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

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 24, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Tuesday, Nov. 24 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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Strasburg, Va.: Stephen Strasburg: Reason to be concerned (getting injured multiple times in instructional league play)? Or, no biggie?

Tom Boswell: The Nats dodged half of a bullet with the diagnosis that Stephen Strasburg "only" has a subluxation of the patella. But only half. This is a bad injury and, imo, until he is throwing at his pre-injury level it is perfectly reasonable to wonder if he has an injury that can simply be "fixed" by proper rehad exercises between now and spring training. I'd say he probably will come all the way back, but I'd add that I'll "believe it when I see it."

If this sounds bleak -- certainly more severe than the Nats are making it sound -- it's because there is only one sports injury on which I am (almost) an expert: patellar dislocations and subluxations. I had a complete (grotesque) dislocation when I was about Strasburg's age. My son had a dislocation 10 years ago. Dislocation means the kneecap flips (or is torqued) all the way out of its socket and the ligaments around it are injured or badly torn. A subluxation means that the kneecap, which should slide (up and down) in a groove called the trochlea at the bottom of the thigh bone, is pushed sideways so it comes partially out of the groove.

Big difference.

With a subluxation, everything around the kneecap is, presumably, not ripped and stretched all to hell. So you can, in theory, tighten it all back up with rehab exercises. But I promise you that Strasburg must have been scared to death when it happened -- stepping in a hole in the outfield while running, apparently. "That "pop" is quite memorable.

Over the years, there has been one huge change in how patella injuries are treated. It was known as the "Elgin Baylor injury" when I had it because he came back to the NBA with less elevation. Back then, they told you to keep all weight off the leg for many weeks -- like 4-5-6 weeks. So, you kept your leg propped up and immobile, or went around on crutches, and you lost all strength in it. Now, they put a brace on it so it can't flip out again and they tell you to put weight on it immediately. I couldn't believe it. That one change in treatment probably would have gotten me back to a fairly functional knee several years sooner.

So, I'm sure Strasburg was "off the knee" for very little time, didn't lose the muscle strength around the knee and is probably doing exercises this minute. He better be. It's those first few days and weeks that (now) make all the difference in how fast and how completely you "come back" and how stable your knee is.

Every patella injury, I assume, is different from every other similar injury, depending on the degree of damage. I suspect that only the orthopedists who have seen Strasburg know exactly how much damage he did, how close he came to a full dislocation.

I was going to tell you about my injury, but after I saw it written out, it was so gross and scary -- I had to put the knee cap back in place twice myself because the guys in our outdoor pick-up basketball game with wouldn't even look at it, much less touch it -- I decided you really didn't want to hear about it.

So, Strasburg is very lucky it's a sublux, not a dislocation. And he's very lucky that they now know how to treat it -- keep weight on it, not off it, and start exercises immediately, not 6 weeks later.


El Segundo, Calif.: Tom,

Is Jason Campbell a starting quarterback in the NFL next year? It's pretty clear he won't be with the Redskins and he's surely not a West Coast QB. He needs to drop back seven steps and let it fly. He largely makes good decisions and minimizes the interceptions.

Unfortunately he's not accurate enough which isn't likely to change and he can fumble in a crowded pocket. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: I generally agree with that. He's in the wrong offense. I wrote a column about that in September '08. He will never be maximized in a West Coast offense where everything is supposed to be quick, quick, quicker. Nothing about Campbell is quick -- not his drop, his feet or his big delivery. He's smart and reads well before the snap, but he's nothing special at reading quickly as he drops back.

But he's got more than enough talent, character and guts to be an NFL QB, imo. Not an All-Pro. But a Mark Rypien or Doug Williams. That's decent praise. Better than Jay Schroeder (who got to an NFC championship game).

He does not have the gift of pulling out games late with heroic performances and that is essential if you are going to be a special NFL QB. Could he in a different offense? Don't know. But I bet he will get a chance to find out in some other city. reporters on the Cowboy beat, who've seem him stack up well against Tony Romo head-to-head, are surprised that he gets so much flack in DC. Of course, they see in a blink -- since they are half-way across the country and not blind by burgundy-and-gold -- that he's in a system that is opposite to his talents. In the press box Randy Galloway said, "Poor guy, how could he be in a worse system for him? What genius put that together? And he's got no line."


Washington, D.C.: Redskins defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said, "I think if you hold any team in the NFL to seven, you should win the game."

That's what happened; Dallas held the Redskins to seven (under seven, actually) and they won. Dallas, that is, just as Jerry Gray said they should.

