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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was online Thursday, Dec. 2, at 11 a.m. ET to take all your questions about the Redskins, baseball free agency and more.

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Tom Boswell: Good morning all. Plenty to chat about.

*It's not every day that you see a headline that says "U.S. Loses World Cup to Qatar."

*The Skins are playing exactly as NFL history would tell you to expect __on track for 7-9 after 4-12. Over the last 20 years, that's the norm for a bad team (11-or-more-loses) that gets a new coach: You win about three more games. But nobody seems too happy about it.

Will we ever reach a point where the reference point for the Skins is "reality," not hype or hope?

For example, Donovan McNabb has never had a 4,000-yard passing season. But he's on pace for 4,150 yards this year. Recently, he's been doing it with last-string running backs, a packwork line that's allowed the second most sacks in the league and, against the Vikes, had receivers drop six passes. (I went back and counted 'em.)

After their 29 yards rushing on Sunday, the Skins are on pace to have their second-worst rushing season since the '68 when Gerry Allen led the team with 399 yards on the ground. I suspect that, without Portis and with Not-So-Rugged Torain they may fall lower than the '94 Skins who were led by Ricky Ervins.

Whatever happened to the Skins/Gibbs mantra of "run and stop the run." That's what Leslie Frazier told the Vikes he wanted them to focus on the rest of the year.

The Skins often play their worst when there are expectations on them. But when the Skins are counted out or dissed, they seem to show up and play well, even if they sometimes lose with dignity. What do you folks expect Sunday in the Meadowlands?

*LeBron James and the Heat go to Cleveland tonight. They have the worst combination of centers and point guards in the NBA and their bench is even worse. Everybody says "They'll get it together." No, they won';t. Not this year. They're not remotely close to being a top team. it's just a question of whether Orlando or Boston gets to KO them first in the playoffs.

*The Caps look like their brief losing streak is past and I like the Fleischman for Hannan trade a lot.But if you read the long Vanity Fair piece of Ovechkin's off-season in Russia ("Ovechkin With Love") it'll curl your hair. Is he Mickey Mantle circa '57? Of course, the Yanks did pretty well with the fast-living Mick.

*The Georgetown win over Missouri this week was one of the best-played early-season games you'll ever see with the three guards Wright, Freeman and Clark at their best. The Hoyas will have nights when they shoot the lights out, back-door foes until their crazy and can beat anybody. But they'll need better insde play to be consistent.

*Oh, the Nats. No news there. Just waiting. Hoping. Mike Rizzo seems to come up with Plan B and Plan C when his Plan A's don't work. Still wonder if the Nats can get in the huntfor Crawford or Werth. You can't always think small-to-medium and defer the future forever.

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South Riding, Va.: Tom,

Do you think the Lerners have any understanding of the frustration and outrage that the fans have over the past few seasons? They just don't seem to get it.

You can't have Rizzo come out and say that their top priority is to get a #1 starter only to backtrack and start talking about how hard it is. They are just teasing the fans. If they let Dunn walk and replace him with Pena and bring in guys like Webb then this offseason is a complete disaster from a PR perspective.

The Lerners need to understand how much dislike there is for them right now.

Tom Boswell: South Riding,

The Nats are being run a lot better than they were two years ago before (some) money was spent on Dunn, resigning Zimmerman, getting Capps (Al-Star), Pudge and Marquis (he'll be 11-11 in '11.) Etc. The usual list.

But they still don't seem to understand that 1) you can't let Dunn get away because you can't be sure that you can replace him and 2) at some point you have to over-spend and get a top talent in his prime for a long-term deal __like a Crawford. The first one costs extra.

It'll be interesting to find out how much the Nats would have paid De La Rosa. Did he take less to stay in Colorado?

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Dunn: Let's see if I have this right, Boz. The fans want him. Ryan Zimm. wants him. I am sure Jim R. wants him. So it just makes sense to let him walk. How can the Nats 'powers to be' allow that to happen?

Tom Boswell: It's one of the most messed up non-negotiations and miscalculations I've ever seen. Luckily, Dunn is not Babe Ruth. Even thought he may hit 500 (or 600) home runs. But when the guy you're targeting to replace him hits .196, that's scary. And you can't be certain you'll even be able to sign Carlos Pena.

