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Ask Boswell: Nats Spring Training, Stephen Strasburg, Caps and more

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, March 18 to take your questions about the NCAA Tournament, March Madness, Nationals Spring Training, Stephen Strasburg's early success, the rest of Major League Baseball, the Caps and his latest columns from Spring Training.

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The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives

Boswell Column Archives

____________________

Tallahassee: Boz: Please tell me that the signing of Grossman makes it more likely that the 'Skins will pick an offensive lineman in the first round. Please?

Tom Boswell: Yes, for the time being, that's exactly what I'm going to tell you.

Sometimes first reactions are the most accurate. And my response to the news was the same as yours. I assume Shanahan is such a sharp football man that he won't make any big mistakes. Rex Grossman has had a year in Kyle Shanahan's system, so he's a pre-programmed backup to Campbell. Good. A useful pickup. He can help Campbell learn the system and fill in quickly if he's hurt. That's all.

If Redskins fans scream at Campbell, who had an 86.4 QB rating last year behind an invisible offensive line, and has a solid 55-38 TD-to-Interception ratio in his career, I can't imagine what they'd do if they got an eyeful of Grossman on a fulltime basis: career 69.5 QB rating and a 36-33 TD-to-Int ratio. He's been deep on the Bear and Texan bench for the last two seasons. There's absolutely no reason to think Grossman could knock Campbell out of the job.

The only season Grossman ever started a majority of his team's games was '06 when the Bears went to the Super Bowl, despite Grossman's 73.9 quarterback rating and his 23-20 touchdown-to-interception ratio. This is one of those Ultimate Examples of how an entire team can win despite a poor quarterback.

However, as I pointed out this morning in my column, you can spin the Grossman a different way if you want. By tendering him as they did (with a No. 1 pick, not a No. 1 and a No. 3), the Redskins have left the door open to trading Campbell. Then you'd presumably draft a QB at No. 4-overall and have Grossman around to help teach him. But if you use such a high pick on a No. 1 QB, you're probably going to start him immediately. Good Lord, how many things can you do at once? A kid quarterback, a totally revamped offensive line, a new 3-4 defensive scheme.

So, I think the calmer, saner reading of this is more likely the correct one: '11 is not the year to blow up the QB spot. You have to rebuild a whole organization.

However, there's one X Factor. If Shanahan absolutely loves one of the QBs in the draft -- my guess is that Bradford is the only one who might excite him that much -- then it changes everything. By getting Grossman now, he's increased his options -- the number of different ways he and Allen can go, especially on Draft Day.

_______________________

El Segundo, Calif.: Tom,

Can you give me a reason to watch the Masters? Or even the highlights? The story lines are already set--it's either Tiger overcomes all to dominate, or Tiger is on his long road back. But the traditional Augusta fans will shower him with love, making his comeback at this event even more cowardly in my view. A good major spoiled. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: It seems you may be the only person who doesn't watch this Masters! Regardless of how you feel about Tiger, this is going to be real drama.

If Woods had come back at Arnold Palmer's event, it would have been an absolute total zoo. You don't know how crazy it could have gotten. What is the limit? Would the British tabs, TMZ or the National Enquirer have hired hecklers just to get a reaction out of him?

Just because this has been a media circus from the first minute, that doesn't mean it isn't a true personal agony for the whole Woods family. This may be the first time that the Masters' incredible insularity has done some good. There will be few if any hecklers -- tickets would be pulled and lost for the rest of recorded time. The media will be relatively tame, that is if Tiger takes any non-golf questions at all.

Tiger is going to have to deal with the consequences of his behavior for the rest of his life -- in private and every tiem he steps on the course. I don't see why his first tournament back should be some kind of public torture. I'm glad for him to have the familiarity of the Masters for Week One. But I doubt that he'll play very well. The comparison to his missing the cut at the U.S. Open in his first tournament back after his father died is probably apt.

If Woods starts well at the Masters, he may feed off it and stay in the hunt all four days. But if things go badly -- and he has a history of bad first days -- it could be a brief Masters for him. That also adds to the drama.

People who are outright hostile to Woods perplex me. Just how high are their standards? And do they set comparable standards for themselves? I assume Woods will be a great player again. Maybe not instantly, but soon. From now on, we're always going to separate his golf performance from our evaluation of his as a person.

_______________________

Germantown, Md.: Boz-

Looking at the QB's in the NFL draft, I don't see a huge difference between the guys who are being listed as top 10 talent, and guys you can get in the 2nd-4th rounds.

Wouldn't it be smarter if you took that OL in the 1st, and maybe you get a McCoy or Tebow in the second. If not ... a LeFevour after them? Bradford and Clausen aren't going to be Peyton Manning or Phillip Rivers.