Am I missing something?

Tom Boswell: Thanks for that question. For the chat, I did the research.

Since 1937 when the Redskins came to Washington, they only lost ONE GAME inwhich they allowed seven points or less!! (That was a 0-3 loss to the Jets in '93 when Richie Petitbon's only team was headed to 3-13.)

Now it's two.

Since '37, the Redskins have played 161 games inwhich they held their foe to less than 10 points. Their record before Sunday was 4-153-4. The four ties were 7-7 ('97), 7-7 ('71), 0-0 ('39) and 6-6 ('38). The other three loses were in games where they gave up nine points. All three defeats were 9-7 in '01, '00 and '39.

So, Sunday's loss was, in that respect, just as awful as it seemed.

But it was the missed FGs that killed them. SS was 13-for-13 before the misses from 39 and 50. The Skins offense was lousy at the start of the season when it was healthy -- remember they finished at or near the bottom of every offensive stat in '08. Now, it's been blown up. Yet they outgained Dallas and should have won.

A very good defense played it's best. A very bad offense played close to its best. The special teams -- ex-SS -- did OK. That's a very tough 7-6 defeat.


Arlington, Va.: Tom -- I think it's a mistake for Arenas to be the starting point guard. Although he has the physical skills, he does not have the right "mentality" for the position. He is better placed at the two position, where his shooting and ball-handling skills can be more effective. I would start Foye or Boykins at point guard, with instructions to distribute the ball per the playbook. I suspect that Butler and Jamison would prefer either of them, or even Miller, at the point. This one move could turn around the season.

Tom Boswell: This worries the Wiz. How long do they give Arenas to "adjust" to playing the point? He's shooting a bad percentage from the floor. He's clearly still uncomfortable in the new system (who wouldn't be?) With his quotes the other day, he appears to be implying that Butler isn't popular with teammates or unselfish enough. Bad stuff when you're 3-9.

The Wiz have all these truly gifted offensive players -- Arenas, Jamison, Butler, Miller (who can really play the whole game) and Foye. That's five guys who have had at least one season where they averaged 18 ppg. They want to have four of them on the court together as much as possible. But that means a lot of Gil at point guard.

Right now, at 3-9, they are a mess, except for the Cavs game. It has to drive them crazy. For now, they are another team that defines "less than the sum of its parts."

But if Gil turned out to be a good point guard as he learns Flip's system and also spends some time at the shooting guard, they could have dynamite offensive lineups on the floor for 48 minutes a night. Boykins and Arenas have a good backcourt chemistry history from their time as Warriors.

Could they rebound? Could they play enough defense? THOSE were supposed to be the big problems. No one dreamed that they couldn't score.

Give it time. (There is no other choice.)


Washington, D.C.: Chances that Vlad Guerrero signs with the Nats?

Tom Boswell: Please, Santa, no, no, no. Bad wheels. Aging star on a team that would have to improve by 22 wins to get to .500 -- which happens less than 4 per cent of the time. Poison combination. The Nats have plenty of OF in house to find one who can play -- Dukes, Maxwell, Bernadina.


Chantilly, Va.: Bos: Possible BCS championship scenario for you to give me your thoughts on.

Florida narrowly beats Alabama in SEC championship game. Texas narrowly loses in Big 12 Championship game.

Who would you like to see Florida play in BCS championship game? In this scenario you'd have a ton of choices: Texas and Alabama should still be in the mix, along with still-undefeated TCU, Boise St, and Cincinnati.

Would the powers that be let an interloper like TCU or Boise get in? As a Gator fan, I'd love to see them play someone different, and I'll bet many other people would too.

Tom Boswell: My plane sat on the runway in Dallas for 3 1/2 hours on Monday a.m. (fog in Oklahoma City!), so what better time than to study the records of all of the 130 top college football teams listed conveniently in the (football crazy) Dallas Morning News.

A few thoughts on Boise State, Cincinnati and TCU.

First, they all play lame schedules -- none of them as tough as Navy which has played on the road against No. 8 Ohio State, No. 9 Pitts and Notre Dame. TCU has played at 8-3 Clemeson (which lost to Maryland), at 7-4 Air Force (Navy beat Airorce by a similar score) and at 9-2 BYU. And TCU is the best of 'em.

Boise State's big road test was at 7-4 Fresno State. They have one real quality win against Orgeon. Both Navy and Boise State played Lousiana Tech -- Navy beat 'em much worse.

