Ask Boswell: Nats, Orioles, Redskins and More

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 10, 2009 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, September 10 to take your questions about the Nats, Orioles, Redskins, Tiger Woods and the latest sports news and his recent columns.

The transcript follows.

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Boswell Column Archives


Bethesda, Md.: Boz --

I never see Scott Olsen's name mentioned as a possible part of next year's rotation. Before he was shut down for the year, he had some pretty impressive starts. Does he figure into next year at all?

Tom Boswell: I doubt that he'll be back. Probably be non-tendered. But it hasn't been decided. And this is ust my speculation. He only had two starts where his fastball got over 90. So there are serious questions with his soundness, as there were in Florida before the Nats traded for him. The Nats have a ton of room on their payroll to add pitching. So I think they'll look at higher-priced free agents who have less history of arm problems. You'll certainly see two new starters next year. One may be Livan. But I went over a list of 15 possible established starting pitchers with Rizzo last night who will probably be free agents. It's a huge class. People like Looper would be at the bottom of it. Somebody like Randy Wolf in the middle. They were available last winter, signed for one year and are available again. Some of the 'names' have club options for '10, so it's hard to say exactly which one end up on the market. But it will be a ton of them. The list (and I bet there is at least one mistake in here, this is a rough list, but it gives you the idea) includes: Jason Marquis, Looper, Garland (club option), Rich Harden, Livan, Tim Hudson (club option), John Lackey, Cliff Lee, Kevin Milwood, Brett Myers, Vicente Padilla, Brad Penny, Joel Piniero, John Smoltz, Carl Pavano, Jarrod Washburn, Brandon ebb (team option), Todd Wellemeyer, Wolf.

So, in this world, I don't like Olsen's chances, but you never know.


Alexandria, Va.: Throwing a 90-mph baseball at someone's head is literally criminal. What can baseball do to put an end to an unwritten rule that pitchers are supposed to "protect their team" by throwing at the heads of batters?

Tom Boswell: I agree that throwing t the head or, worse, behind the head, is totally outside how the game should be played.

But one of the Nats biggest problem in recent years is that their pitchers, partly ecause so many of them are young, will not protect their own hitters and, just as important, will not defend their "right" to the outside corner. I spoke to one Nats insider who said, "In the last three years, I think we have deliberately hit one batter one time." He considered this a problem, not a complmet. On Tuesday, Pedro Martinez saw Willie Harris pull an outside fastball off the rightfield wall in the 1st. Next time up, his second pitch came inside to Harris who barely moved, semi-saying he wasn't woried about anything. Pedro saw it and threw the next fastball right between the 2's on Harris' back. That set up a wonderful night-long duel between them. In his next at bat, Harris flew out on the 11th pitch. And he eventually stayed on top of the plate and knocked Pedro out of the game with a home run.

But that is how the game has always been played and probably should be played. There are times, not many, but not really rare either, when you drill somebody in the back, the rear end or throw low inside to make him jump out of the way. It's great that the Nats never "head hunt." It's not so great that they give up five homers to the Phils on Tuesday, then two more on Weds and eight for the year so far to Ibanez and noody goes down, nobody spins off the plate. Charlei Manual, nickname "red devil" must be laughing every time his guys round the bases. No team in Philly, New York or Boston would ver play this way. Their fans would mutiny.


Takoma Park, Md.: Now that the Nats have returned to Earth and more resemble the bunglers of Spring, do you think Manager Jim Riggleman will get the axe so that that the Nats can start fresh with a new manager and a new coaching staff? Who are the likely alternatives as Nats manager next year?

Tom Boswell: The Nats have lost 10 of 11 and are now 21-31 under Riggleman versus 26-61 under Acta. The players like him, but I think the Nats should do a very serious search. Rizzo was much closr to a sure thing. The Nats made him their first hire after the lerners got the team. They'd watched him for three years. Rizzo was one of the "hot" guys for a future GM slot when he came to town. Riggleman fits the "interim" profile too well for his own good, probably. However, Kasten believes in hiring GM's for a long, long time. Managers can dsappear a lot faster. So you don't have to be totally sure that Riggleman is the answer before you bring him back. I like him. I haven't made up my mind on this one though.

However, you'll hear a lt of dumb stuff on this search. s son as you hear the names Valentine, Showalter or Davey Johnson, you know the writer/broadcaster has no idea what's going on.


