Is there hope after all?
The best news of the Braves' offseason may have been made Thursday night when General Manager Frank Wren talked about the current status of Mark Teixeira, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2008 season.
"We've had quite a bit of dialogue," Wren told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Most fans have been under the impression that Teixeira was a short-timer, and that he'd take off next winter as soon as one of the big boys threw $200 million dollars his way. There would be a better feeling, perhaps, if Teixeira's agent was not the Captain Marvel of getting the big bucks. But we all know what Scott Boras's agenda is with every client.
But Wren's comment is promising. It might mean nothing, and it definitely does not guarantee a thing, but we'd feel worse if there was no dialogue going on between the two sides. Signing Teixeira for the long-term is important for this franchise. He's a franchise-type player, one the Braves could build their team around into the next decade.
Teixeira undoubtedly loved playing for the Braves late last season. His enjoyment was genuine, and his love for actually playing for a winner was refreshing. The guy played college ball at Georgia Tech, married a Georgia gal from Habersham County, so there are some ties that make Atlanta the perfect destination for his future.
This is a player that will turn 28 in April, so he's in the prime of his career. With Chipper Jones now in his mid-30s, the Braves need a veteran player to hand over the keys of this club. Yes, in certain ways this will be Jeff Francoeur's and Brian McCann's team for the future, but it will help to also have someone else that can be an elite player.
And that's exactly what Teixeira is: an elite player. He has the ability to hit 40 home runs and drive in 120 every single season, along with Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base. If a team were ever going to give a monster contract to someone, this would be it.
The Braves should have the ability to offer that monster contract. Braves' Chairman Terry McGuirk has told us that the team is prepared to spend "many millions of dollars more." Not that's an open-ended comment and doesn't necessarily mean the Braves will open up the vault for Teixeira, but it does signal more flexibility now compared to the days when Time Warner was pinching pennies.
Plus, think of it like this: Teixeira is making $12.5 million this season. Mike Hampton's money on the Braves' books equals about $8.25 million. With it highly unlikely the Braves would want Hampton back for anything substantial next season, they can more or less designate a portion of that contract to future money set aside for Teixeira.
There is little reason for the Braves to go above $20 million dollars per season. That's about what Teixeira is worth. If Boras is going to want more than that, the Yankees and Red Sox will probably oblige. But the Braves don't have the ability to give one player a quarter of the payroll. And considering what Teixeira is making this season, a raise to an average of near the $20 million per season mark should be more than equitable.
However, if Boras is going to want to make history here, chances are Teixeira will be playing first base for someone else down the road. But perhaps the super agent has learned something this winter. Perhaps Alex Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers have taught Scott Boras that it does matter that a player wants to be happy.
And maybe the actions from those two will show Teixeira that the agent works for him, which can sometime seem turned around at times. If ‘Tex' is happy, he needs to let Scott Boras know this is where he wants to play for the next six or seven years. He's going to be able to get fair market value. A contract the Braves offer, if it is near the $20 million per year mark, is going to place Teixeira as one of the highest paid players in the game. If he gets that, and he's happy in Atlanta, isn't that good enough?
Boras doesn't need to make a statement with Teixeira's free agent status. Instead, he needs to try to work something out so that his client can be happy. This guy wants to be here, and that should be the priority – not setting some landmark deal that will make headlines.
Mark Teixeira is all about winning. You could see it in his eyes when he came over from the Rangers last July. He shined when talking about an actual pennant race, which had eluded him for the most part in Texas. He knows what the Braves have here, and by all accounts he wants to be apart of it – something that could be special.
And the Braves fans want him – badly. Yes, they are concerned that if he leaves after the 2008 season the team will regret giving up Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus. But more than that, the fans want him to be the cornerstone of this franchise. They want to enjoy watching him play this game he plays so well. And they want to watch him get this team another ring.
After two straight seasons of seeing the team miss the playoffs, the fans are hungry for another winner. So is Teixeira. And that, more than anything else, seems like the perfect match.
So let's hope this ‘dialogue' is a good sign. Let's hope that mutual interest turns into a mutual agreement, so that Mark Teixeira can proudly wear that Tomahawk across his chest for years to come.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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