Winter Meetings: Washington Nationals Lose Out On Carlos Pena; Adam LaRoche An Option; Jim Riggleman On Bryce Harper.

With the news late last night that the Chicago Cubs and free agent first baseman Carlos Pena had agreed on what is reportedly a 1-year/$10M dollar deal, as MLB.com's Carrie Muskat reported on Twitter (@CarrieMuskat) last night, months of speculation about who would replace now-former Washington Nationals' first baseman Adam Dunn at first and in the middle of the Nats' lineup now shifts to one-time Braves', Bucs', Red Sox' and D-Backs' first baseman Adam LaRoche, assuming of course he's interested in playing in D.C. as he told MLB.com's Bill Ladson he was recently in an article tellingly entitled, "LaRoche interested in signing with Nationals", in which he told Mr. Ladson:

"'In the next few days, we are going to start some conversations with the Nationals,' LaRoche said via phone. 'If we come on the same page, I would definitely have interest in playing for them.'"

The Nationals could, of course, turn to a first base option already on the roster, with rumors of Josh Willingham shifting to first mentioned often in recent months. (Mike Morse could potentially man the position as well.) LaRoche, who turned 31-years-old in early November, posted a .261/.320/.468 slash line (.788 OPS, .330 BABIP) last season in Arizona, (.271/.339/.488, .827 OPS, .315 BABIP career) launching 25 long balls and driving in 100 RBI's in 560 at bats over 151 games in which the one-time Braves' draft pick played at a +2.1 WAR with 11 errors in the field, a .991 fld% and a +4.8 UZR/150 at first over the course of the season. LaRoche denied the D-Backs' arbitration offer back on November 30th, as a Type-B free agent he wouldn't cost the Nats a draft pick if signed, but the market for left-handed first baseman is now narrowed to one, so unless the Nats have other plans they might want to move quickly. 

• Jim Riggleman on Bryce Harper

Kevin Kaduk (aka' Duk) at Yahoo!Sports.com's Big League Stew wrote yesterday about an AP article from the Winter Meetings entitled, "Riggleman: Harper to hit in big league exhibitions", which quoted  D.C. Skipper Jim Riggleman saying that the Nats' second-straight no.1 overall pick would get a few AB's with the big league team this Spring: 

"Riggleman said Monday that Harper will be in major league camp this spring. If he's not getting to hit enough, then the Nationals will send him down to the minor league camp."

In an interview on the MLB Network's Hot Stove show earlier this week, Mr. Riggleman was asked about Harper, and when the Nats expected the 18-year-old catcher-turned-outfielder to make his way to the Majors? "You know, he's really a special player," Mr. Riggleman said, "I got to the opportunity to see him a little bit this fall,": 

Jim Riggleman: "It's a process of learning, and professional baseball is tough. The grind of it, the every day, and the bus rides and all that...It's going to make a man out of him. He's a special talent that again shows the commitment that the Lerners have been willing to make in the last couple years in the draft with him and Stephen Strasburg." 

"These are professional players he's going to be playing against," Mr. Riggleman said. "He'll be playing against some wily veterans in the minor leagues that have a lot of experience, find a lot of ways to get hitters out and the adjustments [Harper]'s gonna have to make will be something that he's gotta go through like all of them have to go through, but you know, the cream rises to the top, this is really a special player. I think if he continues the work that he's put in, cause he's really worked hard, if he continues on that path you're not going to be able to hold him back. The good ones you can't hold back too long." 

Get your Spring Training tickets now. When do you expect to see Bryce Harper in D.C.? September 2011? 2012?

FWIW: Washington Examiner Jim Williams (@wordmandc) is one writer who thinks the Washington Nationals did in fact make a 7-year offer to free agent pitcher Cliff Lee. As Mr. Williams wrote on Twitter this morning, "Despite reports they have denied offering Cliff Lee a 7yr the #Nationals and #Angels both did. No team would confirm that would be crazy." Mr. Williams doesn't cite any sources, anonymous or otherwise, for his assertions. Reports last night had two unnamed teams making 7-year offers to Lee, though no one would reveal which teams exactly they were. If you check the latest Lee news round-up at MLBTraderumors.com you'll see that some are questioning the validity of those reports, though one thing most reporters at the Winter Meetings can agree on is that the Lee Sweepstakes is not likely to end at the Winter Meetings. Can D.C. GM Mike Rizzo shock the baseball world twice in a week? 

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