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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009; 12:00 PM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell will be online Thursday, Feb. 19 at noon ET to take your questions about Alex Rodriguez, the Nationals latest prospect problem, Jim Bowden's future and the latest sports news and his recent columns.

The transcript follows.

Boswell Discussion Archives

Boswell Column Archives

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Florida: Hi Boz: I'm 47 years old but I have an ID that says I'm 16. Do you think I can get $1.4 mil out of the Nats?

Tom Boswell: Probably. But if you were 61 you'd have a better chance. All you'd have to do is reverse the numbers.

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Washington, D.C.: What more does Jim Bowden have to do before he loses his job?

Tom Boswell: Not much.

It's far more likely that he's just the Primary Sucker in all this than that he was any part of the scam. But this still lands on the center of his desk.

Also, it's Bowden's bad luck thjat he's very close to Jose Rijo (for 17 years) and Rijo is very close to the Street Agent for "The Player To Be Named Later." And the Street Agent is right in the middle of all the smoke in this FBI and MLB investigation. Eventually, we'll find out how much fire there is (obviously a lot) and who's going to be burned by it.

Nevertheless, the core point is probably motivation. Bowden lives and dies by his draft picks. He knows that if he gives a 20-year-old a huge bonus, the guy is almost certain to be a flop. That's a big black eye for Bowden __the last thing he wants.

If you remember him back then, he was overanxious to make a big impression on the new owners. To sacmmers, he must have had "Mark" written on his forehead.

But other teams were fooled, too. Texas bid $700,000. That qualifies as been totally taken in. Still, the size of the Nats offer __perhaps twice the next highest__ makes Bowden look awful. On this one, the buck stops on his desk.

Or, rather, 1,400,000 bucks.

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Alexandria, Va.: Take a bow...you're nagging moved the Nats to sign Adam Dunn. What are you going to do for an encore? Can you work on lowering the food prices at the ball park? Speaking of which, it was long presumed that Nats Park would eventually be re-named to whatever corporation ponied up the bucks. I guess that the economic downturn has put that plan on pause. Are the naming rights still being shopped around?

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

For an encore, it sure would be nice if, using the Markakis signing as a template ($66-million/6-years), they got a Zimmerman deal completed before his arb hearing.

Some in the organization want to finish a Zim deal now, because they think he'll have a fine year __.280-30-110__ and the chance to sign him for $10-M/yr will be gone. But others want to make sure his shoulder is 100% and figure out whether he will develop as a hitter or whether his declining production in '08 was a bad sign.

I think, with Dunn behind him, he'll have a year similar to '06-'07 when he had 201 RBI. If so, the Nats will wish they'd finished a deal now.

As for the ballpark, if the team can spend $1.4-million on a Player To Be Named Later, then why shouldn't their games be played in The Ballpark To Be Named Later?

They can "shop" all they want. There's a n accute shortage of companies, anywhere in the world, that want to spend a lot of money to name a ballpark. Like the Mets, you're lucky if you're not in danger of losing sponsor (Citi) that you already have lined up.

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Adams Morgan: If this really is a massive fraud, as Kasten says, and as I believe it is, why are we talking about the player's baseball future?

Why wouldn't he be cuffed and arrested the moment he steps off the plane?

Why would ANY organization employ someone who had defrauded it -- the other word is embezzled -- of serious money?

Say what you want about Rijo and Bowden and all these other clowns, but the main perpetrator is the player himself, who was the main beneficiary of the fraud.

It will be an outrage if he appears in a Nationals uniform. I can't believe old man Lerner would allow it. And spare me the violins about how the Dominican kids are poor, etc. So are lots of Americans.

Tom Boswell: Seems like a valid point.

Since he won a batting title, albeit in a very low league, they'll be tempted to see if, by some miracle, he becomes a useful player on the theory that, undert that scenario, they wouldn't look so stupid.

Bah! The only way they can look stupider is if they DO let him play.

So, his real name is "Alvarez." Does that make him the REAL A-Fraud?

