December 20, 2008

The Bigger Picture

As the Teixeira sweepstakes enters that period when no news is pretty much just no news, CBS Sportsline's Scott Miller takes a step back to look at what the pursuit of a premier free agent means for the Nationals, particularly owner Ted Lerner. Aside from being the franchise's first big foray into free agency, it could mark a fundamental shift in Lerner's relationship with his fellow owners.

Miller ties the Teixeira offer to last summer's unsuccessful negotiations with first round draft pick Aaron Crow. Says Miller:

Sources familiar with the Nationals' thinking say the bitter aftertaste of losing first-round pick Aaron Crow last summer is what finally changed Lerner's thinking. The Nationals were following baseball's recommendations for "slotting" -- paying first-round draft picks signing bonuses recommended by the commissioner's office -- in negotiating with Crow, the No. 9 overall pick. Other clubs ignored the recommendations.

It ended up costing the Nationals -- who, remember, have emphasized building from the ground up -- a key pick.

One person with knowledge of the Nats' winter approach characterized Lerner's attitude this way: "I've tried it their (baseball's) way. Now I'm going to try it my way."

It's not hard to understand why the Lerners, the new owners on the block, felt pressure to conform to the slotting recommendations, pressure that may well have been magnified by their unorthodox 2007 deal with LHP Jack McGeary. Attempting to sign Aaron Crow within MLB's recommended range, though, was an exercise doomed to failure from the start. If, as Miller suggests, the Lerners have become more saavy and independent as a result of that failure, then there is at least some silver lining to the Crow debacle. Bringing Teixeira into the fold would be as much concrete evidence of that transformation as any Nats fan could hope for.

If Ted Lerner's "way" is to make the Nationals legitimate players in free agency, ignore Bud Selig's self-defeating slotting recommendations for draft picks and act in the best interests of his team even at the expense of the league office, that would mark real progress for the owner and the franchise.

UPDATE: Roch Kubatko weighs in with some similar thoughts. It seems billionaires aren't used to being dismissed out of hand.
Pique may not be the best reason for handing out a 10-year, $200M contract, but in this case it may do.

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