Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nats, baseball hot stove, Caps and more

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, Nov. 19 to take your questions about the Redskins, the Nats, the NFL, the Caps and the latest sports news and his recent columns.

The transcript follows.

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Tom Boswell: Lots of the plate today! Nats rebuild -- or perhaps just "build" -- their front office in a month while "nobody" is watching. This is a major shift. It's Dallas week! The Great 8 returns. So does Jamison. Caps and Wiz looking very exciting. College hoops opens. Lets go!


Nats' Budgets: I wonder if you can say whether Mark Lerner, as a friend or admirer of Ted Leonsis, is more agreeable than Ted Lerner to budgeting at a major league level, and whether that augers well for the Nats' long term future here?

Tom Boswell: There's been steady line of clear progress with the Nats over the last 12 months. The massive front-office additions are justr the latest example.

We'll see how the free agent season goes, but the development of Strasburg, Storen, the No. 1-overall in 2010 and others in the system right now will define the future more than the kind of Jon Garland or Doug Davis they might land as a free agent.

I'm quite a bit more optimistic. Still a long way to go.


El Segundo, Calif.: Tom,

Now that the Redskins are no longer historically awful and are just plain awful, what should we fans be looking for the remainder of the season? It's pretty clear we'll have a new coach, quarterback, and offense next year. Do more loses this season translate to a new GM in January? I need a nugget of hope. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: There were bright spots Sunday, especially from people who were not expected to play such major roles on Week One -- the rebuilt offensive line, Yoder (not Cooley), Betts (not Portis), etc.

However, when I watched the tape again, I was surprised at how badly Campbell played. Miss Moss open deep for a 59-yard touchdown. Very inaccurate all day, throwing behind receivers who had to save him with good catches. Happy feet in the pocket, especially in the first half. He also had a sack-fumble that was lost, but the officials blew a quick whistle. After the game, I thought they had quite decent chance to go to Dallas and upset a Cowboys team with its own internal problems, tension, bad recent play. But they'll have to play better than they did against Denver, which lost because Simms, who hadn't played much in any game since 9/06 because of his spleen injury, looked like -- well, he looked like he hadn't played in three years and was awful. The defense never stopped Orton, always stopped Simms who had a very restricted play list of ultra-cautious stuff.

Also, Eddie Royal got deep by six yards for what should have been a walk-in TD, but Orton overthrew him. So Denver had 269 first-half yards and could have had 79 more, at least.

The Redskins have bucked up, haven't quit on Zorn and probably think they have hit the "reset" button after beating a 6-3 team. I think they'd gotten up off the deck, salvaged some dignity and definitely got their crowd back behind them in the second half. But they need to keep making progress. The level of play vs. Denver won't win many more. But, as I wrote earlier this year, they are not one of the truly bad teams.


Washington, D.C.: Let's be wildly optimistic, and say the Redskins run the table and everyone else who needs to lose does, and the Redskins make the playoffs, where they're beaten in the first round. Are Campbell and Zorn still here next season?

Tom Boswell: Please.

What a town.

However, teams that have been awful do, sometimes have big mid-season improvements. More realistic would be to ask if the Redskins finished 7-9 -- 4-4 from here -- would Zorn or Campbell be back.

I'd say, "No" and "No." But it's amazing how big an impact recent events have on perceptions and how earlier sins get forgotten. Well, except for Marty S who ended 8-3 and still left town.


Siesta Key, Fla.: What differentiates the Nationals from the Tigers of a few years ago? Detroit had one of the worst records in history one year and two years later they made it to the World Series. Did the Tigers have a stronger farm system than the Nats?

Tom Boswell: The Tigers signed BIG free agents three winters in a row -- as they felt their farm system was also producing good young players. Ordonez, Pudge Rodriguez, Rogers, Jones.

Kasten reiterated this week that he only believes in adding major free agents when they are the "last piece of the puzzle," like Maddox. Although he certainly thought that making a major play for Teixeira was essential to credibility. (And why not take the 5% shot that you have a miracle and you get him.)

The Nats are not following the Tiger model. Mike Illich and the Lerners are not a good comparison! See the SI story in September on how the Tigers spent over $100M in budget this year because, in part, they thought it was a civic responsibility in an awful time for Detroit to give people in a suffering town something to bring them pleasure. And they also offered a bunch of $5 tickets with a $5 meal to go with it.


