Meetings mission: Improve offense
Nationals hope to bring in big-name free agent to solve woes
WASHINGTON -- After losing 102 games this past season, the Nationals go into the annual Winter Meetings with one goal in mind: Improve the offense, which finished near the bottom of the Majors in almost every category.
Unlike previous years, the Nationals are willing to spend a lot of money to get what they want. Free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira is their top target, and the team could spend most of their time from Dec. 8-11 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas trying to convince the switch-hitter to come to the nation's capital.
The team is looking for a first baseman because of Nick Johnson's history of injuries and Dmitri Young's health record.
A Scott Boras client, Teixeira is one of the most high-profile free agents this year and the Nationals will have to break the bank to acquire his services. According to one baseball source, Teixeira is looking for a deal that is more than Miguel Cabrera's eight-year, $153.3 million deal that he signed during Spring Training last year.
According to published reports, Teixeira has received offers from various clubs. It's not known if the Nationals are one of those teams that has made an offer. General manager Jim Bowden declined to talk about the club's intentions prior to the Meetings.
Teixeira hit a combined .321 with 33 home runs and 121 RBIs for the Braves and Angels in 2008. Reports have indicated that the Angels, Orioles and Red Sox are also in the running for his services. Washington is considered a dark horse in the Teixeira sweepstakes, but the source said that Teixeira will not be scared off because Washington had the worst record in baseball.
If they can't sign Teixeira, look for the Nationals to go after first baseman/outfielder Adam Dunn.
Dunn, 28, and Bowden have a history together with the Reds organization. Bowden drafted Dunn in the second round of the 1998 First-Year Player Draft. Three years later, Dunn was in the big leagues and became the Reds' best power hitter. In fact, Dunn has hit at least 40 home runs for five straight years. While he has a .247 career batting average, Dunn has a .381 on-base percentage and is versatile in the field.
"Everybody likes the power and he walks. He is just a presence in the lineup," Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns said. "You know he is going to knock in his runs. You don't have to worry about that. He has stayed healthy, so he is going to be in there every day."
Don't look for the Nationals to spend big money on pitching. They most likely will trade for it. They already made improvements in that area by acquiring left-hander Scott Olsen from the Marlins in a five-player trade.
Olsen, 24, figures to be part of a Nationals rotation that finished with a 4.97 ERA this past season. The southpaw was 8-11 with a 4.20 ERA in 33 starts in 2008, throwing a career-high 201 2/3 innings. It was his best season since 2006, when he went 12-10 with a 4.04 ERA.
Another question that remains is what the Nationals will do with their current outfield situation. They have five corner outfielders, including Elijah Dukes, Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena and Josh Willingham. Milledge was the everyday center fielder last year, but the team may prefer to fill that position with someone else.
The team has expressed interest in the Rockies' recent acquisition, center fielder Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez was acquired from the Athletics as part of the Matt Holliday trade.
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd acknowledged he has talked to opposing GMs about the left-handed-hitting Gonzalez.
"We like him, but no more than we like some of the players we have in our system, and we're not afraid to send him to Triple-A if we feel that's what he needs," O'Dowd said.
Gonzalez has been on the Nationals' wish list since 2007. He was signed by the Diamondbacks as a non-drafted free agent on Aug. 3, 2002, and became one of the team's top prospects. Gonzalez's best season in the Minor Leagues was in '06, when he led Arizona farmhands with 99 RBIs and ranked fifth with 23 homers.
A little over a year later, the Diamondbacks traded Gonzalez to the Athletics as part of an eight-player deal on Dec. 14, 2007.
Gonzalez made his Major League debut on May 30, 2008, with Oakland and hit .242 with four home runs and 26 RBIs.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.