Final point __bleak humor from inside Nats Land: "Will this guy turn out to be A-Rod's cousin?"

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Arlington, Va.: So how do you feel about your season tickets now that the Nationals have signed Adam Dunn ?

Tom Boswell: My final position for '09 is that I've cut my dollar "investment" in the Nats by 55% and the number of tickets in my control by 75%. I've canceled my 20-game plan in my name and bought five games in better seats with some friends.

Glad that's Dunn.

BTW, the Nats offense may be far better this season than people think. I looked all the '08 and career OPS data on every starting player in the N.L. East last season. The Phils, Mets, Braves and Marlins were all alm ost identical (!) with an average-starter OPS of .800 and between 760-and-799 runs. The Nats were far behind with a .696 average starter OPS and 641 runs.

BUT if you look at the Nats projected lineup, without Nick Johnson, their average OPS was .804 in '08 and .777 for their careers. So, if you want to be february optimistic, it isn't crazy to think the Nats could score>100 more runs.

Player...Career OPS...'08 OPS

Flores....688.........698

Dunn......899.........899

Belliard..756.........845

Zim.......803.........775

Guzman....693.........785

Willingham..833.......834

Milledge..736.........732

Dukes.....802.........864

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San Francisco: "Say what you want about Rijo and Bowden and all these other clowns, but the main perpetrator is the player himself, who was the main beneficiary of the fraud."

Really? Do we know that the player himself got most of the money? Or did it go back out in kickbacks and bribes?

Tom Boswell: The pattern of payoffs is a big part of the FBI and MLB investigations. However, I would like to hear an explanation, even with the help of A-Rod's staff of handlers and former White House-spinsters, the makes a case that, the day he was introduced to Washington, the guy didn't know that he was really 20 and not 16. And that he was a different person!

There have been a lot of fake birthdays in Latin baseball for at least 50 years. As Kasten said, "This wasn't a one or two year fib. This was afour year fib."

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Evanston, Ill.: The NFL quietly fined Santonio Holmes for his celebration after scoring the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. If it's worthy of a fine, it's worthy of a penalty. Is this a tacit admission that it should have been flagged for 15 yards, which could have considerably altered the outcome of the game?

Tom Boswell: Very interesting! Sure could have used the yards on the ensuing kickoff. Don't tell Chad. It'll bug him all summer.

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Washington, D.C.: Why is Lastings Milledge ahead of Elijah Dukes in CF? Dukes is light years ahead defensively and had better numbers in half the at-bats last year.

Tom Boswell: The Nats, like any sane team, want to seen a pattern of normal ballplayer behavior out of Dukes before they had over a core position like CF to him. And that pattern certainly has to extend longer than one season. They want him to succeed. If you double his 276 AB stats from last year, you get 96 runs, 26 homers, 26 steals, 88 RBI, .262, .386 and .476 with 100 walks. That guy could be your CF for a decade. BUT he knows he has plenty of issues and probably doesn't mind taking one step at a time.

But, if the Nats ever become a>,500 team, it's hard to imagine __if both Dukes and Milledge are still in the OF then__ that Dukes wouldn't be in CF. There's no rush. See if Milledge can get better. He improved from bad to mediocre (broadly defined) last year. And Dukes has a great RF arm.

I'm more concerned with the upside in Milledge's hitting. Will new hitting coach Eckstein, who really interests me, bring out the best in him? Is LM the next Amos Otis? Or maybe just Tommy Agee? Or (ush) a .750 OPS corner OFer, of which the world has far too many.

Milledge is another of the Bowden litmus tests. If Bowden, assuming he's clean in the Dominican, wants to keep his job for '10, then he needs to be proven right on the significant percentage of the young or young-veteran players under 30 that now have his stamp all over them: Dunn, Olsen, Willingham, Dukes, Milledge, Flores, Lannan, J Zimmmerman, R Zimmerman, etc.

