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Stan Kasten, Redskins, and more -- Ask Boswell

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, September 30, 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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Washington, DC: As always, great column today, Boz. But if the rumors are true, and Kasten is leaving the Nats because of the Lerners' stinginess, then why should we be optimistic that Rizzo will have any more sway and get the Lerners to actually act like owners of a big market baseball team, open up the pocket book, and sign some big-time free agents?

washingtonpost.com: It's time for the Washington Nationals to start thinking big

Tom Boswell: Kasten spent nearly five years teaching theLerners about baseball, just as Selig wanted him to. It was a shock how resistant they were and how much influence Bowden had, always saying that his reclamation project players would pan out (and cheaply).

However, the '08 disaster in a new park stunned them. They sure didn't want 102 loses that year. Then '09 reinmforced the lesson that "going slowly" __and not too expensively__ did NOT mean going BACKWARDS and alienating fans. So, the combination of the Dominican fiasco, Bowden leaving and a gradual acceptance of some of Kasten's ideas about what "doing things the big-league way" means began to take hold.

However, it's just not the proverbial "good fit" between Kasten and the Lerners. He really likes them. But he wants to be a leader __which the other Ted (Turner) allowed him to be. That's his core sense of himself. This is just my opinion. And he's never been able to lead in the sense that proven successful sports figures usually are given lots of rope. It's not white or black. He had lots of influence. And he gets lots of blame for what hasn't gone well. Also, he's almost pathologically loyal to his employer __like the wild man Ted Turner. Since he brought Turner around to his ways of thinking (or also learned from Turner), Kasten believed that he and the Lerners could eventually be a "fit." It's never really happened. So they part on good terms, but frustrated. Apparently, it's now coming out, Kasten actually wanted to announce his resignation after the Harper signing which was his last big hurdle. Then the Lerners/Nats, to a degree, control the spin when a column like mine last week brings out some of the issues. (Glad they didn't.)

Kasten wants to leave with a good face on things because he wants to take another shot at a bg job in sports. S, to a degee, it is amusing (or bitterly amusing?) that he's finally willing to go public with his Spend Now theme. Because, if they do, then the Nats will play bettefr in '11 and '12 and his time in office will look better.

Again, Rizzo and Kasten have had a good influence on the Lerners (meaning mostly Ted). And it's to his credit that he shows some flexibility (though not much). I think Rizzo and Ted are, tempermentally, two peas in a pod. I think the school-of-hard-knocks Rizzo __who's really been in the player development trenches his whole life and can tell Ted "this is who this guy realy is, this is his baseball identity, this is why you should want him"__ may do better at convincing ted that a player investment is worth the risk. Rizzo is not a sugar-coat-it guy. He can't help himself from being honest about a player's liabilities __like Dunn. And Ted "hears" those flaws.

The Nats may miss kasten's leadership, energy, swagger and connections. But it's also possible that Ted and Mike may be a natural team. That is FAR from established. But you're allowed to hope.

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Rockville, MD: I'd love to see the Nationals get aggressive in the free agent market this year, but they can't sign Ted Lilly (actual name Theodore Roosevelt Lilly) without changing the President's Race. Teddy would have to win!

Tom Boswell: Nice.

I've always thought it was irnoc that a team wned by a man named ted would have a daily race in which the mascot that never wins in also named Ted.

But it's another example of Ted Lerner's modesty. I'm not sure that's the right word. But it would never cross his mind that his namesake always loses; and if it did, he'd probably laugh. Not a big laugh. He's more like a one-chuckle-and-a-smile guy.

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Silver Spring: The Nats are 41 and 40 at home, yet they lose on the road consistently. Why - oh why?

Tom Boswell: They are very similar to most tems in this regard.

Home field is less an advantage in baseball than the NFL or NBA, but it has some weight.

Also, there are some Nats, like Dunn, who are out of the clubhouse pretty fast after loses on the road. Should they sit around and brood? (I'd probably like it if they did.)

