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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, Jan. 22 at 3 p.m. ET to take your questions about the NFL playoffs, the Caps, the Hot Stove league and his latest columns.

The transcript follows.

Boswell Discussion Archives

Boswell Column Archives

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A Lug of Our Own: Boz - assuming that Dunn eventually blinks in the ongoing staring contest over the length and value of his contract, what is a reasonable price for him? That is, what is a 40-homer, 100-walk, no-glove guy worth to a team like the Nats, who happen to be in desperate need of the one dimension Dunn can reliably provide? 3 years, $30 million, roughly Bradley-esque (figuring that Bradley's unreliability roughly balances out Dunn's defense), or do the Nats have to pay a premium?

Tom Boswell: Let's get going. A lot to talk about, especially Nats and free agents. By the end of next week, when we chat next, most if not all of the serious free agents in whom the Nats have an interest will probably be signed. NOW is the moment to act -- if you are going to.

Will the Nats? I'm very concerned that, despite the seriousness of their Teixeira chase, that they won't. Dunn is the key.

My best guess is the Nats can get him for three years for $36-million. For $37.5-million for three, I can't imagine that they couldn't get him.

They should do it. No "ifs" or "buts."

When you lose 102 games, you have to overpay for your first big free agent. Paying $12 million for three years for Dunn is just fine. Gotta be done. I understand that the Nats are not closa to that figure yet.

Dunn and Zimmerman are good friends. That may help.

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Capitol Hill: Tom, Baseball America downgrades Nats' farm prospects. O's, not Nats, sign good-looking Japanese pitcher. No deal with Zimmerman. Dunn remains overpriced. Even Don Sutton wants out of the booth. This is the winter of discontent for Nats fans. Can you cheer us up?

Tom Boswell: No, I can't.

The Nats better cheer us all up. And fast. There is no excuse for this team, in a newly built publicly financed park, to come up empty in this bargain-basement free agent market. It would be a disgrace.

I'm hearing that the Nats and Zim are making reasonable progress on working out a long-term deal. Price range? Think the recent Youkilis and Markakis contracts, according to sources. Relations on both sides are good. But they need to get this done.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Hey Tom, thanks for the chat...

I am curious... Where do you think the Nats are in terms of acquiring a free agent or two? I noted your comments recently about the misdirection of (the Nats) claiming that they are out of the running for Dunn, etc. and your comments to the front office person that you thought that was an indication that they are getting serious about it.

Is there anything (other than continued silence on the topic, and the lack of other moves) that might indicate to you that the Nats are still in for Dunn, etc.?

And if so, does Dunn really solve the 1B problem, and if not, is Nick Johnson a viable plan B?

Tom Boswell: The longer the silence lasts, the more concerned I am that it means Ted Lerner, who ultimately makes all major decisions, thinks he can wait until February and get absolute steals.

IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN, not for the Nats. When you lose 102 games, you eliminate that possibility. All the discount signings of slugging outfielders -- of Burrell, Bradley and Ibanez -- were to teams that finished FIRST last season.

The price a 102-loss team must pay has never been remotely similar. When the Tigers signed Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez, they went 40 percent above market prices for Pudge. But they were in the World Series in a couple of years.

That's how it's done. Period.

If Bradley/Ibanez get $10M/yr, and Dunn is worth roughly the same, that means the Nats must pay $12M/yr.

That's not "unfair." That's reality and always has been.

The Nats need to "get it." Do they?

It's nice to give them rope. And they handled the Tex business very well. But we are getting to the stretch now. It's time to go to the whip.

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Manassas, Va.: If the Nats sign Adam Dunn, do you think he's capable of playing first base?

Tom Boswell: Bowden thinks he would be "adequate" after a period of adjustment. If Nick Johnson can come back, then great, keep Dunn in LF. But Johnson has played only 38 games in two years. He is now officially The World's Slowest Healer. And injury-prone, too. Remember, he still hasn't started swinging a bat after an injury last spring that he got when he checked his swing!

You can root for Nick. And I do. But you can't count on him. I'd try hard to trade him, and his $5.5 million contract. That's half what it would take to get Dunn. Also, after '09, Dmitri Young's $5 million and Kearns $8 million disappear. Put Dunn at first. Keep Willngham in LF.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Boz,

With NatsFest this weekend, I have to ask...Does ANYBODY in the Nationals' front office ever take the temperature of the team's fans? I know that we can sometimes be far afield in our opinions about how the team is run, but there seems to be a bunker mentality among the hierarchy that is very troubling.

