- The Washington Times
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Well, they won’t love local boy Mark Teixeira anymore in Baltimore after the word came down Tuesday that he agreed to sign with the hated New York Yankees.

They may not even like him in his hometown of Severna Park, Md.

But there should be a sliver of fondness for him in the District. He spurned the Nationals’ bid, but for a few weeks, he made baseball in this town important again.

He made it seem like the Nationals were a major league franchise.

The 28-year-old first baseman - the prize of baseball’s free agent market - was courted by the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Orioles and the Nationals. However, the Yankees swooped in at the last minute and landed the switch-hitting slugger with an eight-year, $180 million deal, according to various reports.

When word came down earlier in the day that a decision was expected, indications were that the Red Sox would be the choice after it appeared it had come down to Washington and Boston.

But the Yankees, as is the case in the battle between them and the Red Sox, made a last-minute offer - to keep Teixeira from going to Boston, as much as landing his services for themselves - that Teixeira and his agent, Scott Boras, couldn’t refuse.

Teixeira should do well in New York. He is not an A-Rod neurotic drama junkie. He is more in the mold of Derek Jeter, a clean-cut corporate-like personality who is aware of his image and will conduct himself accordingly.

And it certainly gives the Yankees a powerful one-two punch of A-Rod and Teixeira and, with the acquisitions of free agent pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, has to make New York the prohibitive favorite in the American League East. It was a nice run while it lasted, Tampa Bay.

Teixeira, after the Atlanta Braves traded him to the Angels on July 29, went on a contract tear. He batted .358 with 13 home runs, 43 RBI and a .449 on-base percentage in 54 games. Overall, he hit .308 with 33 home runs and 121 RBI.

Those numbers may improve in a Yankees uniform - particularly if the Yankees are not done spending yet and try to sign Manny Ramirez as well.

It was a surprise but not a shock that the Yankees came in at the last minute and got Teixeira. What was a shock to the industry, though, was the aggressive way the Nationals pursued the free agent and the team’s willingness to put an eight-year, $160 million offer on the table - more than the Lerner family has spent on the entire team payroll since they took over the team in the middle of the 2006 season.

Last season, the question often heard from players and officials from visiting teams was, “What is going on in Washington?” referring to the team’s dismal play and missteps in the front office and ownership, from refusing to pay the rent to the District to their failure to sign their No. 1 pick in the draft, pitcher Aaron Crow.

This winter, the question was the same - “What is going on in Washington?” - but for different reasons. Teams were taken aback by the Nationals’ pursuit of Teixeira.

“They set the market for him,” one opposing club official said.

Around town, people approached me every day asking whether the Nationals were going to land Teixeira. There was muted excitement - muted because most found it difficult to believe Teixeira would sign a long-term contract with an unproven operation like Washington.

But as reports began to come out that the Nationals were considered a player in the game, people were excited about the prospect of hope for an organization whose 2008 season ended with 102 losses and the lowest attendance for any new ballpark’s opening year since 1992.

People were talking about the Washington Nationals in December. Every night, they were discussed on “SportsCenter.” Hopefully, the Lerner family saw the value of that. The Teixeira pursuit was a change in philosophy - not necessarily in baseball philosophy but in the realization that perception does matter.

The perception of this franchise in town and around baseball had nearly hit rock bottom when this season closed. It took a step up in the Teixeira sweepstakes.

But they need a Plan B to keep the momentum going. The general consensus is Adam Dunn, whom Nationals general manager Jim Bowden drafted while in Cincinnati and has been coveted by Bowden, will be that Plan B. Unlike Teixeira, there are questions about Dunn’s work ethic.

Now, Manny Ramirez would be something kind of different. You get the good and the bad with Manny, but that would put the Nationals on a different attention level. There may be five athletes that ESPN devotes much of its news programming toward. Manny is one of them.

With Teixeira out of the way, the other free agent dominos should fall quickly. Nationals fans will be watching to see whether their team is still in the game.

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