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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.

By Dave Sheinin  |  December 8, 2008; 10:13 PM ET
 
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Comments

Manny is such a class act. He could have thrown out a starting outfield, like Gardenhire, a manager widely admired for his tact, and started a firestorm. Instead, he acknowledges that everything can change day to day.

I like Manny more every time he speaks. Option? To me, that sounds like requirement.

Posted by: NattyDelite | December 8, 2008 11:05 PM | Report abuse

There will be either a glut of outfielders or first basemen. Personally, I don't expect the Nats will land Teixeira, so I'd like toe see them hold on to Nicky. I think he and Guzman could be great at the top of the order, spraying balls around and setting the table for Zimm, Dukes, and a free-agent power hitter -- I'm guessing Dunn. That would make for a real glut in the outfield.

On the other hand, if they do sign Teixeira, then they have to deal Johnson. If such miracle happened, they should ask Boras to delay the announcement, perhaps for a day. Once they announce a signing like Teixeira, teams will try and lowball the Nats on Johnson. Unless there's a team in the Teixeira market that might be interested in Johnson as a second choice.

Posted by: fischy | December 9, 2008 2:38 AM | Report abuse

thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!

Posted by: NatsNut | December 9, 2008 5:31 AM | Report abuse

Continuing on the thoughts on Bergmann...

I am a fan of him as well. I think that part of the problem with Bergmann's confidence is comes from the way Acta handled him in crisis situations. During several games last year Bergmann would be cruising along and then BAMM! an error or misplay, ground ball infield hits and then then hard shot after hard shot. Bergmann has a fragile psyche, but Acta would leave him in to get torched, for example the 7 run inning in Philadelphia. Bergmann was toast for several starts after that, and was sent down for a spell. When he came back he was lights out for about four starts and then Acta leaves him in to get pounded again. Bergmann was not the same for the rest of the season. Acta just needs to handle him differently than other pitchers. He has to get him out of the game when things pile on to him. Does this lessen his ability as a starter? Yes, if you think that a starter is someone who should be able to take a bloodying every fifth start or so. But, if handled properly, Bergmann can give you a good year of pitching with a low ERA.

Posted by: driley | December 9, 2008 6:40 AM | Report abuse

Gammons was saying last night that there were three teams wanting to make a big splash at the meetings -- Mets, Yanks, and Nats. Says he has Man-ny Ramirez to DC rolling around in the back of his head. I also have that problem. Get in there Man-ny you megaspheric intergallactic blast-off bad boy. GET IN THERE MAN-NY MAN-NY MAN-NY

Posted by: Brue | December 9, 2008 7:36 AM | Report abuse

driley

Agreed, but what use is a pitcher that goes to pieces whenever things don't go his way. At some point the guy either has to man up or accept life in the minors/pen.

I'd love to see him do well too. I think the guys is a smart pitcher.

Posted by: soundbloke | December 9, 2008 7:59 AM | Report abuse

OK, just to review: 1) The Nats will not sign a major free agent pitche; 2) they will look at minor free agent pitchers, but that would come later; 3) the Nationals would like to sign Teixeira, but nobody including the Nats seem to think that is likely; 4) the Nats want to make a splashy impact this offseason; they need a lefthanded power hitter, some starting pitching, a leadoff hitter, a centerfielder, and a firstbaseman. They also could use upgrades at secondbase, and relief pitching. They have a promising young catcher whose OBP was under .300, a closer who at best is unproven and at worst is proven inadequate. Their best prospects appear to be still a year away. They will select one Rule 5 player later this week with Morlan from Tampa Bay generally regarded as best available. They have every reason to believe attendance will be down this year, although probably not as much as some other clubs are anticipating. They have a decent, but not great minor league system that is getting better slowly. They have a hated, but competent General Manager; a loved, but sedate by the numbers manager; a renowned but discontent President; and unproven ownership that is either patient, cheap, or both. They have a rising star at 3B who is less patient, two profesional hitters at firstbase who spend too much time on the bench; and a loyal, hard working shortstop with limited range.

I am a huge fan!

I anticipate a trade or two in the next few weeks, maybe this week. They may still get an opportunity to sign a middle of the lineup hitter -- Teixeira or Dunn -- but more likely will have to rely on trades to get the featured parts they want and rely on second tier free agents or prospects to backfill.

I am eagerly awaiting the next tidbits of news.

Posted by: natbisquit | December 9, 2008 8:19 AM | Report abuse

please do not trade redding for another midling outfielder.

Posted by: longterm | December 9, 2008 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Teixeira is the only option that will impact the fortunes of the team. I think the Lerners have done the math and know how much he is worth to the franchise in dollars. The Lerners have a local economy that is less susceptible to downturn and if they can get fan interest back with the signing of Teixeira, then he is worth $20 million annually to them. Other owners have to be worrying about a drop off in attendance and other peripherals as unemployment climbs next spring. The Lerners money in real estate may have taken a hit, but the baseball business as a stand alone has to have made some serious money for them in '08. So don't be surprised if the Lerners outbid some of the other teams because they are in better position to make good on their bets.

