Ask Boswell: The Nats, Latest Sports News, More
Thursday, April 23, 2009; 2:00 PM
Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, April 23 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions about the Nats, the latest sports news and his recent columns.
Washington, D.C.: Should the Natinals trade Nick Johnson well before the trading deadline (as along as he remains off the disabled list)? He's doing great right now, and might fetch some nice prospects.
Tom Boswell: This is the right question. And a tough call. He's 10th in MLB in batting right now (.380) and will seldom be more tradable. Physically, he looks 100%.
But if you trade him, you only have Dunn and Guzman (switch) as LH hitters. The Nats also want to rebound from their bad start and get their fans interested again. And they still have a chance to do it with the starting pitching now looking much better. Just get the bullpen to be decent.
Still, the long-term move is to trade Johnson when you can get peak value, move Dunn to 1st base and put Willingham in LF. It will be one of Rizzo's biggest calls of the season.
Nats Season Tix 09: Well Boz, I think the announced attendance at the rain delayed game that had only about 70 people hanging around to the end gives us a pretty good estimate of the # of season tix the Nats sold this year -- approx. 12k. That's a big drop from 20K. Are you surprised? And if the Nats could do it all over again last year, what would they do differently?
Tom Boswell: Yes, as I noted in my column the other day, I think this is the right way to look at it. As many people wrote, and almost every lifelong baseball person in the Nats organization, told the owners last year, you absolutely cannot put a lousy product on the field in your first year in a new stadium. They took that risk, believed they were an improved team, then got crushed by injuries and a reality check.
The only "silver lining?" Looks like, over the last few months, they've learned their lesson. I would think that these small crowds would underline to them that they will have to go the extra mile to sign Strasburg and (possibly) field a .500 team __or certainly a very interesting one __ in '10. They have payroll room after this season, even with Z'n signed and a No. 1, to go after a couple of more free agents of the Dunn-Beimel type __one quite good, one to fill a need.
D.C.: Will Lastings Milledge ever make it back to the Nationals? They said he was going to AAA to learn CF and Lead Off...He has not played either yet...I think he has like 1 hit...is he done as a National?
Tom Boswell: Looks like he's a corner OF with CF power (ie., not quite enough). I think he still has trade value. That New York Hype machine takes a long time to wear off.
If you're going to move him, do it pretty fast. If you still think he's part of your long-term future, then you trade one of the other "excess" bats and wait for Lastings to pull himself together and play better at AAA.
The main problem perhaps: Lastings loves being a big leaguer more than he enjoys the game itself. If that ever changes, he could be a fine player.
washingtonpost.com: Getting Their Z's May Wake Up Nats (Post, April 22)
Vienna, Va.: Boz,
Why does Acta insist on putting the lowest on base percentage guys at the lead off spot? Milledge, Anderson Hernandez and now Alex Citron?? You could put anyone but them and do better....Why not Nick Johnson until Harris gets back?
Tom Boswell: He has no realistic choice. Nick J is an ideal No. 2 hitter __hit their for the yanks in the Series. Zim-Dunn-Dukes, in some sequence, is the obvious 3-4-5. Kearns/Willingham are also typical No. 6-7 hitters __mediocre average but some power.
When Guzman gets back, he'll be more than good enough, despite his low walks. Funny how a week of watching Alberto Gonzalez bat 8th and make five errors to remind you how nice it is to have a>.300-hitting shortstop who turns the DP well, bounces some throws, only has decent range, but, all in all, is a perfectly reasonable shortstop.
Arlington, Va.: Wonder if I can squeeze a non-Natinals question in here: Sanchez? Or no Sanchez for the Skins?
Tom Boswell: Wilbon and I were talking about this in the CCC parking lot after Tiger's press conference the other day. There we are, standing in the rain, agreeing in very loud voices that no one in their right mind would go after Sanchez __given how much the Skins would have to give for him and that they'd also have given up on Campbell.
Then we both said, "But watch them break their backs trying to do it anyway."
This is all Snyder. He like the guy in high school who desperately wanted to date the prettiest girl in the class __because he was told "She's the prettiest"__ until somebody comes along and tells him, "Psssst, there's a NEW prettiest girl in the class." So, he dumps one and goes after the other.
