Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell portrayed D.C. GM Mike Rizzo as a frustrated front office executive in an article yesterday entitled, "Adam LaRoche signing shows Washington Nationals now know nothing is free", in which he wrote that one thing was clear in hindsight now that the Nats are seemingly done adding to their roster this winter, (barring a trade for the elusive top-of-the-rotation arm), "...the Nats really were set for an offseason of fireworks, including those 'top of the rotation pitchers' that Rizzo talked about seeking." With an estimated $30 million cut from last year's payroll following the departures of Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Matt Capps and Cristian Guzman and an ownership group one "former front office member" said was finally, "...doing the right things now," in terms of their willingness to spend what it takes to build a competitive roster, the Nats' GM was determined to make a splash and let the baseball world know that the Nationals would be players in the market for the top free agents and available players from now on...
The Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a shocking 7-year/$126 million dollar deal before the Winter Meetings then pursued one target after another, including Cliff Lee, (at least superficially), Jorge De La Rosa, (who took less money to stay in Colorado), Carlos Pena (who took a one-year deal to sign on with Chicago's Cubs), Derrek Lee, (who signed with the Nats Mid-Atlantic "rivals" in Baltimore) and former Kansas City Royals' ace Zack Greinke, (who used his partial no-trade clause to block a potential deal to the Nationals). Cliff Lee wanted to go back to the Phillies he helped lead to the World Series in 2009. De La Rosa remained where he was comfortable. Pena sought to find his swing again with Cubs' hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. D. Lee's decision surprised Rizzo, who told the WaPost's Mr. Boswell he didn't, "'...know why he went to Baltimore over us.'" Greinke, according to SI.com's Jon Heyman's initial Twitter reports (@SI_JonHeyman) chose to block a deal to Washington and ended up going to Milwaukee because he simply believed the Brewers were closer to contention than the Nats.
The Nationals were reportedly willing to part with a package of prospects (whichever ones it actually included) that was impressive enough for the Royals to ask Greinke to consider a move to the nation's capital which his contract allowed him to veto, in spite of the fact that the Nationals, in Mr. Boswell's words, "stood on their heads for days," trying to convince him to accept a deal. According to SI.com's Mr. Heyman's and the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell's reports, the Nats were also willing to offer the 27-year-old former Cy Young award winner an extension.
Greinke, who has two years at $13.5 million left on the 4-year/$38 million dollar (arbitration avoiding) extension he signed with Kansas City in 2009, was apparently aware, according to SI.com's Jon Heyman's reporting in an article entitled, "Angels top teams with shopping left to do before spring training", of the fact that the Nats (according to sources) were willing to offer something, "along the lines of $18 million annually on a long extension, believed to be for about five years." The only way a deal for Greinke made sense for the Nats, was if he would agree to an extension that would keep him in Washington long enough for Stephen Strasburg's return and Bryce Harper's emergence, and a deal for the Royals' '02 1st Round pick and a 5-year/$90 million dollar extension after the 7-year/$126 million dollar deal the Nats offered Werth, would certainly have provided the splash the Nationals were interested in making.
The Nationals signed Adam LaRoche for 2-years/$16 million, filling the void left by Adam Dunn's departure via free agency. Mr. Heyman, among other writers locally in D.C. and nationally, says Washington's still interested in, "Carl Pavano as a possibility to anchor the rotation until phenom Stephen Strasburg returns from injury," though the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell speculated the the Nats wouldn't sign the veteran right-hander, and quoted Mr. Rizzo saying he had never spoken to Pavano, and hadn't, "...talked to [Pavano's] agent since the winter meetings." Mr. Heyman says Washington, "wouldn't mind adding to the bullpen", and the WaPost's Mr. Boswell says the Nationals, "definitely have explored" a deal for Tampa Bay Rays' right-hander Matt Garza. Reports out yesterday, however, had the Cubs and Rays discussing a possible deal, and the Rays needing to be overwhelmed to even consider a trade, while ESPN.com's Buster Olney said on Twitter (@Buster_ESPN) that, "Considering [Tampa Bays'] current posture, it's more likely a Garza deal happens in July than now."
The Nationals' owners, as the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell points out, were advised to spend big in 2008 when the new stadium was opening and interest was revived after the initial thrill of baseball's return to the nation's capital had worn off some following one .500 and two losing seasons. They didn't, however, and two hundred-loss seasons followed. Now they can't give their money away. Werth took his deal because it was above and beyond what anyone else was going to offer. LaRoche and the Nats were stuck with each other. Without a high-end starter added, the Nats might have a payroll in 2011 lower than 2010's.
Since Greinke and others turned them down, maybe the Nats should focus on continuing to build from within and offer Ryan Zimmerman a Tulowitzki-or-CarGo-esque extension to keep the Face of the Franchise in Curly-W's beyond 2013 when his current contract expires...It would be a sign to fans and future free agents and trade targets that the Nationals are serious about winning in the near future and would set them up for the July trade deadline and next winter's free agent market when they'll still have the money to spend. Signing Zim to a long-term deal would send the right signals...if Zimmerman's convinced of the team's direction and would accept?