Ask Boswell: Nats, Wizards and Orioles

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington, D.C.: I was born long after the Senators left town twice. Were they ever this wonderfully, magnificently awful?

And when this team gets good, as one of the few who has stuck through this, will there be a special place in baseball heaven for me, watching the second man to score the winning run in a Washington-won World Series (the first being Herold "Muddy" Ruel) from one of the white seats from RFK's upper deck?

Tom Boswell: The old Washington Nationals, as they were called then, were never this bad "in living memory." Only one Washington team since 1901 ever had a lower winning percentage than the current .263. That was in '04! (38-113). Exactly a century ago, the Nats/Senators were 42-110.

The current Nats are on pace to go 43-119. If they lose today, they will be on pace to lose 120.1 games. So, I supposed, if you want to be a bit silly, you can say they would be a tenth of a defeat ahead of the '62 Mets pace.

Totally amazing. Because it is sooooo hard to be that bad.

I went through the histroy of every franchise yesterdsay to saee what their worst teams were. I was shocked at how hard it is to lose 110 games -- or the equivalent 105 loses (or .321) in the old 154-game season. The Cubs have never been that bad since they were the White Stockings in 1876. When they were the Chicago Colts and Chicago Orphans (yes, orphans), they were never that bad. In fact, the Cubs have only lost 100 games twice in their history. '62 and '66.

The list of teams that have never had a season as bad as .321 includes the White Sox (since 1901), Indians (1901), Rockies, Marlins, Houston (never even lost 100), Angels, Dodgers (except the Brooklyn Superbas in 1905), Brewers, Yankees, etc.

The New York Highlanders lost 102 in 1912 and changed their name -- to the Yankees. And they've never been as low as .321 (or even close) since then.

New name?


Kensington, Md.: This maybe an ignorant question, but if the Nats don't sign their number one pick, what are his options? Can another club pick him up? Does he have to wait a year? Regardless of the money he's offered, wouldn't he rather play in a larger media market such as New York or L.A.? It seems to me a great player on a bad team won't attract the same endorsement contracts as somebody say, on the Yankees, and endorsements can run into millions. So it might be worth it to turn down more money for the chance at more exposure.

Tom Boswell: As the rules now stand, Strasburg would go back in to the draft next year in '10, just as Aaron Crow, whom the Nats picked but couldn't/didn't sign. It probably ended up costing Crow a year and some money. He was drafted No. 9 by the Nats last year and turned down roughly $3.5 million, demanding $4 million. This year he dropped, though not much, to No. 12 where 'slot" will certainly not be $3.5 million. The Nats just signed their No. 10 pick "below slot" for $1.6 million.

This year-in-limbo is a huge reason why amateur players have much less leverage than most fans realize. Boras may try to dream up a way to 'change the system." But the worst economic times since the '30's with baseball owners scared and attendance seems like a very unlikely time to pull that off.


Washington, D.C.: If the Nats don't sign Strasburg, I understand they would not be able to select him with the compensation pick (No. 2 next year) without his permission. However, would they be able to take him with the No. 1 pick (the one they'll receive for stinking this year). If they could they would have more leverage.

Tom Boswell: If they stay The Worst and don't sign Strasburg, the Nats would have both the No. 1 and No. 2 pick next year.

The Nats have a 9-game "lead" for Last Place over the Orioles and D'backs. It might be 8 1/2 or 9 1/2, I haven't worked it out.


Fair Lakes, Va.: (1)I've read that Buster Posey has the record bonus at $6.2M but Mark Prior has the record contract at $10.5M. What's the breakdown on Prior's contract -- bonus, whatever?

(2) Looking back, whatever happened to previous high draft choices Jack McGeary and Colten Willems? Mark Prior's Contract History (Cot's Contracts)

Washington Nationals: Top 10 Prospects for 2009 (Baseball America)

Tom Boswell: Many don't understand that the size of the potential Strasburg contract depends on many things, including the number of years. Boras has only negotiated one five-year contract for an amateur player -- for Stephen Drew (SS) with Arizona. But he did that deal, in part, with Mike Rizzo, now Nats interim-GM. So, when people (like me) say that a $15-M deal seems in the "range," you have to include other factors. If there is a fifth year -- when a successful player would be approaching free agency and might get a very big deal at arbitration -- then the deal could be for > $20 million.

