A Really Big Deal

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2009

NEW YORK, Jan. 6 -- In the 10 days that fell between Dec. 12, when the Teixeiras, Mark and Leigh, of Westlake, Tex., sat down for dinner at their country club -- Fridays being the couple's traditional kid-free date night -- and Dec. 23, the day it was revealed that Mark Teixeira, until that moment a free agent first baseman, had chosen to sign an eight-year, $180 million contract with the New York Yankees, plenty of developments occurred in the transcontinental pursuit of his talents.

The Boston Red Sox flew in to meet with Teixeira and remained the front-runners to land him in most observers' minds. The Los Angeles Angels gave it one last shot, then announced they were pulling out. And the Washington Nationals, their franchise-defining offer only days old, remained in frequent contact with the Teixeira camp, mulling over counteroffers. The Yankees themselves, at that time, didn't even have an offer on the table.

But none of it mattered, because there at the dinner table, on their date night nearly two weeks before Christmas, Leigh Teixeira said the words her husband had been waiting to hear: "I want you to be a Yankee." Start spreadin' the news.

"In the back of my mind, the Yankees were always at the top," Teixeira, 28, said dreamily on Tuesday, the day the team formally introduced him as its newest acquisition, "and once Leigh said, 'I want you to be a Yankee,' it was a done deal."

And so the Yankees -- in what was likely the final big event at old Yankee Stadium, before it gives way to the new, $1.3 billion version being readied for its grand opening across 161st Street -- unveiled one last monument to their vast wealth and vast tradition, both of which they wielded during the Teixeira chase to quash rival bidders the same way the bulldozers assembled outside the old stadium Tuesday are about to do their thing.

"Once it hit me that I was going to be a Yankee," Teixeira said, donning the cap and jersey top of the team he rooted for as a child in Severna Park, "it was pure joy."

Among the losing bidders, there is more angst in Boston than anywhere else, given the intensity of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry and the former's status as perceived front-runners throughout the process.

"Up until two hours before he made the decision," said Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, recalling the team's last-minute push to nab Teixeira on Dec. 23, "I thought we were actually still behind Boston."

Next might be Baltimore, where the Orioles hoped Teixeira's upbringing and the fact his family had season tickets during his youth might sway him their way. Teixeira, though, grew up rooting for the Yankees and worshipping first baseman Don Mattingly, whose poster graces a wall in Teixeira's childhood bedroom to this day.

"I tried to take it down once, after [Mark] got married," said his mother, Margy. "He made me put it back up."

For the Nationals, however, the feeling is more one of resignation. The four-year-old franchise owns a mere fraction of the Yankees' cachet, both historically and financially speaking.

The Nationals' one real shot at landing Teixeira apparently came at their face-to-face meeting with him in early December in a meeting room at a downtown Washington hotel, a meeting presided over -- apparently to dramatic effect -- by principal owner Theodore Lerner. Within days of the meeting, the Nationals had made an offer -- $160 million over eight years -- that roughly equaled the sum of their 2006, 2007 and 2008 payrolls.

"Man, what an impressive guy," Teixeira said of Lerner on Tuesday. "That guy is a very successful businessman, and he's trying to make the Nationals a successful team. The Nationals and Orioles were definitely up there -- a chance to play close to home. But for my goals as a ballplayer, to be a world champion, the Yankees were just so far and above everyone else in that realm."

John Teixeira, Mark's father, recalled his son's reaction to his meeting with Lerner in much the same way: "He said to me, 'That's an impressive man.' To see what [Lerner has] accomplished in his life, and to see how dedicated he is to the community -- that meant a lot to him. Anybody who thinks Mark didn't consider Washington is wrong. There was very much interest on his part, mostly because of Mr. Lerner."

The question that will gnaw at Teixeira's spurned suitors is this: If he and his wife truly decided on the Yankees all the way back on Dec. 12, did Teixeira and agent Scott Boras string along the other teams for those remaining 10 days until the Yankees deal was reached?

Naturally, Boras disputes the notion, saying of the rejected teams: "They made good-faith proposals, and they were given proposals, which means if they accepted them, the player would have signed the proposals. And if teams reject them, they cannot in any way suggest they were strung along."

Boras also revealed that Teixeira did not take his "best financial offer," though he did not specify which other team had gone higher.

Teixeira, too, denied the charge. "I wasn't stringing other teams along," he said. "But at the same time no one had really stepped up to make [the decision easy]. For a long time there, all of the [offers] were basically the same."

Meantime, the Teixeira signing pushed the Yankees' total free agent tab this winter to $423.5 million -- roughly $20 million more than the amount spent so far by the other 29 teams in baseball, combined. It has prompted several rival owners around the game to renew the periodic call for a salary cap in baseball. The Yankees, however, point out they had some $80 million in payroll come off the books in expired contracts this winter and that their 2009 payroll, though still the biggest in the game by far, will be lower than it was in 2008.

"If some owners are upset we invest in our team," managing owner Hal Steinbrenner said Tuesday, "I'm not going to lose any sleep over it."

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