for MT. Would they love to have him? Absolutely. Is he about as perfect a fit as you'll ever have of a player meeting a team's need? Yes. Kasten and other smart execs know that huge contracts to pitchers tend to be a disaster. Big deals for great hitters, especially under 30, are as good a bang for the buck as you can get. Sometimes you win big. Sometimes you're somewhat disappointed. But rarely are you mortified.

However, why on earth would Teixeira want to sign with any 102-loss club? Plenty in baseball think the Nats may make an honest est bid for him. Few, if any, think he'll come to Washington.

BUT the Olsen-Willingham trade makes the Nats a tad more credible. Also, signing Stephen Strasburg __if they can and they should be able to__ is equivalent to having the young Justin Verlander in your rotation in April '10. Just write his name in __or else everybody is wrong.

Just to be annoying, let me note that Stan and Boras aren't exactly buddies. If the Nats enter the "bidding" for Teixeira, making it a livier auction and perhaps getting the O's to go higher, then doesn't that help Boras get a market-setting contract even if, as the betting currently goes, it's the Angels who gets Tex?

Then, next summer, if the Nat negotiate with Strasburg, maybe Stan and Scott will smile at each other. Okay, probably not. But baseball has its politics.


Stone Harbor, N.J.: Your mention of Bud Selig twice in your column prompts this: Is Bud actually a more effective commissioner than given credit for? I haven't had a great impression of him, but does he do these things behind the scenes often enough to warrant my raising my appraisal of him?

Tom Boswell: Yes, he does. Move him up one knotch for this. His job description is to act, as he sees fit, in the "best interests of baseball." Broadly defined. Facilitating, but not forcing, Kasten to DC and MacPhail to Baltimore, because he thinks both the Nation's Capital and Camden Yards should have first-rate franchises, not flops, is part of what he sees as his job. He'd never admit it. Everybody knows it. And the nats and O's got people who had built world champions. It may not work. But it's the right idea.


Prince William Co., Va.: Tom, you had some interesting comments about the Phillies last week, and from having lived there for about nine years before eventually moving back to metro D.C., I think the Nationals could learn a lot from the Phils about how to market a team and the ballpark experience. The Phillies don't have a Clint to insult our intelligence, don't rip off other teams' songs (a la "Sweet Caroline" -- can you imagine how foolish the Nats will look next year if they play it when the Red Sox come in?), and their P.A. guy, the great Dan Baker, never refers to the team as "your Philadelphia Phillies." (Any team that uses "your" in that sense is always trying too hard.) Citizens Bank Ballpark is physically as fan-friendly as Nationals Park; now Nats ownership has to learn how to make its game presentation fan friendly, too. The baseball fans of Washington are not stupid; Stan Kasten and the Lerners must come to recognize this fact.

Tom Boswell: The Nats can definitely learn from the Phils who have a classier game-day operation as befits a town with a continuous baseball tradition since 342 B.C. ("Before Charlie")

For example, will the Nats get a new food vendor to help speed up the lines? Couldn't hurt. I'd vote for it.


Washington, D.C.: I respect your opinion, Mr. Boswell.

Are the Nationals seriously in the Teixeira chase or are they just paying lip service to disgruntled fans and ticket holders? I am holding off renewing my four season tickets until I see a sign from management that they are not going to give us another 2007.

Tom Boswell: Every team does projections of its possible future rosters, including what they would cost. The Nats almost certainly have a Dream Team of the Future on their "board" that includes Teixeira and a>$20-yr contract. So do at least eight other teams! And one of them will presumably get him, unless the nats figure Tex-Boras are a "last dollar" pair who will go for the biggest contract, without any other considerations.

I'm not beating the drum for Teixeira. Make him a big fat offer. Mean it. Hug him. Tell him how much better you'll be __immediately__ with him, etc. THEN look at all your other options and don't obsess about one player that you love but probably won't get.

Luckily, the Nets can get a LOT better with improved proved health and a free agent or two who is not named Mark T.

At the Nets press conference, someone in the Nets front office whispered to me, "Remember, free agency is the season of MISDIRECTION." Few teams, except mega-spenders like the Yankees, will say what they really intends as their top priorities. You create one picture of reality with quotes, leaks, etc. But you have other plans going on other tracks.

BUT, the bottom line, is that this is a great year for the Nets to be free agent players. Below Tex, Manny, CC, the cost is going to drop off quickly because half the people of Wall Street think we're on the edge of Great Depression II. And baseball owners obviously run in the world of biz and high finance. They're scared. Opens up lots of chances for teams like Nets and O's below the very top level.


Washington, D.C.: Come on Bozo, this is D.C. We deal in currency in the billions, if not trillions. As Joe Scarborough is fond of saying, it's a money party. The Learners are welcome, if belated, guests at the party. Teixeira is coming to the city of economic stimuli. His payout will be a pittance compared to what we're used to.

Tom Boswell: OK, lets look at it that way. Jag came. Michael Jordan came. Why not Teixeira? (Though he'd work out a lot better, imp.) Washington prestige and reputation, nationwide, among athletes is vastly higher than just 10-15 years ago.