Arlington, Va.: I know the Redskins managed to lose to some awful teams last year (Bengals, Rams, 49ers), but the schedule this year seems favorable. I have to think the Redskins will be favored in the following six games:

Rams @ Detroit

Tampa Bay

Kansas City


@ Oakland

So if they win these six "easy" games (Ok, nothing's easy for the Redskins) and can go 3-3 in the NFC East, they're a 9-7 team. Where am I off track?

Tom Boswell: That's exactly how I see it. (How annoying. You clearly don't need me!)

Every teamn has easy games and hard ones, but I can't remember ateam with as many incredibly easy games as the Redskins. They get teams that were awful last year and aren't much better or teams that have changed coaches and/or quarterbacks (or both) since last year or teams like the Bucs who just fired an offensive coordinator.

How can you get the 0-16 Lions, the two-win Rams and Chiefs and the lousy Raiders in the same year?!

Of course, one reason the NFL is so popular is because it is so profoundly unpredicable __injuries, hot-or-cold QBs, new coaches and system, turnovers-equal-wins. But, with a huge asterisk for injuries, as always, I think Campbell will have a better year than last year, the Skins will go 9-7 and be in the playoff chase down to the last week. Perhaps the Skins biggest problem is that if Campbell has a bad season, he won't be the QB in '10 and if he has a good season he may not be the QB in '10 (last year of contract). When you make your QB unhappy, you put yourself in lose-lose.


Alexandria, Va.: I've had Orioles season seats for many years (split with one other person). I gave up the Nats seats this year. But what about the Orioles? They play in a division where they do not seem to have any shot. And their hot shot players now - Markakis, Jones, Reimold, etc, don't seem like they'll ever get the job done. Markakis isn't a three or four hitter. And they appear to have no adequate pitching. Also, they now compete with the Nats for fans, and so cannot spend as much.

So, should I let the tickets go?

Tom Boswell: If you only want to root for a team with an average chance to win the World Series (1-in-30), then the O's may make you unhappy because the A.L. East is so tough and will probably stay that way for a long time. However, I see no reason the O's can't build a good team. Their attendance has held up decently (20th) and their payroll $77M is middle of the pack. As I wrote in a recent column on the O's, they need to find 2-3 great players from their farm system, not just good players __like Ripken, Murray and Mussina. That's why Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Matt Weiters are so important. Will they be the next Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan and Murray? (Okay, Weiters isn't going to be Murray. But will he become as good an offensive player as Markakis?)

Reimold's just a good player/hiter. Jones really tailed off badly at the plate the last two months. Just when it looked like he might have huge upside. ut he still may. What a wonderful centerfielder. There's more in the minors __Jake Arrieta (power pitcher). The 's are just getting pounded senseless by the A.L. East these days. But the path to being a winning team is feasible. But the path to being a playoff team, much less a Series team is much, much more bleak. The Nats are luckier in that respect. With the Mets down on their luck and their cash (Madoff), the N.L. East is tough, but nothing like the A.L. East. One big issue with the O's is their abilty/willingness to spend for areally significant free agent when the perfect fit comes up. One long-time O's insider said to me, "The Nats will pass us in a hurry, I'm afriad. You saw what happened with Teixeira." Translation: Teixeira was a perfect fit for both teams but even more important to the O's to block the Red Sox or Yanks for a local superstar. But the O's bid was strictly for show. The Nats were serious in the sense that they "set the market." Maybe their chances were less than 10%. But the 's chances were 0%. I doubt the O's will ever buy The Star. The jury is still out on the Nats. Kasten claims that, someday, right player, right time, etc., they would. On that, seeing is believing.


Chantilly, Va.: Rizzo has already started to re-make the farm system by firing Bobby Williams.

Any idea whether or not Rizzo will be given the cash to expand the scouting staff or dip more into the international market?

Tom Boswell: He better be given those resources. The Nats have money for anything they want to do. And they have no excuse not to do it.

The Nats payroll this year was $61.5M. Fourth lowest in baseball. This winter $31.5M falls off the books. (I just worked it out.) With Strasburg, Zim, Dunn dealsadded back in for '10, their payroll oblgations for next year now stand at an incredibly low $40M or slightly more.

Now, you do the math. The median MLB payroll is $80M __teams like Mil, Tor, Balt and Cleveland. The No. 12 payroll __where the Nats should/will be headed ultimatelty is now at $97M.

Is that ENOUGH ROOM to grow? The reason the Nats were the second most profitable team in baseball in '08 (Forbes) is that their payrollwas so low compared to all their revenue streams.

So, the Nats can/will/should get to $65M at least in '10 payroll. That means they are going to have to sign at least $20M/yr in free agents this winter (pitchers). This is their internal plan/hope. Then, over the next 2-3 years, they get up to $80M (average). Eventually, they hope that their young players become good players who must be paid more to keep 'em. That pushes you toward $100M.