Cincinnati has some decent wins over .500-or-better teams: 7-3 Rutgers, 8-3 Oregon State, 7-4 Fresno State, 5-5 UConn, 7-3 West Virginia. Lets see how they do at Pitt, Navy lost 27-14. I doubt Cinny will do as well. We'll see.

If you want a lame schedule, except for a win over Okla St, look at Texas.

This is not one of my normal areas of addiction. Bujt I'm willing to assume that the winner of the Florida-Alabama game on Dec 5 is the best team in the country.

We'll have time to talk more BCS at a later date.


Arlington, Va.: Since this time last year you have been harping on the fact that the Nats need to aggressively pursue some reasonably priced 2-3 type starters to bolster the rotation (e.g. Randy Wolf). While I wholeheartedly agree, aren't the Nats hampered in attracting free agents by the fact they are such a lousy team? Certainly money talks, but if I am a free agent and I get a comparable offer I am going to go to a team with a chance to win not a team coming off consecutive 100+ loss seasons. Won't the Nats have to overpay to get someone to come here?

Tom Boswell: The list of pitchers the Nats are after can't be too picky. They're pretty good. Butr there won't be a line at their door. After talking to Nats people, this is a pretty good list of who might intereast them -- in no particular order.

Jon Garland, Doug Davis, Joel Piniero, Carl Pavano, Jason Marquis and maybe Brad Penny. And they want two of them. Livan Hernandez apparently wants $3M+. With a 5.30 ERA, that's crazy. They may offer him>$1M. But it looks like they are moving away from Livan-plus-Somebody.

A perfect solution -- since bigger names like Lackey, Wolf, Harden and Pettitte will go to others -- would be Davis and Garland. They don't make anybody's heart beat fast. But Davis has gone 63-68 the last six years with ERA the last three years of 4.25, 4.32 and 4.12. Last year, he worked 203 innings, deserved a better record in Arizona and, at 34, may have to sign for less than he's worth.

The last three years, Garland has gone 35-34 and had a 4.01 ERA last year in 204 IP. Before that, sure, he won 18 games twice and he'll only be 30. But figure he's a 12-12 guy with a 4.00 ERA. That is a huge improvement for a team like the Nats with a 5.02 team ERA!

If you got 500 innings from a Garland, Davis and Strasburg (if he pitched in DC the second half of season) with a combined 4.00 ERA, that knocks 55 earned runs off the whole team (or about 60 total runs for the season). If you add Stroen for half a season, plus two new relievers who have a 3.75 combined ERA for 200 innings, that's another 30 runs.

So, without much spending, and while still keeping the pitching future open for your young prospects -- no jammed up pipeline with fat long-term FA contracts -- you can cut 100 runs off the insane 874 they allowed last year. Better defense can cut off another 20-25 runs just by being average.

All this STILL does not get you particualrly close to .500 in '10. The Nats run differential was -164. But I just showed you -- and some GM's think this way -- how you can give up 110-120 less runs in '10 than in '09 with a boost in payroll that wouldn't come anywhere close to the $20-25M/yr "bump up" that the Nats could actually afford.

Dream all you want of better things. What I'm outlining is the minimum kind of improvement that the Nats have no excuse not to make with the vast market for mediocre starters -- "Hooray, mediocre starters. Hooray, Red Stripe!" -- that is available.


Washington, D.C.: It seems that the tigers will take offers for Miguel Cabrera. It isn't yet clear if they are putting him out to gage interest to see what they can get or if they want to dump his salary. If it is the latter, should the Nats be interested? The Nats at this stage of the game can't trade away much of anything because they don't have a lot. However, if they could say package Dunn and maybe Stammen or Martis or Martin (1 of these 3) and another low level prospect should they make that trade? Cabrera is only 26 and is locked-up until 2015

2010: $20 million

2011: $20 million

2012: $21 million

2013: $21 million

2014: $22 million

2015: $22 million

I know there are questions about his weight and some other red flags, but it might be a nice piece to add. What do you think?

Tom Boswell: Forget Cabrera. Forget $20M contracts. Get used to Dunn. Enjoy Dunn. Appreciate Dunn.

This is what Rizzo said to me about Dunn last week: "Dunn has exceeded all expectations. He's the consumate teammate. If he goes 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, he's the same guy. He's stabalized the clubhouse. He protects Ryan Zimmerman and you can see how that helped him this year. Adam is a legit middle-of-the-order bat by any standar. And, year to year, he's one of the most consistent players in baseball."

So, do you think Dunn is going anywhere? (Except first base at Nats Park.) And do you think a contract extesniopn will be worked out next year? (Answer: Yes.)

