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Stan Kasten, Ted Lerner, Redskins, baseball and more -- Ask Boswell

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was online to take all your questions about the Nats, pennant races, the Redskins and more.

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Just outside Baghdad, Iraq: Boz,

The way I see it, owning a sports franchise should be fun. It shouldn't be all about profits. I'm certainly not suggesting owners should take a loss, but it just isn't the same as running malls or construction companies. For one thing, sports teams are quasi-public entities. The fans don't own the team but without the fans there is no team. The owners owe it to the community to make reasonable efforts to field a decent team.

Obviously the Lerners have a different opinion and I fear that, after waiting for decades for a team to call our own, we have to settle for a whole lot of nothing. Kasten's imminent departure seems to confirm this. Don't the Lerners understand that a winning team will actually make more money than a losing one?

Tom Boswell: All good points, imo. The Lerners have made a lot of progress since the dismal end of the '08 season, starting with the Teixeira bid __even if it was mostly symbolic. But they started from a ridiculously low "base."

One of the first thing Ted Lernere said to me was that he wouldn't take any money out of the team for 10 years. I said, "To be a good baseball owner, you have to lose money on an ongoing basis __not every year, but overall__ and you make it back in the appreciating value of the franchise over time." He didn't seem to endorse the idea!

Lets leave aside my previous discussions of whether paying down debt constitutes takling money out of a team.

There has been a lot of improvement and the pipeline is better. But this is another litmus test winter for the Nats. They still need to add pitching. And it will cost.

Losing Kasten, which is highly probable, won't help. But a lot of what he's best at __hiring good people in key roles, helping open a new facility, creating an overview Plan (even if it is only half followed)__ is in the past. They'll survive either way.

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coaches: Tom,

Which sport is the coach/manager the greater importance? I think it is the NFL but wanted your opinion and why.

Thanks for the chats.

Tom Boswell: Oh, did you serve one up in my wheelhouse. Or my mania-de-jour, if you prefer. I assume NFL coaches are more important, probably by a lot, than MLB managers. But that raises an ancient question. What ARE MLB managers worth?(Some people think "Not very much.")

And, to tip off my punch line, is Jim Riggleman either one of the worst or one of the unluckiest manager who ever lived?

Baseball people use various formulas to look at a team's "run differential" to see how many games that team "should" win. All the ways of figuring it out come up with almost the same answers. Bill James has a catching name for it: a "Pythagorian" formula. I just divide a team's run differential for the full 162 games by 9 and that how many more games they should win than 81 (.500). IOW, if a team has a +90 run differential, then 90/9 = +10. Or 81 + 10 = 91 expected wins.

So, do different managers win more or less games than "Pythagoras" would predict? Is it a significant number? And if they do beat Pythag, does it mean anything? The usual explanation for "lucky" or "unlucky" Pythag seasons is that you win more (or less) close one-and-two-run games than the norm. I'm skeptical that it means much. But lets look at a random sample of famous managers and where they won more or less than they "should" have.

Managers versus Pythagoras

Sparky Anderson: +19 wins in 27 seasons. Plus .70 wins/yr.

Dusty Baker: +13 wins in 17 years.

Bobby Cox: +19/29 yrs.

Whitey Herzog: +15/17 yrs.

Davey Johnson: +10/14 yrs.

Tom Kelly/Twins: +3/16 yrs. (Career .478 win percentage).

Tony LaRussa: +16/32 yrs.

Jim Leyland: exactly +0/11 years in Pittsburgh. Also, +0/2 yrs Fla. Also +0/1 yr in Colorado. And also +0 in 5 yrs in Detroit. This is just as nuts as you think. I can't imagine what the odds of this are. Exactly a Pythag plus-minos of zero in four different cities.

Gene Mauch: -7/25 years.

Buck Showalter: -2/10 yrs.

Earl Weaver: +18/16 yrs. The only manager I've found who is more than +1.0-per-year.

So, at least by this measure, managers don't mean much, right? The famous ones are almost all positive but by less than one win a season.

I have only found one manager who violates the rule __Riggleman: -33 wins/11 yrs.

That's -17/2yrs in San Diego, -6/5 yrs with Cubs, -3 in a partial season in Seattle and -7 in most of two years with the Nats.

