Ask Boswell

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, December 9, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was online Thursday, Dec. 9 at 11 a.m. ET to take all your questions about the Redskins, baseball free agency and more.

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Potomac, Md.: Tom,

The Nationals just signed Jayson Werth to a large deal but I am still bitter. I don't think the Lerners want to spend a whole lot as usual. They acquired Werth because losing Dunn created an uproar amongst the fan base, that will be their one big signing.

Tom Boswell: Ridiculous.

Sorry, this line of thinking has to die. There are a lot of opinions that hold water, but not all opinions. The earth really does go around the sun.

For two years there has been increasing evidence that the Lerners want to get in the game, but none of it was conclussive. The Teixeira deal wasn't accepted. Zimmerman and Dunn were both bargains. The over-pays for Pudge and Maya were small change by MLB standards. The $25M bid to Chapman failed. So we couldn't know.

Now we know. They've changed their view, starting two years ago. Now they are locked into continuing along the same lines. Or they'll look twice as silly. They signed Werth with a committment to him to continue building a winning team around him.

The whole sport learned this week that the lerners have changed. So, Washington should catch up with the rest of the game. Some things have to be proven before you can believe them. The Nats payroll is headed to mid-market fast.

Will the lerners spend at a reasonable level through the rest of the organization? We needto watch that. They have been make-do, not first class. If attendance increases, maybe they'll "learn" there, too.


From the "What Have You Done For Me Lately Department": Boz, loved the Werth signing, but I'm starting to worry that the Nats won't come away with a good addition to the starting rotation or an outside replacement for Dunn at 1B. Should I worry about that or just be patient?

Tom Boswell: Just be patient. They'll probably get a 1st baseman, though I suspect Pena going off the market so suddenly shocked them. Late in the season they still believed internally that, if they didn't resign Dunn __and they weren't trying very hard to resign him__ they could always get Pena for two years for $20m. Well, the Cubs got him for one year for $10M! Wow, that final .196 batting average may have scared the Nats out of the bidding. Or the fear that they just have a ridiculous number of Boras clients already __Strasburg, Harper, Werth, Pudge, Espinoza, Gonzo.

The issue is lost leadership. The Nats thought that Pudge, Pena and Werth would all be players who';d been clubhouse leaders on World series teams. Livo, a WS MVP. Zimmerman is a quiet leader who might come out of his shell more around Werth and Pena. Desmond, not Zim, was the clubhopuse leader last year. That had to change. Espinoza is a potential leader, too. But Pena and Werth together, assuming Pena could still hit, would have been a chemistry changer.

I don't know LaRoche and neither do the Nats yet (very much). He's just a solid MLB player. Not a chemistry guy.


Potomac, Md.: Tom,

Why is Derek Lee never mentioned as a possible first baseman for the Nats? Has he signed elsewhere? I think Lee is a very good fielder and, while perhaps on the decline, could still be reasonably expected to hit at least .275, with 20 HRs and 75-90 RBI. And, there is always the possiblity of a bigger year offensively.

Tom Boswell: Because Lee's probably washed up. No bat speeed, so no power. If he can't hit for power in Wrigley, it'll only be worse somewhere else. He's in the cross-your-fingers category of low-priced free agents now __looking for a dead-cat bounce.


Chesapeake Beach, Md.: Did Mike Rizzo overpay Jayson Werth and, if so, why?

Tom Boswell: Chesapeake Beach,

The signing of Cawford by the Red Sox for $142-millon for seven years gives a frame of reference for evaluating the Werth deal.

Baseball people really do look at a combination of stats, scouting (eyeball), personality (chemistry) and probable longevity when they do a monser deal.

The stats say that Werth, 31, is very close to Crawford, 29, in baseball ability. I hate to say it because the consensus goers with Crawford, but Werth's numbers are as good or better in the last four years. Who really cares what they did five or more years ago?

