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The Spending Limit

Just a little food for thought here: If you're holding the Nationals' money, how do you spend it? Given that the Nats are far more than one player from contention, is there a point at which investing so much in one player becomes ill-advised?

Some baseball folks I've talked to in recent days come back repeatedly to the idea that a team like Washington would be better off taking the money it would pay to Mark Teixeira and spreading it around -- perhaps finding one high-end free agent this offseason, maybe saving another $100 million for building elsewhere. (One caveat: The early list of free agents for 2010 looks pretty meager.)

The Teixeira bidding war hasn't exactly hinted at this country's wounded economy, but it's likely that after Teixeira signs and the free agents categorized as "Everybody Else" begin to find homes, they'll be settling for far less money than they might have been hoping for two months ago. In fact, teams will probably have some bargains out there.

At the beginning of the offseason, agents or others in the industry seemed to think Adam Dunn would command a contract in the neighborhood of four years, $60 million. But everybody's price has come down. When I spoke two days ago with one National League GM, he guessed that Dunn would settle for a deal of three years between $32 and $36 million. (Mind you, Dunn, who has hit 40 home runs for five years in a row, earned $13 million last season.)

For many reasons, Teixeira is the ideal free agent. He's relatively young (28), he's from the region, he fills a need (first base) and, of course, he's one of the most dynamic players in the game. But is there a point where Teixeira becomes too pricey? With Teixeira, what's the strategy?

By Chico Harlan  |  December 23, 2008; 10:34 AM ET
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Next: Word Coming Today On Tex?


um, like a drunken sailor? Oh, that's not an option? Never mind. EL/nf1a


Just a little food for thought here: If you're holding the Nationals' money, how do you spend it?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | December 23, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

A couple of things:

1. Cabrera turning down the Pirates may also have something to do with the fact that the Pirates have, bar none, the worst reputation in MLB for developing pitchers. It’s a graveyard for guys like him.

2. We seem to be doing some ARod- Rangers v Tex-Nats comparisons. It is true that the Rangers were completely unable to get any pitching to support ARod. It wasn’t for want of going after free agents though. First of all, as a percentage of payroll ARod’s salaries look like this:

2001- ARod $22 million – Rangers $88 Million – 25%
2002 – ARod $22 Million – Rangers $93 Million – 23.6%
2003 – ARod $22 Million – Rangers $96 Million – 22.9%

Looking at the top four starters and top two relievers in these three years makes for 18 “seasons” of pitching. Here’s how they acquired those “seasons”:

11/18 through free agency: 61% - notables K. Rogers, D. Oliver, I. Valdes
2/18 through trade: 11% - notable R. Helling
5/18 draft or international: 28% - notable nobody really

It’s interesting that they had a penchant to re-acquire through FA and trade some guys they had originally drafted and then let go. My takeaway on this is that the Rangers had nothing to back ARod up in their own system on the mound and reverted to some known quantities. They tried to buy it, and it didn’t work. That’s probably something we all already knew, but it’s interesting to see it quantified. They were able to pay for position players – Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriquez particularly.

It seems to me that if the Nats’ pitching prospects develop and they are willing to go to $100 - $110 million payroll. This signing won’t limit them.


Posted by: db423 | December 23, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

The Lerner's can afford Tex and more. If not, they should have never bought the team. Big league owners crying poor is worse than Peter crying wolf. Either spend the money to be a marquee franchise in the Capital of the Free World that is relevant and competes yearly or sell the team.

Posted by: mjwies11 | December 23, 2008 10:56 AM | Report abuse

It's either: (A), or any of the others, because they all cost you 20m per. I would vote B,C, or D, because (1) He gives you credibility, (2) Makes your team better through his production, (3) Moves everyone else in the line-up to their more natural slots in the batting order. We can also package others (NJ, etc) for other needs (arms).

P.S. - A very happy and safe holiday season to all!

Posted by: 1of9000 | December 23, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

"Given that the Nats are far more than one player from contention, is there a point at which investing so much in one player becomes ill-advised?"