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Mechanicsville, Va.: Anything from Nats camp re: Wily Mo? Nick Johnson? Anybody providing an unexpected surprise ?

Tom Boswell: The best thing about the Nats spring training, where I'll be at this time next week, and chatting from a Grapefruit League game, is that the team finally has numbers on its side. The Nats have a far improved lineup in '09 even with .000 from Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, Dmitri Young or Wily Mo. All have been considered valuable (or fascinating) at various times.

The best case, imo, is that in six weeks, Nick looks valuable and is traded for pitching and so many OF are hitting decently that they have to eat Pena's $2-M contract. A lot of things have to go wrong for Wily Mo to play. But he does provide one thing: Is Dunn as bad a feilder in left as Wily Mo? At least it should make for some amazing BPs in Viera __Dunn, Dukes, Pena.

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Wilmington, N.C.: How do you see the Odalis Perez situation working out? He either honors the deal, comes to camp, and is a poison or the Nats cave, give him a better deal, he comes to camp and is a poison.

I can't see this working out at all.

Tom Boswell: Ignore him. Like the country song said: "If your phone don't ring, you'll know it's me."

Don't give him another cent. It's 50/50 that he blocks the progress of a younger pitcher. He's made (I checked the other day but can't remember exactly now) more than $30M in the game. He doesn't need to pitch. What he';s forgotten is that the Nats don't need him. He's an insurance policy.

But it is amazing, as I noted in a Baseball Insider, how much his career and '08 record mirror Randy Wolf who just got $5M to sign as a FA. Perception is all.

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Sioux Falls, South Dakota: I like MacPhail's template to rebuild the Orioles organization (emphasis on defense up the middle and developing young pitchers) so far because I'm willing to be patient. Do you think it's a smart way to compete with the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees long term? And if so, how long do you expect it to take to develop young talents like Matusz, Liz, Waters, Albers, Penn, Jones, Pie, Reimold and Wieters?

Tom Boswell: I love the fast outfield concept. The two easiest ways to improve a team fast are to reduce your pitching staff's walks simply by harping on them, making it a Major Team Issue, and by improving defense __still the least valued commodity in the game. The Rays radically improved their defense last year. One of their secrets.

The pitching in their pipeline is wait-and-see. They've tried to upgrade and did it the right way, trading major names (Tejada, Beddard) for prospects. But the percentage of pitching prospects, even good ones, who ever win 100 games and change your staff long-term is frighteningly low.

Can't wait to see Weiters. Not too impressed so far with Liz.

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New York, NY: Ovechkin is really, really, really good. We need to be more appreciative of the fact that we are likely to have a back-to-back MVP playing for a local team.

Seriously. He's really, really good.

I wish I wasn't living so far away!

Tom Boswell: The goal he scored last night was, perhaps, the best I've ever seen. And it's one of the most amazing plays I've ever seen in any sport. Of course, after all these years, that's a long list. But you have to find a way to see. Boudreau, who's seen it all, said it might have been the best he ever saw.

No. 8 intercepted a errasnt pass near the red line, spun completely around and, in one motion, passed the puck around a defender and OFF THE SIDE WALL to himself. Then, without breakiung stride, he accelerated so fast (the part Boudreau couldn't believe) that he pulled away from a defender who should have had ther angl,e on him. So, as No. 8 bore down on the goalie from the left side, the defender hooked him down from behind. As O hit the ice, he still controled the puck, switched from his left to his right side and, flat on the ice, deliberately shot the puck into the net into the only open sliver of room that the goal provided on his stick side.

Before the puck was in the back of the net, No. 8, still on his back, had fired his fist in the air. He knew he'd scored before anybody else knew what had happened.

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Washington, D.C.: Okay, I know this is silly but let me just try: Why doesn't MLB just tell all the Dominican "agents" and players etc. that none of those players will be coming to America until all the documentation is trustworthy and proved legal? Or is that the Pollyana in me?

Tom Boswell: I've been there. It's Pollyana. Ballplayers are to the Dominican what cars are to Japan __the central export of the economy. This is an issue of national interest in the DR.

