Redskins, Baseball Hot Stove, more -- Ask Boswell

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was online to take all your questions about the Redskins, baseball free agency and more.

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Washington, DC: Tom, your Tuesday column on the per-game "fight" instigated by some Redskins was great. But little is said by anyone else. Did the Eagles decide to defend their honor and cream the Skins because of that "fight"? Or was it part of the Eagles plan to go out and try to score quickly? Buried not too deeply here is the impression that, if a team is so inclined, it can go out and score practically at will on another team. Redskins-Eagles pregame scuffle only fired up Philadelphia and exposed Washington

Tom Boswell: Nobody got to talk to the players until after midnight, but DeSean Jackson made it clear what the Eagles thought. This is his quote that was on Sports Center the next a.m.

"The pre-game altercation got us going, man. That had us ready. We came back in the locker room pumped up," said Jackson. "We were like pitbulls trying to get out of the cage."

Obviously, the last part of the quote is "unfortunate."

I've seen this sort of thing for a long time. I covered high school sports for 5+ years for the Post and probably went to two games a week, at least, sometimes an afternoon and night game on the same day. So maybe 125-to-150 games. It wasn't unusual to see underdog teams when they were on their own field try to intimidate the favored visitor. It's high school or playground stuff and usually backfires. False bravado, etc.

As I said, you can't prove causality, but you also never give a foe "bulletin board material" to fire them up. Well, this beat any inflamatory bulletin board quote by a mile. The Redskins did it just in time to amp up the Eagles juices. The Eagles never crossed the sideline. They were all behind their bench or on their way to the tunnel. A few Redskins, apparently Landry and Hall in particular taunting Jackson about his concussions this year, ended up across the far sideline on the Eagles side of the field. It took a while to develop. Eventually, you had refs between players and then the rest of the Redskins who were just being good teammates. I watched the whole thing unfold. Just bush league.

It's interesting. When I came up, you covered a "big game" at the high school or even local college level with a couple of other reporters, probably from the Washington Star and smaller local papers. You reported what you actually saw with your own eyes or heard with your own ears. You didn't have players brought to you in a mass interview. There wasn't an "offical" version of events. Anybody who doesn't think that a pre-game yelling, pushing match doesn't have an impact on the beginning of the game has never played football or been on the field in the middle of it, listening to it. Maybe the Eagles would have won convincingly anyway. (Or "probably.") But it was the HISTORIC beginning of the game __the biggest, fastest blowout by a road team in the entire history of the NFL__ that made you look back and say, "What was the catalyst? What made this different? What helped the Eagles start SO spectacularly and pore it on so ruthlessly? They were already trying to "get back" for a defeat in Philly to the Skins, a game in which the Redskins outhit them and injured Vick. To me, this is exactly when you don't give the other team ammo.


DC: The problem with the Skins is they never say we are rebuilding, it may take some time. If you tell your fans that and we finish 7-9 or 6-10 it will go over a lot better than were trying to win a Super Bowl this year but were gonna get our butts handed to us on national television per usual.

Tom Boswell: Of course you don't actually say "6-10 or 7-9" to the public, but there are plenty of code words to give your fans a clue. And to let your own team know that you are in touch with reality, not just selling the product or believing your own rosiest possibilities.

Certainly the Wiz have prepared their fans for a season of taking lumps and, in recent days as they have finally conceded that they probably aren't going to get much accomplshed in free agency, so have the Nats. And the Caps know what's (logically) expecvted of them.


Navy Yard: Carlos Pena? Carl Pavano? Sounds pretty mediocre to me. No one's going to call a friend and say, "Wow, Pavano's pitching tonite. We've got to go to the game!" Would these be stop-gap moves or long-term pieces?

Tom Boswell: They are stop-gap pieces, as I've said for months. That's why keeping Dunn when a deal could probably have been done in mid-season for $40-million for three years was so important. Then '11 looks interesting. You have a Zim-Dunn-Willingham middle of the order again and harper on the horizon for '12-'13. You find out if Morse or Bernadina can lengthen the lineup. You have optimism about Desmond's second year and Espinoza's rookie season. And the rotation of Zimmermann, Livan, Lannan, Marquis and X looks less bad than any rotation since '05. That may not equal .500. But it gets you interested. Subtracting Dunn and talking about Jorge de la Rosa doesn't have the same impact!


Austin, TX: A few chats ago, you mentioned a trivia question you often use along the lines of: who hit a HR his first AB, a triple his next, and not another HR or 3B during the rest of his career? Well, I'm stumped ... Care to share the answer?

Tom Boswell: Hoyt Wilhelm.

That's what I thought anyway. I've heard, and repeated this for much of my life. But I just looked it up. I've been telling it wrong my whole life! Wilhelm had a homer in his first SEASON and triple in his second SEASON __not his first and second GAME__ and never had another one of either in his 1,070 games. Of course, he was a knuckleball pitcher and in the HOF.

