Thursday, March 5, 2009; 12:00 PM
Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, March 5 at noon ET to take your questions about the Nationals spring training, the latest sports news and his recent columns.
The transcript follows.
Arlington, Va.: Tom, Have they made any progress on Half Street? I'll be at the home opener and just wanted to know if any bars/restaurants are open for pre-game festivities? Thanks.
Tom Boswell: When I was at the Adam Dunn signing last month at Nats Park I was surpised to see that two major 13-story-high cranes were at work __one on each side of Half Street. There were also active workmen visible. I assumed, with the commercial real estate bust that was described in today's Post that there was little or nothing being done near the Park. Something is better than nothing.
However, to your point, Half Street development isn't, as far I can tell, going to provide any more "neighborhood" feeling than there was last year. Which is next to none. Fortunately, I suppose, there are food and drink options, at various price points, in the ballpark itself. But that wasn't the original idea and, we all hope, when things get back to a more normal world, the phrase "pre-game festivities" will seem natural once more.
In retrospect, at least for Nats fans, it's fortune the ballpark was completed when it was.
Bethesda, Md.: Any chance the Redskins sign T.O.?
Tom Boswell: T.O. has already made it known that he wants to go to a team with "a great quarterback." Like one of the Mannings.
However, a play for T.O. by the Skins would complete a total reversal from their "change of philosophy" last year.
Got to say I enjoy their craziness in the off-season.
San Jose, Costa Rica: Hi Boz,
So with Bowden's ouster, does this (finally!) mark the end of the Cincinnati pipeline? What do you think the chances are that out of the next five players the Nats FO acquires, three or more will NOT be from Cinci?
Tom Boswell: You still have Bob Boone with some Reds roots! (But Bob is very sensible.)
Yes, that's the end of the pipeline, probably. Will Rizzo now do more deals, like the Rauch for Bonafacio for Olsen-and-Willingam? Will it now be aPhoenix pipeline.
There is a tendency for all GMs to be attracted to players they scouted, or got to know, in a previous city. They trust the information because they gathered it themselves or knew the players. It's natural. However, Bowden was an extreme case. His LAST Reds move will probably be his best __getting Dunn.
I was surprised last week when Dunn told me that he was the one who wanted MORE years in his contract, not just one year. When he said, "I wanted to find a home," he really sounded convincing. He's a heart-on-his-sleave guy. I think people are going to like him a lot. His teammates already do. And Acta says, "His personality is a big surprise to us. We didn't know he had one." A joke. And it's a funny friendly one. So far.
Ashburn, Va.: Tom: Does my old hero Frank Howard currently have a relationship with the Nationals? It sure would be nice to see Frank and Adam Dunn both in uniform in a photograph together. Maybe a home run contest.
Tom Boswell: Don't know what Hondo's status is. Now that the Nats have a more stable calm front office structure with the Three Amigos in charge, they may get around to making that contact. I hope so. Mark lerner loves Hondo, his boyhood hero. I don't see what harm can be done. Frank's like a pot of boiling hot black coffee. So was Jim. One of 'em in the room at a time is about all the energy you can take.
I'd like to see that picture, too. But Dunn has to be comfortable with Howard. Players don'ty usually love comparisons to former players. But Adam is laid back enuff that I doubt it would bug him.
Bowie, Md.: The only sports story for me is the fact that the Ravens will keep Ray Lewis. Nothing could make me happier.
On a sad note, my heart goes out to the families of the three missing men aboard the fishing boat. That is a tradegy.
Tom Boswell: I'm glad to see Ray stay. Some players and some towns go together. Lewis' dance coming out of the tunnel is unique.
Yes, very sad. Many people don't have a sense of the potential dangers in recreational boating. I've lived on or near various rivers. Last summer, we literally saw a huge summer storm come up off the Bay in minutes out our front window; we saw boats tossed everywhere on the river and one have its mask snapped. We learned the next day that we'd been watching as one person was thrown from his boat and drowned. He was maybe 2/3 mile from shore. You don't have to be 35 miles out at sea.
