Just as most of us suspected, the Nationals didn’t end up signing Mark Teixeira, the best position player available in this year’s free agent class. I am not, however, particularly distraught over the way this turned out. In fact, I think it may end up working out in the Nationals favor. Adding him would have definitely been helpful for Washington, but getting him was a no-brainer for the Yankees. They needed to get a first baseman who could hit like one, they needed to improve their defense, they needed to get younger, and they have very few hitting prospects in their farm system. If I would criticize them for anything, it’s spending so much on pitching – they have some good arms coming up, besides the youngsters you know about, and while you can never have too many, it’s still seems like more than they need. But for the Nats, Teixeira was probably not the best answer for them longterm, and here is why…
If everything goes well with the Nats pitching, then we’ll see the rotation of some combination of Zimmermann, Detwiler, Balester, Lannan, and McGeary, plus possible 2009 draftee Stephen Strasburg when? Certainly not in 2009. Probably not up and ready to compete full time on a major league level in 2010, either. You’re looking at a 2011 arrival of this team at best. That is regardless of whether any big name free agents sign, and it’s dependent on all of these guys developing. They simply can’t be a great team before then.
Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira is turning 29 next season. If you’re a whiz at math, you may have already figured out that by the 2011 season, when this rotation is hopefully running on all cylinders, Teixeira will be 31. While we did see the Rays go from worst to AL champs in one year, I think it is more likely that as this team develops, there will be a ramp up. Maybe they’ll compete for the playoffs in 2010, maybe in 2011, but competing for the World Series may not be until 2012, when Teixeira is 32. He’ll still be a great player by then, but is he going to be worth the Nats $20+ M a year? I think what is best for them is to sign the Teixeira of 2010. In other words, if you’re going to sign a great young player to help your team win, wait until your team is ready to win. Now if he was 26, my attitude about this might be different. But for now, I think his best years are, if we go by how most baseball players perform, 2007-2011. The Nats want someone who’s best years are 2011-2015.
And what happens if they signed him? Are they ready to tie up $20M on one player? Would that prevent them from extended Ryan Zimmerman’s contract? Would the ownership be ok with singing the other guys they need to get them over the hump? Would signing someone like that turn them into the Orioles of 1999-2006? That is, always acting like they are 1 middling free agent away from winning? (I like to say, “thinking they are one Jay Payton away.”) It took the O’s a long time to switch from that model, thankfully for local baseball, they have committed to building. But that isn’t a trap I want to see the Nats fall into.
Despite all that, I think that signing Teixeira would have been very good for the Nats. He is a great player with a great attitude and would be wonderful in the clubhouse. However, because of where this team is, and what their rotation looks like now, it isn’t a no-brainer for them. It was a no-brainer for the Yankees (and the Angels for that matter) but not the Nats. So spending $20+ M on a non-no-brainer may not be the answer for this team. Without him on this team, well, I’ll live.
So what’s next?
Now, it’s quite possible for them to be good before 2011, and management needs to do more to achieve that. Putting a 100-loss team out again is not an option. It appears, with their pursuit of Teixeira, that they finally realized that. So where are they going to spend their money? One option is Adam Dunn, and everyone is talking about that. I’m ok with that, mostly because he doesn’t cost anything, but their glut of outfielders makes me think he has to play first base. He may be a butcher there, but they should try it. I still think Milledge and Dukes are their future, along with Zimmerman, Flores, and their pitching. Nobody should get in the way of Lastings and Elijah in the OF, as long as Dunn doesn’t do that, I’m fine. As for Dunn himself, he is an offensive machine. He’s hit exactly 40 HRs the last 4 years in a row, that may go down a few playing outside of Cinci, but not much. He also has an OBP of .381 – thats higher than Mark Teixeira. He strikes out alot, but when you are slower than most megafauna, striking out instead of grounding into rally killing double plays isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Another option that has been talked about is Orlando Hudson. As a player, I’m not sure where he’s at. He’s been a great defensive 2B all his career, and he slipped last year, but that could very well be a one year blip. And he’s a pretty good hitter and can carry himself in that position. He used to have a low OBP, but the last few years he’s taken to walking, and has averaged approximately .290/.365/.450 the last three seasons. What I like about him is his personality. He’s a talker, he’ll bring some media attention to this team and that isn’t a bad thing.
If they’re gonna sign someone now, they need to do it in a way that doesn’t mortgage their future and doesn’t tie them down too much. If they do that, I’m fine. And while they’re looking, they shouldn’t be afraid to roll the dice on some pitchers.
A quick note on finance
What really cracks me up these days is reading that the Yankees have signed $432 million in contracts this offseason. Is that just an accounting trick to make the team seem as awful as possible? What people need to realize, throwing aside the Net Present Value arguments, as well as the opt out clauses in 2 of the 3 contracts, are that this number is irrelevent. Quite literally, irrelevent to everything. The only relevent number is the annual salary, and that has actually gone down for the Yankees. They freed up over $88 million in salary this season, why should they sit on it? In fact, they’ve “only” spent $62 million on these free agents, so they’re still lower than 2008’s payroll. It’s exhorbitant, but Nats fans shouldn’t complain. They can be a team spending $125 million or more on salaries if they want at some point in the future, hopefully they’ll do that, and do it wisely.