Lots of other smaller factors. A spot on the 40-man roster from Day 1? A majotr-league contract. A guaranteed call up at a specific point, even if sent back down later. Each has some appeal.

But not as much appeal as guaranteed money!


Sec 114, Row E: Can we at least get some honesty from Rizzo. Storen at 10 was clearly a signability pick - he's already signed for $1.6M - well below slot.

How much of a flop will this draft be when the Nats draft Strasburg and follow up with signability picks - and then fail to sign Strasburg?

Tom Boswell: It looks like Storen was clearly picked for "need" (he's a reliever) and the ability to sign him quickly (because if the Nats don't sign their No. 10 this year, they lose the pick.) But if he'd been taken at No. 20 few would have mentioned it. He's talented. AND the Nats desperately need bullpen help quickly.

However, it's a bit troubling that signing a kid closer with a 3.80 college ERA may give the Nats cover not to go after a much more expensive free agent closer this winter. We'll see.

I think Storen is a decent pick. As I said here a few weeks ago, I would have gone for a high-quality bat at an up-the-middle position is there was one, especially if it turned out to be Grant Green, the USC shortstop. And he did fall. Nothing against Storen who seems like a great kid. But I just think college hitters have a better history of "projecting" than college pitchers (or any pitcher). And the Nats need help up the middle. Then sign a free agent reliever.

I lot of people had Green in the top five to start the season. He had a hand-wrist injury, a slow start, then ended up hitting about .365 but with only a few homers. Still, he went No. 13.

So, in a year or three, we'll see if "my" preferences -- Strasburg and Green -- would have worked out. If they can't sign Strasburg, but Storen turns out to be Chad Cordero II, then I'll be very wrong! Hope Storen works out.


That Bad?: Boz,

Why does it feel like the Nats aren't really as bad as their record indicates? I don't believe they are. I thought the complete game Lannan threw the other night was a glimpse of what the Nats can be. In that game they got good pitching, good hitting, and decent defense. And they won. They should be able to do that more frequently. Is it their mindset now that is a problem?

Tom Boswell: They are bad, because their pitching has been terrible. But the reason their W-L is on record pace is partly bad luck, too. When they hit, they don't pitch. And vica versa. I "reversed" the Nats scoring to see what a different distribution would produce. IOW, I assumed the Nats gave up 12 runs on Opening Day, eight in Game Two, etc, just as they actually did. But I reversed the sequence of the runs they'd scored. IOW, last night's two runs would count as their Opening Day score. Etc.

Done that way, they'd be 19-35-4 with four games tied. So, just say they'd be 20-38. That is probably what you're talking about -- the serious fan's sense that "they aren't this bad. They souldn't be a laughing stock. they shouldn't be on a '62 Mets pace." Yeah, that's probably right. But they deserve to be on a 106-107-loss pace. And that's awful.

However, it's true that the rookie starters, except perhaps Stammen, look like they have potential to be MLB starters. How is Zimmermann's elbow. Nats say it's "nothing." In my years, how often has "nothing" and a skipped start turned out to be "nothing?" Maybe 50-50. Hope he's OK. They should be very careful with these kids. Balester has run off several good starts in a row at AAA. You can always call him up.


Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.: I know everyone likes to bash the Nats these days, but I would like to say some good things.

The ballpark is always clean and well-maintained. The ushers are much friendlier than last year. The concession workers and vendors are also friendlier and faster than last year. They have real, live organ music, which is a must for baseball.

And finally we need to lay off of Clint. I had the opportunity to talk to him at a game. He's very polite and knows baseball and seems to be a real Nats fan. While the on-field product is fetid garbage, the management has gotten many game-day things right.

