Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nats, Orioles and More

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, Oct. 1 to take your questions about the Redskins, the Nats, the impending MLB playoffs, the Orioles, the NFL and the latest sports news and his recent columns.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives

Boswell Column Archives

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Section 405, nosebleed row: Boz,

A lot has been made in the last couple of weeks about how Redskins fans seem more upset than at any time in recent memory. Please allow me to explain. As a kid watching Riggins, Theismann, the Hogs, Manley, etc, on TV I used to dream about the day that I would eventually have season tickets to RFK. I waited many years before my name came up on the waiting list and I got tickets for FedEx Field. Ever since Snyder has owned the team things have been disastrous on the field, the franchise has been as dysfunctional as a family full of crack heads and the "fan" experience at FedEx is simply atrocious.

I feel like from the moment FedEx comes into view Dan Snyder's hand is in my pocket. You pay $10 for a hamburger and have fewer condiments available than in a minor league ballpark. The escalator was broken for three out of eight home games last season. They're trying to drive tailgating away.

The only recourse is to cancel my tickets but I'm simply too emotionally attached to the team to give them up. And Snyder knows this. I know things are unlikely to change as long as Snyder owns the team and he ain't selling probably in my lifetime. It may not have been fair to the players to boo at the end of the Rams game, but it I assure you it was a spontaneous act reflecting pent up frustration building over many years. All I can say is they should be grateful they played the Lions in Detroit. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: All good points. And there were more along the same lines in Sally jenkins column this morning.

However, at some point, I think that Redskins fans, like Orioles fans over the last dozen years, will simply factor the owner into their thinking as an Eternal Problem that isn't going away, but not obsess over it to the degree that they simply are not able to enjoy the team which actually exists. IOW, fans need to get the booing out of their system. I don't know how long that takes. But, at some point, if you decide to remaina Skins fan, you start judging the product in front of you realistically and cheer or boo based on the real abilities of the players, not the hyped-up marketing view of the owner.

I just hope it doesn't take Snyder as long to step back, get a new GM and let the team start to heal/take a new direction as it did with Angelos who waited a decade before getting Andy MacPhail. The longer you wait to admit you are wrong -- and get a new decision-maker in place who is not you or your buddy (Thrift) -- the harder it is to come back to being a winning team.

One really troubling thing, For many years the O's sold our a 47,000-seat park EVERY NIGHT. Now, they're attendance is 23,000-a-game. Nobody ever thought THAT could happen. But it can. You can kill a gold-mine franchise. But it takles a LOT of time. Fans never want to leave a team they love; they have to be forced.

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Anonymous: Now that the Nats have secured the first draft pick for 2010, how do you expect them to think about the draft, the possible availability of Bryce Harper, and the deja vu of living through the entire Boras drama again? Is Harper less "signable" than Strasburg since he has a more plausible fall-back of staying in school?

If all indications remain that Harper's a potential phenom-level talent with at least equal signability as Strasburg, do they still have the monkey on their back go after him and prove themselves serious franchise-builders all over again?

Tom Boswell: Rizzo feels that he functions with Boras as well as any GM and better than many. They respect each other. But oras is still the toughest.

Te Nats now really have an amazing opportunity -- if they take a hitter in '10. Pitchers, as I keep saying, are much riskier. But hitters, man, do they pan out if you take them with the No. 1 (or 2 or 3) overall pick. Between '87 and '05, the 15 No. 1 picks used on hitters include Chipper, A-Rod, Griffey, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez, Upton, Erstad, Burrell. In all, its about 12 "winners" out of 15.

Is harper the choice? That is far away. Lets see how he developes and handles himself.

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Tom Boswell: I wanted to catch up on a couple of past questions that I liked. First, one from "Tampa, Fla" who references a post of his in a chat here in April.

TAMPA, FLA: Boz, how concerned are you about the awful performances of almost every Nats starting pitcher thus far, particularly since the weak spot was supposed to be the bullpen? Can Lannan/Olsen/Cabrera really be this bad? I never imagined I'd be longing to return to the salad days of Jason Simontacchi and Mike Bacsik.

