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Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nats, Caps and more

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, Nov. 12 to take your questions about the hiring of Jim Riggleman as Nats manager, baseball free agency, Redskins, the NFL, the Caps and the latest sports news and his recent columns.

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The transcript follows.

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Boswell Column Archives

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm so glad the Nats chose to keep Riggleman as the manager. It may be an unsexy choice, but I think Riggleman earned it after last year.

So with the front office and manager in place, I guess attention can turn to the Hot Stove league. What do you see the Nats doing?

Will they try to set the market and go early or will they wait until February and look for deals again?

Further, do you think they will extend Dunn's contract?

Nice to think that on a rainy cool day that pitchers and catchers report in three months.

Tom Boswell: I'm delighted to see Riggleman get the managing job. He seemed to fit very well with the team in the last 75 games. It's remarkable to improve a team from .299 (26-61) to .440 (33-42), especially with Morgan out, etc. His pitching staff was down to almost nothing in September, yet ended with a seven-game win streak. Just when morale seemed to have drooped, he called a meeting, gave a talk and the team responded. That's impressive.

If the Nats really were a .440 team, that means they are starting '10 from a 71-91 "base," not 59-103. That may be too optimistic. But Rig certainly raised the possibility that they are not as far from significant improvement in '10 and a LOT of improvement in '11 as many thought in mid-'09.

Valentine made a strong late push. He interviews very well. He's really smart. However, just my guess, his history -- similar to Bowden -- of looking out for himself first, always covering his back, feuding with GMs, team execs, etc., when thjings go badly worked against him. How much of that is true, how much just his "rep?" The Nats must have done their due diligence and decided that enough of it was fact-based n ot to make the same Jimbo mistake twice.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

I noted in the Nov. 6 Washington Post your quote, "The Yankees won, but it was despite the Girardi strategy, not because of it," I would refer you to the article on page 6 of the same day's edition by Dave Sheinin who says the opposite. You will note that the strategy of going with a three-man rotation was discussed with the pitchers who were to do it and they approved. What is your view now?

Tom Boswell: My view hasn't changed.

One of the first surprises you get when you're young is to hear veteran columnists (in my case Dave Kindred, who was national sports writer of the year about 7-8-9 times) say that you should look for chances to say, "I was wrong," especially about something that has not moral/ethical dimension, just a sports-bar-debate issuer like pitching stratgey. First, if you really think you're wrong, that's what you should say. But it's also good for credibility.

So, if I'd changed my mind, I'd be glad to say so. But, on this one, I'm right and girardi is wrong, imo. This isn't revealed knowledge on a stone tablet. It's just an opinion. I could be wrong. But I really don't think so. And I base it not on my own reasoning so much as 30 years of talking to the best managers in the game. For the reasons I mentioned in the "Lose the right way" column, I think Girardi set himself up to lose the wrong way.

In Games 1-2-3, CC, A.J. and Andy had an ERA of 4.05. In Games 4-5-6, on short rest, they had an ERA of 7.29. Burnett was KOed as badly as Chad Gauden could have been. Pettitte was mediocre in Game 6 and beatable, but Hideki-Pedro went to Matsui by a 1-round knockout.

So, Dave and i disagree about this one. I think the record in post-season since '99 on pitchers on 3-days vs pitchers on 4-days is now 14-36. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. If it annoys Yankee fans, that's just an extra bonus. They have their title. They don't have to have everybody bow down at their feet and say they won with brilliant managing, team character, etc. They won with lucky managing, good team morale with a core of really fine gujys and a ton of talent that nobody else could afford to buy. Enjoy it. But don't expect everybody to roll over in front of the Yankee parade.

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Washington, D.C., Eyestreet: I wouldn't know Quinton Ganther if he sat next to me on Metro. But I'd like to see him carry the football on Sunday. When the roof caves in, what can you do but sift through the rubble and come up with what is salvageable: Chad Rhinehart? Kareem Moore? Marko Mitchell? How can you justify not playing the subs after the starters have given us 2-6?