Tom Boswell: Another county heard from. My wife and I were at the "game" last night with friends and we, generally, thought that service was better, the park brushed up a bit from last year.

And, yes, we left in the bottom of the ninth. (My wife is sane, even if I'm not.) I told her this morning, the Nats tied it up in the bottom of the ninth, but lost in the 12th. She said, "Oh, that's just heartbreaking. Now maybe even I think they should let Manny go."


Washington, D.C.: I think one of the reasons they may have passed on Grant Green is because his agent is Scott Boras.

Tom Boswell: I hadn't checked out his agent. Perhaps a point. But Boras praised the Lerners yesterday, as he should after their $160M opening bid and $188M final bid for Teixeira, which set the market in both cases. Hard to believe he wouldn't come to terms on TWO players. Boras case is that Strasburg is unique. Nobody would say that of Green. So, not the same.


Fairfax, Va.: Is there any way to get Abe Pollin to take down those ridiculous Mystics attendance championship banners from the rafters? They are embarrassing. Banners should only be put up for championships.

Tom Boswell: That was pointed out to me last month. Sometimes you just shake your head. Or, if you're a lifelong Washington sports fan, maybe most of the time you just shake your head.


Rockville, Md.: In your opinion, did MLB make a mistake by awarding the franchise to the Lerners?

Tom Boswell: Late last year, I was close to saying, "Yes." That's when I wrote my column about canceling my season tickets (we've since bought a few games from a friend's package) and calling their "stewardship" of the franchise. Since then, there has been progress -- Teixeira bid, Dunn, Beimel, Zimmerman contract, Willingham/Olsen and going after Strasburg (which they pretty much had to do). If they sign Strasburg, and the correct operating assumption with all drafted players should be that they will, then I think the anti-Lerner voices are going have a harder time making the case.

When an ownership group was coming to town, I always favored "either" of the two major D.C. groups buy certainly leaned after from the Lerners because they were such a mystery. Selig was absolutely dead set on them. Bowie Kuhn vouched for them and he went to high school with Ted lerner. Selig thought that, with Kasten part of their team, that he'd have a long-term multi-genmerational stable rich ownership that, although frugal in bujsiness, would follow Kasten's pattern in Atlanta -- spend, but sensibly.

In my opinion, that wasn't the case for 2 1/2 years, as I've written recently. Has that changed? Has the 102 loses, the awful start this year, internal pressure from his own organization, changed that? I think that's a huge question. If I had toi guess, I'd say the Lerners have learned, and are in the process of learning even more painfully, that they have to "adapt" their business theories to baseball reality. We'll see. Plenmty of room for more progress. That organization is still thinly staffed in some spots.


Crow, USA: By the way, I didn't hear: Where did Crow wind up? I assume someone picked him? KC Brings Crow Home in Round 1 (, June 9)

Tom Boswell: There you go.


Triangle, Va.: I recall Ron Shapiro saying some years ago that he thought Washington didn't have the "culture" to support baseball. I thought that was malarkey, and still do, but in a market that hasn't experienced significant September baseball since 1945, I can see where he's coming from. (It's sort of similar to Cleveland's pre-Jacobs Field drought of 35 or so years.)

My question is, can a single player, such as Strasburg, positively change a franchise's culture? You could argue Tom Seaver did it with the Mets and Mike Schmidt with the Phillies -- and Babe Ruth certainly did it with the Yankees. Any other examples you can think of, and what pressure will there be on Strasburg to change the "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong" mindset of Washington baseball?

Tom Boswell: In '05, Washington was viewed as a big-market town after the blowout year at RFK. Then D.C. went back to mid-market in most people's opinion. Now, the team is so bad that it's hard to tell. Nats are 27th out of 30 in attendance (21,256). But where would they be with an average product. And average, by definition, is .500. I certainly think that with Strasburg as a draw and a .500 team, they'd average at least 25,000. Maybe quite a bit more. Would even one person disagree with that?