Tom Boswell: "No, no, no. If you want to see the Nats correctly (imo), just look at how awful that '07 team was. Everybody knew, and said, that they'd lose over 100. Maybe way over. Nobody thought they go 73-89. They probably overachieved as much as any team I've seen except the '89 O's who were playing for higher stakes. Yes, and the '05 Nats were pretty amazin' for five months.

The current team is far better. It's not GOOD. But it's not going to lose 100 games or close to 100 games. Write it down. Come back in September and let me "review" my words!"

Mr. Boswell,

Okay, please review.

Tom Boswell: I'm often wrong. And plan to be wrong many more times!

On the other hand, you'd probably be interested in how Bill James "Pythagorean W-L" formula applies to this. There are other similars methods, but they're all really the same. Also, I'll run through the four main ways that team builders look at their own potential for rapid improvement. This is, perhaps, the one area of Nats Life that is, at least potentially, encouraging.

'05 Record: 81-81. Run differential -44. "Should" have been 77-85. (plus 4 wins)

'06 Record: 71-91. RD -126. Should be 70-92. (plus 1 win).

'07 Record: 73-89. RD -110. Should be 70-92. (plus 3 wins).

So, the Nats were a little lucky in run distribution during those three years (plus 8 wins). Now it's caught up and a little more.

'08 Record 59-102. RD -184. Should be 62-99. (minus 3 wins).

'09 Record 55-103. RD -171. Should be 63-95. (minus 8 games).

So, Pythag says the Nats were a little better than last year and shouldn't quite have lost 100 games -- 'should be' 65-97. I'll believe the actual W-L record, however.

Two points: The Nats really are the worst team in baseball by any measure. It's not a fluke. Swecond, they could get quite a bit better fairly fast. Many teams get 5-to-10 games better with one good off season. Hypothetically, suppose the Nats improve themselves enough that they "should" win seven more games in '10. How? Not hard in theory. Just get better pitching and defense so they allow 70 less runs in '10, just as they improved their offense by 70 runs this year by adding Dunn and Willingham. An improvement of 70 runs will get you 7-8 extra wins. So, then they "should" be 72-90 next year. But what if they get back the "net" three wins that they are currently behind since they've been in DC? They'd be 75-87; many would probably think it was very dramatic improvement. "Why, they are 19-20 games better!" Actually, they'd just be seven games better, plus a reversion toward the mean on their luck.

I doubt there's a single MLB team that doesn't balance its real W-L against its hypothetical W-L using whatever run-differential formula they like best. On the field, you only care about whether you actaully win or lose. But in team building over a period of years, it is ALWAYS fundamental improvement in how many runs you score and how many you allow (duh) that changes your fortunes.

So GMs and managers, in figuring out "are we close," look at four factors: 1) What is our "real" (Pythag) record, so we don't kid ourselves in either direction, 2) Would we be better or worse with "normal" injuries, 3) do we have impact young players arriving soon and 4) how much of a "hole" in our payroll do we have to add better players through free aent signings or accretive trades.

Viewed this way, the Nats really do have unusual potential for improvement -- at least by the standards of a 100-loss team that had the worst pitching in baseball. 1) They were eight games unlucky in '09. 2) They had roughly normal injuries -- Flores, J Zimm, Morgan, Olsen, Stammen, etc. 3) Strasburg and Storen are about as big a potential rookie upgrade as you could get -- although 'seeing is believing.' 4) The Nats have at least a $20-M budget "hole" and more like $25-30M, if they will use it. Even after that spending, that would still allow them to increase payroll another $20M in future years to re-sign their own best young players as they became eligible for free agency.

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Outfield questions: How do you currently view these three players, three guys who could end up being the Nats' corner OF'ers next year?

Willingham? Dukes? Maxwell?

Also, is Bernardina out of the picture now that Tony Plush is here?

Tom Boswell: Willingham should be a lock. Now that he (finally) has enough plate appearances (3.1-per-team-game) to qualify for the league leaders list, he is 19th in the N.L. in OPS at .882. Dunn is No. 7 at .930 and Zimmerman 21st at .876.