I tried boating __a smallish Whaler__ for several years. Absolutely incompetent. And the more "familiar" I got with boating, the more it worried me, not less. Of course, I know many people who love it and seem to have mastered it. I envy 'em.
WBC: Hi Tom,
Thanks for holding these chats. Always insightful, educational, and entertaining. Concerning the World Baseball Classic, will it ever become the baseball equivalent to soccer's World Cup? Seems to me that if it is, then the timing has to be different. During spring training? How about right after the World Series? Or would MLB gag on that due to the implication of the WBC really being the World Series?
Tom Boswell: I think there's a limit to how big the WBC will ever be in the U.S. because, as long as MLB is the top league (by far) in the world, then the Series will be IT. However, the WBC was not created to cater to U.S. baseball interest but to appeal to The Rest of the World. And it DOES.
I loved Japan's win three years ago and wore one of their hats, given to me by former-Ambassador-to-the-U.S. Riozo Kato, now Japan's commish, most of that summer! It was HUGE over there.
Having my favorite managerial lunatic _Davey Johnson__ in charge of the U.S. is wonderful. I never want to see him entirely out of baseball. He did a great job with the U.S. team, getting it a bronze in Beijing with a bunch of minor leaguers and Srasburg. One of the last things Bowden said to me, as we were by the cage a few days ago, was, "You KNOW Davey is playing to WIN that thing."
The Nats new hitting coach, Rick Eckstein, who looks like a huge improvement over nice novice Lenny Harris, was suggested to Bowden by Davey. When you come with Davy's stamp of approval, you're usually special.
Glover Park: I'm curious: if it is news now that Bowden is gone that Acta doesn't like him, why was it not news before?
Tom Boswell: It was brought nup several times last year that Acta felt Bowden had burdened him with too many "character" projects. It's okay to work with one or two, like Dukes, if the talent is enormous. But I was talking to one of the Nats last week about last year's clubhouse and he started to list all the people who'd been added to the team in '08 who didn't fit the '07 Manny mold. "Not necessarily bad guys, but not good teammates. Like, how can a veteran lefthanded pitcher like Odalis Perez, not say one word to a rookie like John Lannan ALL YEAR. He doesn't have one word to add, one piece of advice?"
Make a list of who's gone since mid-season last year and, mostly, it's people who aren't missed in the clubhouse. The big problem, however, was the purge of cta's coaches, except St. Claire, after the season. That may have been necessary and/or good. But it was Bowden's decision. And that sure didn't help the relationship. So, one of the major issues came out AFTER last season. If they'd both been on board this year, you'd have heard more about it. Acta is from the Dominican, of course, so at some point we may hear his feelings on what went on down there with Rijo, Baez, etc. He might not have been on the same side of the fence as Jim on that one. Bt I'm not sure. We'll know in time.
Anonymous: Any chance the Nationals will schedule more weekday day games in the future? I tried getting a ticket to the May 5 day game with Houston and it sold out on the first day of single game ticket sales!
Tom Boswell: They've added more day games this year than last. Every city has different patterns of what fans enjoy. DC, ever since '05, has shown that it likes the option of some day games during the week. Escape from work. Forget all the world's problems. Hey, maybe the Nats should have ALL week day games this year...
I suspect that, in '10, you'll see another jump up in day game options.
Tysons Corner, VA: "Or do you look in Acta's eyes and see how much he'd love to put Nick at first base in a lineup with Adam Dunn, Zimmerman, Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge and Josh Willingham. Then cross his fingers. Why, he'd actually have an offense."
Whoa, one too many in the lineup Boz! Unless MLB allows us to play 4 outfielders, we've got a logjam. If Nick plays, Dunn goes to left and that leaves Willingham on the bench. We better move quickly before the Dodgers unload one of their surplus OFs in the wake of Manny's signing.