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F Street: How can there be any doubt that Ovie is the best in the NHL. Last night's goal was Jordanesqe. He does things that appear impossible. It appears that all the people arguing for Crosby are Candians. Worse, the reason is starting to look like blatant xenophobia. That they refuse to believe someone besides a Canadian can be the best hockey player in the world. What are your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: Ovie is the best. And his recent goal-scoring binge over the last three weeks or so has been seismic. Come on, I'm taping the games and replaying them to see this guy. And Green has jumped up a whole level as many expected him to. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Terry Murray (ex-Caps, now Kings coach) isn't the only one who thinks they are ready to go deep, maybe very deep in the playoffs. "They don't have to wait to be great."

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Leesburg, Va.: A quick response for Adams Morgan. I actually agree with everything he said, but had to take issue with this:

"And spare me the violins about how the Dominican kids are poor, etc. So are lots of Americans."

I assure you that it's not the same. "Poor" in 3rd world countries like DR and "Poor" here are completely different ballgames.

Tom Boswell: From what I've seen, yes. But Dominican culture, from what I've seen, seldom seems degraded, like U.S. poverty. In fact, it's not close. You don't feel like you're in poverty. You feel like you are around fairly happy, sincerely smiling people who just happen to have almost nothing. It's hard not to fall for the people in the DR and root for them. Wish I had time to think about that more and write it better.

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RE: Naming rights: Can't we just keep it as Nationals Park? It feels so much more unique and home-grown with that name, than say, AOL Park. How did that line on "The Simpsons" go? "Corporate sponsorship cheapens our national treasures."

Tom Boswell: The Lerners would like it to be Last-Bank-Left-Standing-in-America Park.

I'd like it to stay Nationals Park forever. In fact, if they ever get a sponsorship deal, I may keep calling it that and force my editors to change it!

"Nationals" and "Nats" are a good enough name for a team. Not wonderful. But "Nationals Park" is elegant.

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DC: What's happened with Dmitri Young? I read a couple of weeks ago that he had lost a lot of weight and was likely to play this year, but I didnt see him on the roster that was published last week.

Tom Boswell: Hed's not talking to the media this year. A shame since he's a joy. (See Chico's always-excellent Nationals Journal.) Seems he's still a bit over 300 lbs. It would be nice, if Nick were traded, if he could give you 250 ABs off the bench and DHing in AL parks. The guy will probably still be able to hit when he's 50.

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Section 416 aka the Alps: Should we be concerned that Zimm isn't signed yet?

Tom Boswell: No. One way or the other he'll have a contract by Saturday. Olsen and Willingham both avoided arbitration at the last minute.

getting a long-term deal done is tough. Both sides know it, and last time I checked, are angry about it. Long ago, the Nats offered $48-M for six years, Z countered with $60M for 6. Then Markak,is got 66-for-6. Ooops. Fly in the ointment. Z and Markakis' career stats are as identical as any two guys you can find. Nick a little better hitter. Z a fabulous fielder at a more important defensive position. But Z is coming off the kind of injury that could, in theory, cut his power a bit. He hit over .300 after he came back, b ut not with the same p;op, though he hit a couple of bombvs to CF late in the year. But can he pull it with the same powert? Just fair questions.

My best guess, after some digging this a.m., is that the Nats are willing to live with a one[-ytear dedal, though they'd prefer to get a six-year done.

I'm still glad that Chad Cordero got a pay day. He made almost $12M in his brief time. I never understand why young players, when they are offered a monumental payday after three years, don't grab a lifetime of wealth and then try to break the $200-M-career barrier in their 30s.

BTW, after looking up every great 3d baseman since Brooks Robinson, I'm pretty sure that Zimmerman starts more double plays per game than any player in MLB history __.227/game. Few are even close. Quite a distinction at 24.

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Stadium Name: Drop the "S" and start calling The National Park. The people at the NPS might get a bit annoyed, but that would be a great stadium name, especially for D.C.