Last four years, FanGraph WAR ratings (Wins Above Replacement Player). Werth ('10) 5.1, 4.9, 5.0, 3.2 = 18.2 total. That's about $90M in salary value to the FanGraphs folks. We canbdebate that. I think it's high. But it shows why the Nats think that they only went one extra year and $18-million extra dollars above a sane 'fair value' for Werth.

To contrast, Crawford's WAR: ('10) 6., 5., 2.5, 3.1 = 18.1.

Ver surprising to me. Crawford been even better the last two years, but Werth stands up well. Werth a much better post-season player with playoff OPS near 1.000 in 160+ at bats. Crawford only .709 in 83 at bas.

Lets look at the basic stat line for '10.

Werth: .296/.388/.532. Crawford: .307/.356/.495.

Career: Werth: .272/.367/.481. Crawford: .296/.337/.444.

Crawford covers tons of ground in LF, but has a weak arm. So he plays a less important defensive position. For me, tat mitigates some of his "plus" defense. Werth has a cannon and stops the running game. As for speed, Crawford is amazing __409 steals and only 90 caught stealing. But Werth has speed, too, and after coaching from Lopes in Philly he's near-perfect in efficiency __60 steals, eight caught in last four years. Over the seven years, aging and lost speed will hurt Crawford more than it does Werth.

Also, on the longeviuty score, Crawford has played far more games that Werth, even though he's younger, because Werth lost so much time to an injured wrist (long ago). Less wear and tear makes them closer to the same baseball age. Crawford is wonderful. I'd have prefered him to Werth. Crawford's "most-similar careers" are Roberto Clemente and Wahoo Sam Crawford (Ty Cobb's teammate and in the HOF with almost 3,000 hits). That's probably the correct company. And Crawford's a gentleman and leader. But Werth has great blood lines __grandfather and uncle both MLBers __Dick Schofield, Sr. and Jr., and his mother held the world 100-yard dash record I believe.

I'd say a 6-year deal for $96M for Werth would have been perfectly sensible. The Nats had to overpay to jump-start the future. That's why I say they burned $30M. But the $142M to Crawford makes the $126M to Werth look a lot less crazy. A lot less.

Long answer to a short question. But it is THE question of the week. yes, they overpaid. They did it for good reasons. They got an excellent player. If he falls down an open manhole, then it's a disaster. But that holds for any big signing. I'd rather have Werth at this price than Teixeira for $188M for 8 years, which the Nats offered. Anybody can fll off a clift as they age. So cross your fingers.


Capitol Hill: Projected Nats 2011 and 2012 opening day lineups?

Tom Boswell: '11










If they get LaRoche, that' a defense that superior at four or five positions and at least average everywhere else. Quite a change. Desmond makes errors but as excellent range.







LaRoche/Willingham/Mr X-3




Lots can change. Duh. They could trade Willinbgham any time, etc. But the optimism that was growing this season as Strasburg arived, arper was signed and all the rookies did well should return for '11. Wwerth is at least as good as Dunn. They'll do more this winter, including adding a good FA reliever. (Lots of relievers. They'll get one of 'em.) I doubt they'll get that new starting pitcher this winter. But Rizzo keeps coming up with surprises. He's very aggessive. He thought he had Chapman.


McLean, Va.: Boz,

Why are some critics saying this was a Werth for Dunn swap? That's assuming the Nats don't sign a 1B right? If the Nats can sign LaRoche, who provides 60 percent of Dunn's output and have improved immensely in the outfield with Werth, doesn't the deal look a lot better?

Tom Boswell: Only dopes see this as Dunn for Werth. The easiest position at which to find a bat is 1st base. And, this winter or next, you'll see the Nats with a 25-30 HR bat at 1st base.

RF is a top-athlete position. It's hard to find a five-tool player for RF. The Nats just got one. Werth can run, field, throw, hit and hit with power. (Crawford can't throw or hit for power. Yet. Maybe his power will improve with age.)