As Storen said after Dunn's walk off homer this week, he really loves it that a 4 strikeout night just rolls off Dunn's back and he comes back the next night looking to crush somebody. "That's really good attitude for a reliever to see," said Storen.

But some "hard losers" might help the road record a bit. Carlos Pena has that reputatation. But he is also hitting .198.

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San Diego: Boz

With Kasten gone, do you think it is safe for me to come back to DC for opening day next year, without having to worry about my stadium being over run by semi-civilized thugs, and without having to buy a mini season ticket package that I did not want and could not use because all the tickets to the opener had already been sold to ticket brokers in the opposing team's city?

Tom Boswell: Nicely said. I bet you will never again see block tickets hawked to Phillies fan on Opening Day.

There would have been no problem if Phils fans had just had the same chance to buy random tickets as Nats fans. It was the packages, the buses, the blocks of tickets that was a problem; when you put Phils fans TOGETHER you are begging them to act like Phlly fans. (Or maybe just like any fans, though, come on, Phils fans like to live up to their image and they certainly did on Opening Day. That was absolutely awful.)

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One More Time: OK Boz, can you explain again why the Nats are willing to let Dunn walk? If the Nats offered Dunn 3 years, is it Dunn who is not willing to stay in DC for just 3 years? Will someone else give him the 4 he apparently wants?

Tom Boswell: The Nats never came off atrwo-year offer until last week after Kasten left. Then they moved to three years (from multiple sources). But it looks like it's similar to Dunn's last deal __averaging out to about $10M/yr. But he made $12M this year.

Of course, if Dunn goes into the FA market, he will look for four years. Why wouldn't he?

Would he take a 3-yr/$40M deal from the Nats? I'd say there is a very good chance that he would. I'd offer him 3yr/$36M in a heartbeat and probably do the 3/$40M.

Dunn said to me this week, "What about all the guys who went before me that helped us get these contracts? Don't I owe something to them?" Dunn likes to be liked __by other players. He doesn't want to be the guy who significantly lowered the bar for arbitration prices or other player' deals. I'm convinced, though I could be wrong, that he wants a "fair" three-year deal at the low end of the "normal" range of annual salaies for a 40-105 guy with a bad glove.

In other words, Dunn will settled for the lowest years and the lowest dollars that reflects the general market's view of his value. But the Nats view of his value __and they are entitled to a different perspective__ is more like 3 X $10M or 3 X $11M.

I don't think it will get Dunn. But there is some chance. And until the Nats finally went to three years, there was no chance.

One Nats exec said to me: "Oh, yeah, NOW they get it. They actually thought that as the year came to an end 'Adam will realize how much he will MISS Washington and he'll sign.' Arrrgghh! That the OPPOSITE of how it always works."

The leverage between team and player shifts as the season goes along. I've always said that you lose leverage, increase ill will and generally screw up everything with every week you wait from Opening Day until the All-Star Game. And after the md-point of the season, you've blown it if you really want the guy to come back.

The short version: Without question the Nats have TOTALLY mishandled the Dunn negotiates in a way that is practically amateurish. If they were ever going to make a three-year offer, they should have made it several MONTHS ago.

But, hey, they changed their minds. Last week.

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McLean, VA: Is the Haslet 3-4 defense going to turn into the Al Saunders 700 pg. playbook?

I don't care what Haslet does. He just needs to turn Orapko loose to go after the QB. It's a waste for him to be covering TE's or dropping back in coverage.

Tom Boswell: There was a TV show named after Andre Carter trying to play OLB in the 3-4.

It was called "Lost in Space."

I wrote in a chat when the Skins switched to the 3-4 that it seemed to me that it didn't suit the existing players. It made Cornelius Griffin obsolete and angered Haynesworth. There were no obvious in-house candidates for nose tackle. It put Carter out of position. Could it really make Orakpo even better than he was at DE? We'll see. Also, was Fletcher going to be better at ILB than he was as a MLB. Maybe he's equally good in both.