This is a very good 3-4-5 core. Few teams have it. Because Dunn and Willingham have such good on-base averages, it also sets up the possibility of getting a lot of RBI from better No. 6-7 hitters. One reason Dukes had so many RBI is because he had sooooo many chances.

Willingham's career OPS is .844. So this year was no fluke. He cooled off late. It's meaningless. Just the normal hot-cold of a slugger. Willingham has destroyed every league he's ever played in -- amazing minor league numbers. Just play him in LF every day and leave him alone.

I'd rank Dukes ahead of Maxwell, but see Max as a fourth-fifth OF next year with Harris. Morse may be a good utility man. He can play 1st, 2nd, 3rd and all F spots. His MLB career average (350 ABs) is .301. He also destroyed the high minors. The Nats got an actual hitter for Langerhans, who had value as a defensive player.

I hope winter ball does Dukes good. He needs to get back to his '08 form. Dukes' numbers the last two years combined show you his potential and limits -- 626 ABs, 21 homers, 101 RBI, .260, 92 walks and 149 K's. His knees probably won't ever let him bat 600 times in a year.

Not once.

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Towson, MD: In 2010, who manages/coaches the...

(1) Nats?

(2) O's?

(3) Redskins?

Tom Boswell: 1. Riggleman. His W-L percentage with the Nats is .408 and the team seems to like him. After they had "effort" issues 10 days ago, he had a meeting a few days ago, asked for a last-week push and they gave it to him the last three games with two 1-run wins and then the walk-off. How do you not ask him back when you consider that Acta's W-L percentage was .299? Both had injuries, but Rig never got any use from Flores, Z'mann.

2. The miserable Orioles are probably going to get Trembley fired if they don't finish with a bit more dignity. What a time for a 13-game losing streak (and counting) just like every other O'slate-season collapse. Andy said three weeks ago that the only reason he was renaming Trembley was that every time the O's had renamed somebody, the team went in the tank. So, they do it the otherway and get as bad a collapse as they've ever had.

I asked an exec on another team, "If the O's end up losing their last 17 and lose 100 games, how can you get up and rehire the manager?" He just shook his head. You can't.

3) Somebody else.

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Herndon, Va.: Boz,

The person I blame the most for the Redskins' woes is Jack Kent Cook. If he had just left the team to his son I could be watching winning football at the Jack instead of grabtastic football at FedEx.

Tom Boswell: John was no dynamo. But he'd probably have been better.

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Havre de Grace, Md.: I've been a big Dave Trembley fan, but even I am starting to wonder if he should be brought back next year. Even with injuries, trading away Sherrill and Huff (which has had an awful impact on Markakis), and shutting down some of their young pitchers, the past few weeks have been brutal. I realize the question is, would anyone else have done better? What is your take on this? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: I'm a Trembley fan. But the O's could probably get somebody good as manager because everybody knows MacPhail is running things now (except $$$ for a big FA which has to go through Peter, of course) and the new young talent is obvious. For example, Mattingly -- yes, I've always like him and thought he'd make a good manager, but then I liked Willie Randolph, too -- was talking about how much they'd improved when the Dodgers were in D.C. I don't think it would bother him at all to manage against the Yanks. But baltimore might not be able to cope with an ex-Yank manager.

Bobby Valentine? I've never seen a guy politic harder for everybody else's job. Man, he must really have been sick of Japan. Now, he's back on ESPN for the playoffs and looking directly over everybody's shoulder. He's always worn out his welcome. "What do we hear from Bobby's PR agency today?" asked one MLB exec sarcastically this week. Knock me over with a feather if he ends up in Washington.

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Fairfax, Va.: Great Article today. It really kicks off a pivotal off season for the Nats. I am of the strong opinion that one of the conditions put on the Lerners was fiscal moderation or even guidance from Mr Selig. if they arent willing to follow the outline you put forth in establishing a payroll level fitting their market size, I think it pretty much tells us what we are in for in the future.

