By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008
LAS VEGAS, Dec. 11 -- The last of the Washington Nationals' front-office contingent braved the six-deep checkout lines at the Bellagio hotel's front desk late Thursday morning, took their spots in the snaking taxi line outside the lobby and headed to McCarran International Airport. The flight home required four hours of cellphone silence, followed, to be sure, by the anxious first moments on the ground late Thursday night, when the phones were turned back on.
Like everyone else in the industry, the Nationals were waiting to find out what would happen with free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, to whom the team made a groundbreaking (for the franchise, anyway) offer of eight years, $160 million on Wednesday. Specifically, the anticipation centered on one other suitor for Teixeira, one that could offer things the Nationals simply cannot.
The mighty Boston Red Sox were widely expected to ratchet up the intensity to their quest for Teixeira, although details of their pursuit were sparse. Various reports had them "getting closer" to completing a deal, though, unlike with the Nationals' offer, no one could seem to pin down the specifics.
"You don't really know. You don't have all the information," Baltimore President Andy MacPhail told reporters in response to a question about the Orioles' own hopes of landing Teixeira. "We don't know exactly where the process stands. [But] until we're told otherwise, we believe we are part of the process."
Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden beat the rush out of the Bellagio earlier in the morning -- choosing to skip the Rule 5 Draft, in which the Nationals, picking first, selected right-handed reliever Terrell Young from the Cincinnati Reds -- and left the job of summing up the team's week to vice president for baseball operations Mike Rizzo.
"We've laid a lot of groundwork for a lot of things," Rizzo said. "We're really happy with the way things worked out. They were long hours -- I didn't eat a meal with a plate for the last four days. We were in [the team's suite] together for countless hours throughout the time we were here."
Rizzo declined to address a question specific to the Teixeira negotiations.
Clearly, though, with their staggering offer to Teixeira -- which represents more money than the franchise spent on their entire payrolls from 2006 to 2008 combined -- the Nationals gained a large measure of credibility in the industry, signaling a newfound commitment to winning, both to other potential free agent targets and to their own beleaguered fan base.
The big remaining question is whether their offer will be enough to land Teixeira. One Nationals executive, prior to heading for the airport Thursday morning, expressed optimism that the deal would occur, but acknowledged he had little information on which to base it.
Most everyone else seemed to expect Teixeira ultimately to wind up in Boston, which has been known to covet Teixeira for some time. The atmosphere sets up almost perfectly for agent Scott Boras, who is widely believed to prefer Boston as a landing spot for Teixeira, to keep the rest of the market open to slugger Manny Ramírez, whom he also represents.
The Red Sox have the payroll flexibility to pay Teixeira in excess of $20 million -- he would slot seamlessly into the salary hole created by the departure last summer of Ramírez, who also had an average salary of $20 million, and the team has also rid itself of the expensive contracts belonging to pitcher Curt Schilling, catcher Jason Varitek and center fielder Coco Crisp.
In addition, the Red Sox are surely motivated by the hoarding of pitching talent the rival New York Yankees are undertaking, with the Yankees having already agreed to terms with left-hander CC Sabathia on a seven-year, $161 million deal, while making additional pitches to right-handers Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett. Should the Yankees fail to sign either, there remains a chance they could also enter the picture for Teixeira, which undoubtedly would please Boras to no end.
The negotiating process for Teixeira thus shows no signs of concluding anytime soon, and both the Nationals and Orioles may have to decide whether to increase their offers to remain competitive. Boras is known to be seeking a 10-year, $200 million contract.
"We've never been dogmatic about saying, 'This is it, and that's all it would be,' " MacPhail told reporters. "I'm sure if there is interest on [Teixeira's] side, there will be more dialogue."
Other details will also have to be worked out, such as a potential opt-out clause -- a Boras specialty -- which would allow Teixeira to terminate the contract and go back into free agency after a certain number of years. This would seem to be particularly important to Teixeira (or perhaps Boras) in a case such as the Nationals, who are coming off a 102-loss season.
The Nationals have also made sure this week to keep tabs on other options for the middle-of-the-order bat they covet, maintaining interest in free agent outfielders Adam Dunn and Raúl Ibáñez, according to league sources. But as Bowden said Wednesday, Teixeira is their No. 1 priority, even if the feeling is not necessarily mutual.
Nationals Note: Rizzo called Young, 24, "a tremendous talent" who will be expected to compete for a bullpen job with the Nationals this spring. Young, who spent last season in Class A in the Reds' system, throws 93-96 mph and has vastly improved his command, which had slowed his progress in previous seasons.
"He's a power pitcher and he has a power arm," Rizzo said. "The whole secret to Terrell is to throw enough strikes to compete in the major leagues, and we like the way he's trending that way."