Tom Boswell: In a week or two, everybody will be out of that bunker __and smiling. Or there will be an enormous explosion inside the bunker and we'll see who crawls out of the rubble.

Everybody in baseball knows that this is the moment when we find out if the Teixeira pursuit was a one-time-only, perfect-player-perfect-fit scenario. Or do the Lerners, especially Ted, understand that you simply can't put a hideous product on the field again. Not when your payroll is rock bottom and about to get much lower. Not in a new stadium. Not with fee agent prices in collapse.

A "bad economy" is not an excuse.

It's just the opposite. It's an opportunity.

I always appreciated the way Shirley Povich held his fire, withheld judgment as long as reasonable and gave people a chance to prove themselves. But my gut feeling is that Shirley would be turning the corner right about now and saying, "Okay. Washington has done enough and waited long enough. It's time for the owners of the city's ballclub to do their part. Don't talk. Act. And do it now."

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But why not wait?: You say "The longer the silence lasts, the more concerned I am that it means Ted Lerner, who ultimately makes all major decisions, thinks he can wait until February and get absolute steals." But isn't this what all the other teams seem to be doing with Dunn (and Hudson too)? There's no talk of ANY team being on the verge of signing these guys, is there? You may be right in that the Nats would have to pay a premium to get these guys to sign with them, but until someone else comes along and makes them an offer against which the Nats must overbid, what's wrong with Lerner and Kasten just waiting this out?

Tom Boswell: Good teams can wait it out. Maybe.

Bad teams have to say, "Okay, we waited. And waited. Now, we gotta SHOOT SOMETHING."

Randy Wolf is probably close to a three-year deal with the Dodgers at about $9M/yr. Oliver Perez is a little more expensive. But he's probably getting close to a decision, too. When one goes, they're all probably going to fall fairly fast. Agents and players don't like "February." It's crunch time. Garland is available, too, probably for less.

The Nats need a LH power hitter, a solid double-digit-win starter, a second-tier but good reliever and, at the right price, perhaps Hudson who is coming off an injury -- which, in this market, taints him a bit.

Here's the hard truth: In theory, they can afford them all. Probably can't get them all. But that's how low the Nats payroll is, and will be in the near future, relative to the size of their potential market.

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Alexandria, Va.: The Nationals were very quick to trumpet their No. 9 ranking by Baseball America last year. Will they be as forthcoming in discussing the reasons for being a bottom-third organization in 2009?

Tom Boswell: That's another reason free agents are now more important to the Nats.

No. 1 picks Ross Detweiller from '07 (8-8, 4.86, 124 IP, 140 hits, 57-114 walk-to-K ratio), overweight Chris Marrero (No. 15 overall) from '06 and Colten Willems (22nd overall in '06) aren't exactly lighting it up now.

The draft picks the Nats got for Soriano look good -- Jordan Zimmerman (67th overall) and Josh Smoker (31st overall).

Teams always oversell their farm systems to their fans. Good PR. Good to inflate value in trades. But far fewer picks become stars than fans think. I've been going through every draft pick for every team since '65 to get a feel for it. Pretty shocking how little return most teams get on so many picks. For example, since Mussina in '90, this is the sum total of everything of value that the Orioles picks have produced: David Delucci, Josh Towers, Jerry Hairston, Brian Roberts, Erik Bedard, John Maine (traded away), Hayden Penn, Markakis and Chris Ray (injured).

That's it -- the whole thing -- for almost 20 years.

Yet long ago, the Orioles drafted Grich, Baylor and Davey Johnson all in '67, and Rich Dauer, Eddie Murray and Mike Flanagan, all in '74, then Cal and Mike Boddicker in '78.

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Arlington, Va.: What are the chances, out of desperation on both sides, that Barry Bonds is wearing a Nats uniform in April?

Tom Boswell: They could issue him two Nats uniforms, sewn together.

He might need a double-sized combo hat, too.

Seriously, no chance whatsoever.

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Minneapolis: In your estimate, just how worried are Kasten and Bowden right about now? I don't need to enumerate the concerns. There's a question mark hanging over just about every player on the roster, and good will seems spent after a 102-loss season and public squabble with the city over rent.