Tom Boswell: This isn't what Bud expected when he -- and he alone -- gave the team to the Lerners, not to the Malek-Kimsey group which had done far more work to get a team here and was a roughly equal choice. But Bud still hopes the future will resemble his expectations more. And it may. He thought the Lerners would be model owners -- conservative financially, but far from a problem. That's still his long-term hope.

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Washington, D.C.: Why is anyone other than the players and coaches worried about the Redskins' season? Since the Super Bowl year of 1991, the Redskins have won 9 or more games just five times. And the top winning season in that span was 10 games. This is an 'average' franchise, nothing more. Fans should enjoy the entertainment value and not get emotionally tied into 'winning'.

Tom Boswell: Average franchises can be very entertaining -- if you realize that's what they are. Remember, average is half-way to good! The Nats are trying to GET to average.

Seriously, the Skins have one of the most manageable skeds I've ever seen. And some teams, like the Bucs, are looking like weaker foes than they were just a month ago. They'll get to 3-3, maybe even 4-2. Get as mad about Snyder as you want, and worry all you want that the Skins will pull apart internally, but this season is FAR from over for the coaches and players. As I wrote after the Lions, they will get better or get worse after this. Since they looked so awful, you'd guess "worse." But 9-7 is still out there as one of the sane possibilities. A jump off the roof juncure may arrive, but good Lord, it's not at 1-2.

Hey, it's football season. Can we have some fun here, too? If you had to ask me who's playing pretty well -- given that all the '08-draft receivers still look semi-useless and Portis has been held down and the O-line is already falling apart -- I'd say JASON CAMPBELL. All things considered, not bad at all. But the two fumbles in the pocket -- untouched -- because of the "slippery ball" worry me a little. How much can his nerves stand in this lunatic city/team?

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Iceplex: Opening night up in Boston. Think Theo can pull a consistent season out of his ... hat.

Tom Boswell: The regular season as been a dud. I think the post-season will be excellent. These are really entertaining teams with lots of glamor. Of course, part of the reason is that this has not been a good year for parity. A lot of rich teams have come through the draw.

You can get me to watch the Yanks, Dodgers, Red Sox, Phils, Angels or Cards any day. I'd put their chances of reaching the Series in that order -- and any of them could do it. Hope the Tigers hang on for detroit and Illich's sake. The Rox have wonderful fundamentals and strong arms. But they had their WS, didn't they?

But to answer your question, Boston has recently gotten excited at the way their pitching has gotten back to health and Ortiz (supposedly done and dsicredited) is one of the top A.L. HR hitters in the second half. They're baaaack.

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Lerners Money Problems?: With commercial real estate tanking and very little current or near term construction, I can't picture the Lerners being in better financial shape than when they first bought the team. That can't help how they approach the Nats.

Tom Boswell: Probably true. But they are viewed as long-term conservative businessmen. If I had to guess who set themselves up most sensibly for this economic downturn, the Lernerrs or Snyder, I'd certainly say the Lerners. Before the new park opened in winter '07, they were already assuming a TERRIBLE recession and commerical RE slump that "won't end until '11 or 12." I wish they knew as much about baseball. Or simply knew how much they don't know. It's very hard -- seriously -- to be such experts in one field and force yourself to say constantly, "I love baseball, but I'm not competent in it, even though I think I should be." Every business -- or walk of life -- SELECTS the people who are suited to it, gifed at it, over a lifetime. VERY few poeple have the luck/talent to be exceptional in more than one area. When everybody says, "Let the baseball people make the decisions," what they mean is, "Let the people who have been selected -- reality tested -- over a career do the job FOR you."

Why on earth is this so hard?

I've covered baseball for 35 years. If I won the mega-millions, I wouldn't dream of trying to run a baseball team. It is a different skill set. Owners should say it over and over: Different skill set.

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Falls Church, Va.: What was there about John Kent Cooke's ownership that inspires nostalgia? Richie Petitbon as coach? Heath Shuler?

Tom Boswell: It doesn't inspire any nostalgia from me.

