- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What was perhaps the Washington Nationals‘ highest-profile free agent pursuit of their four-year existence ended Tuesday, when first baseman Mark Teixeira agreed to a reported eight-year, $180 million deal with the New York Yankees. That halted the Nationals’ hopes of making the 28-year-old the cornerstone of their lineup for the better part of the next decade.

ESPN.com first reported the deal between Teixeira and the Yankees, whose stated interest in the Severna Park, Md., native had been lukewarm at best the past few weeks. The Nationals and the Boston Red Sox were believed to be the front-runners, but the Yankees swooped in to cap an offseason spending spree that saw them hand out nearly $424 million to three players - Teixeira, left-hander CC Sabathia and right-hander A.J. Burnett.

“We really felt we were one of the final three teams,” Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. “We certainly knew our offer was competitive with everybody. The question was whether geography and family was going to be enough to convince him to come to Washington. At the end of the day, it wasn’t.”

According to a team source, the Nationals “were not beaten by anybody” on the amount of money or the number of years they offered Teixeira. Rather, the team’s remote chances to win in the near future hurt Washington in the long run. The source said Teixeira’s years of losing with the Texas Rangers hurt the Nationals, who couldn’t offer him the immediate chance to win that the Yankees could.

“He didn’t go there because they offered more money and more years,” the source said. “He waited a long time [to win], and he wasn’t ready to wait.”

The Nationals departed from their typically conservative stance toward free agents because they viewed Teixeira as a special case - a young, marketable first baseman with local ties that hits from both sides of the plate, is a strong defender and averaged 35.4 home runs the past five seasons.

Washington’s first offer, acknowledged by Bowden during baseball’s winter meetings earlier this month, was believed to be $160 million for eight years.

“A lot of credit should go to the Lerner family,” Bowden said. “They showed they are committed to winning in D.C., and they stepped up at the highest competitive levels.”

Now that the Nationals have shown a willingness to offer a major contract to a premier free agent, the question becomes how much money they will spend in the rest of the offseason. Manny Ramirez is still on the market, though the team has denied interest in the enigmatic left fielder, as is outfielder/first baseman Adam Dunn. Chris Marrero, the team’s 2006 first-round pick, could be major league ready within two seasons, but both Bowden and manager Manny Acta have said the team has an immediate need for a left-handed slugger in the middle of its lineup.

While the Nationals might have some interest in Dunn, a team source said their failure to get Teixeira won’t trigger an automatic pursuit of the slugger. For that matter, the money they spent on Teixeira won’t be allocated instantly to another free agent.

For the time being, the Nationals are left with two risky solutions at first base: the oft-injured Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young, who struggled with various injuries and health issues last season.

The Nationals also announced that they signed five players to minor league deals: infielder Jose Castillo, outfielder Corey Patterson, catcher Gustavo Molina, right-hander Jorge Sosa and left-hander Gustavo Chacin.

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