Well, better 30 years late than never (I guess.) Can I have a link to on my desert island, please?


Goldsboro, NC: Wasn't signing Donovan McNabb, a quarterback Mike Shanahan has little confidence in, to a lucrative, long-term contract a slap in the face of Shanahan? What are the odds that Shanahan will be coaching the Redskins next year?

Tom Boswell: This is a wild one.

It's now obvious, after the usual NFL-contract misdirection information has started to settle, that this is a sensible deal that will probably make McNabb the Skins QB in '11 and '12, assuming he plays somewhat like Donovan McNabb. And I think he will.

So, Shanahan isn't undercut as much as it looked like at first. That's good. The contract was a kind of apology to Donovan. As well as what looked like good PR __until the kickoff!

as I'll point out in a future column, Shanahan and McNabb really need to face the probability that they are going to be on the same team for a couple of years. Shanny needs to bend his system some toward McNabb's proven skill set. A lot of what Shanahan did in Denver was gear to play a mile high. It's a huge edge, if you use it right, and in Denver, he did. His Broncos were 87-30 at home, but 58-61 in road games. That's .744 vs .487 or almost 26 percent better at home with Denver's smaller, quicker linemen running plays that are interlockingly designed to exhaust the larger visting team's big defenisve front. (The league norm is about 58% wins for the home team. Gibbs breakdown was .699 vs .552. So Shanny is way abnormal in maxing out his Denver edge. Brilliant. But we're at sealevel now. He needed to tweak some things to make use of McNabb's mobility. He's not Vick, but he's still very good. This guy was a pro-bowl QB LAST YEAR.

Re McNabb's play: I've been an avid Skins tape watcher since the '80's when it was a pain to do it. I remember thinking, "Wow, Darryl Grant is a really good DT. He just never gets any attention." I've been watching every snap with McNabb this year, sometimes 2-3 times. TV isn't as good as their overhead "coach tape." But you can see plenty. You can see complete pocket disintegration on play after play! I was glad to hear Jaws say, in a pre-Monday night interview, that he thought McNabb actaully played quite well against the Lions __except for the one hideous 4Q interception. Nobody watches film better than Jaws. Until then, I thought I was losing my mind. I kept saying to people, "McNabb played well. I'm amazed he generated 20 points (not counting the TD return on a kickoff), had as few sacks as he did and had over 200 yards passing. He's lucky to be alive."

Considering he was behind 21-0 so fast, he was poor-to-decent against the Eagles until the pick-six. That was awful. The game's over. Don't stare down a receiver and give away another TD. Well, if Galloway is a receiver. Come on, who did McNabb have on the field with him? A 3rd string RB, who had a nice game, but still... He's got Galloway, ho should be a receivers coach, not a receiver, on the flank. Cooley is banged up. Portis, for pass blocking has been gone forever. And the offensive line...don't even go there.


Canyon Rim, Utah: Superb column the other day on the Redskins' offensive woes. But is there any reason for assuming that--with arguably slightly better offensive linemen, running backs, and wide receivers, not to mention more experienced coaches--the Redskins would have fared worse so far this year with Jason Campbell behind center?

Tom Boswell: They wouldn't have four wins with Campbell. I still think, as I wrote last year, that Campbell is an average NFL QB, somewhere between No. 12-13-14 and 18-9-20. He won't stop you from making the playoffs. In a peak year with an excellent team around him, could he be a tough-guy-in-the-pocket and excellent bomber like Mark Rypien? Maybe.

McNabb is a whole level better __but not one of the best. If you want to know who he is and (who he isn't) just look at career passer rating. He's at 85.7. Who is around him for career stats? Culpepper (87.8), Garcia (87.5), Carson Palmer (87.5), Favre (86.3), Trent Green (86.0). And below him are Gannon, Bulger, Cutler, Brunell, E. Manning.

He's not Rivers, Manning, Brady, Brees __all in the 90's.

If you added 3-or-4 TD passes to his stats this year for all the fluke plays when his long passes went to players who got tackled at the 1, 3, 5-yard lines, his QB rating would be near what it's always been __even with no O-line support. Two of his INTs have been meaningless end of half or end of game heaves for the sake of the team. The TD-INT ratio has huge impact on QB rating __as it should. But McNabb has been snakebitten on that in '10. How often do you see a guy throw completions of 71 and 76 yards that aren't TD passes? Vs the Eagles, he ended up getting the TD passes in the red zone. But all year it's been going the other way: 40-yard+ pass, but no TD.