Bowden may be trying to sell the 40 homer threat of Dunn, but some of Dunn's power will not play outside of the GAB and he is not as good a hitter away from it in general. His power will translate better than Kearns' did, but none of Bowden's Cincy players do as well here as elsewhere--for whatever reason.

So the Lerners should be making a very serious pitch to Tex. He is their only serious chance not to lose fan interest in 2009 and years to come. I would love to know how many people were posting here during the winter meetings last year. I would wager the numbers were significantly greater. The percentage drop-off might be a good predictor of the loss of fan attendance over time.

Posted by: Juliasdad | December 9, 2008 9:19 AM | Report abuse

natbisquit has summed up the Nats beautifully.

I'm *so* glad that I didn't renew my season tickets.

Oh, I know that it'll be hard to come by those scarce, ridiculously-underpriced seats, but it's a risk that I'm willing to take.


btw, is it stupid for the ownership group to do something "stupid" and overpay, even for mediocrity? I think not; even an ugly splash would make me care more about this moribund franchise.

That's right; moribund. And the "face" of the franchise, who should have been hitting sixth and carving a place as the next Brooks Robinson [great glove, decent clutch stick] will instead be a high-priced addition to a luxury team in a couple of years. And I can't blame him one bit. . . .

Posted by: muleboy | December 9, 2008 9:20 AM | Report abuse

"Dunn's power will not play outside of the GAB and he is not as good a hitter away from it in general."
___________________________________________

Have you seen the distance of most of the HR's Dunn hits at GAB? They are deep and out of any ballpark. He has legit power. he may not hit as many as he did in that bandbox in Cincy but, he would give us at least 30-35, in my opinion.

Posted by: Section505203 | December 9, 2008 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Count me in with the (undoubtedly large) group of happy EX-season ticket holders. I'll take my chances on getting tickets to games I want next year. Depending on how management does, that may be very few games, too.

Posted by: brewer1 | December 9, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Muleboy,

You are right about Zim.

The time to lock up young face-of-franchise types long term is clearly when they are young and impressionable, like Milwaukee did with Ryan Braun and like Tampa Bay did with Evan Longoria.

Letting Zim sit until he establishes his value is foolish. The price escalates with each season, even if Zim's numbers are not all that the team expected. (Cal Ripken had many not-so-great years too, if you only look at offensive numbers). As Zim gets close to free agency, he will be wise to the baseball world. He will know he can get the big bucks AND sign with a quality organization that is committed to winning. The Nats will say, "Zim had his heart set on free agency, so we traded him while we could still get some prospects for him." But such a stance, while sounding reasonable to fans, does not account for all their own inaction.

There is no doubt in my mind that Zim is looking at the Nats and seeing how $500K (or whatever the little difference was) stood between signing their top draft pick and not signing him, how they offer only the smallest bonuses to international kids, and how reluctant they are to take on payroll whether through trades or free agents. The only thing that can save Zim at this point is to demonstrate a commitment to team-building going forward. The Nats need to break with past practices.

Posted by: EdDC | December 9, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

What NatsNuts said--thank you so much for this terrific coverage, Dave.

Posted by: Section109 | December 9, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Who is Nick Johnson?

Posted by: SorenKierkegaard | December 9, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

@ Kierkegaard - You ask a profound question. Who is Nick Johnson? Is he still the incomparable hitting prospect he was with the Yankees? Is he the oft-injured doubles hitter, whose prolonged slumps keep him from hitting even .300, that the Nats have seen?

Or, is he the professional photographer, whose racy photos of attractive, scantily clad young women can be seen at NickJohnson.net?

Just who is Nick Johnson?

Posted by: fischy | December 9, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Like every other pro athlete in every other pro sport, Teixeira will go where the most money takes him, whether the team is a contender or not, close to his home or not, etc. Regardless of what they all say before signing, after Teixeira signs, we are going to see that in the end he took the biggest financial offer.

Posted by: rb-freedom-for-all | December 9, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

If you want Tex, here are some suggestions that might generate some interest.

$180 million with an "opt out" option after year two and year six. The 180mm includes a $20mm bonus paid immediately. Tex has a short and medium option to assess market conditions (post recession) but also has locked in a long term contract if he so wishes. I have not valued the three and six year option but I suspect they would be worth more than $10 million. The Lerners could play with the contract value by front end loading the contract.

I am assuming Lerner knows what Boras' hot buttons are. By playing with "opt out" options, bonus and front years, it would be easy for the Lerners to beat $200 for 10 years.

Posted by: mjames0 | December 9, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Previous post - The $180mm is for ten years

Posted by: mjames0 | December 9, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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