Washington Nationals: AFL Update/Weekend Rumors.

• AFL Update: Washington's '07 1st Round pick Mike Burgess was the only Nats' prospect in the Scottsdale Scorpions' starting lineup yesterday for their 11-4 win over the Phoenix Desert Dogs. 1 for 4 with a walk, 3 K's and 4 LOB, Burgess, the DH last night, hit a two-out single in the third to keep the inning alive for Arizona D-Backs' '09 1st Round pick, outfielder A.J. Pollock, whose RBI single put Scottsdale up 5-2 after three. On the mound, both Brad Peacock and Cole Kimball got work, with Peacock giving up a run on two hits, throwing a wild pitch and striking out 3 to collect his 7th K in 3.0 IP thus far in the AFL, and Kimball retiring the Desert Dogs in order in the ninth. Peacock needed 20 pitches, 14 of them strikes, to get through the sixth, Kimball threw just 11, 6 strikes, in his second scoreless frame of the fall. 12:35 pm MST today for the Scorpions, 3:35 in the nation's capital for anyone following...

• No.1 Starter Talk: Before he announced his decision to leave his position as the Nats' team President, Stan Kasten had promised in an article by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark entitled, "Is it time to push back trading deadline?", that the Nationals would be, "more aggressive than we've ever been," this winter in their attempts to improve the roster after winning just 69 of 162 games in 2010. DC GM Mike Rizzo told the D.C. baseball press in a late-season BP scrum that the Nats' no.1 priority this offseason was a front-line starter. In Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore's report on the quick press conference entitled, "Mike Rizzo makes a No. 1 starter the Nationals' offseason priority", he quotes Mr. Rizzo describing a pitcher who'd fill a role much like recovering ace Stephen Strasburg was supposed to fill:

"'We need a guy to head the rotation, a front-of-the-rotation guy to put everybody in what we feel is their proper place in the rotation. That's the No. 1 priority going into the offseason.'"

In discussing the sort of deal free agent pitcher Cliff Lee could command this winter, Denver Post writer Troy E. Renck wrote Friday, in an article entitled, "Berkman could be possible target", about how Lee's contract, in Mr. Renck's words, "could have a ripple effect" on other pitchers like Rockies' free agent Jorge De La Rosa. Apparently Mr. Renck, in discussing such things with "several agents and executives", was left him with the impression that, as he wrote without connecting the two previous topics directly, "One club to keep an eye on is Washington. The Nationals are telling agents they are willing to overspend, if necessary, to bolster their rotation." "Industry sources" and "Several baseball officials" MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling's spoke to for an article entitled, "Could the Nationals land Cliff Lee?" told him much the same, with Mr. Goessling writing that these sources, "...believe the 32-year-old left-hander is the team's big target this winter, and expect they could make the kind of blockbuster offer to Lee to get the job done."

MLB.com's Bill Ladson responded to a question about Cliff Lee in the most recent edition of his, "Inbox: Might Nats pursue Lee, Lilly?", by writing that he thinks, "Cliff Lee is the only starter the Nationals should go after, because of his dominance on the mound," but just as Mr. Kilgore and Goessling note in their own articles, Mr. Ladson then writes, "If the team doesn't get Lee, they should try to make a trade for a No 1 starter. There is nobody else on the free-agent market I would give a lot of money to, other than Lee." Mr. Goessling and Mr. Kilgore both mention the Rays' Matt Garza and the Royals' Zack Greinke, one of whom the Nats reportedly asked about before the 2010 Non-Waiver Trade Deadline. Which path seems more likely?

Every team in baseball should be interested in Cliff Lee, just like every team looking for an outfield bat should express interest in Carl Crawford, which the Nationals did, and just like every team in baseball should have pursued Mark Teixeira when he was available two winters back. But it doesn't mean they'll sign Lee, who turned 32 in August, or Crawford, who turned 29 late this year. (ed. note - "Neither of them really fits the "once-in-a-generation" criteria the Nats cited to explain their willingness to overspend for Teixeira.") Rather than argue about whether the Nats are leaking their pursuit of Lee as some sort of cynical fan-placating PR ploy, (with no evidence to support the theory), why not assume it's due diligence and then think seriously about what other options exist out there after Lee, because the Nats need a no.1 starter, no matter how they get it.

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