Attendance of 25,000 would currently rank them 19th in baseball in attendance. 26,000 would be 17th. And 27,000 would be 15th -- or right in the middle.

For a town which certainly does not have a "culture of baseball," that's more than Ok, in my opinion. Look how long it took the Caps to grow beyond their core hockey-loving fan base.

However, as I wrote in a column last month, the nats certainly shouldn't "lose the town" for 30 years as the4 Caps did by being atrocious for a decade when they first came to town. As Washingtonians, the Lerners should have a clear sense of that. Hockey was a lot more alien than baseball --33-year MLB hiatus or not.


Arlington, Va.: Do you think Crosby can shake off Zetterberg long enough tomorrow night to score a decisive goal against the Wings? Can Fleury do better in the Joe?

Tom Boswell: I was really pulling for Fleury to escape the late Detroit flurries to save that 2-1 win in Game Six. Like everybody, I love Game Sevens in any sport. And I want to see the Red Wings pushed to the limit -- even if it's at home.

Remember, this is similar (ok, sort of) to the Caps coming home for Game Seven vs Pittsburgh and thinking they were in good shape. And we saw what happened -- down 5-0 in second period. That won't happen to Detroit. But I'm looking for as exciting a Game 7 as we thought we'd have at the Phone Booth. Man, Crosby hasn't been scoring on the doorstep like he did vs the Caps, has he? All but one of his goals against the Caps came within three feet of the net!


Washington, D.C.: Right now the only champions in this town are the winners of the National Spelling Bee.

Tom Boswell: Caps are contenders.

Redskins look improved off an 8-8 season that would have been a playoff year if they'd just beaten the lousy Bengals. (Yes, I know, if, if, if.)

The Wiz, when healthy, are a playoff/winning team and will soon have a No. 5 pick (or trade) to improve them.

Nats just drafted a pitcher who, imo, really is special. If he stays healthy, always an issue, I see no reason he won't be as good as Prior and Wood. And that is dazzlingly good. I just don't think that's he's off-the-charts, better-than-anybody-ever great. Gooden and Feller both won 24 games in the majors at 20 and had won 17 in MLB at 19. Assuming he signs, and I do assume that for lots of reasons, the key point is: In the year the Nats got the No. 1-overall, they got to draft one of the most promising pitchers ever. Yes, the risks are high, so the price has to be sane, though record-setting. But net-net the availability of a Strasburg this year could end up being very important.

But one pitcher doesn't "change a franchise." It takes three. Walter Johnson didn't "change" the Nats 100+ years ago. It took him a career before he pitched in a World Series.


DC Ex-Pat: Tom,

Your insight is great, but do the Lerner's really get it? They continue their public silence; we see Kim Jong Il more than Ted.

Actions speak louder than words and if the Post's old slogan is correct, "if you dont get it, you don't get it," then the Lerner's need to get out.

Tom Boswell: The more the Nats lose, the more that point will be repeated.

I'll say this, the Lerners have certainly gotten to experience baseball ownership at its absolute worst. For everybody's sake, I hope they get to experience it at its best. This town just got a hint in '05 of what a summer can be like with a contedning team. It's six months of nightly insanity for the serious fans and lots of pleasure for everybody else, too.


Reston, Va.: Boz - Give us some insight on Manny these days. I've watched some part of nearly every game since they've been here and when I watch this team, I think of the quote from The Natural that " ... losing is a disease ..." Your exercise in reversing the scoring is interesting but purely academic - these guys just don't seem to be able to mentally win games.

In fact, they do just enough to lose night in and night out. I assume this is a combination of youth and leadership but at this point I'm totally over Manny being a "good guy". Since Roy Hobbs doesn't seem to be waiting in the minors, I'd really like to see someone kicking these guys around a bit or just showing a lot more intensity to change their mindset.