The Nats front office, like the fans, want to see whether this plan actually works out in realty or is talk. But there is no reason it shouldn'tbe implimented.


Fairfax, Va.: Is your dismissal of Bobby Valentine as a possible manager for the Nats because you don't think the Lerners would hire him, or because Valentine probably wouldn't come to the Nats?

Tom Boswell: Because I know the Nats don't want him. He can buy a box seat ticket and they won't hire him. He's a "Bowden guy." They respect him. But they don't him. People in baseball have affiliations, connects, a web of relationships. If you're part of the clan that just got ousted, then you aren't part of the next gang that gets hired. It's not good or bad. It's just the way it is. Ever notice how many people from Cincinnati showed up in DC when Bowden was GM?


Western Alexandria, Va.: Gee Bos, wouldn't a better answer to the O's season ticketholder be, "drop the O's tickets, that franchise is anti-D.C. and tried to keep you from having a local team."

Tom Boswell: A lifetime has taught me that if you don't disconnect teams from owners, you're going to make yourself unhapy. The closer you are and the better you know the people involved, the more this truth is born home. Of course, last week's column on Snyder and Redskins focuses on this age-old problem and one we seem to have (raised to a higher power) in Washingtonfor generations.

However, I certainly see your point! I hate the Yankees on general principles. (They try to buy the pennant every year; every year, I hope they don't succeed.) But they're the only team I root against categorically. That doesn't mean I'm not a Jeter fan. There are plenty of times to appreciate the Yankees. However, like at least 90 per cent of baseball fans, I just prefer to wait until it's absolutely unavoidable.

However, if you want to hate the O's because of Angelos, be my guest. Perfectly logical. I just prefer not to.

However, it certainly didn't bother me when the Nats had better records in '05, '06 and '07!


Sec 114, Row E: I'm all for protecting your guys when necessary, and trult believe that pitchers need to back guys off who are diving out over the plate.

But why drill Raul Ibanez for lighting up Nats pitching? By now, shouldn't they know his strengths and weaknesses?

The main problem with the Nats young pitchers is that they are wild in the strike zone....

Tom Boswell: On Ibanez, there comes a point when a guy is so hot and kills you so badly that I think you need to say, "The only pitch he sees for a strike is a fastball low and away. Let him get three singles to the opposite field if he's go great. Everything else is for show. If we walk him, we walk him." Until the guy cools off or your figure something from watching how other teams pitch him, just deal him the way teams pitched Barry Bonds the year after he hit 73 homers. (Yes, I know he still killed 'em.)

No, it's bush to hit a batter just because he's killing you. If he's "diving" into the plate, taking away both halves, then pitch him hard inside. If he "hits himself" while diving, that's his problem. (Ibanez isn't a diver.)


Section 205, Row K: Bos,

Two tough losses to the Phillies, but the Nats seem to be much more competitive over the last six weeks or so. Chase Utley is one of the few second basemen in the game who could have denied Dunn a game-tying hit in the ninth last night.

I feel as if I'm going to see a good baseball game on any given night, which I didn't feel in the early part of this season.

Do you feel the same way?

Tom Boswell: As I've said, I'm going to get back in the season ticket line for next year. There's been progress. There needs to be a lot more. A horrible season is a terrible thing to waste __it's a chance for fans, media, even the Nats own front office, to hold ownership's feet to the fire and say, "You know, losing 102 and 107 games is really, really unacceptable. You get it, right?"

I don't think there is any doubt that the Nats will be more active this winter than they were last winter. And last year they signed Dunn and Beimel and traded for Willingham/Olsen.


Washington, D.C.: Any indication from the Redskins administration that they'll be more transparent with their season ticket holders/waitlist members?

Tom Boswell: Not yet.

One of the Skins problems is that they appear to believe they get more total ticket revenue by mispricing their tickets, then using brokers to move Gold seats. The $99 lower bowl tickets are underpriced (hence the waiting list to get them) but the $500 gold seats are obviously over- priced (they can't sell 'em, so the market has "spoken").

Why not change it? Are the Skins trying to maximize the chances that __for many years__ they continue to satisfy the NFL's sellout rule so they can keep the games on local TV? I don't know. But I know that NOTHING that has to do with the business side of the Skins is an accident. If the tickets are bizarrely priced __huge demand for the $99's and not enough demand to sell the $500's__ then you can bet there's a reason. probably one that benefits the Skins.