Stats Tell The Story: Great column the other day Boz on the Skins offensive stats for the past decade. 2nd lowest in the NFL for that time period tells a LOT about the state of affairs and how they got there. Your analysis of those stats was spot on, also. The one constant during that period is the ownership. Not trying to amp up Snyder bashing again, but the #s don't lie.

Tom Boswell: It shocks me that the Redskins don't apparently have a sense of this long-term problem. If they really internalized how much they needed to rebuild both their O-line and WR corps, there is no way that they'd also switch to a 3-4 defense where almost everybody on the defense now has a new job description; you have to swap out your roster even MORE in future to get players who fit your new scheme.

BTW, Shanahan is an offensive guru, but not a defensive one. His last two teams in Denver allowed more points (858) than any two Redskin teams in history. IOW, the '08-'07 Broncos gave up more points than the awful Skins defenses of '97 and '54__their two worst ever. All in all, Shanny's defenses have been exactlky league average (within 1 point) in his 17 years as a head coach. He's not good. He's not bad. And he should have left alone a 4-3 defense that worked just fine. You can tweak the 4-3 to try to get more big plays and turnovers. You don't have to scrap it.

Oh, another fun stat: 15 of 32 NFL teams now use the 4-3. Nine of them have winning records. Both defenses work just fine. The task is to figure out which scheme FITS YOUR PLAYERS BETTER. The 4-3 fit the Skins. How's the 3-4 looking?


Centreville, Virginia: Tom- As someone who has had season tickets at Nats Park since the beginning (clearly a glutton for punishment), can you point to a reason why I should renew this year. Is there any hope of playing close to .500 ball?

Tom Boswell: This will be the best (least-bad) starting pitching they have had in five years. The bullpen is pretty good. (Did you see that Capps had a 2.00 ERA in his 23 games with the Twins and ended up with 42 saves! God for Matty.) A lot of young Nats players, like Ramos at C, may improve a lot. But they killed themselves at the box office without Dunn.

They could win a quiet 75 games and everybody will say, "Well, I'll wait until '12 when Strasburg (maybe) comes back and Harper (maybe) comes up to get excited. Within the season ticket group that I'm part of we already see the apathy. They were so close to building interest. We'll see how Rizzo does in the off-season, He exceded my expectations last year. Maybe he'll do it again. Maybe Pena has a comeback year, if they get him.

Don't write off entire seasons. Baseball fools us. And we love it. How many had the Rangers and Giants in the Series?


Reston, VA: Bryce Harper seems to be meeting/exceeding all expectations in the Arizona Fall League and understand he will begin next season in Hagerstown. What should we look for in 2011 from him that will make us believe he is truly on track to be the next Griffy or ARod? Should he be batting .400 in Syracuse by the end of the year?

Tom Boswell: Great question.

At 18, in A and AA, Griffey hit .325 and slugged .577. He was up the next year to stay. At 18, A-Rod hit .312 and slugged .577. He went back to the minors for half a year at 19 and hit .360 with an 1.065 OPS. So, they kinda had to bring him up!

Harper's power may be more fully developed than either of them at 18. But will his batting avarage, knowledge of strike zone, etc., be as good at as young an age? He's met every (high-end) expectation so far. We shall see!


Pre-free agency: Where do you come down on the risk/reward for baseball GMs signing their "free agents to be" on their roster to extensions before the contract is complete (and risking overpaying for what the free agent market will be) instead of allowing a key player to hit the open market, being outbid and leaving a huge hole in your lineup (or overpaying yourself to fill it)? I ask this as a Sox fan about to lose two middle of the lineup hitters (including one at a thin MLB catching position): Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre. I think VMart would have taken a four year extension at some point last season but now he's a lock for five years which the Sox don't want to do given his age/serviceable catching years left.

Tom Boswell: If you want the guy, ink him early __in mid-season of his walk year__ and you'll be right 80%+ of the time. I've seen it forever.

Victor Martinez, 31, is a prize. C, 1st and DH, .300 career average. Team leader. But the less he's a catcher, the less his spectacular his value.


San Francisco C A: I just don't see the McNabb angle in this latest loss. McNabb doesn't play defense, and he isn't the defensive coordinator with two weeks prep time. After the defense got punched in the mouth to start things, I don't think he was the one that called three straight running plays with the 4th or 5th string running back starting his first game. The first pick he put right on the receivers hands. After that they are playing all pass catch up and stats are out the window. I know the contract means it's all his fault, but lets not give the Coordinators a pass.

Tom Boswell: All good points. Thanks.


Arlington, VA: "... and, in recent days as they have finally conceded that they probably aren't going to get much accomplshed in free agency, so have the Nats."

Huh? Whaaa? I thought I just read that the payroll will be increased and that Rizzo is looking at all kinds of deals?