Tom Boswell: I hope/assume that Zorn would prefer to play Sunday without Portis so that he can heal propederly but also to let Betts and Cartwright get some work. They are decent backups, especially if you want to pound the ball. They looked interesting in the 2nd half vs Atlanta. Why not take a look at that for another week.

I'd love to see more of Marko Mitchell. All teams in all sports -- or too many of them anyway -- try to justify their previous high draft picks by giving them the benefit of every doubt. Case in point: Thomas and Kelly or Mitchell. I think Mitchell will kick down the door if given the chance.

We'll get to see Dean at TE now. Yes, I look at the game tapes. I've never seen a worse-blocking TE. He misses assignments, whiffs on blocks. How can you entirely miss a 280-pound man? But he can catch the ball. Unless his blocking improves enormously, he has no NFL future. He must know it. If he does, then he does. That's why he spent the bye week working on extra work at blocking. Sure took him a long time to figure it out.

Rhinehart has been a joke with people covering the team. How bad does an offensive lineman have to be to get chosen 96th overall (third round), yet not even suit up for games? O-linemen taken in the top 100 are expected to have careers, not be marginal projects. I've watched him the few times he's gotten to play. He seems to be weak for his size (310 pounds), just gets pushed around, steamrolled. If Joe Bugel can't teach you, who can? Wish him well.

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Just because a manager wins doesn't make him right: Case in point from history: Joe Altobelli. A lot of people thought the Orioles won the World Series in 1983 when they made that great rally in the last week of 1982 to almost catch the Brewers. It wouldn't have mattered who managed that team in '83 and it seems a lot of players on that team felt that way. Isn't that your reading on that team?

Tom Boswell: Yes, I agree. Anybody could have managed the '83 Orioles. And, as EBW would have said, "Anybody did."

The O's had learned everything Weaver could teach them but many were delighted to have his charming personality removed from the dugout. They were vets. They didn't need his butt-chewings. Weaver tensed up in post-season, like LaRussa, and it transmitted to the team. Altobelli didn't. He was alittle like Charlie Manuel, though Charlie has some real intuitions/insights into the game and knows more about hitting -- teaching it, observing weaknesses of opposing hitters -- than Joe probably knew about any phase the game.

Altobelli was a very nice maqn and a perfectly good manager. Everybody enjoyed watching him take that ride. When people talk about the right manager for the right team at the right time, that's what they are talking about. Weaver was a far better manager. But not for '83.

In the long run, I suspect that Acta has a chance to be remembered in 30 years as a manager who left a mark. Maybe not. Just a hunch. While Riggleman, at this stage of his career, probably won't. But Riggleman was clearly a much better manager for the '09 Nats that Acta. Just another thing that makes baseball so interesting.

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Arlington, Va.: Shouldn't the Nats wait at least a couple of years before dipping into the free agent pool again? For a horrible team, you need to grab a few stars, e.g., Dunn, to at least be entertaining. It looks like the Nats need a couple more years to develop some of their farm system talent. At that point, picking free agents would put them in a position to compete for a division. Otherwise it's kind of a waste of money, no?

Tom Boswell: A previous question touched on this and I didn't answer it.

A few months ago, I think the Nats believe they might "strike early" and bid fairly high (relative to a weak FA pricing environment) this winter and get a solid starter for their rotation early in the off-season game.

Now, I sense that they think the economy is still so weak and the cast of decent-but-not-exciting starting pitchers is so large that they may play it as they did last winter when they got Dunn and Beimel at cheap prices. I don't know whether I agree with this or not, but I think that's how it will play out. If they sign anybody before 1/1/10, I'll be surprised. And they may not get serious until 2/10. Just a hunch.

And I doubt they will spend any significant money on proven relievers. They mention that Papelbon, Nathan, Broxton, Street, Fuentes and Franklin, who all had 30-35 or more saves blew saves in the postseason. Relievers are a very unpredictable breed. However, my position, correct or not, is that entering '10 with Mike MacDougal as your closer is ever riskier (crazier) than entering '09 with Hanrahan in that spot. You could be looking for a new closer by mid-May. I'd love to be wrong.