Tom Boswell: My preference would be to take Russell Okung of Oklahoma State at No. 4, assuming the Redskins grade him out as a future All-Pro. You match a huge need with a hugely gifted player. You not only improve, but you turn a weakness into a strength.

I may be wrong, but I definitely have an opinion on Clausen, McCoy and Tebow. I wouldn't touch any of them with the fourth-overall pick. I saw them all play often enough to think that they either weren't smart enough, mature enough, big enough or suited to the NFL enough to justify such a high pick.

But I don't know about Bradford. Unluckily, I just haven't seen him enough. His high score on the Wonderlic test is a good, though hardly fool proof sign.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Boz-

What do you think MJ's purchase of the Bobcats for $250 million will mean for Ted Leonsis and the Wiz? I know the Wiz come with the real estate, but these are two broken franchises that need a lot of things to go right to return from the desert.

Tom Boswell: It's almost always easier to finalize a deal -- in any field -- when somebody else sets the market with a sale in the same industry. You see that in business when one acquisition sets a market for all the companies in that space. And suddenly more deals are done.

The Bobcats and Wiz don't have to be the same. The price gives you a very useful reference point. So I'm optimistic that this can get done soon.

_______________________

Florida: Releasing Elijah Dukes: Ok, I know the Jim Bowden era, with the fascination for "toolsy" outfielders who can't play baseball, is over (hallelujah!) but isn't this taking it a little too far?

Tom Boswell: If this was a shock to us, think how it rocked Dukes world. He really didn't see it coming. I've got my fingers crossed for him and hope that somebody else picks him up. You'd think a 25-year-old rightfielder with a pretty good .786 OPS the last two years in Washington would be worth a flier by somebody.

I take the Nats at their word -- and they have sworn on the proverbial stack of Bibles -- that there was no legal incident or major clubhouse problem that precipitated this decision.

However, Rizzo also made it clear that this was classic addition by subtraction. The Nationals "will be a more cohesive group" without Dukes. "The clubhouse will be more united. We'll have a better feel around the ballclub. We'll gain just by that alone."

Dukes is a very isolated person. He's either very quiet or quite loud. Very few people have him figured out and, until the last year or so, that's the way he's much preferred it. Last week in Viera, I heard so much noise coming from a training room that I thought a fight might have broken out, but it was just Elijah in high good spirits, telling stories at the top of his lungs.

None of the other Nats ever say that they don't like Dukes. But several have said that others find him a distracting personality. At times, he does seem to "tick." That's the curse of having earned a bad reputation. Even as you try to change, people still see you through the prism of your past. Maybe it's not fair, but it's certainly how things work.

The Nats had a lot of new people on the team this spring -- Pudge Rodriguez, Marquis, Bruney, Kennedy, Capps, Strasburg, Storen and maybe Wang still to come. That's a lot of turnover. So there's a lot of "chemistry" to work on. Essentially, Rizzo always felt that if Dukes could become a star, then his personality was tolerable. But as soon as he decided that Dukes was just a pretty-good player who could be replaced, it looks like his days were numbered. Got to say that I wouldn't have done it this way. I'd have let Dukes play his way into -- or out of -- the RF job one more final time. If, after 200 at bats, he wasn't producing, then get ride of him, if that's the franchise's decision.

This does mark the end of the Bowden period. He and Kasten were the big Dukes supporters; they wanted to gamble on getting a huge Something for Nothing. However, as much as Rizzo has wanted to see Dukes succeed in his personal battles, he has never been that high on him as a baseball player. Rizzo has always been the Dukes skeptic. Doesn't think he can hit the breaking ball away and doesn't see him making progress in trying. Thinks his history of lower-body and knee injury will probably continue and always limit his up side. Sees him as an erratic base runner and an inconsistent defender.

I'm like most people, I suspect. I bought into the Dukes personal rehabilitation story and wanted to see that succeed. So this makes me a bit sad.

Oh, and the Nats now need a rightfielder.

_______________________

Fairfax, Va.: Boz,

Have you heard anything about who the Nats will select with the first pick in the draft this June?

Will it be Bryce Harper? He seems like a heck of a talent, but you always have to worry about young phenoms. Sometimes they don't live up to the hype!

Thanks

Tom Boswell: Lots of factors. When it looked like Jesus Flores would be a good catcher and Derek Norris was on the horizon, maybe Harper wasn't such a great fit, especially in a player so young who may have a lot of growing up to do. Now you wonder about Flores future.