Then they find out that Mr. Thomas Boswell, the man who publicly advocated for baseball in DC for years and was a vocal supporter of Nats Park before the foundation was laid, will not be renewing his season tickets.

Lower ticket prices and a caravan appearance in Martinsburg (!?) aren't going to cut it.

Tom Boswell: Kasten can go anywhere he wants any time he wants. As I think I've mentioned here, while making the NFL rounds I've found out that he's almost certainly been offered multiple jobs to run NFL teams. For Ted Turner, he ran franchises in three pro sports at once. He's had 30 teams in three sports finish first. On his wall there's the big number "31" circled in red -- meaning he wants that 31st first-place finish to be with the Nats.

If he isn't supported properly by the Lerners, of course he will leave. It is obvious, simple common sense. Everybody in baseball knows it, assumes it. But how long will he wait to find out if the Lerners will spend on the kind of mid-level Terry Pendleton, then later top-dollar Greg Maddux free agents that he was authorized to buy in Atlanta?

A good source, not Kasten, assures me that he's made it clear to ownership that he thinks it's time for the Nats to be active in this free agent market now. If this is a do-nothing winter, you'll know he was ignored.

If they disregard his recommendations, what do you think the future holds? I'd leave. But maybe Stan's a nicer guy than me. (Does he look nice? Does he look like a chump? Or does he look like he wants to win another World Series -- someplace.) For what it's worth, he surely likes Ted a lot, personally.

Bowden has worked his rear end off, but he doesn't have Kasten's track record. The 102 loses, the Crow-non-signing, etc., will stick to him -- probably a lot more than they should.

Kasten comes out of this either building a winner in Washington or walking away -- sooner, later, who knows -- to take another big shot at the brass ring in a town where they'll spend a reasonable (not exorbitant) amount to win.

We're going to find out a lot in a fairly short time.

Acta, the other decision maker, is now a made man. Other teams will want him (almost) regardless of what the Nats record is. Bowden's a savvy, fun, rub-some-people-the-wrong-way pro. He really wants this team to turn around -- now. Self-preservation.

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Arbitration: I know there's still time, but why am I not surprised that the Lerners are facing arbitration with all of their arbitration eligible players?

Also, shouldn't the Pedroia, Youkilis, and Markakis extensions lead to a Zimmerman extension?

Tom Boswell: Those extensions should frame a Zimmerman signing fairly soon. If they don't, that's bad. Maybe very bad, long term.

I think it will get done. Ted Lerner loves Zimmerman, as a player -- as he should. On this issue, he "gets it."

There's currently an "industry issue" with first-time eligible arbitration players like Olsen and Willngham. That means the union has put out the word to try to set a new standard for salaries and owners are trying to hold the line. The two new Nats may get caught in this and end in arbitration. I hope not. No arbitration case has ever helped the relationship between a team and a player. You go in there and yell at each other, "Yeah, and the same things goes for your mother, too."

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Washington: Is there any chance Jim Rice would have made it to the Hall of Fame had the steroids scandal not broken out?

Tom Boswell: It sure helped him.

Nice point. Thanks. You know, you may be right. Steroids are going to keep several players out of the hall. But Rice may be the only player who ever gets into the Hall -- by an eyelash -- because he was pre-steroids and clean.

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Ryan in Philly,: Hey Tom, am I going to get my money? Please tell the Phillies to show me some love...and some money too...

Tom Boswell: Ryan, I hear you want $18-million-a-year.

I say you're worth it.

Some love.

Boz

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Annandale, Va.: Hey Bos. Great column this morning, by the way. Spring Training is just three weeks away. Yes, we sure could use a left-handed slugger like Dunn. But what about a nice potential ace pitcher? Why not take a chance on Sheets? Or is he definitely going back to the Brewers?

Tom Boswell: The Nats brain trust is serious about Wolf, Garland (200 innings) and maybe (longshot, if they got out the big wallet) Oliver Perez. Will the money trust agree?

Right now, they'd have a good shot to get him for $35 million over thee years. He just turned down $30 million for three years. I don't think he's worth that. Rather get Wolf or Garland for less.

Sheets is just that -- a chance. Kasten and Bowden don't want to take "chances" this winter. There's no need to do that. There's still too much quality merchandise available. Stan told me yesterday, "There are still 117 unsigned free agents out there. That's unheard of at this time of year." That's why Hudson, with his wrist, has moved to a middle, not front-burner. Though if you got Dunn, you could go back to the same agent and, perhaps, do an incentive-heavy deal for Hudson.

