By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
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 . . . 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 also are 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 reporters 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. . . . 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 when he was the general manager 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 also have 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."
The Nationals could also trade from their surplus of outfielders.
Winter Meeting Notes: According to two industry sources, the Boston Red Sox were in discussions with the New York Mets regarding a trade for former Nationals catcher Brian Schneider, who would replace Jason Varitek should the Red Sox captain, as expected, depart via free agency. The Mets likely would be looking for pitching in return for Schneider, 32, whom they acquired from the Nationals last winter. . . .
The Mets have met with several top free agent closers and reportedly made a two-year, $25 million offer with a club option for a third year to Francisco Rodriguez, the top closer on the market. Rodriguez, who turned down a three-year, $34 million offer from the Los Angeles Angels last year, had been hoping to land a five-year deal this winter, but the oversupply of closers has damaged his leverage. . . .
The New York Yankees met a second time with free agent pitcher CC Sabathia, who was in Las Vegas. The Yankees have a standing offer of six years, $140 million on the table for Sabathia, and no team is known to have come close to matching it. Sabathia, though, is thought to prefer playing on the West Coast for a National League team. . . .
The Orioles acknowledged seeking to trade veteran catcher Ramón Hernández to make room for uber-prospect Matt Wieters, and the Reds have emerged as a top landing spot. The Mets could also have interest in Hernández if they trade Schneider to Boston.