Or maybe we can get the National Park Service to be the sponsor?

Tom Boswell: I don't deserve "questions" of this quality!

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Anonymous: So baseball is like online dating? Everyone lies about their age?

Tom Boswell: The hits just keep on coming

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Indianapolis: As a transplanted Philadelphian, I am interested in seeing the Phils repeat as champs. My question for you is, why do you think it is so difficult in this day and age for teams to be true dynasties? Is it just free agency or something more than that?

Tom Boswell: Many teams are of roughly equal ability. So luck and health play a huge role. Here's an injury stat from '08: The average number of at bats by the eight starting players in the N.L. East.

The Phils average starter (Ruiz, Howard, Utley, Feliz, Rollins, Burrell, Victorino, Werth) had 505 at bats in '08.

Mets: 468 at bats.

Braves: 467 at bats.

Marlins: 468 at bats.

Get the pitcure?

Nats: 344 at bats.

!!!!!

Get the picture? Totally destroyed lineup. The Nats got 1,000 less at bats from their starters than the Mets, Marlins and Braves and 1,280 less than the Phils.

When the Cards won, their entire rotation did not miss a single start ALL SEASON.

That's why the Phils probably won't repeat. And nice that they took it to the house for Manuel and Gillick when they had the chance __and the breaks.

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STH no more: What is your prediction for the Nationals' 2009 record?

Tom Boswell: Subject to change (several times) before Opening Day: 75-87.

PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus) has them at 79-83. I don't trust the bullpen at all. If they add a good proven arm...

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Nats Fan 20008: Hi -- Any word on when individual Nats tickets will go on sale? Can't wait!

Tom Boswell: "Can't wait"!!!

Words the nats thought they'd never hear!

Take a look at the new 12 and 13-game plans. Most teams had them. I had a package l.ike that for many years with the O's. I thought they should have had them last year. But, I think, they figured they'd have such strong attendance that they wouldn't have to go to such relatively small packages __that many people find perfect. And much better than 20.

They're lucky they cut prices last fall. Now, some of the 12-for-11 and 13-for-12 deals make it a tiny bit cheaper.

The box seats down the lines are now in the "reasonable" range, compared to comparable cities.

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Anonymous: Who protects Dunn in the Nats lineup? Do you foresee this being a problem for the team, with Dunn drawing a lot of walks and no one behind him capable of moving him around the bases?

Tom Boswell: If Dukes is healthy...

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Leesburg, Va.: I'm sure you're getting a ton of Nat's questions, but I wanted to know if you've seen Ovie's goal from last night, and if so, what did you think? I was changing my sons diaper when Ovie scored. My reaction was to yell "Oh S---!" My wife ran into the room expecting there to be baby poop all over the place.

washingtonpost.com: Caps star Alex Ovechkin finds a way to get off a first-period shot that turned into his 42nd goal. "No, normal goal, not sick," Ovechkin said of the play. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)

Tom Boswell: !!!

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Tucson, Ariz.: Boz -- A number of publications (ESPN, SI) have called the Nats the joke of the major leagues...I thought Kasten said they were running a first-class organization.

Do you think the Nats are running a first-class organization? I don't think so.

Tom Boswell: They are neither __not a joke after Dunn/Olsen/Willing. Not first-rate yet either. Not just TPTBNL (The Player To....) The ballpark experinece is adequate, but should be better the second year. The seem to cut corners on too many things that take you up to Class Act. They're working on it. But I'll believe it when I see it.

Like that abominable garage roof red tent that blocks the views of the Capital for many Gallery patrons. What's with that? Put the damn thing on the Other Garage. I don't want to hear about how the rich folks prefer to sip their wine on one garage more than the other.

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Alexandria, Va.: What do you think of D.C. United leaving the District?

Tom Boswell: Life is too short to explain all my feelings on the subject.

See you fine folks next week from Viera.

I'm reporting at my college playing weight. And I'm having a fake ID made to match.

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