It seems statistically impossible that one manager, especially one like Riggleman who knows the "book" on in-game situations as well as any manager I've ever seen, should be such a statistical outlier. If it were a manager with outlandish theories, maybe. But this guy is pure Cardinals Baseball Theory. If Herzog and LaRussa are so solidly positive, how can Riggleman have THREE TIMES as much negative influence as any good manager has positive influence? I don't believe it. I didn't go looking for it. But there it is.

I mentioned this stat to someone with the Nats who'd actually asked me if there was a Pythag pattern that showed a difference between Big Inning managers like Weaver, Cox, etc., and "small ball" managers like Mauch, Riggleman. When I told him about the -3.0-per-year vs Pythag, there was a long silence from the Nats guy, because they really like Riggleman, think he's a good manager and are going to bring him back. (I agree, though it's not a opinion I go around shouting from the rooftops.)

"Well," he said, "it's going to be a lot of fun watching Jim's luck even out."

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Alexandria, VA: If Kasten leaves the Nats, I'd love it if he went to the Mets. Then again, the Wilpon's aren't that smart to even ask.

Tom Boswell: When he left the Braves, he took three years off waiting for the next job. There are always feelers out for him, including, since he's been with the Nats, from NFL teams.

However, the things he does are not sport-specific. Brand building, opening new arenas/parks, hiring key people, community relations. He has views on the sport itself __trades, the value of players__ and he once mentioned that he had negotiated more contracts than anyone in sports. The people he picks, like Schuerholtz and Cox in Atlanta, ultimately have more impact than he does.

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Potomac, MD: Hi Tom,

What did you think of Deangelo Hall's rant after Sunday's game where he seemed to throw Haslett under the bus by not matching him up against the right wide receivers and said something like "this is my team." Haslett later said he likes Deangelo's attitude. Do you agree?

Tom Boswell: Hall, Portis and Haynesworth need to go to a Public Speaking Class. In it, they should be locked in a room for 24 hours while loudspeakers yell at them, over and over, "Stop Speaking in Public."

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Fairfax, VA: Mr. Boswell,

A quick one: Is it Boz or Bos? Or do you care?

Tom Boswell: They started calling me that at 12 __like 98% of all people who are named Bosworth, Bosley, Boswell, etc.

So, I don't care.

However, I always wondered how Charles Dickens wrote a book called "Sketches by Boz" with illustrations by Cruikshank. Where'd he get the nickname? (They were everyday London scenes of normal people.)

Samual Johnson called his biographer and friend James Boswell "Bozzy." (No relation, that I know.)

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LJ and V Jax: A couple commenters in Tracee Hamilton's chat wanted to know why the Skins didn't trade Larry Johnson but I'm wondering if there really is any trade value. I imagine that if they thought they could have gotten even a 7th round pick, they would have done it. Do you see him signing on somewhere?

Also, any insight into what, if anything, the Skins offered for Vincent Jackson? Sounds like the Vikes made a fair and reasonable offer to San Diego only to have AJ Smith, The Lord of No Rings, nix it.

Tom Boswell: It's a good thing Portis is still upright because Johnson looked totally washed up. Not fair to judge off a few plays, but they were ugly. What did they see there? And if the running game was non-existant against the Texans, what will it be like if Portis loses his burst as the season progresses __as he did last year.

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Cards and White Sox: Boz, I know you can't follow every team, but I'm a strong Cardinal and thus also a White Sox fan, and the total collapse of both these teams has really perplexed me. Both look to have better talent than their records show. LaRussa is, or always has been, a pretty good manager. I consider Ozzie Guillen a mean-spirited nut case, but his teams generally perform OK. Any idea what's going on here? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: The Cards were incredibly unlucky this year in one-run games. By the run-differential methods, they should have won SEVEN more games this year. No other team is more than four games "unlucky" __Alanta and Oakland.

The luckiest team, by far, has been Houston which has NINE more wins than you'd expec. "Plucky" Astros or dumb lucky Astros? I know where I stand on that one. The Pirates, believe it or not, "should" have lost seven MORE games than they have. Their record is very bad. In reality, they are unspeakably awful and one of the few teams you'll ever see that has a chance to be outscored by 300 runs.