The Nats are still well within a normal mid-market budget. They subtracted Guzman ($8M), Dunn ($12M), Capps ($3.5M0 and others who add up to $29M in '10 salaries. They have added Werth for $18M so far. They'll have some arbitration guys like Willingham and Burnett (who may get a contract extension) who add payroll. And you have to include Zim's increase for '11 as well as the cost (bargain) for Strasburg and Harper. But the Nats have plenty of room for more moves this winer and after Werth there's nobody in the game who thinks they are going to stand still.

This is a SIGNAL signing. You don't send up this flare __and make everybody in your industry furious with you for "over-paying" and driving up salaries__ if you don't follow it up with more deals that say, "'12-'16 is a period where we're going to be a playoff contender."

It's hard for people to get their minds around sea changes. There's at least a 90% chance that this is one for the Nats. Sure, keep some skepticism. But throw the outright cynicism overboard. It's just not plausible anymore. Rizzo is being supported. IUt provbably drives kasten crazy somewhere to see Boras get this kind of deal out of the Lerners. He's a spend-but-spend-sane guy.

There is one fly in the ointment. There's no reason, if you could go back in time, that the Nats couldn't try to resign Dunn to the same contract that Konerko just signed with the White Sox __$37m/3yrs. We'll never know if he would have taken it. But it was never offered in June-July when it might have been taken. In late september, Dunn knows that something like his $56m/4yrs is out there for him. They're going to have to pay $8-$10M for LaRoche. Wy not pay $13-$14 to Dunn.

So, if you want to grouch, imagine the lineup that might have been. Boy, is this cheap 20-20 hindsight stuff.

Morgan, Desmond, Z'man, Dunn, Werth, Willingham, Espinoza, Pudge/Ramos. And maybe Morse, Bernadina find a way to hit their way into the picture, too.


Baltimore, Md.: Boz: Any thoughts on the political musings of the Orioles' 210 most valuable player? Luke Scott certainly contributed some whackiness to the winter meetings. And I can't remember MacPhail's quote in response, but he obviously was not happy about the political opining, if you can call it that.

Tom Boswell: I stay out of politics. But this one is so crazy that it's not even politics. There's a litmus test non-issue for "I'm Officially A Know-Nothing Nut Job" and Scott nailed it.


Reading Rizzo: I mean this with no disrespect to you or Adam Kilgore, but it's pretty clear that Rizzo doesn't exactly share his plans with you (any inkling of the Werth signing in advance?). While that may work well for him, it obviously stinks for us because we can't really predict the team's intentions. Do you think that will change with time? Will we offer you some advance notice or information that can allow you or Adam to at least outline the team's plans?

Tom Boswell: Rizzo has said for months that Werth was possible and a target. The question has always been whether he'd be given the resources to do it. And, of course, whether a glamor free agent would TAKE it, even if offered. My last column three days before the Werth signing implored the Lerners to back Rizzo in pursuing Crawford, Pena and Pavano. Then I concluded later in the column by mentioning Werth as an example of the "blue-chip free agent" that Rizzo needed support to get. The reason for the timing of the column is that Rizzo has shown that he likes to strike early, as he did last season. And Dunn was officially gone, opening up budget space.

I'd already cleared with editors that I'd write a column for this Tuesday making the case that if Teixeira was worth an $188M/8yr bid when he was a year older than Crawford, then Crawford was worth something like a $160M/eight year deal. When they signed Werth, I told them, "I guess I can hold off on the Teixeira deal for Crawford." Hey, I'm really good at spending their money.

The question hasn't been whether we had sufficient info on what Rizzo/Kasten had been planning for this off-season. The issue has always been what Ted Lerner wants to do with his money. That's often been a mystery to his own people.

The Nats won't get Lee. They'll only sign Pavano if it's a short-term deal. 1st base is in flux because Pena has been their default setting for months. They are still researching LaRoche. They'll get a reliever because they'd rather not have Storen closing this early in his career.