The real test for the Nats is adding two starters to the rotation. I assume Livan Hernandez will be one of them. The group from which the other would come is large. But they have far more than enough money to get a 12-game winner.

The (usual) names: Garland, Looper, Marquis, Padilla, Pavano, Piniero, Myers, Penny. Many more, though for various reasons not usually connected to DC: Pettitte, Harden, Smoltz, Washburn, Wellemeyer.

Forget Lackey and Wolf. Out of their reach. Could have had Wolf for three years for $27M last winter. Some pushed for it within the organization. They didn't do it. Now they wish they had.

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Nats Obsessed: What do you see that Nats doing at short stop next year? Ian Desmond's career OPS and erratic throwing arm don't suggest that he's a lock at SS. Do you see the Nats picking up a free agent, like Adam Everett or Jack Wilson?

Tom Boswell: The free agent group isn't too appealing. Marco Scutaro? Khalil Greene? The Nats have already tried to trade for a quality SS. Hey, everybody's "trying" all the time. That's why they have GM meetings. I suspect the Nats will make a trade for a short stop or second baseman that adds fairly significant payroll; they'll use their only area of surplus -- The Great Fifth Starter Glut. It's kind of a joke that the Nats have so many pitchers who started 10-to-15 games last year and showed that they could probably be 5th starters or, with luck, fourth starters some day. Unfortunately, the Nats need a No. 1 and No. 2 starter! Lannan's a fine No. 3. But there are teams with the opposite problem and, to them, it is painfully real. They have a "top of the rotation" but no credible bottom. So, anybody except Lannan, Strasburg, J Zim and Detwiler can be part of a trade.

So, Guzman plays whichever position you don't fill in the trade -- either second or short stop. He'll make $8 million, so he should smile and do his best. Maybe Ian Desmond starts the year in AAA. Maybe he plays his way into the Opening Day lineup in spring training. Actually, '11 may look clearer than '10. Guzman will be gone. Desmond and perhaps Espinoza will be the young middle-infield combo. (You figure out which plays which position.) But projections are fragile. They're still fun.

At any rate, improving the middle infield, especially defensively, adding two starting pitchers and adding a couple of low-rent relievers: that's pretty close to the Nats plan. Is that the right plan? I'm thinkin' Don't know yet. Send me some of your suggestions. This is going to go on for three months.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What's your take on the "circular searches" the Nats conducted for the GM and manager's jobs that brought them back to where they started? How legitimate was each "search?"

Tom Boswell: They were legit. But there wasn't much out there that knocks your socks off.

This isn't like the NFL where, at the moment, you have "idle" coaches with rings like...oh, you know 'em.

Valentine is as close as you have to that in baseball and Manny A beat out for the Cleveland job and Jim Riggleman beat him in D.C. Think the comparable level NFL coaches could have stopped Holmgren or Gruden from getting a job?

Kasten and Rizzo love to pick brains. It's a good opportunity. I think Valentine really made a strong impression and got himself into the pitcure.

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Washington, D.C. in the 35332: So we have 1 gold glove winner, another guy who probably would have won one if healthy in Morgan. The offence was solid too.

Is it too optimistic for me to think that we get three or four free agent pitchers, two starters and two relievers, and be around .500 next year?

Tom Boswell: Time for Pythagoras and reality check.

Here are the Nats records in their first five years in town and the records they SHOULD have had, based on run differential. And, over time, run differential always tells the truth.

'09: Real 59-103...Pythag 66-96...Minus 7 wins (unlucky).

'08: Real 59-102...Pythag 62-99...Minus 3 wins.

'07: Real 73-89....Pythag 70-92...Plus 3 wins (lucky).

'06: Real 71-91....Pythag 70-92...Plus 1 win

'05: Real 81-81....Pythag 77-85...Plus 4 wins.