You say: It can't be that simple.
After 10 years, I'm starting to think that maybe it is that simple.
N. Bethesda, Md.: I know it's early, but does Dunn maybe play into the long-term outlook of this team, "the plan," if you will? He's really changed the offense in this lineup and is looking like he might hit above his low .240ish average. He's still young, showing desperately needed leadership but would the Nats be interested in offering him a contract beyond next year?
Tom Boswell: A lot of people in that clubhouse would love to see him stick around for a long time, starting with Zimmerman. If Jordan Z'nn pans out, and it certainly looks like he will, and the Nats sign Strasburg, then why WOULDN'T Dunn consider an extension at some point? Fans in Cincy got on him from Day One. They expected the moon and couldn't accept his limitations. Nats fans cheer him and say, "Finally, a player would watching." In the OF, he tries, but his arm is mediocre, he gets to base hits in the corner slowly, but he actually tracks the ball off the bat quite well. Every jump he gets on a flyball __if you can call it a "jump" when a 284-pound man is doing it__ is better than almost any jump Milledge got.
Washington, D.C.: Is there any particular reason that John Lannan is cursed with ZERO run support?
Tom Boswell: You used the right word. He's cursed.
Last night he wasn't as sharp as he was in his previous outting, imo. In his last three starts (19 1/3-17-5-5-6-15-2.33) he looked just like he did last year, but maybe a bit older and more confident. He really pitches well in Nats Park. I think he's "undersold" as merely a solid No. 4-5 starter. I think he's better than that. And with normal run support, that fact would jump out in a hurry. My guess is that he has a long career in the middle of the rotation for a winning team. In Washington?
Lannan, Z'nn and (to my surprise) Martis are all worth studying. Not just "watching" idly.
Austin, Tex.: Will Hanrahan ever be a decent closer? Or will he remain a deer in headlights?
Tom Boswell: Some in the Nats organization think that Saul Rivera will go down as another pitching casualty of the World Baseball Classic. After 161 games in two seasons, he was blowing as hard as he could for Puerto Rico. That would be a shame. Hope he gets his mechanics back together.
I mention this because there is a bit of concern that Hanrahan, who threw 95-96 last year and touched 97 is now more like 93-94. Not much. But not good. Did his WBC appearance actually hurt him? It doesn't do anybody any good to try to summon October adrenalin and stuff in the first week of march.
Hanrahan looks like a 7th or 8th inning guy right now, not your long-term answer at closer. But he DOES look like somebody that you could definitely use in a good bullpen. This way, he gets to show whether he's a closer or not.
P.S.: When Beimel comes back, if he is effective as he was before his hip injury, the Nats will almost certainly use a mix-and-match clolser arrangement with Beimel and Hanrahan working the 8th and 9th __or visa versa__ based on the best pitching matchups. Beimel blew through the 3-4-5, 3-4-5-6, and 3-4-5 hitters in the 8th three night in a row last week. The Nats will want to take advanatge of that. In fact, some of the Nats three straight blown saves were all the more galling because Beimel had already DONE the hard work and handed over the BOTTOM of the batting order to the new Nats pitcher in the 9th. But they couldn't handle it.
It's been a long time since I heard somebody use the old line, "Babe Ruth is dead. Throw strikes." But Rizzo was so miffed that he did.
Sec314: Despite the demotion of Lastings Milledge, the Nationals do not seem to have much plate discipline. Jurgens was coming off a game where he threw 120 pitches. Why not take the first pitch a little more often? Seems to me the strategy last night should have been to drive up his pitch count.
Tom Boswell: The Nats are eighth in walks in MLB. Their plate discipline may be their most improved area, as Chico noted recently. Dunn and Johnson set the example. Dukes usually has some patience. The Nats biggest problem has been lousy situational hitting __man on third, one out or man on second, no outs and not getting even one run out of it. Part of that is nerves, due to the 0-7 start that got into everybody's head.
Washington, D.C.: Yankees fan here -- has Wang lost "it"? I mean, KO-ed three times in a row?