Tom Boswell: As I've said before, my favorite managers have almost always been fiery. Or fiery at times. Until I was older than Manny, I still had a bad temper. Got thrown out of games in high school for fighting (rare in a quarterback!), riding an ump (they made me go sit on a hill beside the field). So, while I respect Manny personally, I definitely think it's possible that a dash of hellfire would help these guys get over the hump. Now, it's the hitting coach (Eckstein) who is the one screaming at the homeplate ump ("You guys have no integrity") after a close game ends on a terrible third-strike call.

Unless this team starts winning fast, you're not going to have Manny to kick around for long. They couldn't do anythning, except fire Saint, when everybody was obsessed with building the draft board. But that's over now.

I said here at 7-17 that Manny would be on the hot seat at 14-34 and that almost any young manager with his record would be gone at 21-51. Well, they have to IMPROVE their winning percentage to get to 21-51.

However, when a team trails 2-0 in the bottom of the 9th, then come back after a 130-minute rain delay and battles back to force extra innings, then plays until almost 1 a.m. -- that is not a team that has quit on itself or the manager. In fact, while they may be bad, I think it's impressive that, night-after-night, they play like a "normal" team. If you changed their jerseys and said they were the Royals, Pads, Reds, you'd think they were giving a perfectly good effort. However, the mental mikstakes and poor defense (focus) do reflect on Acta.


Clarksburg, Md.:

Boz, if we get embarrassed, they should too. Move over Natinals, The Oriloes can't spell either (Home Run Derby, June 10)

Tom Boswell: Hadn't seen this.


Nervous Nats Fan: Which happens first - Cubs win the World Series or Nats have an 80 win season? Does the new park have the curse of Clint on it?

Tom Boswell: I thought last year was the Cubs year.

It's a lot harder to win the World Series than it is to win 80. In fact, half the teams do it every year. The Nats, because they have so much room to add salary after this season, have no excuse not to have an 80-win team (or close) in '11. Strasburg and other young pitchers have time to grow. Two winters to trade/sign free agents.

So, I'll say the Nats get there first. Much lower hurdle. The Cubs have an excuse (they're cursed). The Nats don't. (Hmmmm, or could they be cursed, too?)


Mt. Pleasant/Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.: What do you make of Kornheiser's recent comments about Gilbert Arenas?

"Gilbert Arenas is the worst person on Earth. He's a coach killer and a team killer. He's a team killer, Gilbert Arenas. That's why - he got Eddie Jordan fired."

Tom Boswell: Didn't see that.

I've known Jordan (a local product, as they say) forever and really like him. But sometimes the coach/manager takes the fall. There's a lot of competition for worst person on earth. I kinda like Gilbert.


GWU, Washington, D.C.: Where do you think Ovie is watching the playoffs? Or is he like the rest of D.C. and thinks that the season ends when the D.C. team is eliminated?

Tom Boswell: I'm still taping/watching. How do you figure out how to beat the Pens unless you see how the Red Wings do it?


Washington, D.C.: It might be a bit early, but what are you hearing about Bryce Harper? The Nats will have the worst record in the bigs this year (unfortunately), so do you think the kid will make himself eligible for the 2010 draft (by dropping out of high school, getting his G.E.D. and entering JUCO)? If he does, would the Lerners invest a gargantuan sum of money into another generational talent, after ostensibly signing Strasburg? Just 16, Prep Phenom Lands SI Cover (, June 4)

Tom Boswell: If Harper still looks as good as he apparently does now in a year -- or if anybody in high school looks that good -- then my position would be the opposite of this year: Absolutely go after him with the No. 1 because the risk/reward ratio is vastly different.

At No. 1 overall, the riskiest pick is a high school pitcher, then a college pitcher, then a college hitter and the best odds of all are on the high school hitters.

Here are the No. 1 overall HS hitters in the last 40 years: Jeff Burroughs (MVP), Mike Ivie (decent), Danny Goodwin (bust), Harold Baines (2866 hits), Al Chambers, Darryl Strawberry (superstar until 29), Shawon Dunston (2 All-Stars, 1597 hits), Shawn Abner (bust), Griffey, Chipper, A-Roid, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez (22 homers now leads majors), Joe Mauer (!!!!), Delmon Young, Matthew Bush (bust, I think), Justin Upton (.312 at 21) and Tim Beckham (too soon to know.)

