Where Will The Washington Nationals Spend Their $$ This Winter? Pre-Hot Stove Chatter.

MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 10: Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Two of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park on October 10, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A "baseball source" within the Washington Nationals organization told MLB.com's Bill Ladson back in late August that soon-to-be free agent first baseman Prince Fielder didn't "make sense" for Washington, "... because [they will] have two first basemen -- Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche -- under contract next year." LaRoche is guaranteed $8 million in the second year of his 2-year/$16M dollar deal, and there's a mutual option for 2013 (when he'd make $10M or there's a $1M dollar buyout). Michael Morse avoided arbitration last January and signed a 1-year/$1.05M dollar deal. He's up for arbitration again and due a substantial raise after he put up a .303/.360/.550 line in 2011, leading the Nats all three categories, (AVG/OBP/SLG). The 29-year-old slugger also led the team in HR's (35), RBI's (95), wRC+ (147) and was the second-most valuable National at +3.4 WAR to Danny Espinosa's +3.5 WAR. 

Of course, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark warned in a September "Rumblings and Grumblings" column that anyone assuming the presence of LaRoche and Morse will hold D.C. GM Mike Rizzo back from pursuing, "... someone like Albert Pujols this winter, "... may be underestimating Rizzo's drive to build something great,":

"'Without discussing either of the two monster free-agent first basemen (Pujols and Prince Fielder) by name, Rizzo says first base wouldn't be at the top of his team's list of places to spend its ample resources -- 'but you never want to say never. You never know.'"

The Nationals' GM told reporters at the end of the 2011 season that a legit starter and an outfielder were at the top of Washington's winter wish list. MLB.com's Bill Ladson had reported in September that the Nats had scouts watching Rangers' left-hander C.J. Wilson who's expected to be the top target of all teams looking for pitching this winter. New York Post writer Joel Sherman, in an article this morning entitled, "If Sabathia opts out of contract, Yankees will have competition", put the Nationals on his short list of teams interested in potential free agent left-hander CC Sabathia should he opt out of his contract with New York.

"The Nats believe they are on the verge of being a winner and can become a big-market team if they are regular contenders," the New York Post's Mr. Sherman writes, "Plus the same situation that instigated the Werth signing -- an aging owner, Ted Lerner, who wants results now and an ambitious son, Mark, who wants to put his stamp on the team, remain."

Sabathia, Mr. Sherman suggests, could serve as a mentor to the young Nats' rotation, and would benefit from a return to the National League where he dominated for a short time as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers' rotation before leaving and signing the 7-year/$161M dollar deal with the Yankees most are expecting him to opt out of this winter. If Sabathia does opt out, the New York Post writer says the Rangers, Cubs, Tigers, Angels and Nationals will be interested, but..."Still, there is an expectation that Washington's big money this offseason is targeted toward Prince Fielder." 

I don't want to underestimate D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's desire to build a winner, or the Lerner family's interest in winning sooner rather than later, but if they can somehow make room at first for the 27-year-old Prince Fielder (and his .282/.390/.540 career line), or convince CC Sabathia to leave New York to join the up-and-coming Nationals I'd be more shocked than I was last year when I first heard the rumors about the Nats signing Jayson Werth.

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