Burke, Va.: Who do you have, Boz, for the AL Wild Card? Boston or Texas? What's the difference this year with the Rangers? They usually fold like a lawn chair by now.

I sure hope the curse of Bob Short stays in effect. As boy I grew up watching my Senators and I still have strong feelings about what Short did to this town and baseball.

Tom Boswell: The Rangers have had magic pitching which they didn't expect, like Scott Feldman (6-8 last year to 16-4 after his winlast night) while the Red Sox have has misery pitching (like Dice-K).

The Bob Short curse will win again. Those lawn-chair tendencies haven't disappeared. But I enjoy seeing ex-Nat Marlon Byrd, a great guy, turn into a pretty good CF __17 homers, 76 RBI, .287, nice range (okay, no walks).


Arlington, Va.: Will Teddy ever win a President's Race?

Tom Boswell: He won on Tuesday but was disqualified for cutting the corner illegally in RF. This drove Chico Harlan over the edge. He bought it! For a second, he thoughty he'd seen Teddy win. Now he's bitter. I'm trying to bring him around. Obviously, he will NEVER win until __1) a post-season game, 2) a Series game or 3) an All-Star game.

Well, an All-Star game shouldn't be more than 10-12 years away. I wouldn't wait: whichever come first.


Veterans: Why does Riggleman assume that giving someone like Ian Desmond regular playing time is equivalent to not trying to win?

The Nationals know what they have with Cristian Guzman. Guzman is battling a foot problem. Is it really that bad for the the team to start Desmond?

Tom Boswell: I'd give Ian some time. Guzman already has an $8-million deal for next year. He doesn't need to play every day.

But the Nats are trying to win as many as possible. There comes a point when you are so bad that it is really detrimental to the whole organization to keep being a laughingstock. As Kasten said last month, "I don't ever want the No. 1 overall pick again."

But he's going to get it.

By the way, the Pythagorian win projections for this year just keep getting more and more insane for the Nats.

The Pads have been outscored this year by 140 runs. They "should" be 56-85 by the Bill James formula (and all the other similar formulas get you to 55-86 or 56-85).

But San Diego's run distribution has been incredibly fortuitous. They are 63-78! Hardly even a bad team.

The Nats have been outscored by 140 runs. They "should" be 57-82 by Pythagoras. They are 47-92!

So, San Diego is 63-78, Nats are 47-92 but they are probably identical teams.

And the worst run differential s KC at -145. They're right where they should be in W-L.


Herndon, Va.: Boz,

Do you see Derek Jeter as a first-ballot Hall of Famer?

Tom Boswell: Not if there is something ABOVE the first ballot.


Alexandria, Va.: As the O's finish up their 12th losing season in a row, I thought you should know that the St. Louis Browns never had 12 losing seasons in a row. And they are usually considered to be one of the worst franchises in baseball history. Luckily for the O's, the Pirates are even worse.

Tom Boswell: I always enjoy a good malicious point. Thanks.


Fairfax, Va.: Tom:

Is it true that Adam Dunn's numbers plummet every year in September? Is he in danger of not reaching 40 home runs this year because of that, and would he be relatively useless to us in October if we ever made the playoffs?

Tom Boswell: Dunn's numbers plummet in August AND September (usually). He avoided it in August and had a fine month. And he's keeping his average up[ now by hitting to all fields more. ooks likehe's trying to help the team more than just worry about 40 HR. he had two tough RBI singles off lefty Cliff Lee last night and almost tied the game in the ninth with a line drive (into a game-ending DP when Maxwell lost consciousness at 2nd) on an 0-2 pitch. All good hitting.

I think playing 1st base will keep him a little fresher next year. And his defense is improving. "Adam dove for his first ball the other day," said Zimmerman last night. There was some concern that, at 280 pounds, Dunn actually couldn't topple fast enough to constitute a "dive." Dunn's made at ,least one genuinely good play ranging to his right, after ebing frozen on ball to his right for a couple of weeks, and looks just fine on smashes to his left. He's much better than Nick Johnson on pop ups (Nick was bad, Dunn's been an outfielder for 1,000+ games). And Dunn seems to have good hands on scoops in the dirt. Still very much a work in progress. Adam didn't know that he should have hit Utley with the throw on Tuesday when Chase ran 6 feet inside the base path after he got picked off. But he'll learn.

One of the Nats biggest mistakes __the front office wanted to sign Dunn for four years X $10M in feb. Dunn has said that he prefered more than 2 X $10M. The owners wouldn't go for it. They're afraid of what they think of as long-term commitments. They don't (yet) understand that 4 X $10M for a 29-year-old who has hit 40 homers the last five straight years is not a commitment. It is a steal.


