The Washington Nationals are not the mystery team involved in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. I repeat. The Washington Nationals are not the mystery team challenging the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees in their attempts to add the 32-year-old left-handed free agent on what is sure to be a massive 6-7-year contract this winter. While reports early last week from the Winter Meetings in Florida of the Nats potentially making a HUGE offer to the one-time Montreal Expos' Draft pick may have piqued fans in the nation's capital's interest, MLB.com's Bill Ladson's report last night entitled, "Nationals are out of Lee sweepstakes", extinguished any last flickering embers of hope, leaving only an interesting semantic mystery behind:
"The Nationals are out of the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, a baseball source told MLB.com on Sunday night. No reason was given as to why the left-hander passed on Washington."
So the Nats' offer was still on the table up til the time of this report? Who knows?
Most recent reports have a "mystery" team remaining in the running. ESPN.com's Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) pointed out the obvious this morning on Twitter, writing that those following the Lee saga should, "Remember: if you ever read about a 'mystery team,' it can only come spoon-fed from an agent who is trying to create leverage," or it's the Red Sox playing games and trying to drive the price up for the divisional rivals from New York...wait that was last week's revelation...
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was clear all along that the Nationals would do their due diligence and inquire about any interest Lee might have in pitching in Washington, while all along admitting that it was the longest of shots. As Mr. Ladson wrote last night, the Nationals aren't done searching for starters with Matt Garza and Zack Greinke still out there as possibilities, though Greinke's price tag has most who've inquired about the Royals' asking price balking and unwilling to make a deal thus far. Carl Pavano remains on the market. Brandon Webb's a reclamation project, two seasons removed from his last start who "remains excited" about the possibility of joining the Nats according to another recent report by MLB.com's Mr. Ladson entitled, "Webb has Nationals on radar", but he's got just a few innings of Instructional league work to prove that he's ready to return to the rigors of major league ball following a long layoff.
Carl Pavano's likely to become the next big name in the news once Cliff Lee makes his decision, and every other team in the market for starters will be moving on to Garza and Greinke along with the Nats. How far will the Washington Nationals go to add an arm? Though the Nationals' General Manager started the offseason saying the Nats needed to add a no.1-type arm to make up for the loss of Stephen Strasburg til at least the last weeks of the season, he's since backed off such talk when faced with the reality of the pitching market this winter.
In Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore's mid-November article entitled, "The Nationals' search for a top starter won't be easy", Mr. Rizzo prepared fans for the eventual withdrawal from the high-end pitching market (which starts and stops with Lee essentially), telling the WaPost writer, "They're very expensive to obtain, either cash-expensive or player-expensive. But we're continuing to try and improve ourselves in that category." When Lee makes his decision, the Nats will have one of their own. Part with the talent it will take to bring pitching back in a trade, overpay for Carl Pavano or take a chance on a Webb returning to his pre-surgery Cy Young form...or wait for 2012 when Strasburg's back and hopefully fully-healed, which Mr. Rizzo's already admitted might be the only option, as he told Mr. Kilgore:
"'...if we have to wait until  to obtain it, and Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann become that 1 and 2 and supplement it in 2012, those are fluid questions that we have to answer as we see what's available and what the cost to obtain the player.'"