Tom Boswell: They're very worried and hope it is "mechanics." But Wang was as close to a one-pitch starter as you'll see __just the power sinker and not much else. If some injury or flaw cuts the effectiveness of that piktcher, it's big trouble. Nice kid. Hope he finds it again. Even if he is a Yankee.
Arlington, Va.: When looking at the severe dropoff in season's ticketholder the blame is most always placed on the lack of product on the field.
But as a 5-year full season's ticketholder I will probably not be renewing next year as much for the quality of the team, but the total lack of customer service that is a big part of your game day experience.
Every year Kasten hires a new concessionaire and promises "it will be better this year." Already this year I, and those I share my seats with, have experienced the same slow, incompetent and down-right surly service you experience in just trying to get food.
That aspect of the ballpark is probably just as important to the casual fan.
Does anyone on S. Capitol St. get it that it is almost like a restaurant. If you get rude service and expensive food you aren't likely to eat there again!
Tom Boswell: What's amazing to me is that Kasten (and Mark Lerner) are fanatical about this sort of "branding" issue. And Kasten was known for doing it well in three sports in Atlanta. I'm sure he'll never say it, but most around him thought that he was Very Unhappy at the pace of progress in this area last year. Is it better? Too soon to tell. If it isn't, he'll fire this bunch, too. Bad customer service drives him nuts. As it should.
Washington, D.C.: Enough with the idiots criticizing George McPhee and Bruce Boudreau for putting together a team incapable of playing playoff hockey. The Caps are playing fine playoff hockey. Varlamov has a 1.00 GAA, yet he is 1-2. Unfortuantely for the Caps, they can't shoot a hockey puck through a wall. The wall, Henrik Lundqvuist, has been great. Bummer.
Tom Boswell: This series will drive you nuts. Varlamov looks like the right move. But it hasn't paid off. Just for natural ability, creativity, etc., the Rangers look like the JV compared to the Caps. But they are working incredibly hard, sacrificing their bodies to block shots. And, as I wrote, there is such a thing as a "hot goalie." When Wilson was Caps coach, he compared it to a baseball hitter who hits everything he sees for a couple of weeks. The ball looks as big as a grapefruit and isn't moving too fast. Yes, he was no doubt humoring me with the analogy. But he was also a baseball fan and thought it was apt. Then, the hot streak can disappear, too. Goalies, like hitters, been to be relaxed, confident, almost blank-brained. When they start thinking and tightening up, all their skills in a tough reflection-dependant activity go to pieces.
The "odds" say the Caps have about a 1-in-12 chance of winning the series, even though they've actually outscored the Rangers by one goal in four games. I think the Caps chances are MUCH better __maybe 1-in-3. Believe me, at this point, that constitutes extreme optimism.
Arlington, Va.: Say the Nats don't find their way over the next few weeks and show no signs of improvement. What kind of timeframe do you give Acta before he is fired?
Tom Boswell: Acta is a good manager. And, in a few years, wherever he's managing then, he will probably be regarded as very good. He is the least of the Nats problems. I've spent my whole life analyzing managerial moves in real team in pennant race or post-season situations, debating them with other writers at the time, then discussing it with managers and players afterward. If there is anything I know how to do, that is it. I spent 9 years arguing game-strategy with Earl Weaver 100 days a year. (Or, more often, shutting my mouth and listening). I'm not going to go through every Acta "move." Every manager trips sometimes. But i promise you that Acta is 10 times as good a manager as his critics are as critics.
If you want to debate Acta's ability to motivate players, discipline players, encourage or teach players __that's a whole different area. And I think he's fine there, too. But as for in-game managing, that is NOT the Nats problem.
Sparky Anderson once told me, "When my relief pitchers are getting everybody out, I look like a genius. When they stink, any move I make is going to be wrong and I look like an idiot."
The bullpen is failing, hence the manager is an idiot.
I'm sure this debate will continue. And I may change my mind. But Acta has known since spring training began that his bullpen would be an adventure. If they patch together even a decent pen, in a month, Manny's IQ qill go up 50 pts.
Washington, D.C.: what are the chances of the Nats signing Steve Strasburg given Scott Boras as agent with the downtown in the economy and in season tickets sold?