As the Horsehide Turns: Lessee...the Learners and Chasten are mad because they think you think that they think they have no chance to sign Teixeira. Chasten and Boras loathe each other, but you think Chasten may be trying to curry favor with Boras by bidding for Teixeira, therefore making the Learners even madder at you because...

Cripes I give up. Following the machinations of the Obama transition team choose the Cabinet is easier than this!

Tom Boswell: The best part of baseball is the part you can see between the lines during games.

The off-field stuff __free agent signings, team shifts, ballpark financing battles__ is like covering Machiavelli's times. Got to love it. And free agency is the most fun. And silliest.

By the way, the "report" that the Nets were a frontrunner, or serious contender, for Manny Ramirez (!!!) is 0% possible. Some source may be "saying" it, but nobody should be believing it.

Just what the Nets need: a 38-year-old outfielder with no range, a prima donna attitude and.... Oh, forget it. The Nets shouldn't take Manny if he BEGGED to sign for $2-million-a-year less than the highest offer. He defines what you don't need. Of course, Manny should want to go with a winner.


Washington, D.C.: Bozo, am I the only one who is not overly impressed with the acquisition of Olsen and Willingham? Sure, they got them for cheap, but these guys aren't really season-changers, right?

Tom Boswell: It's a good trade. Players in the first year of arbitration don't get that much __whether they negotiate a deal or, less .likely, actually go to arbitration. Cordero, in '08, still "only" got $6.2M after all his fine stats.

If Willingham's back is healthy, he's a solid bat __about what Kearns was supposed to be but wasn't last year. Olsen has real potential to go from a durable innings-eater to a 13-to-15-game winner. Great: doubt it. Good: probably. Very useful, especially to the Nats: he's there already.


Falls Church, Va.: Afternoon Tom,

The media in this town has portrayed the Lerners as being tight with a nickel. What evidence do you have that they are willing to write large checks this season?

Tom Boswell: None at all. Yet.

It's okay to be pleased with Willingham-Olsen. But that doesn't even get 'em back up to the '08 payroll. They cut about $20-M in salary.


Washington: "Stan and Boras aren't exactly buddies"

Yeah, but nobody likes Boras, so big deal.

Tom Boswell: Good point. And he doesn't care if they don't like him.


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Boz, true to form, do you see Bowden possibly going after any undervalued assets across the majors in trades or signings, a la Penny/Pedro/Prior, trading for Weeks/Cano, or prospects that had down years? If they do that and sign a major FA such as Dunn, the off season would be a success, no? Does this jive with Kasten or is he on the way out?

Tom Boswell: You got it. Bowden, because he's had to work for Schott, learned long ago how to look for the player that you would have wanted in Nov '07 because they had quality in '05 & '06, but that few teams want now in 11/08 because of some injury or slump in '08. Gillick got Jason Werth, and a couple of other Phils puzzle pieces, this way from L.A. before the '07 season.

I like Dunn. And think he fits. Some question whether he has improved as much over his career as he might. Hello, check the HR totals. Also, Ted Lerner may like Teixeira more than Dunn. That's an X factor. Ted Lerner likes Teixeira. Once in September, he told me, in passing, (paraphrase) "He doesn't just hit homers, draw walks or strikeout. He hits singles and doubles, too, and he can play defense."

Hummm, I'd forgotten that conversation.


Anonymous: I'm really disappointed about the way Austin Kearns performed last season. What are the most viable options they have with him this year?

Tom Boswell: Right now, Kearns does not appear to be tradeable. Not for anything remotely close to what his value appeared to be for most of his career. Superior fielder and person. Wonder if he'd have gotten so lost if he'd had somebody to work with him on his hitting, the way Frank Robinson helped Ryan Zimmerman in his rookie year.

Nick Johnson still has trade value. And he's considered healthy. The question is simple: Can he stay healthy? You can't get value-for-stats for him because you have to discount that value back by his rate of injury. (If this like a "discounted cash flow" analysis in finance. For Nick, is there a "discounted injury flow" analysis.)

If the nats really get active and the picture for Opening Day '09 starts looking complex, then imagine that picture without Johnson in it as part of a trade. Conversely, the less active the Nats are, the more they will have to gamble on Johnson. If you got 500 at bats out of him next year __forget dreaming of 600__ they'd look different. But Nick, whom everybody likes and roots for, has drifted into the Eric Davis category of Presumed Injured Until Proven Innocent.


Silver Spring, Md.: Tom --

Are you giving odds on whether Mussina will retire?

Tom Boswell: He better not. All he needs to do is keeping strapping it on until he get 300 wins and a spot in the HOF, like Sutton. Look at ALL the first-rate pitchers in the last 15 years who've kept ploughing along after 40. Almost every one of them has gotten as many more wins as Mussina still needs.

If Mussina retires because he thinks it's the classy thing to do, he'll probably regret it. Why would he want to retire as a Yankee or retire on top? I missed the part where he was on a Yankee championship team. He left Baltimore to go for the bucks and the rings. He got the bucks. Now, he should sign with whomever gives him the best chance to get 300 and a ring.