On the other hand, you have to give any new system some time. And by that I mean a lot more than three weeks. The whole season __at the least. Yes, they use some 4-3, too.

It's a myth that the Skins had a "top 10 defense" last year. What, in yards allowed? That's nice but who cares? They were 18th in points allowed, partly because they got so few turnovers. Yes, the bad offense contributes to the burdens on the defense. In '09, the Skins defense was much better than the offense. But it wasn't a true "top 10 defense" in my book.

Still, it was pretty decent and they blew up the scheme and shuffled a lot of players.

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Alexandria VA: Tom:

Great work on The Tenth Inning!! Your insights and thoughts were always dead on and interesting. One kind of silly question, just for us lay shlubs out here in the trenches: was it strange to sit there being interviewed with a bright light on the left side of your face, and your right side cast in shadows? And just how long did you have to sit like that? Thanks again, been a fan for years.

Tom Boswell: Thanks. You never know how you are being "lit." I'm not a TV person, so I just do what they tell me. My wife said she thought it looked a little odd. I thought it was fine. (Who cares?) It's safe to say that Ken Burns gets the "angle" that he wants! I certainly wasn't aware of the shadow effect. "Move your chair sideways a foot" would have changed it.

As for the filming, it was just 90-minutes in a hotel room in DC __one take. He asks a question, you answer. A couple of times I'd say, "That stunk. Lets do it again." And a noisy truck sometimes goes past outside the hotel and ruins the "sound" just when you think you've given an answer you're satisfied with. And Ken says, "Sorry, sorry" and cusses the truck.

I get the impression the PBS budget doesn't include blocking off city streets. In fact, it wasn't that big a hotel room! They did offer me a bottle of water. It kind of felt like a Nationals sort of operation __well intentioned, lots of nice people, but kind of "thin" with everybody working very hard to make a good product for the least money.

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Opening Night 2011: It's against the Braves. The Phillies Fanatics won't ruin that night.

Tom Boswell: Well, I think it'll be several years before the Phils are the Nats foe in Opening Day again. That will be avoided, I suspect. Of course, if Strasburg starts the '12 Opener, that would even things out quite a bit. In his last start, just before he hurt his elbow, he was pretty much turning the Phillies "A" lineup inside out. I thought his last start was perhaps his most impressive because it was the Phils and in Philadelphia. 4 1/3-2-1-1-0-6 and he was rolling. Until...

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Palisades: Stan Kasten as the replacement for Bud Selig as the MLB Commissioner?

Tom Boswell: I doubt it. Stan just can't keep from saying what he thinks and doesn't suffer fools well. And he may have too long a record of saying harsh things about the union. But I have no doubt that he could do it. And probably very well. Nobody's more qualified. He's a natural optimist __necessary in a leader__ even if those rose-colored glasses always stick out of his coat pocket.

But look at the amount of hostility that he evoked in D.C., a town that should have been easy to win over. His Nats years aren't going to help his resume. Maybe Stan could make the decisions in private, then, whenever somebody had to speak to an owner or the public, a soft-soap PR guy could come out to the podium in a "Stan Mask..."

Just an idea.

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Wsahington DC: Nice column today, but unless they offer the US Treasury, is there any chance for the Nats to sign Lee or Crawford to come to a perennial loser? PS Sign Dunn!

Tom Boswell: I expressed utter disbelief to an exec that the Nats would even bother talking to Cliff Lee. The answer: "What if what he wants is the most money?" He, go right ahead and find out the answer to that question.