Tom Boswell: Ha! Maybe that look in his eyes was confusion! (Or in mine.)
Of course, that's part of the point __last year there were times when you could name the Nats good (healthy) hitters on one or two fingers. Now, they have seven good bats. I didn't mention Guzman, who now looks like a .300-hitter (or close) for good with his new eyes. If Hernandez doesn't hit enough at 2nd, then Ronnie Belliard will be plugged in and add a bat. This is probably going to be a lineup that scores roughly as many runs as the Braves and Marlins (who do it entirely with homers). Lineups are often more, or less, than the sum of their parts. Bad lineups, like the '08 Nats, score even less than you'd expect by looking at their individual stats. And good lineups keep ralles going, have big innings, wear out pitchers and see success feed on itself. They end up scoring more than you'd think. Synergy. I suspect the Nats offense, with Johnson looking very healthy (another hgomer yesterday), plus Willingham and Dunn, will be one of the most improved in baseball.
So, it comes back to pitching, as always. So far, and it is REALLY early, the pitching, especially the young starters, have been as good or better than anybody expected. This is the time of year to get excited, whether it's entirely merited or not. (Why can't Nats fans have ONE good month, even if it's March). But there were a lot of promising signs in Viera.
Sec 114, Row E: Bos, is Anderson Hernandez the real deal? Prior to 2008, his major and minor league numbers were pretty unimpressive. But in nearly 900 ABs last year, he hit well in the minors, majors and winter ball.
Tom Boswell: Acta loves his defense, talks him up, says he'll get a full chance because his glove can improve the pitching staff. But you're right, his lifelong numbers say that he can't hit much. Did the 900 abs wear him out or sharpen him up, make him a hitter. he looked good late last season. But what is 81 at bats? I'm dubious and suspect Belliard will have 350 abs. Belliard is about 15 pounds lighter. Bowden had him in after last season and had a heart-to-heart __it the time in your career to get in much better sharp or prepare to say goodbye to the big leagues. Ronnie got the message. Looks much better. Always could turn the DP. Lost range last year. He's wonderful insurance or bench.
If hernandez is the real deal, they really stole one. I'll believe it when I see it.
Richmond, Va.: I never thought it would get any lower or more horrifying than seeing Deion Sanders wearing the burgundy and gold. But if they sign Terrell Owens . . .
Tom Boswell: That would be worse.
And I'm with you on Old Deion. Talk about take-the-money-and-run.
Friendship Heights: I'm sure you saw this last week but for those who did not in the latest Baseball America rankings of the top 100 prospects the Nats had 1 prospect on the list -- Jordan Zimmerman.
With 30 teams and after several years of high and extra picks the Nats should have at least managed to get to 3.3 players on the list.
The Braves and Marlins meanwhile each had 5 players on the list and those players are in addition to a good core of young players each of the franchises already has playing in the bigs.
Was Bowden's greatest skill really as a PR spinmeister because there certainly seems to be a disconnect between what we have been told about this franchises future and what the reality is with regards to talent.
It is one thing to have a lousy minor league system supplementing a loaded Major League team but if you are the Nats your lousy minor league system is being counted on to provide talent upgrades to a lousy big league team.
It feels to me like the team just spent 4 years treading water.
washingtonpost.com: Baseball America: Top 100 Prospects
Tom Boswell: *The Nats minors regressed last year __Detweiler, Marrero (got heavy)__ and that hurt Bowden's cause.
*Evalations of minor leagues fluctuate a lot from year to year. Injuries to a few players can change the pitcure a lot because, as you say, only 3.3-per-team ought to make th Top 100 and get noticed.