There's talk that LaRiussa will go back to the White Sox because Reinsdorf says that letting him go in the '80's was the bggest mistake he's ever made. And if the Cards job opens up, it might be the only one that would lure Joe Torre back there. He played in St. Louis for six years, including being MVP, and managed there six years. There's a lotof ancestor worship in St. Louis, so Joe would fit.

Despite his long playing career with the White Sox, plus the first World Series win since electricity, it looks like Ozzie may talk his way out of the White Sox fold. Williams is a very good GM. At some point, don't you get enough of Ozzie? He's one of those light-a-fire managers that I've mentioned who can help a team but wear out their welcome. It's a classic managing personality type.

(BTW: on the lucky-unlucky meter, the Nats are three games unlucky: they should be 67-85. To illustrate, the Brewers and Cubs have been outscored by 71 runs each, the Nats by 76. Yet the Brewers and Cubs are 70-81 and 69-82 to the Nats 64-88.)

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Dunn staying?: I know you have always advocated for the Nats resigning Dunn. Now that he has said that progress is being made on an extension, what do you think the chances are that we will see him in a Nats uniform for the next 3 or 4 years?

Tom Boswell: No greater than they were before. Slim and none.

Both sides want to keep friendly relations. Who knows what's going to happen in free agency? You don't want to close any doors on where you might play or, for a team, what plaer you might sign.

Players have had to take less, even a lot less, than they thought the last two winters because of the recession. And attendance has been hit again, especially if you include the free tickets that teams give away __as the Nats do__ with things like a 3-for-2 deal (with one free) for season ticket holders.

If the Nats couldn't get Carlos Pena and Dunn were available at something like his current deal, it could work out. But do you know what a long-shot that is? Dunn will have 35+ and 100 RBI again and there are teams that will go 3 years for him. The Nats won't. Or certainly have convinced themselves that they won't. Also, teams do an unconscious sell job on themselves once they've decided which way they'd prefer to go. So the inernal momentum pushes things that way. And everything is pushing away from Dunn returning. But, as I've said, I hope it works out. But it won't.

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Pythagoras: Hi Boz: I've enjoyed your writing for many years - thanks for all the hard work. Isn't there a problem with evaluating managers based on how much their depart from their projected wins? The theory assumes run differential is independent of what a manager does. That's helpful to know what difference a manager makes "all things being equal." But they're not equal. A good manager should generate a better run differential - look at what Showalter's done in Baltimore: they're scoring more and giving up fewer runs. There's a term for this problem in statistics (when your dependent variable influences your independent variable), but my last stats class was 13 years ago, so it escapes me. But I think the pythagorean evaluation of managers doesn't tell the whole story.

Tom Boswell: I absolutely agree. That's why I don't trust Pythag for managers. But it sure is interesting (to me).

As you point out, a great manager "creates" runs or "prevents" them by selecting his roster well, analyzing the lineups he'll put on the field, handling his pitching staff and by every in-game decision he makes.

Still, the teams that do well vs. Pythag tend to "win the close ones." That sounds like managing.

In the NBA, it is an absolute rule of Coach Evaluation to look at your team's record in close games. THAT is where you measure a coach's value. If the record is bad, it's the kiss of death.

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Silver Spring, Maryland: I think too many members of the media have given the Redskins a pass on blowing a 17 point second half lead at home to the only team in major professional sports with no playoff appearances. Sure the Texans are improved, but they aren't (I never thought I would say this) the Saints. I wonder how many 17 point leads will be blown in the entire season. Maybe one or two more. It was a huge embarrassing lost for a veteran team like the Redskins. Aren't they the oldest team in the league?

The lost rest squarely with the coaching staff particularly Jim Haslett for calling way to many blitzes in the second half. He was coaching out of vanity to get his name in the paper for big blitzes not to win the game. Shanahan and son also went into a panic and didn't stick with the run. Even a bad run would have run out the clock. A F-second half coaching performance.

Tom Boswell: You're right that large blown leads are extremely rae in the NFL. I once tried to study it and was amazed how seldom a three-score late lead was blown. If you're up 17 points with 16 minutes to play and find a way to lose, I'd call that a choke. But by whom? There wasn't a clear goat.