Also, Kasten reiterated last week that, "I don't sign major free agents until they are the last piece (of the puzzle)." Teixeira was an exception. The Kasten-Schuerholtz norm in Atlanta was to go after an undervalued Terry Pendleton. The Kasten-Rizzo norm will be the same. And signing Dunn for $10-M, then extending him once the '10 salary market is established, is the prototype of what they hope to do in DC. And that is good.


Reston, Va.: "But a Mark Rypien or Doug Williams. That's decent praise."

Woah. Those two "decent" QBs are walking around with a five-pound chunk of gold and diamonds on one of their fingers. You think Jason will ever have one of those? No, he's no Williams or Rypien, and if hasn't become one by now he'll never be.

Tom Boswell: Campbell is better now than Doug Williams. Review his career some time, you'll agree.

Here are the career passer rating stats for recent Redskin QBs through '08.






Oh, I know, QB ratings are higher these days because the rules and the styles of offense lead to more competions, etc. But they don't change the ratings enormously. Campbell is around 85 this season. Even if you knopcked 7 points off Campbell, he'd still look comparable to the others.

Put the Gibbs 1.0 Redskins around Campbell and he'd be a god in Washington. Schroeder was a stiff. Williams was one of the least accurate medium and short passers you'll ever see. On and on.

Campbell is a mediocre NFL starting QB. Anybody who says he's less is, imo, watching the wrong sport. The question about Campbell is: will he ever be better than mediocre, careful, a game-manager? Will he ever get in a system that suits him? (Does such a system exist?) Will he ever be a good fourth-quarter charismatic QB? (I doubt it.)


Alexandria, Va.: Any movement on extending Dunn's contract? Or will that wait until February or March?

Tom Boswell: It'll wait.


Washington, D.C.: What's this I hear about the Nats trying to move Josh Willingham? That seems absurd.

Tom Boswell: It's absurd.

But there's a proper price for anybody.


Anonymous: I didn't get to see the Redskins game, but the box score befuddles me. Please explain why Rock only carried the ball 13 times when he got 67 yards? Did they abandon the run to play catch up? Oh wait up by 6 the whole game.

Hmmm, maybe if they doubled Rocks' carries he could have grinded some time off the clock and Dallas wouldn't have had time to come back and win.

Instead of looking for football wizards, how about someone with a little common sense?

Tom Boswell: Cartwright had 34 yards on one run. Otherwise, 33 yards on 12 carries. The Skins did not have a consistent running game at all. "Others" were 11 yards on seven carries.

Cartwright also had a 29-yard pass reception.

Here's what's interesting. In over 750 career carries, Betts never had a run longer than 27 yards. Cartwright, who's only had 175 carries, had a 34-yarder Sunday and had a 52-yarder a few years ago. Also, Betts, in over 160 career receptions, has only had three catches longer than Cartwright's 29-yard on Sunday.

This isn't a knock. It just makes a point. Betts is a consistent runner, receiver who "gets what's there." Rock is more explosive __he's had kick off returns of 94, 70 and 60 yards. Rock tries to rip big plays and he has a "burst" in the secondary. But he is not as gifted a runner at finding holes, reading blocks -- the subtleties -- at Betts. Betts was heady and tough. Cartwright just "blows up in there" and sees what happens. If he suddenly finds himself semi-open, he has better "jets" than Betts or the Portis of '09. However, the NFL is FULL of young RB these days who are more explosive than any of those Redskin guys.

And the WR that Vinny and Dan passed up two years ago -- Jackson and Royal -- make the receivers the Redskins drafted look like they have pianos on their backs. BUT Kelly, Thomas and Davis are looking better. Of course, the Redskins HAVE to throw it to SOMEBODY so they are going to get some catches. But Thomas is a fighter after he gets it. Davis has hands, can't block a lick.


Anonymous: Passer ratings are becoming way overrated.

Do you really think they're the best way to reflect a quarterback's performance? I don't like the way it's weighted. I'll often see a QB throw for 350 yards one touchdown and will have a significantly lower rating than a QB throwing 200 yards for 2 TDs. Often a good QB will pass to get the team to the goal line and then hand it off. Does this make them less of a QB?

Tom Boswell: No, I don't like 'em.

So I look at everything. And I also like to see 3-4-5 years so that the fluke interceptions (Hail Marys at halftime), garbage-time stat-padding, tend to even out.

Who are the top 2 "passer rating" playuers in NFL history?