So, in five years, it's basically even out = Minus 2 wins, overall. But "luck" has impacted the perception of two Nats teams. In '05, they weren't really a .500 team, a quasi-contender. They were lucky. And we had a ball. If they'd played like a 77-85 all season -- never gotten above .500, just been a decent team, 38-43 at mid-season rather than in 1st place (!), there would have been minimal drama.

And, this year, if they'd played like a 66-96 team all year -- 6-7 games better than '08 -- there would have been a lot less misery and screaming. probably just grumbling that "they aren't getting better fast enough." Acta would probably still be manager.

So, think of the Nats as a 66-96 with a very low '10 payroll and the ability -- but perhaps not the will -- to add $20M in salaries this winter. They should, imo, be able to get back to the level of '05 when they were a 77-85 Pythag team. That requires a lot of improvement. Probably Strasburg up by mid-season, sign two starters and two relievers, trade for a middle-infielder. Then we can talk about .500 or better in '11.

But a lot of "ifs" have to fall in place -- a lot of them -- to get from 103 loses to .500, even in two years and even with as vast a payroll "hole" as the Nats have.

But the off-season is the time for optimism. It's allowed.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Boz -

Do you think Rizzo is staying with Riggleman to keep their options open next season or even two years from now? Do the Nats have any managers in waiting in the minors? Perhaps Ozzie Guillen will be available ...

Tom Boswell: I'd say the Nats think of Rizzo has their long-term GM and he has to prove that he's not. I' say they think of Riggleman as a dignified competent career baseball man with local roots and a good-job-in'09 on his resume who deserves a chance to prove that he can become their manager in the mid-term future.

Rizzo, looking out a couple of years, has to play himself out of his job. Rig, looking out a couple of years, probably has to play himself into the job. I'd say that's as it should be.

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Penn Quarter, Washington, D.C.: How do you expect the Nats to approach the catching situation in the offseason? I don't think they can count on Flores at this point, and I'm not sure they can go through another season of switching off between two backup catchers. Who might they go after?

Tom Boswell: If you want to get a headache, look at the list of FA catchers. Either too old, too expensive to be worth it to a 103-loss team or just lousy. And they all over-rate themselves. For example, I talked to Brian Schneider in Sept with the Mets. He still doesn't think of himself as a veteran backup. I'd say that's definitely what he is. Sorry, Brian.

They better hope Flores is okay. I want to find out more about his status today at the Rig presser and after.

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Fairfax, Va.: Has Jim Zorn's future coaching prospects at any level in the NFL or college, been adversely impacted by his tenure in Washington at the hands of Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato? If so, to what degree?

Tom Boswell: He was QB coach in the NFL before he came here. He could probably still go back to being an NFL QB coach.

I've never seen anybody get so much sympathy because of the way he has been treated. My barber (a Cowboys fan) said, "It's a disgrace for any man to be treated the way the Redskins have treated Zorn. I watched him standing on the sidelines in the Monday night game with nothing to do, not really the coach, but not fired either, and I thought, 'Snyder and Cerrato are just absolutely gutless. Fire the guy and pay him his money or let him coach.'"

I think "gutless" -- in the sense that people in pro sports use it as synonymous with "beneath contempt" -- is the one word that has been left out of the discussion of the Redskins management. I'm a little sorry my barber had to put me in touch with it.

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NE, Washington, D.C.: Boswell - How cool was it to cover the World Series in new Yankees stadium? What was is your favorite World Series from an "overall experience" that you covered have during your career?

Tom Boswell: I love the new Yankee Stadium. And I didn't expect that I would when I first went up in April. It's like watching baseball in high-def, but in real life. I don't know how they did it. Better lights? There is no other ballpark, and I've been to them all, that can touch it right now as a scene for great baseball theater. No mountains, rivers, cityscapes, Green Monsters, ivy or U.S. Capital. But the place is just electric. Love taking the subway out.

My favorites Series, there are too many.

'75: My first. Nice start.