Arlington, Va.: Thom; Another great piece regarding what is now the Nationals "Brain Trust". As a six-year season ticket holder and one of very few I'm really impressed with the way Rizzo has moved this organization since September.

Is it better to side on the idea that Stan K and the Lerners really spent the better part of three years perfecting the venue knowing that the product on the field would be a stinker, or can I be safe in assuming it was the JimBo factor that produced 205 losses in 365 days? Boswell: This National intelligence estimate is decidedly favorable (Washington Post, Nov. 19)

Tom Boswell: The first three years were complex! And I've written about them no end. Bowden's trade record -- given a small budget -- didn't grade out badly at all. He was colorful, a promotor in a town that just got baseball back. He "only" had one scandal (on Collins Avenue). It's easy to demonize after the fact. The Lerners bought into him. And Kasten worked with him ok and didn't do anything to dislodge him. Now, it looks like only Kasten could have taken a stand sooner that Bowden's overall impact on the team was negative.

Rizzo now looks like a major piece of good work. And, since we're handing out praise and blame on big-picture issues, Kasten's No. 1 and No. 2 choice to add to the front office as Bowden's No. 2 (and probable successor at the time that decision was being made), were Roy Clark (from Atlanta) and Rizzo. Now, he has them both, though in reverse order.

The Nats can now put together an extremely "smart room" to make decisions.


Nats Town: It appears that Rizzo now has the front office assembled to his liking. My question is: why did this take so long? Didn't Kasten say that he was compiling a top-notch front office since he got here, or was that lip service, just buying time while he focused on helping the city build the stadium? Blame it on Bowden all you want, but it seems this delay falls on Kasten and the ownership. Forgive me for my cynicism, but why should fans cheer these recent front office hirings?

Tom Boswell: This is an extreme case of better late than never.

The desire to "blame" is astronomical in sports. It goes with the territory. But look back over the long history of all MLB franchises and you'll see that rebuilding periods can take what feel like eons to fans. If the Nats have a fine ballpark, a vastly improved front office, a decent hitting team that is fun to watch, Strasburg and Storen on the way and a chance to improve their pitching staff by 75 or more runs next year -- as they improved the offense this year -- then there's no reason to spend the entire winter beating your head against a wall. Maybe just beat it against the wall on Monday and Friday.

Don't miss Strasburg on TV this Saturday in the Arizona Fall League at 2 p.m.


SW, Washington, D.C.: Not sure if you know the answer but, did the Tigers make any money on that plan this year?

Tom Boswell: They lost money, knew they would and didn't care.

Illich said that the team was a public trust.


Bethesda, Md.: Bos, there were some blown coverages in the secondary, some run-for-your-life-Jason moments by the offensive line, and a (to me) baffling decision to go for it on fourth instead of attempting a very makeable field goal, but I think you'd have to say that the Redskins played with heart and determination, and even a little ferocity. Can they build on this win?

Tom Boswell: You're exactly right about the "heart." That has not gone away. And they have some ferocious hitters on that defense. For a guy who gets "hurt" a lot, Haynesworth is a helluva defensive tackle. He's the reason Carter looks so much better and part of the reason that Orakpo looks like a future star. Or is he a semi-star already, even though he gets spun around in pass coverage sometimes. His tackle -- a violent but clean one (he doesn't know how to do anything on the field that isn't violent) -- KO'd Orton just before halftime.

Zorn hasn't "lost the team." That's pretty amazin'. Snyder and Cerrato took Zorn to one end of a 100,000 acre forest and took the team on the other side of the forest and, somehow, they ended up together. They like him. Everybody likes him. And he's now 25 games less underqualified to be a NFL coach than when he arrived.

I don't want to get excited about Zorn. He might as well wear a jersey than says, "Gone" on the back. But he stuck with the trick field-goal pass play. And it was a dazzler. Sellers lined up on the right, came back all the way across the field behind the line of scrimmage while four other Redskins went out in pass patterns. Then he went deep up the left side. It looked like No. 79 of Denver (Thomas) knew his assignment was to (somehow) cover Sellers. He chased him all the way downfield and made a disgusted gesture like "my fault" after the TD. How can a defensive lineman on a field goal be responsible for anybody in fake-kick pass coverage? Can the NFL be that sophisticated. Lord, I hope not.