Scottsdale, Ariz.: Is Shanny getting off too easy with the Fat Albert situation? I know it's popular to call Albert a bum and move on, but isn't it the coach's job to win games on Sunday?

What does it say about Shanny that he basically said "I can't coach this guy--he's gotta go" about the highest-paid and (arguably) most talented player on the team? Really, he can't find ways to put Albert in positions to be succesful? The coach is getting paid something like $7 million per year--shouldn't that buy some people skills?

Tom Boswell: There have been three big issue involving Shanahan this year: Haynesworth, benching MNcNabb in the two-minute drill against the Lions and the unnecessary switch to the 3-4.

In my book, Shanahan is almost completely correct in his handling of Haynesworth. Why? Because he is Mike Shanahan. You hired a guy with two Super Bowl rings, so you have to let him do things his way. You HAVE to. Otherwise, it's nuts to get him. Sure, Gibbs would handle it differently. So would every other big-name coach. They all have their styles. Lombardi would have been even tougher. (I don't know how.) There is no "right way" to hand a selfish clueless Haynesworth. But there is a Shanahan Way. You hired hi, so that's what you got.

On McNabb, I was completely against Shanahan. I thought it was one of the shabbiest/dumvbest moves I'd ever seen. The whole NFL world ripped Shanahan and he deserved every word of it. (By the way, McNabb, playing with nothing around him, is still on track for his first 4,000-yard passing season. He's still won five games.) Allen and Snyder had to come behind Shanny and clean up his mess with a new contract. The Skins still have tons of flexibility under the new contract to do anthing they want with McNabb, including not have him as QB next year. BUT McNabb essentially got a bonus check for several million dollars as an apology from the Redskins for the Shanahans showing him up. And they pretty much locked him down as their QB in '11, if there is an '11. Not 100%, but close.

On the 3-4, I wrote a whole column on how I thought Shanahan wasn't maximizing his existing personnel and that the 3-4 was a dsiaster. He has no history as a successful defensive coach __strictly average during his Denver years and in a 4-3. Do they go back to the 4-3? Do they plough ahead with the 3-4?

This is Pure Redskins. They change coaches, and philosophies, so often that they have to blow up their roster __I mean get rid of half the players every time they go through this crazy dance__ every FEW years.

And with Shanny, plus the unnecessary 3-4 switch, they did it AGAIN.

So, what's the solution? There isn't one. You can actually mess things up so badly that you can't fix them __at least not for quite a while. The Redskins are pretty much screwed for the next season or two. Shanahan came in thinking he was going to win fairly fast. He isn't. Their -line needs rebuilding. Their wide receivers are poor with Moss getting old. They need to get a QB to develop for the future because they don't believe in McNabb enough to see him as a 3-4-5 season answer. (Check NFL history. They got lucky getting Mcnabb. They should fix everything else first, then turn to the QB issue. But that would take pateince). On defense, they drove away Haynesworth, which may be good since he was almost useless in the 4-3 last year and was a clubhouse problem all year. They mae Carter useless. I don't think Fletcher is as wonderful as in ILB. And on and on.

So, Shanny deserves support on Albert. But he should show more confidence in McNabb (and less in his son) when it comes to play calling and game plan. If the offensive coordinator's name was Smith, and he'd had one good year as an OC under his belt in the NFL, don't you think McNabb would be co-offensive coordinator? Of course.

On the 3-4, don't get me started. I've been grumbling (in chats) since Day One. What is the recordfor most yards allowed by an NFL team? I need to look that up. Gotta think ther Skins have a chance to get into the top 10 Worst Ever.

(They can still go 7-9. Probably won't, but still could. We'll see how booting out Haynesworth influences motivation.)


