Thomas Boswell: Nats Need to Buy Some Pop

Switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira, a 28-year-old free agent, has averaged 35 homers and 118 RBI and hit .295 over the past five seasons.
Switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira, a 28-year-old free agent, has averaged 35 homers and 118 RBI and hit .295 over the past five seasons. (By Lisa Blumenfeld -- Getty Images)
By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mark Teixeira is not the best player in baseball and might not go to Cooperstown. In six years, he has never led a league in a Triple Crown category. Agent Scott Boras, famous for demanding the stars with an option on a few planets, wants a 10-year, $200 million deal for the free agent. The Angels need to keep him. The Yankees and Red Sox are hovering.

So why on earth are the Nats and Orioles wasting time joining the battle for the Severna Park native? Are they serious? Is it just PR? Do they have a chance?

And, in a recession, is Teixeira even worth the kind of contract he might get: perhaps eight years for $150 million with a vesting option for a ninth year and a no-trade clause?

Throughout the sport, as baseball's winter meetings begin Monday in Las Vegas and the hot stove league starts smoking, baseball has no more hotly debated question than this: What is Teixeira worth? He's the prize. He sets the market.

In other years, in better financial times, the Angels might be begging Teixeira to stay for a decade. Instead, they've offered him arbitration so they'll get compensatory draft picks if he leaves. Oh, he's their top priority. But the reports from L.A. say the Angels adore Teixeira for just six years or, okay, maybe seven. Ten is off the table.

"It's not going to be more than eight," one industry source said.

That's why the door is open, if only a tempting crack, for teams such as the Nats and O's. Extra years give them an extra chance at a big-gamble bonanza -- or a huge crap out.

The answer to the Teixeira value proposition is clear. But it's far from obvious. You have to dig through history to figure out whether a 28-year-old first baseman (who had knee surgery in '07) is worth an eight-or-more-season risk.

So let's compare Teixeira's career at the same age to every player in history. Then figure out what similar stars did over their next eight to 10 seasons.

The conclusion: Teixeira is worth every penny of $150 million for eight years, and maybe more. If the Nats are ever going to pull out the stops, regardless of rivals, now's the time to be high bidder. Nothing less has a chance.

After six years in the majors, Teixeira is, statistically, a clone of four other sluggers, all first basemen: Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff, Jim Thome and Jeff Bagwell. Their past predicts his future. All continued to be stars for eight years, at least, after the age of 28.

From age 29 through 36, Delgado averaged 35 homers and 111 RBI, Bagwell 38 and 115, McGriff 28 and 98, and Thome, despite a year when he played 59 games, 39 and 102. As a group, the four averaged 35 homers and 106 RBI.

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