By the time the draft arrives in June, the Nats will know about whether Olsen and Wang are part of their future. If even one of them looks solid, then maybe you go for a position player like Harper. But if, like so many guys coming back from shoulder surgery, Olsen and Wang don't look like they'll make it back to full strength, then it will be tempting to take the most MLB-ready pitcher at the college level because the Nats -- with Strasburg, Lannan and perhaps Zimmermann -- have reasonable hopes for a good rotation.

_______________________

Vienna, Va.: Boz!

What is the real story behind Dukes being cut? Did Rizzo plan this months ago and if so why is the Plan B so weak?

Tom Boswell: Everybody is going to wait a while to see if there is another shoe to drop. And I will, too. But I don't believe there is.

Rizzo is a big believer in clubhouse chemistry and "character guys." Call it a cliche, but I saw it work with the old Orioles for many years. Dukes, no matter how hard he was working on self-improvement, would not ever have been somebody the Hank Peters Orioles would have picked up when 29 other clubs were not interested.

When you hire a GM, you also buy into his views on team building. Just the fact that it would be hard -- almost impossible -- to imagine Dukes on a team but not in the starting lineup -- would tell you he's not a Rizzo type.

_______________________

Tampa, Fla.: Boz, I'm growing increasingly concerned about how Jason Marquis is getting absolutely shelled right now. Is there any word about him being hurt? If he's getting crushed by a bunch of guys who'll be bagging groceries in a couple of weeks, how hard is he going to get hit by a lineup of major league starters?

Tom Boswell: You go right ahead and worry if you want. He got hit hard his last nine starts last season. Is his arm okay?

But I'm going to wait until May to get worked up. Marquis had an ERA over 10.00 and a WHiP over 2.0 in spring training last year and he made the All-Star team.

He has a long solid record. As long as his arm doesn't hurt, you send him out there time after time after time until he gets sorted out.

_______________________

Dukes: Tom,

Any scoop on the Dukes release and the "latest incident" as tweeted by Bowden?

Personally, this release did not come as a shock as Dukes has proven that he is only an average player.

Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Unless he knows a lot more than he has said, Bowden should be ashamed of himself. Just one year ago, he was lamenting how he was being driven out of his job by unsubstantiated rumors and inuendo. Now, he's the first one to jump on Dukes with his own inuendo -- which the Nats immediately denied categorically.

Bowden was the guy who thought Dukes had All-Star talent. Looks like he was wrong on that, too.

_______________________

Charlottesville Va: Do D.C. fans have a blind spot for the "real" Alexander Ovechkin? Are we ignoring his goon/boorish on and off ice behavior (knocking cameras from a female fan) just because he plays for us?

Tom Boswell: I worry about Ovechkin and some with the Caps do, too. At times, he likes to play on the edge of control, drive on the edge.

In many aspects of his life, he is reckless. Everyone's instant reaction is, "That's part of what makes him great." Okay, there's truth in that. However, athletes often hide behind that line of reasoning when they are young so that they can avoid working on parts of themselves that could be better.

For 99.99% of us, when the world starts sending us messages in our 20's that "maybe you better change a little bit," we respond by saying, 'Maybe the world is right." The great rich athlete, if he chooses, can say, "That's just me. I'm not changing."

There are few in the Capitals room who are wiser than Knuble. Ovie should listen to his advice. Like everybody else, he wants the Great Eight to have a long successful career and life.

_______________________

Shepherdstown, WV: Hi Boz, Since the Redskins have so many positions on the team that need rebuilding, has anyone considered that they might benefit by trading their number 4 pick, for example to Tampa Bay for Tampa Bay's two second round picks and their third round pick. Would any good left tackles be left in the second round when their turn came?

Tom Boswell: Shanahan has a history of trading down to get multiple picks, sometimes picks in future years.

Check out the NFL Draft Pick Value Chart. Every team refers to it, though it's not complete gospel. The No. 4 overall pick is worth 1,800 points. That's as much as the 28th-overall, (660 pts), the 33rd overall (580 pts) and the 34th overall (560 pts) combined.

I don't mean that you could get those exact picks. But the Value Chart says you should be able to trade the No. 4 over all pick for: a mid-1st round, a mid-2nd round pick and a mid-3rd round pick! I was surpised when I looked it up.

You usually have to wait many years to be so bad that you get a pick so good.

_______________________

Sec314: What about the closer? I was in the camp that believed in letting Capps try to prove he wasn't done until about mid May when Storen would be knocking at the door. I realize the latter has given up a run the last two times out, but Capps has gotten rocked every time. Bruney, maybe?

Tom Boswell: You can't start giving up on players in Mid-March. But the Nats may be lucky they also have Bruney. Capps, like Marquis, had a bad September last year.

Maybe I should have gotten worried when Marquis said that he didn't like to hold himself back by setting low goals and that, "I always want to go 34-0."