Washington, D.C.: Tom -- I like your analysis of Werth vs. Crawford. They're not that far apart -- Werth brings power and run production, Crawford brings speed. I just want to comment on the reaction of the GMs and columnists. The Werth deal was "comical" and "irresponsible," but the Crawford deal is "brilliant." I hate conspiracy theories, but it really looks like if the Yankees or Sox throw tons of money, they're smart, but anybody else is upsetting the balance. Kudos to Rizzo for taking on the powers that be, especially after the league crippled this franchise in the last years of the Expos.

Tom Boswell: Thanks. Exactly.

Rizzo came right out and said, at least to me, that he thought the right price for Werth __if you evaluated him as highly as the Nats did__ was six years for $106M. The Nats gave the extra year and extra $18M to ice the deal. Well, if Crawford gets $142M/7yrs in Boston, then wouldn't $106M/6yrs for Werth be sane? That's what the Nats did. They had to pay a one-time-only penalty for being lousy the last five years. Now they don't have to pay that premium, or not as much of one, in the future.


Reston: "They acquired Werth because losing Dunn created an uproar amongst the fan base"

This makes no sense. If they cared about the uproar of losing Dunn they wouldn't have let him go in the first place. It's not like they didn't know the fans would be upset if he left. It's clearly a calculated decision - they're going more small ball - and we'll see how it works out. I was equally unhappy when they let Soriano go, but that turned out to be not such a bad move.

I'm just happy they didn't pick up Carlos "Redefine Mendoza Line" Pena

Tom Boswell: Rizzo decided to lose Dunn. Kasten disagreed. It was friendly. But it has implications. Rizzo had a deal for Edwin ackson all completed with the White Sox for Dunn before the trading deadline. Riz and Stan made their cases to the board. Stan still wanted to resign Dunn __right then__ and also didn't want to run up a mid-season PR-nightmare white flag. Riz wanted the deal. The Nats (board) made the worst possible decision. Don't do either! They kept Dunn, blew off the jackson trade, but DIDN'T make Dunn the offer that a teammate leaked that he wanted __$40-42M for three years.

Rizzo still looks bad inside baseball because it's known that he turned down Jackson-for-Dunn. Jackson is just 27, off the top of my head, throws up to 96 mph, but is only 39-42 career with a 4.50+ ERA. Jackson is no ace. But he has upside potential. And Rizzo would much rather have had Jackson in hand right now __and he wouldn't be looking for "another starting pitcher" like 35-year-old Pavano__ than other two draft picks whichmay mature into real players in '15-'16. Rizzo REALLY wants to get through that '12-'16 window and transform the Nats. Jackson, whether he turned out to be right or wrong about him, was a picher he knew very well, was high ona nd really wanted.

Hopefully, this kind of dysfuynction will end now that there's only one main voice. Of course, variety of opinion has its value. But with the Nats it worked poorly because it wasn't Rizzo and Kasten making a coordinated compromise decision between themselves __"okay, no Jackson deal, but lets SIGN DUNN." Or "okay __make the deal." It was, "Lets not make the deal but....eeeehhhh...lets dawdle until the last week of September and then daydream that we can resign Dunn because that's what the board thinks might happen. Royal screw up. They should have Dunn or Jackson, but not two draft picks. (Okay, now watch the draft picks turn out to be All-Stars.)


Washington, D.C. : About Hayneworth, for the previous poster: The guy signed a contract, immediately began making demands, skipped off-season conditioning, skipped a mandatory mini-camp, and was repeatedly too "sick" to practice after spending the evening before in various spots in Reston. And any of this is Shanahan's fault?

Tom Boswell: Exactly.


D.C. Sports: Boz, The Skins are imploding again, and have too few offensive weapons to be interesting in the near term. The Wiz have some interestng young players but are as far from being good as everyone thought. D.C. will never really be a hockey town. What's the Nat's window looking like now to build a good team and take over the D.C. sports conversation?