One reason I wrote about McNabb's strong showing was that he did what Campbell so seldom seemed to do: engineer drives that should have iced or won the game __especailly the 43-yard push to the Texan 10-yard line before the 29-yard field goal was blocked with 6:26 left. He also passed for 33 yards in the OT drive that set up the 52-yard Gano FG. I hate that stupid ice-the-kicker time out rule. The time should have to be called before the center puts his hands on the ball.

Okay, that takes me to another topic that's been puzzling me. If you want to start an argument, just say that an NFL quarterback is good or bad at "fourth quarter comeback drives."

But, believe it or not, there's a stat __an usually a bunch of arguments about it__ for everything. At pro-football-reference.com you can find the results of work by Scott Kacsmar who has researched (it seems) every game ever played.

For example, Donovan McNabb has played in 150 games, started 144 of them and has engineered 15 4th quarter comeback drives that won games as well as eight other 4th quarter drives when the score was tied and that drive ended up winning the game. This would be expressed as 15 + 8 = 23.

It's tricky. If you play for a great team, how often are they behind in the 4th quarter? How do you measure a QB's "batting average" in 4Q game-winning drives accurately. I doubt that you can. BUT, for the heck of it, I provide you with a few samples: Games started, 4th-quarter comeback wins and game-winning drives (meaning it was tied and he won it with a 4Q drive.)

McNabb: 144 games-15 4Q comeback wins-8 (other) game-winning drives).

Jason Campbell: 54 games-4 4Q comeback wins-7 (other) game-winning drives.

Elway: 231...35...11.

Bradshaw: 158...19...8.

Griese: 151...16...4.

Jim Kelly: 160...22...29.

Aikman: 165...16...6.

Montana: 164 (but 192 games)...31...33.

Marino: 242...36...15.

Tarkenton: 239...30...4.

Favre: 285...29...14.

Unitas: 186 (211 games)...36...4.

Peyton Manning: 194...35...9.

There is no chance whatsoever that I have this exactly right. I offer it strictly FWIW.

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Arlington Nats Fan: My read of your column today was that if the Lerner's don't let loose the reins on spending StanK is out of here. Where would you spend $20M this off-season? Re-signing Dunn doesn't move the needle very much because payroll only goes up by the increase in his contract over current value. Crawford? Werth? Are you ready to give up on Bernadina, Morgan, and Morse? Next year's rotation could include JZimm, Marquis, Lannan, Livo, Mayo and Detwiler. Who's the big name pitcher out there to sign that you push out one of those guys for? Bonderman? I respect your opinion, but I'm tired of your "spend just to spend money" columns.

Tom Boswell: I think the Stan horse is out of the barn.

Some with the Nats think that they need to get a free agent 1st baseman to replace Dunn, plus two starting pitchers, one a free agent, the other in a trade that increases payroll. You can only get Cliff Lee if Biggest Contract is the decisive factor. But, as with Teixeira, Lee is the Grade A Goods type that the Lerners have shown that they will bid high to get. At 32, Lee is the fantasy for a lot of teams. So, that's a long shot. The problem with trading for a pitcher is that the other team always wants a pitcher back __and it's always ordan Zimmermann.

With Strasburg, Harper, Espinosa, Ramos, Desmond, Z'man, Z'mann, Storen in their future, I think that the Nats will find that their money "spends better" than it has in the past. Yes, the Nats are an OFer short and Crawford and Werth are obvious targets.

The reason the Nats need pitchers is that, by '12, Marquis will be gone; Livan will be old; Maya has thrown 88-91 mph, not 92-94 as they thought; the Z'mann question __will he ever throw 94-96 again, or just 92-94__ won't be answered until he's another 6 months removed from TJ surgery.

Bernadina, Morgan and Morse all look like valuable pieces of OF platoons to me. Morgan is hopeless vs LHers. Career, Morse's OPS is .880 (star) vs LHers, but .759 vs RHers (average for an OF). Bernadina, as a LFer, brings "plus" defense. But does he have enough power to play there?