Tom Boswell: They current guessing, which will change several more times, is that a deal which amounts to $20-million over 6-years may be the "ballpark." I think something like that makes sense. What didn't make sense was Boras floating/leaking silly $50M numbers. If I had to guess, and that's all it can possibly be right now, I'd say that the Nats will draft Strasburg, sign him after much drama (most of it smoke and mirrors) and that he will be pitching in Nats Park in September.
Washington, D.C.: As part of the 12-game package I was one of a few folks at the Nats on Tuesday, a rare victory! We enjoyed a few beers on the top of the Red porch bar during the rain delay and had fine service from a friendly bartender. We grabbed a Ben's dog from a stand on our way to our seats and had no complaints about that service either. Granted there were no lines because no one was there, but I have no complaints about the ballpark experience.
Tom Boswell: VERY GOOD POINT.
I sometimes wonder how service can be so awful when there are only 15,000 people in the park! How long can the lines be? Two deep? I'll check it out at the next homestand.
Every message board and chat room has its "trolls." That's why I'll try to eyeball this myself as often as possible. Most gripes are legit. Some are just noise from under the bridge
Sterling, Va.: Will Tiger surpass Jack's "major" records?
Tom Boswell: Yes. I've got the over-under on him at 23 majors to Jack's 18.
I'd love to see Anthony Kim make a couple of runs at him. Maybe at the AT&T! We can hope. Kim THINKS that he wants a piece of Tiger head-to-head. Others have thought so, too!
I still want to see it. The only swing on Tour that really reminds me of Tiger __total violence, perfect balance, like the body is made out of steel__ is Kim.
Ottawa Canada: Always a fan of your work. As a Red Sox perpetual hoper can I ask if Youkilis can be a number four hitter and should the Sox sign Jason Bay?
Tom Boswell: Youkilis is off to a great start. The Red Sox better hope he can keep tearing it up at No. 4 because Ortiz looks like he may have gotten old fast. Pitchers are challenging him up and in with mediocre fastball __but in good spots__ and dominating him. Uehara got in his kitchen and just tore him up with 88 m.p.h.
I'm a Bay fan. He's a Fenway hitter, like Lowell. Yes, they should sign him. He's not Manny. Nobody is.
Washington, D.C. : Your Masters Tournament housemate: Boz, do you think Steve Bisciotti is perhaps a little more personally secure than Dan Snyder is? Do you think Dan would have given up the best room in house because he was the last guy to arrive and rules are rules? The way Bisciotti has run the Ravens vs. Snyder's stewardship of the Redskins would seem to argue that's the case.
Tom Boswell: You're not the first to make the point. I kept hoping four years near Gibbs would rub off. I thought it was __some. We'll see. The Snyder Redskins remain a saga, not a short story. Still, I'd like to see some fresh plot twists. At No. 13, I would prefer to see the selection of a large violent person who enjoys knocking others to the ground.
Laurel, Md.: You wrote a couple of weeks ago about what a gamble first round pitchers are. Yet you advocate dropping $20M on Strausberg before he throws a pitch, AND seeing in The Show this season, with minimal or no minor league seasoning? How do you reconcile those positions?
Tom Boswell: PRICE.
As I've listed, a number of No. 1-overall or top-five overall pitchers have had GOOD careers __150-150ish. That's a bargain for $20M/6yrs. And there have been others __Prior, Mulder, J.R. Richard__ who had brilliant but shortened careers. The real problem is that SO MANY of the top-five-overall-pick hitters have turned out to be: A-Rod, Griffey, Winfield, Reggie J, Molitor, Yount, Chipper, etc.
However, the consensus (usually worth very little imo) says that there is a huge gap from Strasburg down to the next-best-choice hitter.
If the Nats, especially Rizzo, who's a fine talent judge, think that they have found a 2,000-career-hit guy and they have to choose between that pick and going after Strasburg, then that's a tough decision. However, if the price is semi-sane and you don't have enormous faith that you've found an exceptional hitter, then I think you grab Strasburg, jump out the window and hope you're on the first floor.