1) Steve Young...96.8

2) Aaron Rogers...95.7.


Then Payton Manning. Warner, Brady, Montana, Brees in Top 10. It's not a BAD stat.


Pentagon City, Va.: I just noticed you left Lackey out of that list. So it's pretty much official that their reported interest is about as solid as most fan's interest in season tickets?

Tom Boswell: Reporting on the Nats, especially by "national outlets," is often ridiculous. There is zero possibility of a Lackey-Nats deal. There isn't even any interest. It's a complete mismatch. He can and should pitch for a contender.


Arlington, Va.: Happy Thanksgiving

Can you name a MLB manager that only managed one MLB team in his career and walked away after 10+ years on his own terms?

Tom Boswell: Earl Weaver.

But he came back.


Who's Surprised?: Albert Pujols is NL MVP: Any comments?

Tom Boswell: Is Pujols now, or will he soon be, on the all-time-greatest-hitter list with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and *Barry Bonds?


Arlington, Va.: If he stays healthy, does Nyjer Morgan take the NL steals title next season? How much does that help the Nats?

Tom Boswell: Morgan had 24 steals in 49 games with the Nats. He told me he thinks he can steal close to 80. The NL lead was 61 last year and 70 in the AL.

However, the Nats are going to insist that he slide feet-first in future. He did earlier in his career. Though head-first was more effective (but dangerous).

I think he can/should steal 50-to-60 -- doing it feet first -- and not worry about a steal title. Stay semi-healthy. His CF defense may turn out to be truly exceptional. Lets find out. If you can steal 50, you are raising plenty of hell. The extra 10, 20 or even 30 don't thrill me too much. Work on a better SB%, like the Phils under the steal-wizard Davey Lopes' instruction.


Nats' Commitment to MLB: The average salary in MLB is over $3 million, yet the Nats, in all years under the Lerners, have NEVER traded for anyone who makes average salary. Willingham is the highest at $2.95 million. How do you interpret this?

Tom Boswell: I think I am on record -- several times -- with an interpretation of this!

They keep saying that are going to make trades that add significantly to payroll and help the team. They say it every year. They never do it. Kasten calls it "the secondary market." If he loves the concept so much, how come it never happens? The only people above him in the organization, last time I checked, were named "Lerner." Are they stopping it? Have no such trades materialized? Is Stan blowing smoke? I have listed those three options in decreasing order of probability.


Hot Stove, Maine: So you would re-sign Livan, and I agree. Joe Beimel we could get back from Colorado (and keep the minor league pitcher we got in the mid-season "loan"). If you could pick one additional free agent SP that the Nats could afford and could sign, who would it be?

Tom Boswell: Livan better wake up and smell his 5.30 ERA if he wants to come back to DC. I realize that this is the "Nats Line." But I can't always disagree with them. They're right on this. Livan's contract is going to start with a $1.?M, not a $2.?M or $3.?M. Or he won't be a uniform in March. Just my opinion.


College Coaches on the Hotseat: Hi Tom,

A number of college coaches jobs are in jeopardy - Groh, Fridge, Weis, to name a few. First, it absolutely amazes me that ADs sign any coach to long, long term contracts that they then have to eat when they decide to 'go in another direction'. Let's take Weis. What is the real reason for his demise at ND? Recruiting failure? Offensive/defensive systems? Assistant coaches? I say college football success depends mostly on recruiting 'the best'. Gotta have the horses to win the race. So, why can't a program as storied as ND, which used to be able to recruit nationwide, get the best talent the nation has to offer? Seems the most important skill a college coach has to have is the ability to recruit. Am I right?

Tom Boswell: Sometimes recruiting is all they can do. For some time there has been a school of thought that LSU coach Les Miles could be outwitted by an inanimate object. I think that has now been proven. I watched that game live and thought, not for the first time in my life, "LSU is the stupidest major-major-major college football factory I have ever seen."

Weis, please.

As for Fridge, I've loved him from the day he showed up. But if Maryland doesn't beat (7-4) Boston College on Saturday at home, I'd fire him. I wouldn't feel bad about it. I wouldn't have doubts about it. I'd look at 2-9. I'd look at the schedule -- a three-point "win" over James Madison, a 39-point loss to Cal, a loss to Middle Tenn, yet able to beat Clemson -- and I'd think, "Who's the coach of this team? Oh, it's Ralph? That's too bad because I really like and respect him. But he has to go."


Manager Leaving On Own Terms: Tom Kelly

Tom Boswell: Cool. Thanks.

Have a great Thanksgiving everybody.


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