If it does turn out to be Pena, don't hold Dunn against him. If he bounces back and hits 30 homers with 95 RBI and hits .230 with 90 walks, the Nats can take another decent step forward next year. From 59 wins to 69 wins is hard to do. (Of course, it's hard to get bad enough to win only 59). The bullpen is much better and, believe it or not, the current rotation of Jordan Z, Livan, Lannan, Marquis and X should be the best since '05. Okay, not saying much.

If you're feeling gloomy, remember that Strasburg is only about 10 days behind the Zimmermann time table from '10. Jordan made 17 starts last year, including seven with the Nats. Don't be surprised if Strasburg starts 15 games __in the majors and minors__ next year. That would be a fairly normal Tommy John time line with "full recovery" by the start of '12, just as you'd hope that J Zim would be a bit stronger in April than he was in September.

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McLean, Va.: Tom, you're right on about the Nats' diminishing prospects for the hot stove season. They've probably lost Dunn; they're a non-starter for any of the free agents worth signing (Lee, Crawford, etc.), and it's hard to see any plausible trades being more than a wash for them because they'd have to give away as much quality as they'd be receiving. They seem to be dangling Willingham, Desmond and their catching prospects as trade bait; but it's hard to see them coming away with anything that will improve the team's performance in 2011. Would a trade for Grienke or Garza be worth the cost of losing some combination of J-Zimm'nn, Desmond, Willingham and/or Ramos/Norris? Are they ready to move Desmond and go with Lombardozzi and Espinosa in the middle infield? Is Morse ready to replace Willingham as a full-time outfielder? Even if they sign Pena and he bounces back after a down 2010 season, it's hard to see how they're better off without Adam Dunn. Can you see any realistic trade/free agent scenarios where the Nats go into spring training in a stronger overall position than they ended 2010? If they fail to land a decent starting pitcher, how bad would they be a returning combination of J-Zimm'nn, Marquis (hopefully back to himself), Lannan, Livo, Detwiler, and Maya?

Tom Boswell: McLean,

They do have trade pieces. A young cacther, either Norris or Ramos. The nats scouts love Ramos defense and think that's the core of the position. Then you see how much bat he eventually has. But Norris has shown a great "eye" in the minors. That usually translates to the majors.

The Nats could also trade Desmond or Espinoza since either can play SS. But you've got to get a major pitcher in return. Finally, Willingham is certainly tradeable, too.

But deals are harder to figure out than they seem. For example, Justin Upton was drafted on Rizzo's time in Arizona. His contract is big, but not huge and, at 23, he'd be your CF forever. I've heard this mentioned as "logical." But it probably isn't. The D'backs are strong at 2nd and SS and have a good enough catcher in Miguel Montero. So, the pieces that the Nats have to offer the D'bcks don't really need.

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Ruth: Tom,

Where do you stand on the Ruth pointing on the home run? I am currently reading Povich's book where he was there and said he did not happen. He was pointing at the pitcher who pitched him inside. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Of course I talked with Shirley about it. He's as good an eye witness as you could find. So, I go with the Povich version.

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Qatar?: One good thing, at least we'll figure out how to accurately pronounce "Qatar."

I'm not that upset, although it's beginning to look doubtful that the World Cup will come back to the U.S. in my lifetime (I'm in my 50's), or at least before I turn senile.

My hunch is that FIFA wants to continue to "globalize" the game and take the Cup to places it hasn't been before.

Either that, or the best bribes came from Russia and Qatar.

Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: I like the ring of "best bribes."

I covered Washington teams in two defunct U.S. pro soccer leagues. I assumed the sport would be huge by now. Wrong. You never know. But when Qatar beats us for the World Cup you have to wonder if the world really thinks the U.S. will ever be truly soccer crazy.

My son's generation all seem to follow European soccer. Does that bode well or does it mean that they look elsewhere to see The Best?

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Nationals offer for De La Rosa: The surprise team on De La Rosa (Fox Sports)

According to Rosenthal the team that made higher offer is believed to be the Nationals.

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

One of the problems with Kasten leaving is that, no matter how good a face he tries to put on it, anybody in baseball with a brain knows that he wouldn't have left if he thought things were being run the way he expected when he arrived. So, there's a Stan Cloud over the team. Kasten made mistakes that people here are accutely aware of. But he has a higher profile in the sports world, and more respect, than the rest of Nats Town put together.

Will the Nats be able to spend even when they try? Eventually, yes. But De La Rosa, despite a 5.02 career ERA, had top stuff, lots of K's and is only 29.