Silver Spring, Md.: I'm not a hardcore baseball fan, but got to last night's game and was very pleased with what I saw, right up until the idiot reliever messed up and walked that guy.
The Nats looked good in the field, and were well worth watching, esp. for an April team.
Tom Boswell: Since the first three games in Florida (outscored 13-26), the Nats have looked exactly how many (including me) thought they would look __or a little better. First impressions are powerful. After 0-3, they have lost 5-6, 3-5, 8-9, then the three-straight-blown-saves and 0-1.
If they play the next 148 games the way they have played the last 11, they will entertain a lot of people and show plenty of improvement. If they have a series as bad as the Marlin abomination once-every-three-weeks __which I doubt__ at least no one will suffer. (Because no one will be watching.)
Capitol Hill, D.C.: Just an alternate viewpoint on the concessions. I attended the game the other night that started only an hour late. The concessions' staff could not have been more helpful including a staffer who overheard a friend commenting that he was ready for a beer guiding us to the nearest open beer stand and hanging out with us until we'd been served.
Tom Boswell: Another view.
Fairfax, Va.: Tom:
How firmly retired is Davey Johnson? If Manny Acta does not survive this season, is there anyone in the Nats organization who would be interested in trying to pry him out of retirement with a fat payday?
Tom Boswell: Davey is retired. His health problems a few years ago were life-threatening. He's doing fine now. But he has a wonderful wife, enjoys life and has more interests that a dozen "average" MLB managers. He's a very interesting smart person and doesn't need to scream at umpires every night to be happy. Baseball took enough bites out of his hide. Be happy for him.
Houston, Tex.: Tom -- hate to make you feel a little old, but the first of two generations that love your work here.
You said "After 10 years, I'm starting to think that maybe it is that simple"
What can happen to change this? Snyder will never hire another Schottenheimer, whose place is so secure that he won't kowtow, so who or how does someone with an actual knowledge of how sports teams work and function as a unit get under Snyder's skin, and make him realize that he does not understand that athletics don't run in the same way as a white collar business?
Tom Boswell: Gosh, that is kind of a problem, isn't it?
The worst owners are dysfunctional as sports executives and also refuse to spend money. Snyder has enormous enthusiasm and WILL spend. So, he's not at the bottom of the pack. He could get lucky! It happens.
Washington, D.C.: Do you see a different Tiger from the last time you interviewed him?
washingtonpost.com: Tiger Eats Up the Down Time (Post, April 21)
Tom Boswell: I see a changing Tiger every time I get to talk with him in private. Some people don't continue to grow and change very much, but Tiger does. Marriaged and kids have been good for him. And, as much as his father's dead has saddened him, it's brought depth to his face that wasn't there before.
He really longs to have people he can just talk to. He gets the "There's Tiger, oh, my God" reaction as much as anybody except an Obama. After we were supposedly finished with our for-print and for-video interviews, he just started asking questions about baseball. It was like he had this utterly planned out day ahead of him but, damn it, he was going to have a few minutes of fun on a pet subject unless some "manager" of his time threw a rope around him.
Washington, D.C.: Just curious, why is Phil Mickelson so elated these days when: 1. He hasn't won a major in years now. 2. He still has 3 majors and has only won 2 of the 4 major events. 3. Instead of closing the majors gap with Tiger, Cabrera has closed the majors gap with Phil (3-2 Phil).
Why doesn't the media mention that Phil hasn't won a major in forever. When Tiger doesn't win ONE major, the media makes it headline news.
Tom Boswell: Woods shot 68 on Sunday, finished sixth and was close to furious.
Mickelson shot 67 on Sunday, finished fifth, "beat" Tiger head-to-head and came off the course as happy as if he'd won something. The two three-foo putts he missed and the ball he hit in the water at 12 __I went down there just to see if he could, just one time, get it over__ didn't seem to bother him too much. At least in public. That was probably the best chance he will ever have in his life to shoot 62 (he had 30 on the front) and have a one-for-the-ages comeback win in a major. I mean, he made a nice run. He has some of the Right Stuff. Just, usually, not enough.
That's it for this week. Sorry there were so many questions I couldn't get to.
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