Wrapping Up Day One
Here is the text of what I wrote about the Nationals for the print edition. Go to the jump for some additional nuggets that did not make the paper:
LAS VEGAS, Dec. 8--Whatever the view around the game is of the Washington Nationals' unlikely pursuit of free agent Mark Teixeira--and more importantly, whatever Teixeira's own view is--the Nationals themselves believe they are legitimate players for the services of the market's top prize.
On Monday, the opening day of baseball's winter meetings, General Manager Jim Bowden said the Nationals are involved in discussions with "three to five" top free agents, of which Teixeira, 28, is almost certainly the No. 1 target. Although Bowden did not identify him by name, team sources have said the Nationals are mulling a significant offer to Teixeira, and owner Ted Lerner reportedly met with Teixeira's agent, Scott Boras, in Washington last week.
To land Teixeira, whose price tag could approach $200 million, the Nationals likely would have to both outbid deep-pocketed teams such as the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox and convince Teixeira they will be contenders in the near future--not an easy task for a team coming off a 102-loss season.
Speaking generally of the feedback the team has gotten from free agents, Bowden said, "Players recognize we have one of the finest ballparks in the game. They recognize we are located in the most powerful city in the world. They also know, if they come here, we may not be ready to win next year, but [ellipses] they also look at all the other pieces and the potential revenue and the young players coming, and say, 'This franchise is on the way up.'"
One Nationals official acknowledged the unlikelihood the team could land Teixeira--"I don't feel real good about our chances," he said--but added, "You can't win if you don't play."
The Baltimore Orioles are also in pursuit of Teixeira, and General Manager Andy MacPhail told reporters Monday that they met face-to-face last week with Boras and Teixeira, who grew up in Severna Park. Still, no offer was made.
Boras, meantime, appeared before the media at a news conference Monday to introduce client Greg Maddux, who was announcing his retirement, but Boras did not take questions. However, he spoke to Foxsports.com about the Lerner family, saying, "They intend to be aggressive on many fronts in baseball. [ellipses] They have a very good idea of what their plan is for the future."
Asked Monday about ownership's willingness to spend, Nationals Manager Manny Acta said, "If the right guy is out there, our ownership group so far has shown that they'll be willing to make the move."
Bowden declined to name any of the Nationals' other free agent targets, but they have been frequently linked to slugging left fielder Adam Dunn, whom Bowden drafted as the GM of the Cincinnati Reds.
"Obviously," Bowden said, "we'd like a big left-handed bat in the middle of our lineup. That's a priority."
Although the Nationals have also targeted starting pitching and bullpen help as major needs this winter, the team is not expected to bid on any free agent pitchers, other than cheap ones who could be had on non-guaranteed minor-league contracts. In his search for pitching, Bowden is more focused on the trade market, and by late afternoon Monday he said the team had met with representatives of four other teams about trades.
Among players the Nationals are willing to trade is first baseman Nick Johnson, whose extensive injury history has made the team wary of counting upon him for a full season in 2009. The Nationals have indicated there is extensive interest among other teams in Johnson, with the Oakland Athletics having acknowledged their interest.
"Everybody knows how good he is when he's healthy," Acta said of Johnson. "But that being said, we know the history and we just have to prepare ourselves."
As promised, here are a few other items that didn't make the paper:
*Bowden believes the economic recession could create opportuties for the Nationals, by depressing prices into their range. "I think there will be bargains out there come January," he said. "And in this fluid market you have to have an open mind to unique opportunities that you normally might not get because of the marketplace. I don't think the recession is going to affect many at the top of the class, but I think it will affect everyone else."
*Manny Acta downplayed the fact his contract is due to expire at the end of the 2009 season, unless the team picks up its option for 2010 or negotiates an extension with him. "I feel grateful with the way the economy is right now... [that] I have a job for 2009. I think it would be very selfish of me to be worrying about 2010 and years to come. I was hired here three years ago to do a job, so obviously it's [up to his bosses] whether they thought those three years were enough, or it's not enough."
*Acta said Anderson Hernandez "has the inside track" for the starting second base job, as things stand, but he does not envision Hernandez batting leadoff. "We don't want to put too much pressure on him," Acta said.
*With a glut of outfielders that could still be reduced via trade, Acta declined to speculate about how his outfield might look next Opening Day. "Spring training is still a couple of months away," he said."We're not going to be ruffling any feathers just yet."
*Both Bowden and Acta said Nick Johnson is expected to be 100 percent healthy by spring training.
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