Picking Splinters: Q&A, Continued

Another week on the beach means another week of communing with my magical mailbag … 

Seems like a lot of underclassmen have declared for the NBA draft this season. Do you think this is a wise move in most cases or are people giving these kids some bad information?
David S.
Somewhere near a podium

David, it’s a simple math problem. There are 30 teams in the NBA, and 60 picks in the draft. At last count, over 60 underclassmen had declared for the draft. Add in the seniors and the international players and you have a lot of broken dreams on draft night.

There are some good arguments for leaving school early for the NBA. However, all of those arguments require that you actually get drafted. If there’s no guarantee you’ll be taken, why jump early?

There’s some worry that a potential work stoppage may preempt the draft in 2011, thereby adding to the early entrants in 2010. To me, it’s silly to gamble your future based on something that may or may not happen. For starters, the idea of a work stoppage in 2011 seems extreme, because neither the owners nor the players want a work stoppage. But even if there was a strike or a lockout, why would they not hold a draft? The NHL held its draft even with the 2004-05 season lost to a lockout. When money’s an issue, you want cheap labor, so why not add more young players and force more overpriced vets to the curb?

So, yes, I think a lot of people are making a mistake by declaring early. Studs like Kentucky’s John Wall or Georgetown’s Greg Monroe are in safe standing. But when guys like Samardo Samuels and Kentucky’s Daniel Orton stay in the draft, I see a lot more to lose than to gain. They could be among the top bigs in college in 2010-11 and put themselves in much better position than they’re in now.

The Nats aren’t off to an entirely awful start this season. Is there any chance they could contend for the playoffs either this year or next?
Jim B.
Location undisclosed

Jim, I thought last year that the Nationals weren’t terribly far off from being legitimate contenders, but when I had an opportunity to voice that opinion to some folks from the think tank Baseball Prospectus, they mentioned that it was odd that the loony bin had left me unattended in public.

I maintain that the Nats have some decent pieces to the puzzle and that their overhaul of the bullpen will have a big impact this season.

That vacuum in innings 1-5 is a little worrisome, though, and the signing of Jason Marquis hasn’t exactly gone according to plan: He’s DL-bound after giving up seven runs without recording a single out in his last start. Last year’s draft spoils, Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, will help, but Washington probably needs another front-of-the-rotation starter and one more big bat before this team can compete for a playoff spot.

I think the Caps could use another defenseman. Is that priority No. 1 this offseason? Should they trade Alexander Semin to get one?
Gordie H.

Gordon, priorities 1, 2 and 3 are to get Nicklas Backstrom signed long-term. Backstrom is rapidly proving himself to be one of the NHL’s elite and Washington will want to lock him up as long as it can. Once he’s signed, the Caps can turn to the blue line.

Next season Washington has Mike Green, Tom Poti, John Erskine, Tyler Sloan, Karl Alzner and John Carlson under contract. Jeff Schultz is a restricted free agent and figures to be resigned. That’s seven defensemen right there, so if the Caps dealt for another, they’d need to find some room for him. And while Semin under-performed in the first round, he’s still a dominant goal-scorer. If the Caps do trade him, they need to be getting an elite asset in return. I’m not sure how many players who rise to that level will be available on the trade market this summer.