I think that a star like Tex is best thought of as a "necessary but not sufficient" prerequisite to success. He won't bring a championship by himself, but they'll be hard-pressed to win a championship without someone of his caliber. The Nats have the chance to sign him now, have him provide a solid example for the younger players (not to mention taking some pressure off of Zim), bring in fans in the short term, and still be there when the organization hits their stride. People like that are hard to find in any market. Take him while you can get him.

Posted by: Aterio | December 23, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I don't think the Nats are as far away as contention as everyone thinks. Two years ago we were supposed to lose 130 games and we won 73 games. Last year people were saying that we should win anywhere from 69-86 games. We won 59, but that was do mostly because of the injuries we suffered. We were playing with backups and at times backup-backups.

We used six different players at all the infield positions last year. Our starting lineup:

1B Johnson Played only 38 games
2B Belliard Played only 96 games
3B Zimmerman Played only 106 games
SS Guzman Played only 138 games
LF Dukes Played only 81 games
RF Kearns Played only 86 games
CF Milledge Played only 138 games
C Lo Duca Played only 46 games

Other Players
Lopez Played only 100 games
Pena Played only 64 games which he played hurt and it showed
Young Played only 50 games

When a bench guy (Harris) plays is the most games 140 for you then you know you have a problem.

We also lost our closer (Cordero) and a Starting Pitchers (Chico and Hill).

Therefore, if we didn't have the injuries and if Milledge, Zimmerman, and Dukes could have played 150 games together then we are talking about a much different outcome, but that is baseball.

I kinda like out line-up and Tex would add that one bat that would help. However, I could argue that Dunn and Hudson would help more. There are two questions: Can Hernandez be an everyday second baseman (he sure is showing he can hit in winter ball)? And, how good will Chris Marrero be? Marrero may be the next Teixeira. If that is the case, I think you go out and sign Dunn for 2-3 years and hope he can play an adequate first base and go out and sign Hudson. However, the impact of signing Tex would have on this team would be great. It would give the fans something to be happy about, it would give the players something to be happy about, and it would give the Nats some respect in the baseball community. However, it can't stop there. We need to play well. I think we have a good core group of guys and if you can build a team around Tex, Zimm and Dukes for the next 5-10 years that will help the fan base.

The Nats have been hurt by a lot of bad publicity and circumstances. Baseball took way too long to sell the team. The Nats not being on tv that first magical year and most of the second year didn't help matters any. Also, now the tv still stinks with them not being on one station night after night and only on regular tv 20 games a year.

This team needs to market around some players and fans need to know that these players will be around for years so they can really root for someone.

Posted by: brothbart | December 23, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I'm starting to get buyers remorse for Tex and he's not even wearing a Nats uni yet.
Does he rank up with the other high end player in the league? Would we be better off getting Orlando Hudson and Adam Dunn sign them for 2-3 years waiting for our prospects to move into their places? THAT MEANS WE'D HAVE TO TRUST JIMBO, I DON'T TRUST JIMBO. Catch 22, people, catch 22.

Posted by: Berndaddy | December 23, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Here's the deal: you HAVE to spend the money to become a contender.

I think Jimbo et al. are comparing Teixeira to ALL other players, regardless of when they become available. Maybe the timing isn't perfect. Perhaps you would prefer to spend this kind of money next year, or the year after, when the team as a whole is closer to WS contention (despite what Colin says). But really, who would be better than Teix then?

Bottom line: Teix is young enough to fit the plan if he wants to stay. He has tremendous value if they ever need to trade him (assuming he does not have a burdensome no-trade clause). If he opts out after 4-5 years, then you have Marrero (or someone else) in the pipeline to try to take his place.

Teix is a crucial piece to the puzzle. He's not available next year or the year after (or maybe the next 8 years). Sign him now. It's the best way to build for the future.

Yum, that Kool-Aid was good.

Posted by: Good2bOK | December 23, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Hey everyone, long time lurker, finally manning up and jumping into the fray.

