Thomas Boswell on the Nationals' Pursuit of Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira swings a mean bat, one the Nationals wanted in their lineup but one that will be swung, eight years, $180 million later, in New York.
Mark Teixeira swings a mean bat, one the Nationals wanted in their lineup but one that will be swung, eight years, $180 million later, in New York. (By Tony Dejak -- Associated Press)
By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

For the Nats to be a successful franchise and the Lerners to be proper owners, as they wish but have not yet proven themselves to be, the checklist is long and will take years to complete. But one vital issue has been answered.

For the absolutely, positively perfect free agent who fits every qualification that the Lerners and their top executives require, the Nats will bid high enough -- and strategize subtly enough for two months -- to send the Angels home with their marbles, put the Red Sox into a funk and render the Orioles irrelevant.

Because they aren't taken seriously inside the sport yet, the Nats also learned, two days before Mark Teixeira's self-imposed Christmas deadline, that they couldn't beat the devil Yankees in a battle for the offseason's top prize.

New York reportedly will pay $180 million for eight years. Satan's money always spends. The value of the Nats' final offer, nominally in the same neighborhood, cannot truly be valued because, when you lose 102 games, your money is printed in Confederate currency.

New York now owns Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. All other asset classes may be sinking but the price of souls keeps going up: $423.5 million just for three.

So, give a seasonal toast of consolation to the Nats. They played this one smart. Bid high early. Set the price of poker. Then go stone silent, keep the rest of your maneuvers hidden and hope that, by some miraculous sequence, you become Teixeira's Secret Santa. It didn't work. When the Bosox sulked and the Angels folded, and, for an instant, the name "Nats" was whispered, the Yanks big-footed the party and bought the pot. Ancient story.

Over the next several weeks, the Nats and their owners will face another huge item on that checklist. They have established, beyond any fair definition of a reasonable doubt, that they will compete financially -- not for show, but with a serious intention to win.

But that is just one level. Coming within sight of Mount Teixeira, though never within realistic reach, is a pleasant holiday thought. However, it accomplishes nothing -- it, in fact wastes credibility, rather than adds to it -- if the Nats do no more and stop now. You only get points for taking an honest shot at Teixeira if you spend the rest of the offseason bagging real ome.

In a buyer's market chocked with free agents of all descriptions, and at all price points, will the Lerners pay for players who aren't perfect, like Teixeira? Will they readjust their sights, then, by signings or payroll-adding trades, improve their present team, salvage their scorched relations with their fans and help their long-term future?

Don't say Adam Dunn can't field. He's hit 40 homers five years in a row. The Nats had nobody with 15 homers last season. Don't say that Gold Glove hard-hitting second basemen like Orlando Hudson don't win titles. They help get to .500. And don't stop you from going much higher.

This was a poignant day for many Nats execs, but none more than President Stan Kasten. In recent days, after carefully prefacing every comment with disclaimers about the power of the Nats rivals, he'd almost begun to hope.

"I'm still shopping, but luckily, my shopping doesn't have to end at Christmas," said Kasten, asked about Teixeira minutes before news of his signing. "Sometimes prices drop after Christmas.

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