If he retires, he's crazy. Moose isn't crazy.


Manassas, Va.: All this chatter about big name FA's but not a peep from anyone in the Nats' FO about international FA like Tazawa or the Cuban Babe Ruth Dayan Vicido.

Much more upside here at a fraction of the cost. This is where the excess payroll should be going. Why aren't the Nats more active in the international market?

Tom Boswell: The Nats are looking at Japan.

My buddy Riozo Kato has stepped into a flap as soon as he became Commissioner in Japan. They have a nine-year rule before a player can be a free agent. Kato thought he might get it lower. What he didn't expect is that they now have a young 20-year-old star who has refused to play for ANY team in Japan. The country hates the idea of home-grown players NEVER playing in Japan, just leaving immediately for U.S.

We'll follow up on this in future. If anybody has a link for more info, perhaps post it in a question and I'll link it from here.


Washington, D.C.: The Nats seem to like to pick a lot of players from Cincinnati -- a la the Skins and the Jets. Why is this, and can't they try and siphon talent from a more talented team?

Tom Boswell: And Bowden would be from where...


Western Alexandria: Raise Selig up a notch? Sure he moved the Expos here, but he did a half-assed job of it. No owner for almost two years? Giving Angelo$ $75 million to take the Nats TV rights away?! Is that what someone who wants the D.C. baseball to succeed does?

Tom Boswell: No.

That's what someone who wants to get a billion dollars for baseball __for free__ does. Washington built baseball a $611M park. The Lerners paid baseball $450M, which was split among the other owners. And then the Lerners threw another $50M into the park.

As owners say, "Thanks a billion, Bud." Or maybe $1.1B.

One baseball exec says, "Bud will always be commissioner. They want him to live forever. In case he doesn't, they'll probably bring back his urn and ask it to be commissioner."


Infield Gallery: Does the season ticket holder deposit deadline have any play on how the Nats approach trades and free agency. We have until next Thursday to determine our 2009 renewal policy.

Tom Boswell: I'm aware of the deadline.

If they get Teixeira by then, I intend to renew my old season tickets __and give them to charity__ as well as pay for my new season tickets in a different section (in with some friends).

I think my money is safe.


Arlington, Va.: Any more news on Bowden and Rijo and the alleged kickbacks for signing Dominican players?

Tom Boswell: Long silence from baseball on this major investigation into the whole issue __not specifically any one team. Many clubs have had personnel who have helped with info or been questioned. Most probably innocent of anything. But teams are holding their breath because THEY DON'T KNOW either. You trust your people. But no team can afford to build a presence in the Dominican, for instance, and then __what, hire detectives__ to check up on their own people.

Here's a link (I hope) on the hot Cuban prospect Dayan Viciedo.

_______________________ Viciedo working out for interested clubs (, Nov. 11)


Formerly Section 419: So I was in a group with a half season plan with the Nats and last week we were discussing whether we wanted to renew. And the feeling among us was rather lukewarm, so we are not renewing. The experience, especially by the end of the season, was not particularly enjoyable. The Lerners gave us a bad taste not just for the product on the field, but also the not paying rent. And admittedly there were other factors like potential job changes, but I am sure that if the situation had been better we would have renewed.

Do you think we are the exception? Any thoughts as to what is going to happen when it comes to season ticket renewals overall?

Tom Boswell: The rent issue has been resolved, I believe. That was a black eye for the team and unnecessary, imo. That's not how you "brand" a team. Or, maybe, that IS how you brand a team, in the bad sense of the term.

The Nats have a fine park. And, this year, they'll have MORE than enough parking as well as Metro. It will probably actually turn out __against all expectations__ to be one of the better center-city parks for transportation. Time will tell. But it SHOULD be. Far more parking than expected. But, should the team be selling parking at $35 to season ticket holders when there is a public lot __not affiliated with the team__ that is 200 yards from home plate and costs $15? That's what I mean about bad branding.

Team should improve on the field, perhaps surprisingly, with better health, this week's trade and at least one more transaction with impact. But food service (speed) needs to be improved. Foolishness like the big red corporate tent above the leftfield garage __it's B-A-C-K__ which obscures Capital views from Gallery seats has to go.

Perhaps, look at it as "so much room for progress." Rather than, "I gave 'em one season to grab me and they blew it."

Everybody has their own patience level. It's amazing how improving the team changes perceptions of everything else.


Reston, Va.: So is that whole steroids in baseball mess over with? I'd think not, but I get the impression most people think the sport is now clean of steroids.

Tom Boswell: MLB may have reached the invaluable "NFL Tipping Point" where it has enough drug testing that is decent enough that nobody wants to take the trouble to find out who's still beating it.

Baseball needs to keep pushing for better, more state-of-the-art testing even when the public, press and Congress are not pushing back at them.

See you next week.

On to Cowboys-Redskins on Sunday night. Nice for baseball to get an off-season day in the sun in dreary November day. Next week, will Skins be 7-3 and rulers of the known universe (including "exoplanet" Fomalhaut-b) or 5-4 and in 743rd "crisis" of the last decade? Never a dull moment.


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