What if Mark Teixeira accepted the Nats’ huge offer in 2008?

What are the two biggest free agent signings in Nationals history? Max Scherzer and Jayson Werth, obviously. (We’re talking about guys who were signed after playing for other clubs, not the re-signing of homegrown players like Stephen Strasburg or Ryan Zimmerman.)

Both of those moves sent major shockwaves throughout the baseball world. The Scherzer signing (for seven years and $210 million) added one of the game’s best starting pitchers to a rotation that already looked loaded before his arrival. And the Werth signing (for seven years and $126 million) stunned everyone because the Nats weren’t in a position to begin winning at that point and weren’t considered by most to be serious candidates for any big-name free agents.

Would you believe, though, they actually tried to be serious candidates for a bigger name two years earlier? In December 2008, they went hard after Mark Teixeira, even believing for a while they were best positioned to land the star first baseman.

It makes for another great “What if?” in club history, one that probably would’ve had huge ramifications for the Nationals. And maybe not all of them positive.

On the heels of a dreadful 2008 season in which they went 59-102 to open their gorgeous new $611 million ballpark, the Nats were in bad shape. Any thought of a quick leap into contention was short-sighted, because the roster was severely lacking in talent, and there were only a few legitimate prospects in the pipeline. (Strasburg, you’ll remember, wasn’t drafted until June 2009, a No. 1 pick made possible by that 59-102 record.)

The Lerner family and then-general manager Jim Bowden, though, believed it was time to start showing the rest of baseball they were serious. And to do that, they would need to spend the kind of money they hadn’t come close to spending during the club’s first four seasons in D.C.

So they set their sights on Teixeira, at that point a 28-year-old slugger who had put up big numbers (.290/.378/.541, 203 homers) in six seasons of relative obscurity with the Rangers, Braves and Angels. He was perhaps the biggest bat available that winter, and the sport’s two East Coast titans (the Yankees and Red Sox) were all-in on him.

What made the Nationals think they had any chance? Because Teixeira grew up in Maryland and had expressed an interest in playing close to home.

The Orioles, having similar visions themselves, also tried to woo Teixeira (who grew up a Baltimore fan) to Camden Yards, so the Nats appeared to have the worst shot of any of the contending teams to sign him. Unless they could put forth an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Which is exactly what they tried to do, offering eight years and $160 million. Keep in mind, they had never offered anything remotely like that to any player in their brief history, so this truly was uncharted territory for the Lerners.

In the end, the Yankees stepped up their game and landed Teixeira for $180 million. It’s possible the Nationals increased their offer to surpass New York’s, though that’s never been fully confirmed. Regardless, Teixeira’s rationale for going to the Bronx instead of Washington was as clear as could be: One franchise was positioned to win a World Series immediately, the other wasn’t anywhere close.

And sure enough, the Yankees did win a championship in 2009, with Teixeira leading the American League with 39 homers and 122 RBIs, finishing second in MVP voting, winning both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards at first base and earning only the second All-Star selection of his career.

That, however, would prove to be the peak of Teixeira’s career, not to mention the peak of the Yankees’ 21st century run. Though he still topped 30 homers and 100 RBIs in 2010-11, his overall numbers weren’t as good, and they dramatically dropped after that. Over his eight years in New York, he finished with a .248/.343/.479 slash line, 206 homers and 622 RBIs. And the Yankees still haven’t returned to the World Series, let alone won it.

So, what might have happened had Teixeira somehow signed with the Nationals instead? Well, he would’ve put up some impressive power numbers for a 2009 club that still would’ve been awful, then perhaps start to see his career diminish just as the franchise was starting to get good in 2012.

Teixeira’s signing also wouldn’t have done anything to prevent Bowden from resigning as GM two months later after a scandal involving a Dominican prospect who falsified his name and age came to light, the massive development that led to Mike Rizzo’s promotion.

Empty-Nationals-Park-at-Opener-Sidebar.jpgOn top of all that, the Nationals would’ve had no reason to acquire any other first basemen until Teixeira’s contract expired at the end of the 2016 season. Think about who that would’ve impacted.

When he didn’t land Teixeira, Bowden instead went after Adam Dunn and lured the former Reds slugger with a modest two-year, $20 million contract. And would you believe Dunn actually produced better offensive numbers (.910 OPS, 76 homers) than Teixeira (.897 OPS, 72 homers) in 2009-10, at a fraction of the cost? (Teixeira, to be fair, brought far more overall value because of his stellar defense.)

And after opting not to re-sign Dunn following the 2010 season, Rizzo signed Adam LaRoche, who from 2011-14 produced nearly identical numbers (.781 OPS, 82 homers) as Teixeira (.783 OPS, 88 homers) did during the same time frame. The two also reached the postseason the same number of times in those four years (twice).

And then, once LaRoche departed following the 2014 season, first base was freed up in D.C. for a former Gold Glove third baseman who needed to move to a new position after a shoulder injury ruined his ability to make regular throws across the diamond. If Teixeira was locked in at first base for the 2015-16 seasons, what would the Nationals have done with Zimmerman?

None of this is to suggest Teixeira was a bad player, or that the Yankees made a mistake signing him. He wound up having an outstanding career and might even be considered a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. But it’s probably safe to say he would’ve been wrong for the Nats at that time.

Yes, their attempt to make a big free agent splash at that stage of their history was commendable. But as we saw in the ensuing years, they made out a lot better spending less money on first basemen who made more sense for them, and still landed their big free agents a few years later en route to a sustained period of success.

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