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Richmond, Va.: What did we do to deserve this level of failure in one city? The Nats, Wiz, Redskins, and throw in the O's for those of us who see the connection.

Tom Boswell: Wiz, did you say Wiz? Flip Sauders has me hypnotized already. Give 'em a chance.

On the other hand, what did we do to deserve the Caps! Their opener is on tap tonight at 7 from Boston. It's not just that they are good, it's that they are exciting, too.

Looking forward to seeing Mike Knuble loosen some teeth in the crease. You can say that in hockey, can't you?

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Washington, D.C. : I know it didn't mean much in the larger scheme of things, but last night Nats Park had a little bit of that crazy fandom thing going on. I think my section was even bouncing. I really, really hope to experience it with a packed house and a contending team - I think it's soon. I have to believe it's soon.

Tom Boswell: The last series against the Mets was what Nats fans deserved. I saw George Will by the batting cage on Tues night. I said, "Tomorrow is for the hard core. But tonight is for the incorrigible."

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Arlington, Va.: Any chance the Nats go after a Bay or Holiday this offseason?

Tom Boswell: No, they aren't in that ballpark yet. That's a "last piece of the puzzle" type signing, like the Braves getting Maddox when he left the Cubs.

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Random Thoughts: How would the Nats be different if Ted Leonsis owned the franchise?

Did you read the SI article or are you familiar with Mike Ilitch of the Detroit Tigers, who, despite losing money in a depressed city, treats his team like a public trust? While some of his moves (Bonderman, Dontrelle) have not worked, plenty has.

Since sports teams lose money but paradoxically gain in value, why don't more owners think like Ilitch?

Tom Boswell: I loved the SI article on Ilitch -- inspiing. Hope we can, perhaps, post a link to it.

With his city in awful shape, he has raised payroll to $115-million, largely out of a sense of civic responsibilty to his home town, and slashed many tickets to $5 with a $5 dinner to go with it. And Detroit has responded with huge attendance -- 33,000. Leyland told his players in spring training (paraphrase): Some of our fans are really digging deep to afford a ticket. "This is not the year not to run out a ground ball."

I was amazed/pleased by the universal discussion of the Tigers dring the two days I was in Detroit. Everybody brings them up, everybody identifies with them and is proud of them. I checked into my hotel room and ordered room service. The Tigers were behind the White Sox 5-0. By the time I finished a burger, they were ahead 12-5 and had 20 hits. The guy who brought up the stuff said, "How are the Tigers doing?" I thought he was going to give me a high five when I told him.

I like the Twins, but I'm really glad the Tigers beat them the last two games.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: I loved my time at the ballpark this season (27 games overall). One comment on the attendance numbers for this past weekend, though; the Atlanta series marked the last three games for which season-ticket holders could exchange their unused tickets. I know I had at least five "freebies" to each game, and I did my best to give them away and put butts in the seats. So perhaps last weekend wasn't great evidence for the continuing patience with the franchise . . .

Tom Boswell: Good point. You saw a lot of out-of-the-running teams with similar crowds last weekend for the same reason. But it still counts as tickets sold. I'm actually surprised that if the Nats had averaged 990 more fans, they'd have jumped up to 20th in attendance, just above the Orioles.

Got to give Baltimore some props for being 20th after 12 straight losing seasons. Attendance -- good or bad -- always has to be measured against the quality of the product on the field. It's not like the NFL where you sell out for years. In MLB, you can see huge changes in attendance patterns in a 2-3 year period as a team gets much better or much worse. There is usually a one-year lag. If that is so, the Nats may have a tough time selling season-tickets this winter.

To some season ticket holders in prime locations -- and maybe otherws as well -- they are now giving away free tickets if you pay part of your downpayment by Nov. 1. In effect, for those fans, they are giving away so many free tickets that -- it you se them all for comparable seats -- you'd be getting a 1/3 price reduction!

Smart? Desperate? Both?

Since I'm once again a (small) part of a season-ticket group -- yes, I think the Lerners are doing better than they were 365 days ago when I'd have given them an "D-" -- I appreciate the extra tickets -- an increase of 50 percent more for the same price.