Tom Boswell: Within the last two days, he's now made it clear that it will be very hard to get that "top of the rotation" starter they talked about. See Adam Kilgore's Nats Insider posts. (Oh, you heard me say in September that there was no way they'd get a true "top" guy.)

They can increase payroll and should. And they can improve. But all that Cliff Lee talk was smoke. And so was the stuff about maybe-we'll-get-Capps-back and we-can-still-sign-Dunn-after-the-season. Baseball people just laugh at this and can't believe that fans buy it.

Don't buy it. Don't worry, I'll try to keep on telling you when they say stuff that is just ridiculous. All teams do it. Or most. Mike is way over on the good-guy honest side of the spectrum. But he needs to handle this kind of thing a little better.


Dulles, VA: Are you excited as I am about professional baseball arriving in Northern Virginia - Loudoun Hounds?

Tom Boswell: Hope you enjoy going to the dogs!


B in Reston, VA: Hi Boz...The likelihood the Nats getting Lee is slim to none, eh. Do you think it's smart for them than to empty out the top prospects in the farm system to get Greinke? I'd rather they go after a De La Rosa, Webb or "place name here" type.

Tom Boswell: This is another B Lst off season. But look at the B List (and C List) guys who ended up in the Series. Huff, Burrell, Colby Lewis (!). The Rangers got Vlad Guerrero on a one-year deal for $5.5-million and he had 115 RBI!

There are huge bargains out there every year. The Nats stole Capps last year, then traded him for an A List catching prospect.


Dumb question: What did McNabb get out of signing the extension? Didn't he lock himself in contractually to a dysfunctional franchise which recently dissed him publicly when they can turn around and dump him for $3.75M right before a lockout?

Tom Boswell: I got calls from people involved with potential NFL team sales who wondered if Dan was accidentally tipping off that there WOULDN'T be a lock out with such a big long-term contract. But the shape of the contract __much less than people thought__ actually points the other way. Anybody who doesn't think there will be an off-season lock out in the NFL is living on the moon. Will they lose any games? Or many? Another questionb. I still doubt it.

The McNabb deal is almost perfect for both sides. McNabb gets $3.5-M in hand right now. For next year, the Skins won't be able to do any better. So, he'll be back. As his agent said about '11: "$16M is $16M." If he's hurt tomorrow or plays horribly, the Skins still have their options open. And if the Skins are dumb enough to let McNabb go after one year _which they won't because of the draf picks and because, well, he's still Donovan McNabb__ there will be teams glad to prove the Skins wrong. (Again.)


Chattanooga, Tenn.: Good morning, Mr. Boswell, and thanks very much for continuing to do these chats when it seems like the Post has substantially cut back on them. You provide insights here that go beyond what we can read in the Post's articles and columns.

With Buck signing for three years and $18 million, and Benoit signing for three years and $16.5 million, what impact in general do you see this having on the free agent market, and in particular the Nats' potential to have any kind of success in their dealings in it? Also, please speculate on whom and how much you think Adam Dunn might sign for.

Tom Boswell: Looks like the Dunn baseline is about $40M for 3 years, which is exactly what one of his teammates and friends said he'd sign for with the Nats in mid-season in one of my columns. If somebody goes to four years, they'll probably get him. The nats finally got a 3-yr deal for $30M on the table. Too little too late. Look, he's not Babe Ruth. Turn the page. (Grrrrr.) Maybe Pena or somebody else works out. But I did a burn for years after the O's did the same thing and let Raffy go back to Texas instead of resigning him when he wanted to stay. yes, I know, Raffy has a black eye now. But he averaged 43 homers and 122 RBI the next five years in Texas at ages 34-to-38.


Lessburg, Va.: Hi Tom, what was your take on Albert Haynesworth's beached whale imitation during the Skins-Eagles spanking on Monday night? If this isn't a complete microcosm of the Redskins during the Snyder years then I dread to see what else is in store.

Tom Boswell: It is amazing that you can sign Haynesworth when he seems like solid gold and have it be a total flop.

It is amazing that you can trade for Donovan McNabb when he looks like every QB from Y.A. Tittle to Kurt Warner who was given iup on way too soon, then he comes here and has a QB rating like Mark Brunell and Jeff George. There are 30 McNabb Comp transactions that worked. The Redskins have done it three time __Brunell, George and...I'm not going to say it.

It is amazing the rwedskins can sign Marty SAchottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs II and Shanahan when ALL of them look like can't-miss ways to fix the mess and ALL of them have big proiblems in the first year! Marty hates Vinny. Spurrier is out of his league. Gibbshas to hire an offensive coordinator because his HOF system no longer works! Shanahan hires his son who looked great with the Texans and now we have Shanny-Shanny-Donovan ring-around-the-rosebush of who's to blame because the line can't block.

There are plenty of teams better than the Redskins, but there are very few better sagas!

Thanksd. See you next week.


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