Crawford and Werth are very good, but they are far from Teixeira level players. Werth has never driven in 100 runs, only hit more than 26 homers once and has a (fine) career OPS (.846) that's about the same as Josh Willingham. Werth is a fine RFer. BTW, he's also a Scott Boras client, as is Carlos Pena. Rizzo and Boras function well together, as I noted in a column. The Nats already have Pudge Rodriguez, Strasburg, Harper, Danny Espinoza and Alberto Gonzalez who are Boras clients. In Detroit, he funneled several stars to the Tigers __because the money was high and they could form a good team together__ and they went to the World Series.

It's a top pitcher that Rizzo wants most. BUT if you signed Werth, who's no super-duper-star and has much much better stats this year in cozy Philly than he does on the road (18 homers vs 8), then you could package __maybe a current Nats outfielder with a pitcher and prospect__ to get a top pitcher in trade, like Garza, Grienke.

When you sign a FA, it is pure added value and frees up tradeable pieces elsewhere in your organization.

Crawford is an excellent player, built on speed, but he's never hit 20 homers. (Yes, he does everything else.) And he's always been strictly a LF. His big plus is his age __just turned 29 and can still fly. He'd be a tough get. But why not try?

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Herndon, VA: Boz,

It seems coutnerintuitive that baseball would have LESS of a home field advantage. Each park, meaning each playing field, is different. In football, baseketball, etc, the dimensions of the playing area are identical. Why doesn't baseball offer more if a home field advantage?

Tom Boswell: Partly because that day's starting pitcher has so much impact. A fine pitcher can go on the road and turn it into a home game for his team.

Also, it's just the nature of baseball that games tend to be close. Every year roughly half of all games are decided by one or two runs. And plenty of other games are close until the late innings when they get blown out.

But the big point is that in the NFL and the NBA, the team is the team is the team __the same every game. In baseball, the team is: The Team Plus That Day's Pitcher, who can be one of five different guys.

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Section 117: I hope that Number 44 appreciated the Standing O we gave him for his last at bat. Even some of the Phillies Phans joined in. We're gonna miss that Big Donkey.

Tom Boswell: He's certainly making it hurt.

Twice on this last home stand he won the game by himself __two homers (off Tim Hudson!) plus a 2-rbi hit in a 5-RBI game, then, on Tuesday, both RBI, including the walk-off solo HR.

I was there in the stands with friends. It wasn't just a home run. It was a monumentally high, 430-foot-plus home run that was majestic, genuinely Ruthian __people were pointing up in the sky at the ball while it was in mid-flight saying, "LOOK at that!"

It was a MEMORY. I was with a man who'd been director of the Hirshhorn Museum for many years, now retired, and a Reds fan all his life __saw his first game in '38. He said, "Now THAT is a walk-off home run!" Then he got twice the fun because his Reds clinched the N.L. central a few minutes later when Bruce also hit a walk-off homer in Cincy.

But I bet it didn't look like Dunn's.

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Washington D.C.: So what's your prognosis for the Wizards this season? Wall seems like the real deal. Will some of the other guys like McGee and Blatche have break out years and Arenas return to his all-star form? Or are we looking at 50 to 60 loses?

Tom Boswell: My guess: a very bad team will improve so that it is merely a pretty bad team. That's pogress! (That's what the Nats did this year and what the Skins are trying to do.)

But if they lose less than 50 games, I'll be very surprised (and pleased).

It's nice that Arenas unveiled his 7th personality since coming to the NBA. Now he's the serious Gilbert who will never laugh again. Right. That guy isn't a foundation stone.

BTW, Clinton Portis looked 100 years old after the Rams game. Beaten up? Chewed out? Distressed at his reduced role? Don't know. But very different. And not in a good way. HGow he shows up to help McNabb in his return to Philly.

I suspect they'll "play up to the opponent" in Philly and that McNabb will play up to the moment, as stars usually do. But that doesn't mean they win. That Rams loss is going to hang over the season until/unless they get a comparably shocking victory to counter-balance it.

Would beating the Eagles in Philly be as remarkable as losing to a 1-27 team was remarkably bad?