Lufkin, Texas: How about the National League wild card chase? I got to watch the Tulsa Drillers (AA ball club for the Rockies) for the last four years. The Rockies do it right. They develop talent and teach the game. I think the Rockies might even reel in the Dodgers. What say you?

Tom Boswell: The Rox just took the Nats apart with fundamentals, strong defense, good pitching.

The Nats, by the way, are still an atrocious fundamental team. One Oriole coach said, "Sometimes they can hit their way out of all the mistakes they make. We can't do that. We have to play right." Trembley's tough on that stuff and it shows.


New York, N.Y.: Here's how I've reconciled my love for the Redskins with my loathing for the current owner of the team. After reading the two Washington Post articles last week, I went home and told my family to stop buying Redskins merchandise for me for Christmas presents, birthday presents, etc.

I've also decided to stop attending games at FedEx Field. I'll continue to support the team, watch games on TV, wear the jerseys, hats and t-shirts, and use the trash can, but I won't spend any more money that ends up (even partially) in Dan Snyder's pockets. Why reward incompetence and petty behavior?

Tom Boswell: Sounds wise to me.

However, my son REALLY loves the Skins. I think he's going to continue to be a revenue source for decades. However, his reaction to the Redskins tickets stories was typical of 99 per cent of the response I've heard: sickened.

I've never had such near-universal positive reaction to a tough column.


Washington, D.C.: I am a 60-year-old man who has been a Yankees fan my whole life. Having grown up outside New York City, my father took me and my brother to doubleheaders on Sunday afternoons a couple of times a year. Those were the days of Mickey Mantle (my boyhood idol, of course), Yogi Berra, Bill Skowron, Elston Howard, Roger Maris, etc. Yes, we were used to winning, and when the Yanks lost the World Series (such as to the Pirates in 1960 or the Cardinals in '64), it seemed as though something was wrong with the world. I recognize that such a view comes across as arrogant, but that's the way we all truly felt.

What I'm trying to grasp these days are the reasons for the hostility and animosity towards the Yankees today. I can understand your feelings, Mr. Boswell, because you grew up resenting the Yankees' winning ways. But I don't really understand the younger generation joining the "Evil Empire" bandwagon these days. Is it the Yankees' spending habits? Their gloried history? The fact that they're from NYC? Something else?

Tom Boswell: Actually, I had a "new" thought about the Yankees and their fans the other day. Most people spend their lives watching the richest people, businesses, institutions, countries "buy the pot." In one corner of their lives, if they are baseball fans, they can say, "Now, finally, I get to be the one with the money edge. And I'm going to ENJOY it. Anybody who doesn't like it can lump it."

So, I enjoyed the enthusiasm of your post. And the Yankees really do look like they've put together a powerhouse team that's coming together at the right time.

See you all next week.


Fairfax, Va.: Do the Redskins have more of a problem matching players to their schemes than other teams:

l. They get Jason Taylor and try to make him a read & react lineman

2. They obtain Portis and don't use similar blocking techniques. He's never done as much here as in Denver

3. They install a west coast offense with a tall, strong quarterback.

Will Haynesworth be asked to sit back and hold up offensive linemen? Will they then question his effort or ability?

Tom Boswell: Those are all intersting points. (Gibbs did try to adapt some blocking techniques to Portis style.)


Gene Mauch-style Nats Fan: I Researched the phiten titanium "crazy" necklaces (under $30) that our Nats pitchers wear on the mound in red. All info is anecdotal. No scientific research available about the "process".

My research results are definitive: HOOEY!! Baloney! They're just another gimmick with pro athletes receiving compensation for their likeness in the ads.

They should be banned as they don't work on any major league team which has a curly W as a logo at a minimum.

Went to the game Wednesday night, first of the year. Enjoyed the atmosphere with the organ much better than last year. And an awesome National Anthem with fireworks. Talked with the Executive Chef, who showed me where to get the Number One item at the park (the crab roll with fries for $18 is served in a custom-made cardboard BOAT so you can carry it away.) It looked great.

They need to market that baby. After the Little League base running error to the end the game, I came home and threw a buffet table of spare-ribs at my incredulous family.

Tom Boswell: Gene would be proud. Make sure some of the sauce ends up on the wall.

Talking with Rizzo last night, Mauch came up. I once asked Mauch what the worst moment was for a manager. Poor question. But he thought about everything, never answered anything quickly (unlike any other manager/coach who comes to mind). Mauch said, "The day you realize that you care more than they do."


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