Tom Boswell: I keep slice and dicing the Wiz. I thought Tracee nailed it on Wall this a.m. He's wonderful but how often will he miss games? They're nowhere close to being good. It's hard to believe but out of the Nats, Skins and Wiz, I'd have to say that if __IF__ Strasburg comes back to full health, the Nats would be the most likely to get to the Final Eight in their sport before the Skins or Wiz. I didn't say playoffs. In baseball, only eight make it.


Former Season Ticket Holder: Would you trade Strasburg for Greinke or Garza? Who would you trade for them?

Tom Boswell: NOOOO!

The Nats may overvalue Desmond, so that may make either trade less plausible. The Rays are going to need a cheap SS. In fact, they are going to need a lot of cheap decent prospects. That's why getting Garza is less unlikely. It would be painful to see a combinatioon of Willingham, Desmond/Espinoza, Ramos/Norris go to Tampa for a pitcher no better than Garza. Not all three, but maybe two. Willingham "replaces" Crawford and they get a SS to replace Barlett who's leaving. just don't like the feel of it.


Harm City: Boz

Rizzo says that Harper will get ABs in the major league camp. Do you think he'll give him a shot to make the team? If he hits .300 with some power will he still send him to Hagerstown? You put him in CF, and you've got Werth, Willingham and Harper - power at all three positions without making a trade!

Tom Boswell: If he murders the minors, as Griffey and A-Rod did, he'll be up in September and stay. But he struggles at all or has weaknesses that need work, you can't let him get to nthe majors too fasdt and retard him eventual development. He's a huge talent. Don't mess it up for one extra year. If he arrives in '13, then it's 13. I don't think it'll be longer.


right here in the territory: Even you wrote:

Essentially swapping departed Adam Dunn for Werth while adding big long-tail contract risk just does not work, either as team building or public relations.

and that point is where most of the Nat fan critics are right now: the Lerners can change that by making it more than the above, and they probably will.....but they haven't yet.

Tom Boswell: Everybody's waiting.


25-30 HR at 1B not exactly a gimme: By my calculations, only 12 players in all of MLB hit 25 or more HRs at the 1B position, including two players that the Nats missed on: Dunn and Pena. Putting aside the big names (Pujols, Cabrera, Konerko, Votto, Fielder, Teixeira, Howard, and Gonzalez) that only leaves two: Huff and LaRoche. Like I said, not exactly a gimme.

Tom Boswell: There are platoons that give you 20 HRs, too. Morse could probably be part of one. I'd much prefer LaRoche who's very consistent with a Willingham level OPS but less injuries.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Boz - thanks for your columns and chats over the years. You are largely responsible for making D.C. (metro) a smarter sports town.

Quick puzzle:

Sports radio rants yesterday were largely about Werth vs. Haynesworth news ... motivated a larger discussion about "what it would take to make 'other' sports as popular as the 'Skins here."

Answer, I think, just win baby. Winning gives meaning to the spectator experience and keeps bringing you back (even after years of futility, as in the 'Skins case).

But a more provocative question than "'Skins vs. the rest" is "Caps vs. Nats," in my opinion, is Caps vs. Nats. If the Caps and Nats both won a championship in two years (assuming nothing this year). Which would generate a stickier/more devoted fan base?

Nats - baseball has a stronger following in general, but transients also more likely to bring their (original) hometown baggage

Caps - hockey not so universally big, but consequently frees folks from hometown conflict-of-interest.

Tom Boswell: We already know the answer, I think. The Caps are wonderful. But baseball captures the large majority of U.S. towns to a greater degree than the NHL if the products are similar. In summer of '05 when the Nats just had a chance for the wildcard, they drew over 38,000-a-game in July-August in old RFK. Put a winner on South Capital Street and the fans will come.


Exeter, N.H.: Bigger long-term risk: Werth deal or Crawford deal?

Tom Boswell: Werth.


Tom Boswell: That's it for this time. Too much good stuff. See you next week.


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