Yes, Bradford is good. But even if you only think the Skins are roughly a 7-9 team, as I do, they still have to Beat Somebody. Now even @Detroit doesn't look automatic since the Lions came fairly close against the Eagles and Bears.

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Washington, DC: I was a bit stunned by your column this morning. I am an Indians fan, and there is simply no way they will spend anything. They will try to find a pitcher who has had problems, but might come back, so the Tribe will offer a one-year contract at very modest cost. To read your argument that the Nats should spend on 2 or 3 very good players is so foreign to my recent experience of the Tribe. (They did spend, to good effect, in the late 90s.) So I keep wondering if the Nats owners really can see a need to spend the way you describe.

Tom Boswell: They should, imo, TRY to spend. If you go aggressively after a top FA pitcher and Werth/Crawford, maybe you get one of them. Nobody gets their whole wish list.

But it's time for the Nats __in a top 10 market by any measure__ to start being consistently aggessive.

They only hada 2% chance for Teixeira. But their $25M offer to Aroldis Chapman __and they really thought they were going to get him__ shows that they can surprise the industry. And me. I told myself that day, "Don't sell them short. They are going to get SOMEBODY that nobody thinks they are going to get, probably within the next year or so." Today's column, in part, reflects that I have "wised up" that they are committed to trying to make at least one shock-'em-all move that chanes perception of the franchise, just as the signing of Strasburg and Harper has changed their image __outside Washington.

I have a feeling that when/if things change, the local Washington fans will be the last to know. A lot of ingrained defeatism, trolls under the bridge, surrounding Washington baseball. It's a mindset that has to be broken.

And, as you say, who thought that the Indians would reverse their history, build a powerhouse, be in the Series and have a long multi-year string of sellouts in a new park.

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Reston, VA: The more I think about it the more I think Rizzo is right on the money regarding the need for a #1 SP. If the Nats are ever going to hope to compete with the likes of the Phillies you need more than one #1, and at least three top-end starters. Fingers crossed, I think Strasburg and Zimmermann can be two parts of that, but we still need another #1. I would love to see them trade for someone like Greinke. Even if it hurts in prospects, which it surely will.

I hear Mike stating his goals, but how likely do you think such a goal is? Do you agree with Mike that we have the prospects to pull off that deal, and how painful do you think it would be?

Tom Boswell: I absoluely believe that a No. 1 starter is the Nats off-season priority and that Rizzo thinks he has the ammo to make a big run at it. He is a straight shooter. I have a lot of respect for Kasten, but, a times, he's a PR spinner, a rose-colored glasses guy, probably because he "sells" himself before he sells evertybody else.

As I said, after the Nats bid $25M for Chapman, and when they got Maya __whether he works out or not__ for $6.5M when others wanted him, too, I decided not to let the Nats surprise me again. Either in FA or trade, they are probably going to get a Cliff Lee, Garza, Grienke. Not for sure. But they said they'd get a Marquis-type starter last winter and they did, though they'd have prefered Garland. They said they'd get a closer and they did, Capps, though they went after Billy Wagner first. They were criticized for "over-paying" for Pudge, but where would they have been without him (okay, and his 30 GIDPs)? And they paid a bit for Livan, Wang and Olsen.

A top starter is going to be in a different price range. But I think they'll go there. Do they get him? If money talks, I think so. I wouldn't be amazed to see two starting pitchers added, not just one. The time to look out to '12'13 is now.

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10th Inning: Boz,

So glad Ken Burns included you when he got the band back together - you really add a lot to it. Was it hard admitting you enjoyed watching the Yankees in the late '90s? And why when you were mentioning key pieces of the team did you omit Jeter?

Tom Boswell: Oh, that answer hurt! But it was my favorite of the stuff that made the show.

I did end up really liking (not loving) those Yankee teams.

That's it for this week. Many thanks. See with the playoffs rolling and post-Skins-Eagles!

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