The Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays have been linked for two years now with reports of a trade that would send B.J. Upton to the nation's capital popping up over the winter Hot Stove season and each July as the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline has approached. The Rays were reportedly listening to offers at the recently-concluded Winter Meetings, but when D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was asked about the discussions he told reporters including Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak that, "'I don’t think anything has changed on that front.'" ESPN.com's Keith Law wrote last July that Tampa Bay wanted to discuss pitchers like Ross Detwiler and Brad Peacock at the 2011 Non-Waiver deadline.
It's unclear which Nats' prospects might have been discussed during last week's Dallas, TX-based Winter Meetings, but the Nats' general manager told NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, as quoted in an article entitled, "Rizzo unlikely to trade away big leaguers", that everyone asks about their "young, big-league talent," but if Washington is looking to deal, the GM explained, it would be from their organizational depth as opposed to the major league-ready talent they have in the nation's capital.
The Nats have also discussed Yoenis Cespedes as a possible solution to their CF issues. A report this morning from Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus projects that the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder who's currently establishing residency in the Dominican Republic could be available at some point in January once he settles all of the technical requirements for becoming available as an international free agent. Cespedes' agent, Adam Katz, in a recent MLB Network Radio interview, described what needs to take place before the outfielder is available for MLB teams to bid on:
"His Dominican residency is the first step, and then there's a formal petition to Major League Baseball and it shouldn't be a problem. And then at some point in the next -- could be five days, could be fifty-five days -- depending on red tape sort of stuff -- he should be unblocked and then we can begin the process."
Baseball Prospectus' Mr. Goldstein writes that interest in Cespedes, "... remains sky high, so he'll certainly be signed in time for spring training." Reports during the Winter Meetings had Cespedes and his agent starting negotiations at around the $30M that a then-18-year-old Aroldis Chapman received from the Reds two winters back and there were suggestions that the outfielder's camp thinks they could potentially double that amount. Then-SI.com, current CBSSports.com writer Jon Heyman projected a salary of somewhere around $40M for Cespedes, a player he called a potential, "star in the making."
Mr. Heyman also predicted that it would take a $10M dollar posting fee for any MLB team to win the rights to negotiate a deal with another center field option out there this winter, Tokyo Yakult Swallows' 29-year-old center fielder Norichika Aoki whose posting fee deadline passed last night. According to reports out of Japan, which have since been confirmed by several U.S.-based writers, a $2.5M dollar posting fee was accepted by the Swallows. The six-time Gold Glove winner and three-time Central League batting champion finished what could be his final season in Japan in 2011 with with a. 292/.358/.360 slash, 18 doubles, five triples, four home runs and eight stolen bases in 144 games and 643 plate appearances.
Aoki might be the closest thing on the market to what D.C. GM Mike Rizzo described the Nationals as being after this winter if his skills translate from Nippon Professional Baseball to the major leagues. The Nats, according to their general manager, are looking for, "A leadoff-type of on base percentage guy that could hit at the top of the lineup that could play center field." Rizzo has also suggested that Washington will look anywhere for potential players who fit that description, telling reporters earlier this winter, "We're open to acquire talent in any way, shape or form that we can, and if it's international talent, we're certainly willing to acquire international players."
Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore reported on the Nationals' interest in Norichika Aoki in a December 6th article entitled, "Nori Aoki a possible backup plan for the Nationals in center field", in which he wrote that a source told him, "... there’s a chance Washington will bid on Japanese outfielder Nori Aoki," though he wasn't their first choice but more of a backup plan, "... in case they cannot find a willing, desirable trade partner."
Have the Nationals exhausted all the possibilities of a trade for a center fielder/leadoff man?
CBSSports.com's Mr. Heyman suggested that after what he projected to be a $10M dollar posting fee, it would take a 3-year/$15M dollar deal for one MLB team to acquire an outfielder described by many as the best hitter to come out of Japan since Ichiro Suzuki, who signed a 3-year/$14.088M dollar deal with a $5M dollar signing bonus in 2001 after Seattle won the rights to negotiate with Ichiro with a $13.25M posting fee. It's still unclear which team won the rights to negotiate a deal with Norichika Aoki, but the Washington Post's Mr. Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) wrote on Twitter this morning that the identity of the winning team might be known "soon."
As Yahoo!Sports.com's Jeff Passan tweeted last night when the winning posting fee was announced, "Whoever landed Aoki for $2.5M got a bargain. Plus glove in CF, a couple of batting and on-base titles. He's Ichiro Lite, emphasis on Lite." Can the Nats' search for a center fielder end with a bargain bid on a 3-time Central League batting champ who's shown the sort of OBP skills Washington's looking for in a leadoff hitter? Did the Nationals even bid on Aoki?