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Pat (Denver): Boz, I like your chats because it gives you the chance to go "All Posnanski" on us - stream of consciousness writing at it's most entertaining.

Also, I believe Posnanski is a Poz to your Boz.

Tom Boswell: Ha! Thanks. Poz is always fun. nd this is certainly a weekly kick for me. As Ken Denlinger used to say, "What do you do with a 6-to-8-inch column idea?" In the past, you wasted it. Now it's a natural part of a chat.

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Best Manager: Ron Gardenhire.

Tom Boswell: Nice pick. Love his demeanor.

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Harper: Should I be concerned about what it says about Bryce Harper that his favorite teams are the Cowboys, Yankees, Lakers, and Duke. All front runner flashy teams that I hate and that take no real commitment or dedication to be a fan. Except for the Lakers, those are LeBron's favorite teams and we have seen what type of guy he is.

Tom Boswell: He's only 17. I prefer to think of the Cowboys, Yankees, Lakers and Blue Devils as "youthful indiscretions" that can be outgrown.

LeBron has passed the age of forgiveness. He needs to have his "tweet" revoked.

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Fairfax, VA.: Tom:

From what you've seen and heard, are the purse strings likely to be opened wider and more willingly when Mark Lerner takes over running the Nationals than they are right now with Ted running things?

Tom Boswell: Probably.

Mark really loves the game. I saw him a week or so ago and he was talking about how, when he has to fly coast-to-coast, he takes along the DVD of the Strasburg debut game __the whole game__ and watches it on his computer when he gets a little down about something Nats-related.

"I've watched it 12 or 14 times so far," he said, a lttle ruefully. Ironically, the best businessmen make the worst baseball owners sometimes while the owners who are, to some degree, fans themselves often make the best ones. Steinbrenner, Jack Kent Cooke, Leonsis, Ted Turner and many others had a fan's heart when it came to sports: They just couldn't stand losing and identified with the people in thre stands. It's probably not bad news, for the longterm, that Mark got hit in the nose by that flyball in batting ractice.

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Fairfax, VA.: Tom:

As bad as things have been for the Redskins under Daniel Snyder, I still say the team is better off than it would have been if the Milstein family had bought the team. Do you think the Nationals would have been better off if the Fred Malek - Jeff Zients group had bought the team or is the team better off with the Lerner family?

Tom Boswell: The Malek group laid a lot of groundwork for years. Selig likes family ownership (continuity), really high net worth (staying power) and good people (philanthropic, egos under control, not Owner Showboats), so he picked the Lerners. And he picked Kasten to team up with them. It was all 100% Bud. No one else in baseball had any involvement at all.

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Who You Got?: Time, Boz, to do some AL post-season prognostication. Looks like the Yanks, Rangers, Twinkies and Rays. All 4 have good teams. Who do you have going into the ALCS and winning it? I like the Twinkies to make the WS. Against the Phillies.

Tom Boswell: I'm loving the Yanks/Rays battles the last two weeks. If they meet, it will be classic. CC and Price will have a hard time matching their rumble last week when they meet today. I've never seen a high-quality high-priced team as dependant on the health of one old pitcher as much as the Yanks are on Andy Pettitte.

I believe in power pitching in the playoffs. The Phils currently have three of the top nine strikeout pitchers who will be in the playoffs. Halladay (213), Hamels (207) and Oswalt (183). Despite Lidge in nthe bullpen (scary), I think they've hit their stride at the right time. The Giants, if they make it, have Cain, Lincecum and Sanchez but something looks off about Linbcecum. He's not as dominant.

A lot of teams just don't have the arms __or the arms aren't pitching well now__ to get all the way to the Series: Cinn, Braves, Texas.

I hate repeat World Series, but the Phils-Yanks is looking like a better and better pick. TV would hate it, but if I had to watch a repeat, I'd enjoy Phils-Rays a lot more.

Gmme another week and we'll talk post-season more. Late "form" matters. The Nast will have a big say this weekend in whether the Braves win the wildcard.

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Herndon: If Kasten leaves will Bud Selig view it as his failure. Do the powers that be in MLB think they made a mistake in their choice of the Lerners, can and would they put pressure on the Lerners to not destroy their fan base. I had season tickets the first couple years at RFK and first in the new park. I have been to 5 games total the last two years which is less than I have been to the P Nats and with a new team in Sterling coming I will take my baseball dollars elsewhere until this team shows some life.