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Sec 114, Row E (but not anymore): Bos, do the Lerners know that if the Nats were a mall, the anchor store is a Dollar Tree? But not only is it a Dollar Tree, it's a Dollar Tree that charges Mac's prices?

Tom Boswell: Sec 114,

Nice analogy. But I'm keeping my tickets next year. You don't have to love how a team is run to enjoy it. There's been improvement. As I said in my first paragraph today, let the winter play out. Besides, I love watching young players develop. And they have a lot of good ones. But the baby Nats would do a lot better with a 38-homer cleanup man anchoring their lineup and reducing pressure on EVERYBODY else.

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World Cup Voting: It closely resembles the stadium roulette that the NFL and MLB play with willing cities. Notice how there's always a desperate team-less city or two out there, like Baltimore after the Colts left, that the league uses as leverage to get better deals. It's one reason why England never gets the World Cup. They're obviously soccer-mad, yet they get screwed over every time. Why should FIFA give them a World Cup and throw away a bargaining chip? After all, this is all about the money.

Tom Boswell: WCV,

Good points. Thanks.

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Long Island: Tom, Much talk in NY has focused on Derek Jeter's contract. I'm interested in your view since you were a close witness to how Cal Ripken's final years as an Oriole played out. (As a Mets fan, I'm enjoying this battle, but ultimately think Jeter will be back in the Bronx.)

Tom Boswell: The Orioles handled Cal properly at the end and never cut his salary. In fact, at a similar juncture, they actually gave him a multi-year raise. That's happened with several other iconic players.

However, this is a wonderful chances for the Steinbrenner Boyz to screw up, so I'm rooting for the worst-possible-Yankee-outcome. I just can't figure out what that is. Jeter is fading pretty fast, in my eyes. Maybe an embittered aging Jeter who gets a "good" deal that keeps him in the bronx is the "best" scenario __for everybody outside the Bronx.

Did you see that M Brian Cashman, an excellent D.C.-area prep athlete in his youth, is going to dress as a Santa elf and rappel down the side of a 22-story NYC building as part of an Xmas event. That's probably a lot less scary than being Yankee GM where, every day of the year, you're sort of an Anti-Santa Elf who's trying to steal everybody else's Xmas.

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Arlington, Va.: Is there any chance the Nats could come to Dunn now, after having botched things so badly, with a 3 or 4-year offer that is in his asking range? Would he even talk to them? I'm surprised there hasn't been more activity on him, I thought the Cubs would have scooped him up already.

Tom Boswell: They are still on civil terms. I'd be delighted to serve as a Nats foil __"See, Boswell is an idiot. We did sign him"__ if it got done. But it won't.

But the Cubs' wallet doesn't look as fat as it's been in the past or as fat as people thought it would be.

The Victor Martinez deal with Detroit gives an idea of how high Dunn could go if he chose to be a A.L. DH or __maybe with a team like the Orioles__ only play 1st base 3 times a week. VM got $50-million for four years. He's 32 and may have 1-to-2 more years as a most-of-the-time catcher. But this is mostly a DH-1st base contract. Martinez has a career OPOS + of 121 and was 122 last year in Boston. The average A.L. DH was OPS+ of 114 last year.

Dunn had an OPS+ of 141 in his two years as a Nat. And he's stayed healthier and played more games than Martinez.

Grrrrr.

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Nats should buy Jeeter: Love,

Danny Snyder

Tom Boswell: Dan probably thinks Jeter would make a fine third-down receiver. You could probably get him for $20-million-a-year.

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Hoyaville, D.C.: Tom,

Not surprisingly, all the JTIII haters have gone into hiding. I remember listening for the last two years about how bad his Princeton offense is. Now with good players on the team they are #4 in the country in offensive efficiency according to KenPom.

Allot of "experts" predicted the Hoyas would fall off this season with the departure of Greg Monroe, but in reality the loss has opened up more shots for Jason Clark and he is clearly taking advantage.

How far can this Hoya team go this year?

Tom Boswell: In THAT game, both the Hoyas and Missouri looked like teams that breeze into the Sweet 16 and probably the Elite Eight. But that's one game. Still, the Hoyas can shoot down almost any team on a given night. So, with one big win in March, they could "bust a bracket" and go a long way. I've always loved watching the Princeton offense. Drive at your man, look for the back-door cutter and, at the same instant, somebody else "replaces" the cutter to get open for a kick-out trey.