Silver Spring, Maryland: Did the Redskins dodge a bullett in not getting either Jay Cutler or Mark Sanchez? Both have looked horrible lately. Jason Campbell may not be the long term solution for the Redskins at quarterback, but at least the Redskins didn't mortgage their future by trading away draft picks for an under-achieving quaterback that they would have been stuck with for a long time.

Tom Boswell: My, how perceptions and opinions change. Early in the season, Sanchez was going to make 'em forget Joe Willie Namath.

This is a good-draft-class for QBs. But it's hard to project. Campbell may be the 15th or 20th best QB in the NFL, but it's not as easy as many think to say, "We can do better." Look at the Redskin QBs since '92. You can do a lot worse, too. Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, old Jeff George, Banks, Ramsey, Matthews, Wuerffel ... arrrgghhh! Yet, in the middle of it, Trent Green came to town and left without anybody guessing the career he'd have.


Claverack, N.Y.: Will this year's free agent market be like last year, where a lot of players went unsigned until very late in the process? Or will a slightly improved and less uncertain economic climate make teams more inclined to be active?

Tom Boswell: Looks like this winter will be a repeat of last winter. The handful of semi-big names get thjeir money fairly early, then everybody else waits until late January, February and gets (relatively speaking) peanuts. Looks like a lot of teams had to cut ticket prices (as the Nats did for '10) and have giveaways. So, baseball did okay on revenue, but the sport is still scared.


L'enfant Terrible: What's your take on Andrew Zimbalist's assessment that MLB payroll differentials account for no more than 30 percent of the variance in win percentages? The Yankees Didn't Buy the World Series (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 15)

Tom Boswell: I haven't read it yet, though I will. But I laughed when I saw the title and who wrote it.


Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Boswell: Great column today on the Nats' management. Your credibility will answer my daughter's questions about my excitement at yesterday's Davy Johnson signing.

On to the Redskins: Do you think Jim Zorn's days as a player are hindering him as a Coach? I do. I feel he's overly solicitous toward the players' feelings. He didn't like being yelled at, so he doesn't yell; he didn't like seeing a starter lose his job to injury - even when subsequently outplayed - so Portis won't; he didn't like being second-guessed in public - even when accurate (poor decisions vice poor play), so he isn't completely open about Campbell's occasional poor play; and so on.

Has this mollycoddling led to a team that can't be directed, and instead must rely solely on its inner motivation for success? To me, that spells mediocrity, which is what I see on the field.

Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: A lot of good points. Stars skip practice. Nobody gets ripped. The team has not been worked hard at any point. How will it's conditioning hold up late in the season. Zorn likes to be liked. Lombardi liked to see people jump when he came into the room. As I have said, since Day 1, Zorn has seemed like one of the most unlikely out-of-type NFL coaches I've ever seen. Right up there with Spurrier. Steve's last year was 5-11. Be interesting if this one ends up about the same -- two wasted years and turn the page, get a new system, flip the roster, start over.

I know Gibbs 2.0 was nothing special, but even the Redskins openly refer back to it now as their frame of reference for what their identity should be -- run and stop the run.


Washington, D.C.: Would sticking with Jason Campbell another year be the best move? The state of the offensive line and the lack of any QB prospects to trade for around the league makes sticking with Campbell look more and more like a done deal.

Tom Boswell: Despite my knocks as "film critic," Campebll had a QB rating of 100.3 last week.

The Redskins have a lot of big problems, starting at the top. That's what this season has made clear.

On the Redskins scale of things, Campbell is not a big problem . But he's not The Solution. That is a problem.


Arlington, Va.: Boz, if you haven't seen the YouTube animated video about Doc Ellis' LSD 'No-No', you need to check it out. The animation alone is worth viewing it. No Mas Presents: Dock Ellis and The LSD No-No by James Blagden (YouTube)

Tom Boswell: Saw it. Funny. Doc claimed it was true.