'79-'83: Bias, the team I covered every day. There's nothing like knowing everything that's going on. And that only happens, as a report or a fan, when it's the team you see/follow/study every day.

'85: The first of a bunch of unbelievable upsets, including '88 Dodgers and '90 Reds. The Buddy Biancalana Royals prepared you to "expect" what could happen.

'86: The entire '86 post-season. I saw the Hindu homer in LA. Sat next to Shirley on the Buckner play and called it in advance in a column in the paper the day of the game.

'91: The 1-0 10-inning Game seven was unbelievable, especially the "Phantom DP" on L Smith by Knoblach that saved the Series.

'01: The home runs in New York after 9/11 in Games 4 and 5 may have been the most amazing things I've seen. The tattered flag flying. But the Yanks losing Game 7, and the Big Unit-Schilling combo, made it so emotionally complex. Probably the best Series ever.

'04: Really the ALCS, then the Sox finally winning. That ALCS may have topped any of the Series, especially because it was all p;acked into such a tight time frame. Long game, endings long after midnight, get on the train, play the same night. It was a continuous high.

Now that was too tough a simple question for a chat.

This was a very nice World Series. If there had been a Game seven, it would have been Special. Either way.

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Anonymous: Of course your barber is going to be sympathetic with Zorn. Any barber loves a guy with that haircut.

Tom Boswell: Ha!

I think they even made him cut the "point" on top after they took his play-calling duites away. Or did it just droop out of depression?

My barber has a shaved head. Does that qualify as ironic?

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Burke, Va.: Tom, are the Caps better this season than last? Are they going to go farther in the playoffs this year if they stay healthy?

Tom Boswell: You'd be amazed how hard iot has been to watch Caps games the last five weeks! I'm catching up fast. Man, it's nice to have something to look forward to with winter coming and, like too many Redskins seasons since '91, no January football to anticipate. I'll talk some Caps next week.

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And Speaking of Dunn...: What should the Nats do with Adam Dunn this offseason, given that he is going into the last year of his contract? I don't know if he puts fannies in the seats, but are they thinking trade so as to maximize value?

Tom Boswell: Once the market place for salaries is established this winter by free agency, I think you'll see the Nats try to extend Dunn. I hope before Opening Day, just as they signed Zimmerman just before the first pitch this season.

Now that was an excellent signing. It apparently helped him relax and have the kind of 33-106-.292 season everybody always hoped he'd establish. Having Dunn for protection was a major factor and a key reason they really need to extend Dunn. I don't think this is an option. It's a must. The sooner they do it -- no, probably not this winter -- but early next season, the less they'll pay. Because I think he'll turn out to be an adeqaute first baseman rather than a liability leftfielder. That's about $3-4-5M/yr differnce in price. No, he'll never be half of Teixeira.

Great for Z'man to have the 30-game hit streak, the first All-Star appearance and the GG at third in the same season. It came early in his career, but not instantly. He had one year of semi-struggle in '08. I think he's com pletely ready for a leadership role now and with Strasburg, Storen, the '10 No. 1 overall pick on the way, it should be his clubhouse, along with Dunn, and I suspect Morgan because his personality is so positive and strong and his work-ethic so good. Livan and Lannan can help with leadership. A quality FA starter would also add to the Leadership Quotient in the room. And to get to .500, you need that, too.

That's it for this week. Got to go to a press conference where I suspect a lot of folks will be smiling about Riggleman being resigned, Z'man getting the GG and, though less noted, all the signings the Nats have done this offseason to strengthen what was a very thin front office structure. It's overdue. But (much) better late than never.

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A gift: Boz, a little video gift. I remember you mentioning the minor league baseball coach who had that on-filed meltdown a few years back, capped off with that beautiful sight of lobbing the rosin bag over the mound towards home plate. We now have the minor league hockey version. Anything that wasn't nailed down was thrown on the ice.

Enjoy!

washingtonpost.com: Raw Video: Hockey Coach Lashes Out Over Ref Call (YouTube)

Tom Boswell: Thought I'd share.

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