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Sec 114, Row E (but not anymore): Other than he "wasn't happy" - will we ever know the full, true story as to why Kasten left? Do you have a tell all book in the works with him - where we can find out how bad the Lerners are behind the scenes?

Tom Boswell: Sec 114,

You mean does he have a library of huge thick binders full of documents and memos that go back years and would make great reading on a cold winter night in 2030?

I have no idea.

(But I think Bob Woodward has gotten at least 17 best-sellers out of disgruntled guys who did that.)

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Why?: Hey Boz, you are right about the Redskins and their likely 7-9 season being a big improvement over last year. But. It feels as bad. Why?

Tom Boswell: Rebuilding a bad broken team is slow painful work and nobody enjoys it. But first you have to recognize that's what you are.

My pre-season column on the Skins analyzed this and pointed out that they'd most likely be 7-9 with no better than a 1-in-7 chance of making the playoffs.

The really sobering thing is that the large majority of teams that showed a big improvement with a new coach in his first year had a relapse in their second year in the new system. The Redskins aren't going to playoffs this year and they probably aren't going next year either. That doesn't mean they aren't, finally, back on the right general track.

They're way ahead of the Wizards, I promise you that. The poor Wiz are headed to 55-to-60 loses. Again. I've been watching them (hopefully) and analyzing their stats. After 17 games, they are being outscored by 7.9-points-a-game. That would be their worst point difrential in the last 20 years __which includes seasons of 19-63 (-7.4 pts, 24-58 (-7.3) and 22-60 (-7.0).

And the point differential is (slightly) WORSE in the 11 games that John Wall has played. Getting him back, at least in his early-rookie-year incarnation, probably isn't going to help because it marginalizes Arenas. Long term, of course they've better off with him __though he plays the Iverson no-fear style and you already worry about how much he'll get hurt. He's fun to watch. But he makes you hold your breath every time he hits the floor with bodies landing on him. And explosive penetration, which means contact, IS a core part of his game.

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Washington, D.C.: I do not understand why Rizzo is not committing to his young pitching staff and focusing on some hitters via trades, prospects and free agency. Getting a single jouneyman pitcher to add to a staff of Marquis, Hernandez and Maya does not seem to be the right vision to build a contender and I believe we are going to lose Ryan Zimmerman as a result when he is a free agent soon.

Tom Boswell: Rizzo's experience is as a talent evaluator, not a team builder. I don't think it matters AT ALL who you sign for '11 __an OF like Crawford or a starting pitcher. Just lock up a key PIECE of the puzzle for years. The Nats have multiple needs __duh. Don't get hung up on the sequence of filling them. Just think "he'd look great in '12-1'13-'14'-15-'16 with Strasburg, Harper, Z'man, Z'mann, Storen, Solis, Espinoza, Desmond, Ramos, Norris, Bernadina and Lannan."

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Grumble: My current hometown is home to the Vikings and the Timberwolves. Give ms a reason not to jump....

Tom Boswell: Brett will finally be gone next year. Probably.

If you are looking to sports to see the good people rewarded and the scoundrels (not the good kind) punished, then you're going to be disappointed a lot. For example, Favre beats McNabb last Sunday. It ain't a morality play.

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Randallstown, Md.;: This is EJ...I have enjoyed your columns over the years. You seem to be the voice of reason....my hometown of D.C. seems to be so confused these days. If it isn't ownership not fully trusting its GM to finish making its baseball team COMPETITIVE for the first time since 2005, then it is a group of so called professional basketball players who do not understand it is important to PLAY HARD every game...If not that, then it is your colleagues trying to dismantle a professional football franchise (not the Washington Federals) that is trying to be rebuilt by continuing to talk for weeks about "bad blood" between the Head Coach and QB, when the REAL problem was and still is the Offensive Line, and when confronting one of those colleagues in the media on ESPN980 about it....the response was...."We know the problem is REALLY the Offensive Line, but there is no fun (i.e. ratings and garbage) talking about them." Please explain the toxic in D.C. please....LOL

Tom Boswell: There's a lot of "toxic" in many parts of American culture these days. I assume there have been periods when we've been more cynical, snarky, whatever the phrase of the day for assuming the worst of everybody, but, man, it's enough to get you down.

William Butler Yeats wrote (in "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen"):

"Mock mockers after that

That would not lift a hand maybe

To help good, wise or great

To bar that foul storm out, for we

Traffic in mockery."

That'll do it until next week. Thanks for all the great questions.

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