After Billy Martin being in my face screaming, Doc would rank second on my list of people in baseball who made me think, "Okay, when does he throw the punch." He hit an Oriole in the face with a fastball, shattered his glasses. I wrote that Palmer didn't retaliate sufficiently for what was head-hunting. The next day, Doc said, "A guy could get hurt writing something like that." Luckily, the word "headhunter" was only in the headline -- so, in the time honored tradition of saving your own life -- I pointed out that editors wrote the headline, but that I could tell him where to find the guy. "He's just back from being a Marine in 'Nam," I said, "so maybe cut him some slack." (It was true. The guy who wrote the head was an ex-Marine, just back.)


Sec 114, Row E: Der Bozenheimer - DCRTV has reported that Chico Harlan is out as the Nats beat writer.

True or not? When will the WaPo name us a new beat writer? By the way, Tracee Hamilton has been doing a nice job this fall of getting the Nats News out there. When does she get a slot in the chat schedule? I can say that we've talked with Tracee and definitely have long-term plans for her in the chat-o-sphere, but we're waiting for some things to fall in place first. Don't worry, there will be plenty of Tracee time in the future.

Tom Boswell: Yes, we've been told about Chico. The beat-writer search is on!

You want Tracee on that chat.


Mike Wise vs. Tony K.: "Who Ya Got?"

Tom Boswell: I have succeeded in knowing about it without actually hearing a word of it. I consider this a victory.


Tom Boswell: Wanted to note that I thought the Caps win in NY and the Wiz knocking off the Cavs last night were an indication that, with the Skins loosening their hold, there will be a lot of fun with other teams this winter. Also, Maryland and GU hoops look good and Navy's 8-3 football team has been largely overlooked -- though not for long.

Loved Matt Bradley coming back from his first period fight -- face covered in blood, more cuts than half the Leonard-Duran-Hearns-Hagler fights I covered -- then come back to score the game winner in the last five minutes. Out races two Rangers, gets his shot off just in time.

Ovechkin came back ready to hit people. But where should he be on the power play. The Versus folks seemed mystified that Boudreau wants to try him in front of the net, deflecting, cleating havoc, instead of in his usual (wildly successful) spot on the weak point. (Did I get that hockey term correct? So, on the second power play, after he doesn't score near the net, he's back outside and whistles one in.

Loved to see Jamison back last night. I've always enjoyed watching Earl Boykins -- all 5-foot-5 of him now back from being the highest-paid player in Italy -- to help the Wiz at the point guard spot. Boykins was fun in the fourth last night. But the biggest pleasure was seeing Mike Miller's complete game -- unselfish, energy, great three-point shooter. Flip calls him "The Facilitator."

I don't think the Wiz have had this much talent in 20 years. Does it fit together? Is there enough rebounding? Can Gilbert play the point? What are the right combinations? Where does Foye fit? Can anybody keep me from screaming every time I see Blatche make another wasted-talent mistake.


Washington, D.C.: I am looking at all our teams now and their stars.

Zimmerman has a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove. Ovie is an MVP two years in a row? And I don't follow enough to know what else he has.

Do the Redskins or Wizards have any one player that could really compete at that level? I know they have All-Stars and Pro Bowlers. But who would either team have that could be called the best at their position or in their league?

Tom Boswell: Some of us at the Skins game last Sunday noted that, in a year or so, the Caps -- with several elite players -- the Wiz and the Nats -- Strasburg, Zimmerman, Dunn -- might have higher profile players within their sports than any Redskin. Not Campbell. Haynesworth, Cooley ...

A debate next week perhaps.


Dock Ellis: I know he had a reputation as a headhunter but he didn't really hit many batters -- just 44 in 2,127 innings.

I guess he did come up high and tight but did he really do this more than someone like Bob Gibson?

With the Yankees he only hit four batters in 1976 and one in 1977.

Tom Boswell: Ellis hit Reggie Jackson in the face. But Reggie had been screaming at him after he drilled Mark Belanger. Stuff like, "If you're going to throw at somebody, don't throw at Blade. Throw at me." Some such.

So Ellis did. You could see the outline of Reggie's wire glasses in a black-and-blue circle around his eye.

Gotta go inmterview some well-deserving Navy football players. Cheers until next week.


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