*IT ONLY TAKES ONE.Is Jordan Zimmermann one of those "1's"? Fascinating to hear Acta say that he has a nice short-arm delivery, fine command, apparent poise so far and "two average pitches __fastball, breakling ball and a changeup that he needs to work on." Boone, otoh, raved about him. Said he threw 94 with command, was sneaky fast on top of that because of his delivery, had four pitches, looked consistent start after start, "impeccible mechanics", had a tough former-hockey player makeup and was smart/modest. Holy Mike Mussina, batman. I saw him get six straight Tigers. He did look sneaky fast throwing the ball past ordonez in on his hands, then fooled Miguel Cabrera completely with a hard breaking ball that had him lunging. But that's just a few batters in one game.
There's no question that the quality of the young pitching has come up a ton. But is it really first rate or just no longer an embarassment? That's why Strasburg, assuming they take him No. 1, is so important. You only get a No. 1 overall, on average, once every 30 years. Aside from Ovechkin, who was the last Redskins, Wizards, Caps or Nats/Senators player to be the No. 1 overall pick in the sport? Is Ovie the only one in decades? And, perhaps, does that make the point.
May 5 Day Game: There are thousands of seats still available for that game, at many price levels.
Tom Boswell: I'm sure the poster will be glad to hear it. My on-line editor has checked for us and says that's correct.
I should have done an immediate double take at the idea that any Nats game this year, except Opening Day and the Red Sox series, would be a 'tough ticket.'
Ovid, NY: How can you already tell that Eckstein is an improvement?
Tom Boswell: Several players are raving about him __Johnson, Kearns. Zim likes him. He has a nice theory _-especially since it works well for a guy who wasn't a prominent player himself. He studies tons of film of players, going back to the periods in their careers when they hit best. Then he compares it to their current ('08) mechanics. If there's an obvious problem that's cropped up, then he shows the player to see if he wants to work on 'getting back to himself.' I'm not saying that this is fool-proof. Players change __even their physiques. So you're "best" swing for '02 may not be your best for '09. But Eckstein is a demon for work, has that first-to-arrive anything-to-help-ahitter approach we've seen from Terry Crowley for so long. Oh, if he could be as good as the Crow.
Arlington, VA: "Aside from Ovechkin, who was the last Redskins, Wizards, Caps or Nats/Senators player to be the No. 1 overall pick in the sport? Is Ovie the only one in decades? And, perhaps, does that make the point."
So quick to forget Kwame Brown?
Tom Boswell: Perfect! And I was there that day, too.
Maybe we just WANT to forget him.
That was amazing. The Wiz supposedly looked into his background/family. He brought his local minister with him that day when he was introduced to the press. The minister seemed like a nice guy. I asked him about Kwame's family. The stories he told curled my hair about relatives in jail, all sorts of problems. I asked how Kwame had coped with it. He said Kwame had a lot of trust issues with adults, especially adult males. Later, I asked the Wizards, in a 'round about way, about some of this. It was all news to them.
Bowie, Md.: Tom, this is just a factual question. I was in an online discussion this week when someone asked by relievers don't use the wind-up even when the bases are empty. A chatter (of no particular credential as an authority) suggested it was because they don't want to have to warm up for two different deliveries.
Do relievers today warm up either less or quicker than than they did 20 years ago?
Tom Boswell: In some cases, they warm up much less often now. There is a pattern throughout the game to protect the arms of pitchers more. I'm not sure it helps much! Earl Weaver once got Tippy Martinez "up" in the pen 300 times in one season. It drove Jim Palmer crazy who thought it was fireman abuse. Earl thought relievers existed to be worn out. Burn one up, get another one. Just like Tommy Lasorda would incinerate his starters.
Half Street Development: This is the go-to site for the latest info:
Tom Boswell: Any link to jdland is always a good link. Thanks.
Capitol Hill: How well do the Nats have to do for Acta to return in '10? Does he need 75 wins? 81?
Tom Boswell: Acta has a lot of support. His job's not in any trouble. The team considers him one of its core strengths. The Nats have known for a long time that, as I wrote, Bowden was not their ultimate when-we're-really-good GM. Just last week, someone said, "But Manny might be the ultimate manager here. We're going to find out."