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washingtonpost.com: Tigertown (Sports Illustrated)

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Raleigh, N.C.: "The person I blame the most for the Redskins' woes is Jack Kent Cook." The other thing to remember is that Dan Snyder was not the winning bidder for the Redskins. The winner (can't remember his name, Zuckermann?) withdrew because the owners did not like him and were not going to approve his purchase.

Tom Boswell: Howard Milstein. After he was out of the picture, I asked him if he could give me an idea of who Snyder and Fred Drasner (the other part owner) were. He told me an anecdote -- about as unflattering to both as any I've heard. I basically gave Snyder several years to prove that Milstein's evaluation of him was wrong. Looks like he was right. If anything, Snyder's personal contact with others just becomes more unbelievable every year. "That's Mr. Snyder to you." "Do not speak to Mr. Snyder unless he speaks to you." "Here is the (50-page) instruction kit on what you will do while Mr. Snyder and his party stay at your hotel."

The day Marty Schottenheimer came back to town (and beat the Redskins), the first thing he said to me when we were alone was, "Is that %$#@^ Drasner still around?" No, he's gone. "At least that's progress."

"I think Dan's ability to judge the people around him may be getting a little less bad," I said.

I was wrong on that one, too.

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Loosen some teeth: Spittin' chicklets! It's in the rules!

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Boz:

It's not just the W-L record that upsets people. It's the way everything has been run by the organization.

Suing people? Cutting back on tailgetting? Please name me one NFL team that hires its assistant's coaches before hiring it's head coach!?

It's decisions like those that are turning long time fans against this organization.

Tom Boswell: Hiring anybody as an offensive or defensive coordinator before you hire the coach is almost beyond belief. Why not take out an ad that says, "Wanted. Weak or inexperienced head coach who will take orders from owner and GM."

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Section 205, Row K: Boz,

When Maxwell homered, I just laughed for 2 or 3 minutes. What else can you do? If child-like faith being rewarded with a fairy-tale ending doesn't make you crack a smile, then your soul is dead.

Tom Boswell: I was guilty of watching the replay several times, including the pies in the face and Riggleman's extremely crisp, poised and genuine goodbye remarks to the fans.

Hey, if I have to watch replays of all these Skins, Nats, O's and Maryland games that are downers, at least I can enjoy the fairy tale ones. Looking forward to taping and watching some Caps! What a godsend to a sporstwriter -- you can now watch all of three games in the time it used to take to watch one game.

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Washington, D.C.: Why so critical of the Nats management in today's article?

I have never understood the philosophy of so many GMs in baseball to overpay for mediocre talent. 3 or 4 year contracts at $8 million for an average shortstop.

Similar deals get made for mediocre first basemen or outfielders.

This is not the way to build a long-term winner.

It guarantees bloated payroll and perpetual mediocrity.

Pay handsomely for the stars and develop the young talent.

The Nats, either intentionally or by accident, have back-to-back No. 1 picks that will help the franchise for possibly 10 - 15 years.

Mediocre infielders and journeyman pitchers may have won them a few more games, but we wouldn't be enjoying Strasburg and maybe Harper in the future.

Tom Boswell: Another point of view.

I would say that a free agent signing like Dunn, for $10m/yr or a trade like Willingham, that added a net $3M to payroll, are examples of exactly the kinds of moves that any team -- including a team focused on "building from within" -- has to do.

Unless you are a dirt-poor franchise, you don't just do one thing -- "draft and develop." When you are the No. 9 metro market in the US, you use ALL tools as they are appropriate. And that can include a huge spend for a perfect piece -- like $188M for Teixeira. The odds of getting him were tiny. But you had to take the shot.

I'm wrong plenty, but I was beating the drum for Randy Wolf for three years last winter. He'd have taken it in a heartbeat because a one-year deal (LA) was all he had on the table. No over-30 non-superstar pitcher turns down big three-year money. It could be the last big payday. Now, the Nats are looking for a pitcher exactly like Randy Wolf -- except his price is higher after a fine year.