I think that there are psychological and public relations aspects to acquiring Teixiera that dovetail pretty perfectly with his basebal prowess. Getting him establishes the Nationals as willing to spend money (although many are bound to ridicule the management for spending so much on one player), provides evidence for other free agents that the team is serious and building, dispels the "Lerners are cheap!" ringamarole (again, possibly replacing it with "Lerners are idiots!", but them's the chances you take), nets the Nationals a potential "hometown hero", and just might puts a few more butts in the seats. Oh yeah, and Teix also can play baseball pretty well. Heh.

In any other city, with any other team, spending this much money on one player would, in fact, be pretty moronic. But in THIS city, with THIS team, THIS year, and THIS player, I think that the sort of high-end money we're talking about for Teixiera is worth it.

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | December 23, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I'm totally thankful for your comment brothbart. Last year was bad, and maybe I'm too much of a homer, but it wasn't longterm-bad by any stretch. It was just temporary, bad luck-bad.

Bowden made some mistakes (Estrada, LoDuca), we had a bad seed (Lopez) and a ton of injuries. I'm encouraged that they moved quickly when they realized the problems. Released the deadweights, overhauled the coaching staff, got some fresh blood, etc.

We may not quite contend this year but I suspect we'll be unrecognizable compared to last year's team.

Posted by: NatsNut | December 23, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

The issue - to me - isn't how much does Teixeira cost: it's not my money.

The issue is, what are the Nats future revenue expectations? If they are high enough that signing Teixeira won't hamper future moves then you sign hiim for whatever it takes. If the Lerners believe that a $20M player will hurt them in the future and reduce salary flexibility, than getting Teix isn't a smart move.

Don't forget, we NEED to sign Strasburg. And he's another Boras client - hopefully, dealing with Boras now will yield a dividend come June. Oh no, I'm not expecting a discount, but some copperation would be nice. If it's going to cost us $10M for Strasburg, then offer it the day of the draft and get Strasburg inked immediately. Hopefully, our Teix offer will allow Boras to accept the $10M offer early, rather than holding out for 6 weeks for an extra $400K or whatever it turns out to be.

Posted by: comish4lif | December 23, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

and if ...

* they sign Tex now and he puts up his normal numbers the next couple of years,
* the young core players (Zim, Dukes, Milledge, Flores, Lannan, Balester, Zimmermann) keep improving and make the club better,

then if Marrero does improve, he could be used in a trade to get that one final piece to put the Nats over the top and contend for a pennant.

Just because Tex won't help the Nats win right now doesn't mean that he won't fit in perfectly if they do start to win in 2-3 years (aka the Plan). If Tex is the type of player they would be going for in 2-3 years to help them get to that next level, why is it so hard for most to fathom that it's best to get him in the fold NOW? That's one less piece of the puzzle they'll need in 2-3 years.

Looking at the FA list for 2010 and 2011 doesn't hold out too much hope for an impact player like Tex being available, so unless the Nats are willing to trade in 2-3 years to get a Tex-like player, you HAVE to bring him in NOW.

Posted by: erocks33 | December 23, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

brothbart, I think you are spot on about the injuries. I was rather pleased to see that the Nats had replaced their physical conditioning team. There were SO many injuries last year, it was starting to make me wonder what kind of fitness regimen the players were being run through.

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | December 23, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

"I don't think the Nats are as far away as contention as everyone thinks."

Posted by: brothbart | December 23, 2008 11:02 AM
Good argument, but nary a mention of the starting rotation. The team is at the bottom 10 in almost all pitching categories, and that's what will keep them from contending any time soon.

Recall the Alfonso rental: it was great to watch him at the plate, and grow as an OF. Hoping for the same jolt of excitement from Tex, with a longer time frame. Contending? Nope, but this club needs a major injection of excitement.

Posted by: joemktg1 | December 23, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

According to Thom Loverro of the Washington Times, "there will be an announcement today regarding the future of free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira." Loverro says there are strong indications the Red Sox will be the victor, though it's unclear whether those indications are based on inside information.