Look at it this way: The Nats don't play today, so they can't fall to 2-13. And you have 16 NCAA games to watch!

_______________________

Larry Johnson: Why was he signed? Don't the Redskins already have a couple of troublemakers at the RB position?

Tom Boswell: Hey, why not just add Joey Porter to the mix and get a group rate!

It commonly believed that as NFL players get older and see that the end is in sight, they suddenly have these amazing improvements in personality! It's a rare person who can't do pretty much whatever they have to do if self-preservation is at stake. Still, when I saws that they had added Johnson I just smacked my forehead.

_______________________

College Park, Md.: Please tell me you agree with most experts in that Duke will not make it too far in the tournament? I'm pulling for a quality showing from Gary's crew, but I'm also hoping for another quick exit for the Dookies.

Tom Boswell: I've always been a big-time follower of Maryland and Georgetown as well as the whole ACC and Big East. I think both the Trps and Hoyas will make the Sweet 16 and I've felt all year that one of them would make a big noice in the tournament. But both teams throw in some real clinkers and you never know when those disaster games will show up.

I'm rooting against Kentucky (Calipari) and Duke (given that joke bracket they were awarded for no good reason). My wild prediction will be that Maryland and G'town will meet in Sty. Louis to see which one goes to the Final Four. Yes, I know that means Maryland probably has to knock off Kansas. If Gary can get past Michigan State, he's the perfect underdog coach to pull off that kind of upset.

Time to go watch about a hundred hours of basketball, and off to Providence for the second round on Saturday. See you all next week.

_______________________

Atlanta: Redskins Insider is reporting that the Redskins are one of five teams bringing in Tebow for a workout. No way Tebow will be available when the Redskins pick 37th in Round 2 - he has too much upside to think some team won't select him very early. Care to read those tea leaves?

Tom Boswell: Tebow could fall a long way, imo. When I guy has to show off his "new" passing technique to convince NFL teams to draft him, that's pretty sad. "Okay, okay, I'll change. Anything you say. Just draft me." Seems pretty desperate. I suspect he'll be drafted by a team that also thinks he could be switched to another position and be a standout.

_______________________

McLean, Va.: Tom,

I disagree that Caps fans are blind to Ovechkin's questionable hits. But to call his behavior goonish or boorish (either on or off the ice) isn't true I think. This is a guy who so clearly loves the sports he plays, loves his teammates and loves teaching the sport (look up some of his camp videos). A few of his hits have been on/across the line, but to call them goonish implies a level of intent or malice that clearly isn't there for Ovechkin. The incident with the camera is the one instance where I think that term applies. Lastly, out of all the NHL players with injury-causing hits recently, OV was the only one to not only apologize, but he was visually shaken by the injury immediately. That level of awareness is not seen in someone who has a pattern of goonish behavior.

Tom Boswell: I think he's reckless -- by nature. I don't think the word "goon" applies to Ovechkin in any way -- not by 100 miles. I love watching the guy. Even the 7-3 win was less fun without him to watch.

_______________________

Sec 114, Row E: I think a few days ago when Riggles said he was thinking of batting Dukes 8th, what he meant to say was that he'd be batting Dukes' replacements in the 8 spot.

Bernadina, Morse, Harris, Desmond, Maxwell, Mench, Duncan... not an MLB regular in that group...

Tom Boswell: Harris is roughly as good an offensive player as Dukes. Different style, same impact. The question was Dukes potential to be much better than Harris or any of the others you list.

Bernadina (LH hitter) hit .330 in the minors in '08, then got hurt. Maxwell (RH hitter) showed progress last year. Morse has hit the ball hard last September and this spring. I expect you'll see an old-fashioned platoon using some combination of them. And that it will produce about the same .775 OPS that Dukes has had in the past. What you give away is the potential that Dukes could have been a star. Rizzo stopped believing in that.

_______________________

Surrey, England: Hi Bos - the obvious follow-up to Dukes' departure is, who's in right? I'd like to see the Nats brain trust, which has spent the winter loading up on a slightly better grade of free agents than Jim Bowden would, start handing out more playing time to the younger players. So Maxwell for RF, but also Desmond for SS. The team won't be in contention in '10, so why not blood these prospects for 2011 and beyond.

Tom Boswell: We all have the team we'd like to see.

Versus RH Pitcher

Morgan-8

Kennedy-4

Zimmerman-5

Dunn-3

Willingham-7

Desmond-6

Bernadina-9

I. Rodriguez-2

Pitcher

Versus LH Pitcher

Morgan-8

Desmond-6

Zimmerman-5

Dunn-3

Willingham-7

Maxwell-9

I Rodriguez-2

Pitcher

_______________________

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