The Nats are at least two and probably three such mid-level free agents behind any reasonable multi-tactic building plan. You know, those two or three-year deals run off the books.

You can drive yourself crazy recreating every move that was and wasn't made in the past. Well, if they got him, then they wouldn't have gotten this other guy later, etc.

The point is that the Nats approach just hasn't been appropriate to their market since Day 1. They haven't used all tools and they haven't used them appropriately -- conservatively, with 2-3 year deals to prevent the team from being a fan-repelant disgrace on the field in a city that hasn't had baseball in 33 years.

I've never asked them to burn large piles of money. I've told Ted Lerner, "I just think you should burn some small pilkes of money." It makes a big difference. You can build from within with a 90-loss team that still puts a credible product on the field. By the time you make the jump to "really good," those contracts -- designed to make-us-palable -- are falling off the book. You MORE than get the money back -- immediately -- because your attendance in a new park will be bigger with an entertaining -- and not embarassing -- product.

BUT trying to get from 102 and 10X-loss season back to "good" is a long trip. Over the last two years, the Nats have lost 13 more games than any other franchise. And the next-to-wiorst is Pittsburgh which has absolute given up, striped its roster and infuriated the whole sport.

So, lets say that while I hear your argument sometimes, I disagree with its basic thrust entirely.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hey Bos,

Love your columns and chats- never miss one.

This probably wont make it before the chat ends, but what are your thoughts on the Nats acquiring Brian Roberts from the O's? Would it even be possible, if so, what do you think it would take?

Tom Boswell: O's love Roberts. A core piece. Popular in the town. Peter wants him. Nats won't get him.

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Section 205, Row K: Boz,

Too many outfielders.

I think Willie Harris's time with the team is done: he's essentially Njyer Morgan's doppelganger, and probably too good of a speed/small ball/fielding outfielder to have languishing on our bench. They could get value for him in a trade (presuming he's still under contract). (Willie's my favourite Nat, by the way.)

Dukes is living on borrowed time. But I think the Nats'll give him another shot. You think so?

Tom Boswell: I'm amazed that no other team seems to understand that Harris is a "winning player" on a good team's bench. I thought he'd be traded in mid-season. He has a MLB-average OPS since he came to Washington with solid on-base percenateg and a high ratio of extra-base-hits. He can play five positions, pinch-hit, pinch-run.

He is a poor man's Morgan. He's signed at $1M for next year. The Nats will have a very fine bench if it is too strong to include Harris.

I think Dukes is working hard, learning to smile a bit and needs winter ball. The Nast will cerainly give him another shot, imo. But he's not the huge talent they thought and his fundamentals need considerable improvement -- which he acknowledges.

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Fairfax, Va.: Mr. Boswell, Do you read the reader comments section about your articles?

Tom Boswell: Sometimes. Maybe not when there are 250 or 300 comments! And I sometimes answer the readers in the comments. It's all good. Depends on how much time I have.

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Rockville, Md.: Hey Boz! Love your writing and perspective. I think you'd be great on TV, too. You've got great takes on a lot of hot issues and your voice is sadly missing from the on-air debate. Is it a personal choice not to appear in color or are you just not being asked?

Tom Boswell: I can get enough of me.

Voltaire said, "Always leave the reader wanting more."

I suspect these two-hour chats are pushing the envelope! In fact, I may be crumpling up the envelope of reader patience and chucking it in the trash can.

Anybody who wants more than 130 columns, 50 chats (that are probably 250-to-350 columns in length) and 25-or-so local TV and radio appearances a year (plus some more nationally) probably has too high an opinion of my opinion! But many thanks.

Loved the questions. Haven't even been able to read all of the late-arriving ones yet. And there is one from LAST week that is so original -- worth a whole column as an answer, probably -- that I hope I can remember to answer it next week.

Thanks again. Next week: Everything, all at once, now. Redskins, baseball playoffs, Caps, Wiz, Fridge, etc. Cheers.

_______________________

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