Posted by: brothbart | December 23, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and can everyone (specifically the sports "journalists") stop comparing the potential signing to that of ARod in Texas? Despite the numerous references to the horrific way the Rangers utilized their pitchers, one big thing should be kept in mind ... ARod is a complete AHole in the clubhouse. Tex is not. Tex would be a MUCH better teammate than ARod could ever dream to be. Sometimes it's little things like comraderie and teamwork and not being super-egotistical that's worth more than actual dollar figures.

Posted by: erocks33 | December 23, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Nice posts, AO, and welcome to the fray.

Thanks for the link, brothbart. I'll be relieved to have a resolution one way or the other.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | December 23, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

joemktg1, agreed, but don't you think the pitching is coming? It's all we've gotten in the last two drafts and likely the next one too. We're hurting right now, but I suspect some of the young arms will start bubbling up to the surface soon. Maybe not this year but by mid-2010 the good ones will start to surface.

Posted by: NatsNut | December 23, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

A question one might ask is how many more fans will Tex draw by signing. Assuming he signs for $200mm for 8 yrs , his aver annual salary would be $25mm. The Nat's would have to draw an additional 5144 fans each game to accommodate his salary, assuming the fan spends an average of $30 , including ticket. Does Tex have that drawing capacity. I think he might because the Nats are still a draw if they are competitive. This would also help them with their draft picks and dealings with other clubs.

Posted by: mjames0 | December 23, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Tex will sign with the Royals.

You can count on it.

Posted by: hollywoodhogan420 | December 23, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Dunn would be the next Jim Bowden special.

Yes, Dunn hit 40 HR last year. But he hit 32 of them in Cincy (aka, the Great American Pillbox). While there he averaged one HR every 11 AB. After going to AZ, he averaged one HR every 18 AB. Over a 500 AB season, that's only 28 HR (as opposed to 43 in Cincy). And Dunn's SLG PCT dropped 50 points in AZ. Remember what happened to Kearns' and Lopez's numbers when they left Cincy?

Tex, on the other hand, has gone from hitting HRs every 17 AB in TEX, every 16 AB in ATL, and every 14 AB in LAA. And his SLG PCT has been consistently higher than Dunn's, even with the GAPB-inflated stats.

In other words, Dunn is not a substitute for Tex. He's a consolation prize.

Posted by: Aterio | December 23, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and as for Marrero:

If you sign Tex and Marrero pans out, he's great trade bait.

If you sign Dunn and Marrero DOESN'T pan out, you're SOL.

Posted by: Aterio | December 23, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

mjames0: I wouldn't expect Teix to instantly bring in that many extra people to games. But I see him as a draw over a longer period, just because he'll raise the level ofthe baseball being played.

I mean, signing a nutjob like Manny would ensure a lot of fans showing up at the park, but how many would be there essentially just waiting for either homeruns—or mayhem, and not giving much of a damn about the rest of the game? I'll take Teix over that.

But hey, if I have to, I'll learn to live with Adam Dunn.

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | December 23, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I still think Tex ain't coming here, but I can't help but feel the suspense building.

I HATE suspense.

Posted by: NatsNut | December 23, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

ack! new post. is he coming here? is he going there? I can't take it anymore. I'm going to lunch.

Posted by: NatsNut | December 23, 2008 12:00 PM | Report abuse

It good that we are in the hunt for Tex, the city has stepped to the plate in help building that great stadium and the lerners are trying to do fullfill their part if the deal in filling the seats. I'm all for it. I hope they also bring in a decent closer, use the 1st pick on that pitcher, and another bat (Dunn or Abreu). with those move we have a very good team.

Posted by: cgshelton | December 23, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm on board with that, Nut, but contending in 2011 (I hope we get a glimpse during mid-2010). Until then, pls give me something exciting to watch, e.g., lose close, a series sweep here and there, some clutch hitting moments (even the promise of a clutch hitting moment). Keep me going. That's what I think will happen to the lineup that includes Tex: all boats will float higher when you throw him into the water. I don't think you'll get that with Dunn, who reminds me of a Dave Kingman-like slugger.