Next year, if they have the No. 1 pick and there is a monster high school hitter, grab him. Yes, Boras is Harper's agent. And Harper (16) had the youthful misfortune to mention the word "Cooperstown" in the SI cover story, prompting Rob Dibble to say on air, "Is there a high-school wing in the Hall of Fame?"

See you all next week. Gotta go dodge raindrops at newly-renamed Nats Ark.


Arlington, Va.: Boz,

I always look at the Pythagorean "estimate" of W/L based on runs scored and allowed as a good benchmark for seeing if a team is over or under performing. It is not 100% accurate, but large differences in estimate and result often point to something (bad luck, bad managing, specific problems like a bad closer that turn wins into losses) that is wrong. Thanks to Baseball Reference (love that site!) here is the Nationals line for this year:

15-42, 5th place in NL East Scored 264 runs, Allowed 341 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 22-35

They are 7 wins below "expected" based on this. That seems around right.

I'm sorry to say that after two plus years, I'm beginning to think that Manny may be part of the problem. I think they need someone to pound the fundamentals so they don't give away any of the games they can win. 2009 Washington Nationals Statistics ((Baseball Reference)

Tom Boswell: Yes, I look at that regularly, too. Great site. And it's simply true that "everything changes everything." So, watching a team go 5-24 with a manager who shows no emotion, does make you gradually reevaluate. As I've been doing. One of the great things about writing a column is that you don't have to limit yourself to Having An Opinion (that never changes). You can actually watch what is happening and respond to it. If you cling to every view you ever put in print -- in essence saying that you are always right -- it'll drive you nuts. If you are ever going to have an insight, you have to hold your opiniuons very lightly, because you're going to be wrong a lot.

Outta here.


Springfield, Va.: The U-Va. baseball team's march to Omaha is a great story! Agree? Do you watch the MLB network often? Thanks Tom. Virginia's O'Connor Has Come Full Circle (Washington Post, June 11)

Tom Boswell: U-Va. is a great story. Ryan Z loves it. Doubt Strasburg does. Though it shows that a good team beat him.


Burke, Va.: Hi Boz,

Did you get a chance to attend Randy Johnson's post-game interview after winning his 300th game against the Nats the other evening? I was very impressed with his thoughtful, introspective, and retrospective comments and answers to the Qs posed by the media. He is obviously intelligent, articulate, and has a wry sense of humor. It was one of the most intriguing interviews I have heard given by a sports figure. Too bad it took his 300th win to trigger a willingness to talk.

Tom Boswell: My son and I went to that game and gambler the weather would hold off. A nice memory. Randy is a smart, but very private guy. It's a shame (for us) that he hasn't shown himself very much in his career, though a lot more after he and Schilling got together in Arizona.


Indian Head, Md.: So I stay up late last night to wait out the rain delay and see if the Nats can make an exciting ninth inning comeback (I may be crazy). What I got to see was some senator talking on Cspan. Sorry I missed the most exciting inning of Nats ball this year. What else can go wrong for this franchise before people are so completely turned off that the team moves out of town? D.C. Sports Bog: Nationals Television Fail (Washington Post, June 11)

Tom Boswell: Oh, add that to the list of unique '09 events.

That and the clock on the gigantic scoreboard that is wrong by minutes, unless it is off by hours. There is a "part on order" from Japan I think. I asked Kasten why they didn't just put the clock at midnight, turn it off and let the "W" serve as a logo but not a functioning clock. He said, "That was my idea, too." Of course, he had to add, "but I guess, if you thought of it, too, it must not be as good an idea as I thought." Stan just can't help himself. I enjoy this kind of humor/sarcasm, because he can take it as well as dish it out, and I try to provide this service to him regularly. But you can see how he's managed to rub some the wrong way. You really have to love conversation as combat -- which I do -- to get the best out of him.

The end, I promise.

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