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Token Creek, Wisc.: How long before the Redskins join the rest of the 21st Century or Obama Nation and just simply hold a contest to change their name?

It's tough to teach about the joy and fairness of sports with such an Abomi-nation.

Thanks, one hopes.

Tom Boswell: It's certainly not a name that's consistent with the spirit of the age.

By the way, I thought the Inauguration -- my wife and I were on Pennsylvania Avenue at the Newseum -- was the most moving event I've seen in my lifetime in Washington. And I've seen almost everything -- not MLK, but the anti-war marches, etc. As a little kid, I was even the film "runner" for the Washington Star photog and got to dash down to a guy on a motorcycle to carry away the hot film, then go back up and sit with the "media" less than 100 feet from JFK. A great experience at age 12.

But Tuesday topped it all -- by an order of magnitude.

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Davidsonville, Md.: Is the NFL wringing its hands that two relatively small-market teams are about to play the Big Game? At least Philly and Pittsburgh would have had some same-state cache. But is Arizona vs. Pittsburgh going to attract a big audience?

Tom Boswell: Certainly not a glamor matchup. I was 1-for-2 -- as always -- in my picks last week. When it comes to prophecy, I define mediocrity. In the Supe, defense makes the Steelers such a clear favorite. I think I'll wait a week to decide. There's no hurry when you know you'll pick the wrong team.

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44: Even though I'm an Orioles fan (by birth and choice), 44 always represented Reggie Jackson to me.

As of Tuesday, it means something else entirely.

Tom Boswell: Nice.

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Burke, Va.: Tom,

How prevalent do you think steroids are in the NFL today? Hard not to look at some of those dudes and conclude that they aren't living better "through chemistry." How about the NHL? Since the 'roid chemists are always a step or two or three ahead of the testers, I would think there are still a fair number in MLB still taking the juice.

Tom Boswell: Steroids? In the NFL? Surely, you jest.

Mankind just, suddenly, started producing a whole lot more "cut" 330 pound guys. Right?

All I ask is that pro sports spend some money and make a serious effort to catch the cheaters. The closer you get to Olympic-level testing, the better.

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Ironic timing on your column today: Bos, a couple of days ago I tuned in the new MLB Network and they were rebroadcasting a Cubs-Pirates game from '91 (Cubs score 5 in the top of the 11th and then the Buccos come back to win). Watching the game, the word that kept coming to mind was "trim." All the players wore tight-fighting uniforms with pants ending just below the knees -- nobody dressed like they were wearing pajamas. And their bodies were all trim. Barry Bonds must have weighed 180, max. Even big guys like Bobby Bonilla and Andre Dawson looked lean and muscular, not bloated like the juiced-up sluggers who came alone a few years later. How could we have been so blind to all of this when it happened, and if we weren't blind to it, why did we keep so quiet? Sad.

washingtonpost.com: Big and Rich (Post, Jan. 22)

Tom Boswell: Everybody didn't keep quiet. See page 61 of the Mitchell Report.

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Alexandria, Va.: Which would you rather have in the Super Bowl? Dominant offense with an experienced winner like Kurt Warner at the helm or and stingy defense with Polamalu and Ike Taylor in the secondary. Also, where do you think the 'Skins are going to choose to improve in the draft?

Tom Boswell: "Where do you think the Redskins...."

This is a joke, right?

My draft day lead last year from Redskins Park, after the team used it's first three picks for receivers, was: "Everybody has always wondered what would happen if Daniel Snyder and Vinnie Cerrato were left alone in a room without adult supervision. Now we know."

Sorry to quote myself.

I hope somebody gets an adult in there this year. But that's not the way to bet.

By the way, Jason and Jason did a wonderful

piece

yesterday on the Redskins and the draft -- and how they need to focus on drafting LINEMEN, both on offense and defense, for the next few years.

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Fairfax, Va.: Tom -- I'm surprised at what little attention has been given to the Nationals terrible radio situation. After the buyout of 980, The Orioles radio presence in D.C. is much stronger than the Nationals. I can't even pick up Nats games at night. Has the team shown any concern over this?

Tom Boswell: Sorry....I can't quite hear you...

See you all next week.

Will the Nats arms still be empty?

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