Tom Boswell: Bud keeps a close eye on Washington. He thinks it should be a very successful franchise and will consider it a personal failure if it doesn't work out well. Commissioners apply ressure. However, if the Nats improve by 8-9 wins, have Strasburg and Harper in the pipeline and Kasten says, as he does, that the job is being adequatley done __after a couple of wased years__ then Bud's probably going to be patient.

Doesn't that make you feel better?

No?

Are you one of those hard-to-please types who don't think the Nats, in a major market, should be the second-worst team __ahead of the Pirates__ over the last five years?

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Washington, DC: There are rumors that the Royals might trade Zach Greinke. Do the Nats have the pieces to get him? Will they make an effort regardless, if Greinke indeed becomes available?

Tom Boswell: You almost never see a top pick traded soon after he's signed, or even a year or two later. It makes future picks gun shy. What, you pick me then you trade me?

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Twins: Is this the year Gardy and his boys finally break through? There's been a lot of talk in the Twins interwebs that this is the best Twins team of the Gardenhire era. Despite some major losses like Nathan and Morneau, they've quietly amassed the best record in baseball.

Tom Boswell: Please, don't mention the Twins too often to me __they are the original Senators.

Just think, two years ago, the Twins were 21st in attendance, two spots BEHIND the Nats. But the Twins increased their payroll by 50 per cent __f-i-f-t-y__ this year to open their new park. Now, the Twinkies are sixth in attendance, drawing 39,783 a game.

There's a lesson in there somewhere. I just can't put my finger on it. Of course, I wrote about 10 columns on it 3-4 years ago. New Park + More Payroll =>.500 Team = Exponentially Bigger Fan Base/Momentum. Oh, well.

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Sacramento, CA: RE: Bryce Harper's teams... He's from Las Vegas. His local teams are... LA teams? LA is 4 hours away. And football left when he was 2. Might as well pick teams that are often on TV.

Tom Boswell: Harper has a very extroverted colorful personality and I suspect we should just enjoy it, cut him some teenager slack on the little stuff. He has very nice and very discipline-oriented parents, plus a big brother. I think his ego will be kept in check within his own family. Gotta see him with 500+ pro at bats, but he really could be a big-time hitter. Get ready world, because he sure wants to be in the '12 Opening Day lineup if he can crush every picher he sees the next 18 months. One Nats exec said, "'12? He wants to be in our lineup NOW." Not a criticism. he doesn't say he should be. That's just his level of expecation about himself.

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San Diego, CA: If I see Strasburg around town, what should I tell him?

Tom Boswell: Take it slow. Don't worry about '11.

We all want to see you in '12, '13, '14', '15' and '16 __all years when he's still under Nats team control.

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20906: Even though the Redskins lost the other day, it was more than overcome in my book by seeing what a top-shelf QB can do for the team. Seems to me the running game will come together and the defense will get better and they may even exceed 8 wins.

Tom Boswell: After watching the Texan game again on tape a couple of times, I think you were seeing a high-quality Houston team. It's very bad to blow a 17-point lead. But I think that game demonstrated that the Skins are going to be very tough to beat at FedEx this year. That alone is a big change from 5 __f-i-v-e__ home loses last year.

Because they seem to have a poor running game and may be vulnerable as they are learning a blitz-crazy scheme, will they get upset on the road by teams they should beat.

Doubt it, but "meet me in St. Louis."

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Washington, DC: The Nats have shown a willingness (with Chapman and Maya, at least) to spend some money on international free agents. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus recently reported that many expect 26-year old Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish to be posted soon. He also reported the Nats to be amont the teams "said to be very high on him." Have you heard anything about Darvish from the Nats, and do you think they would pay what it may take ($50 million?) to get him?

Tom Boswell: Stan was talking to Ryozo Kato, the commish of Japanese baseball, about Darvish when Kato was still Japan's amabassador to the U.S.

So, Kasten has been on this for years. Hope he sticks around, though I doubt it, to work it out.

See, you next week. Thanks again.

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