Posted by: joemktg1 | December 23, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Right on, AtomicOverload, keep contributing.

Again, Dunn is nothing but a spoonful of sugar. Entirely inconsequential in the long run, but makes the medicine taste a little better.

Hudson is harmful to the plan. He's not going to platoon, so he does little more than keep young guys from getting try outs, so that we have to replace both our middle infielders at the same time, instead of one at a time.

Posted by: Section506 | December 23, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Aterio makes a good point (Hi again, all, by the way - finally bothered to establish a sign-on) - saying "We don't need Tex, we've got Marrero" is a little like saying "I don't need to buy bread today, because I just planted this winter wheat crop" - sure, maybe it'll turn into great bread eventually, but I'd rather have too much bread and be fat than too little and starve. Having Tex takes pressure off Marrero, it doesn't block him. Other teams (like the Phillies with Thome and Howard) or the Red Sox (with Crisp and Ellsbury), manage to both develop and have good ML talent at the top. Marrero is insurance against Tex's opt-out, not a reason to not sign him.

Agreed too that Dunn is a step back from Tex.

As for how good it makes us, has anybody crunched the numbers on Tex's RAR or VORP or Win Shares above what we actually got out of our 1b last year - I'm guessing that 150 games of Tex vs 150 games of the pupu platter of DY(the bad version), LoDuca, Belliard, and AF'inB is probably 8-10 wins itself, not because Tex is so great, but because our 1b production was so terrible.

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | December 23, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

OK, here's a scenario for you, we don't get Teixeira and Dunn has decided to go else where, now what do we do. I think we've been at the Tex party a little to late and the Dunn party may be over.

Man this waiting is making me all glass half empty...crap!!! Merry freaking happy holidays my ... Oh well, my children our going to have a nice Christmas at least.

Posted by: Berndaddy | December 23, 2008 12:30 PM | Report abuse

As a side note - some real numbers on Dunn at Cinci, AZ, and elsewhere last year, per baseball-reference:

Cinci - 61 games, 245 PA, 16 HR, OPS .847
AZ - 22 games, 93 PA, 5 HR, OPS .916
Rest - 75 games*, 313 PA*, 19 HR*, OPS .934**

* A plug number
** Away number. Did not recalculate to split before and after trade. Home OPS was .865

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | December 23, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Dunn - career - OBP / SLG - .381/.518
Kingman - .302 / .478
Pat Burrell - .376 / .485

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | December 23, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Those numbers would look great in the new post, jcaTBNL.

Posted by: Scooter_ | December 23, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Let's see - you can offer 10 players 2 million dollars a year MORE for 3 years


offer 4 players 5 million dollars a year for 3 years

and STILL SAVE yourself 100 million dollars.

Posted by: charley42 | December 23, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I would go after Milton Bradley, why not? Texiera will probably go to the Red Sox we need a professional hitter and Bradley is that and more and his baseball acumen is high, yeah,yeah,yeah, I know he's got a history of being a loose cannon but i think that's a bad rap. I think Bradley would hit 28-33 hr's and drive in 100+ runs and would be a great addition to the lineup.

Posted by: dargregmag | December 23, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

I'll renew my season tickets when the Nationals land Texeira and sign #1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg.

After waiting patiently for four seasons, I am no longer willing to watch a team made up of other team's leftovers, failed projects, headcases, or anyone from the Cincinnati Reds.

The era of "bargain bin baseball" must end in Washington.

Posted by: clandestinetomcat | December 23, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

ESPN reporting Teixeira to Yankees for less than the Nats offered.

Posted by: AWWNats | December 23, 2008 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I like Bradley, but that makes trading an OF essential. Hell, let's sign Bradley and Dunn, trade Nick for an A's middle reliever. Keep Elijah - he'd be a steadying influence on Milton.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | December 23, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

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