Bowie, Md.: In all of the reports about Smiley Gonzalez (?), the one thing that I haven't seen is information about his minor league stats. How has he performed? At what level of ball has he played? Is he a complete bust, or is he still considered a prospect?
Tom Boswell: Smiley won a batting title last year! But at a VERY low level of the minors. So that's not considered to mean much. He was 23, playing against teenagers.
Back from Viera: So I got to see the Nats play a few times last weekend down in Viera. Very cool experience. I particularly liked seeing Jim Bowden's designated parking spot left empty!
Comment: I return home and get an e-mail that single game tickets are on-sale on Tues., March 3. I'm a season ticket holder so I already have my seats and am alerted by e-mail. But, why is there no publicity about the availability of tickets either in the Washington Post/Sports Section or in local news or ComcastSports Net? It's no secret that the economy will affect ticket sales but the Nats should be embarrassed that they're not even trying to sell seats. I can't stand the Orioles but even I was able to find out that fans can get free seats in the month of their birthday at Camden Yards...and that's a team 40-miles up the road. Nats marketing would be funny if it weren't so sad.
Tom Boswell: Interesting.
Before Dunn signed, and before Smiley, I heard through the grapevine that Nats tickets may be down about 20 per cent this year. It'll be ineresting to find out. If I remember correctly, Kasten usually gioves out a numer on season ticket holders just before Opening Day.
O's direction?: Tom -
The Orioles pitching will likely get roughed up a fair amount this year, but seem to have numerous highly-regarded prospects that may be a year away.
But from a position perspective - they have dramtically improved their club. 3 OFs w/CF speed (assuming Pie can get regular playing time), better D w/Itzturiz, nice versitale depth w/Freel, Wiggington and L Scott.
If they can grab a top-tier FA pitcher next year - they could really accelerate the attempt to compete in the AL East.
Early, I know - but who are some of the Grade A pitchers that will be FAs next year?
Tom Boswell: Let me go backwards on this one. Hendrickson and Eaton are cross-your-fingers stop gap starters. But, according to some O's on Sunday, Uehara has been impressive. He may give them a solid pairing with Guthrie. After that, it gets ugly. The O's look like they're about a year behind the Nats in developing young pitching. The Nats got started sooner. Andy got to baltimore later.
The O's look improved, but they are trying to get away with several fairl;y weak bats in a power division __Jones (OPS .711 in '08), Zaun (.699), Izturis (.628) and Pie (.637). Now that's ugly. I think you'll see a lot of Wigginton.
Also, I finally got to see Matt Weiters hit __once. Batting lefty, he sliced a homer to leftfield inside the pole with a stiff wind from right-to-left. Wind aided? Yes. But he didn't even hit it well and it got out by 15 feet. Impressed with his quick hands, short stroke for a 6-foot-5 guy. One at bat, one homer. An omen.
Mike Rizzo: Dear Tom,
C'mon man. This is my audition, right? If I don't screw up this season and show Stan The Man I can handle it, this GM gig is 100-percent signed-sealed-delivered -- mine all mine. N'est ce pas?
Tom Boswell: You got it, dude.
Bottom Line: So does this mean they are going to start winning now?
Tom Boswell: The madness of the last few weeks, both the good (Dunn) and the bad, probably means that the Nats are going to start losing quite a bit less.
With all the nasty stuff in the world these days, I think they'll be exactly the kind of pleasant six-month distraction that many of us with welcome.
Thanks for all the questions. See you next week.
PB: For those of us who couldn't see the game yesterday, the Brothers Zimmm couldn't have filled in a prettier box score. How nice would it be to get 15 years worth of those kind of games?
washingtonpost.com: Mets-Nats Box Score
Tom Boswell: I thought something similar. Z-man and Z-mann.
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