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Thomas Boswell: It's Time for the Nats to Put Some Pieces in Place

Lerner did an impressive job of courting Teixeira. High marks. But that was last month. Nobody thought the Nats had much chance anyway. The test was always what the Nats would do after Tex said, "No."

So far, the Nats have disappeared from the offseason stage just when they had shown the first signs of being a player. Ten days ago, it appeared that inactivity was a negotiating ploy. Now it's a worry.

Last Opening Day, Lerner asked me, "How long before we have to win?" I joked that, since the new park looked beautiful, he probably had until about the seventh inning.

Back then, the Nats, internally, thought they might be a .500 team. Injuries, and a 162-game reality check, proved that to be a major delusion. Only bad-to-the-bone teams lose 102 games. The Nats now embarrass the Expos, who only lost 102 once in their last 35 years in Canada. The old Washington Senators only lost 102 games once from 1910 until they split for Minnesota.

Whatever the causes or excuses, you just can't be this bad and then do nothing. It's shameful.

"I don't think the owner wants to do anything," said a veteran executive in another organization. "The Nationals act like they're the Marlins, stuck in an old stadium."

Is this a premature, unfair reading? We'll find out fast. Everybody in baseball assumes the quality free agents left on the market probably will be signed by the end of next week.

Baseball isn't, "I want Teixeira or I won't pay." It's making an honest run at Teixeira, as the Nats did, then settling for very fine, but imperfect players.

Such as? A slugger who's hit 40 homers in each of the past five seasons. And a steady 190-inning starting pitcher. And a solid reliever with a low ERA in 2008. And maybe even a Gold Glove second baseman who hit .305 before an injury.

In other words, if the Nats were properly run, they might sign slugger Adam Dunn, pitcher Randy Wolf (12-12), reliever Joe Beimel (2.02) and perhaps second baseman Orlando Hudson, too -- all within the next handful of days. Or Dunn, Jon Garland (14-8) and Juan Cruz (2.61).

Such combinations, which would transform the Nats into a presentable team, are not just theoretical. They are absolutely feasible.

That's how sane the pricing of free agents is right now. That's how tiny the Nats' payroll is, especially when $18.5 million falls off after 2009 when the contracts of Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young end.

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