The Washington Nationals' Slow Winter: A Positive Sign?

The winning bid for 25-year-old Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters' right-hander Yu Darvish will reportedly exceed the record $51.1M posting fee Daisuke Matsuzaka's Seibu Lions received from the Boston Red Sox in November of 2006. The Washington Nationals chose not to participate in the posting process for Darvish. There's no word on whether or not the Nats placed a bid on Yakult Swallows' center fielder Norichika Aoki. Reports last night said the Milwaukee Brewers had won the rights to negotiate a deal with the 30-year-old three-time Pacific League batting champion with a $2.5M dollar bid. As Baseball Prospectus' writer Kevin Goldstein reported last night in a story on soon-to-be-international free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, MLB teams will soon have another chance to spend big $$ on a talented prospect who's untested against Major League competition...Will the Nats get involved in the Cespedes sweepstakes? Are they still considering a trade for a center fielder or a pitcher?

D.C. GM Mike Rizzo watched Cespedes, a 26-year-old Cuban-born outfielder in a private workout recently, but said there was only so much you could learn about a player in that setting. "Our scouts like [Cespedes]," the Nats' GM told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern though, "They think he's a hit-and-power package that can play center field. He runs extremely well and he throws well. He has the chance to be a five-tool player, and a lot of the success and performance will be determined by how he adapts to the Americas and to the U.S. game and getting him ready for the major leagues is what it's all about. He may take a month or two in the minor leagues or a half-a-season in the minor leagues or he comes to Spring Training and turns it on and becomes a major league force right out of the gate."

Though talks with the Tampa Bay about B.J.Upton at the recently-concluded Winter Meetings didn't result in the Rays trading the outfielder to the Nationals or anyone else, Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo still mentioned Washington in an article entitled, "Revamped AL teams major concern for Sox", as a potential trade partner should the Rays decide to deal the 27-year-old Upton for the catcher or left fielder they need as they attempt to keep up with their AL East rivals. There are still options out there for the Nats should they choose to add the center fielder they've talked about needing since the end of the season.

In making any such move, however, whether it's through a trade or free agency, Rizzo said in an early November interview on MLB Network Radio that the Nationals have to consider, "... if they're a good fit for us? If the timeline works? If the age of the player works? What do we have in the minor leagues that could fulfill that position in a year or so? Those are all decisions that each individual club has to make." As the Nats' GM explained it, "... we feel set position player-wise and rotation-wise, now it's a matter of, 'Can we improve ourselves and upgrade by a free agent signing or a trade?"

MLB.com's Bill Ladson's sources told him recently, as quoted in his article entitled, "Nats out on Darvish, likely to stick with rotation", that though Washington had inquired about A's left-hander Gio Gonzalez's availability, the Nats, "... are all but out of the Gio Gonzalez sweepstakes because, according to another source, the Athletics are 'way out of line' in what they want in return." The return the Padres received from the Reds on Saturday in the Mat Latos deal, which included major leaguers 28-year-old right-hander Edison Volquez and 24-year-old slugger Yonder Alonso along with two prospects 23-year-old Cuban catcher Yasmani Grandal and 23-year-old right-hander Brad Boxberger (both of whom appeared on Baseball America's November '11 Top 10 Prospects list), probably strengthened Oakland's resolve that someone will give up a big package for Gonzalez.

Can the Nats give up that kind of talent without breaking up the core of players they believe has them close to contention already? If they don't there is some help on the way for the Nats, though it might not arrive at the major league level in 2012. In his most recent appearance on MLB Network Radio, Washington's current general manager was asked by former Nats' GM Jim Bowden if he could identify some of the young talent in the organization (not named Bryce Harper) that Rizzo is really excited about:

Mike Rizzo: "Some of the guys that we call 'The Second Wave', that's going to come maybe in a year and a half or two years. A.J. Cole we feel is a special talent. He's a 6'5'' right-hander pitcher who's a high school projection draft. The velocity has come, he was 95-97[mph] at the end of the season last year and really you could see him developing as a prospect. Michael Taylor is a young, Mike Cameron-kind-of-looking toolsy player that's just learning how to swing the bat. We drafted him as a shortstop out of Florida, high school, and he's made the transition to center field smoothly. Defensively he's way above his developmental curve. Offensively, he's trying to catch up. But, a 19-year-old handled the [South Atlantic League] pretty well and those are two guys that we feel have huge upsides."

With Taylor in the system and on the way, Bryce Harper already knocking at the door and Brian Goodwin a 1st Round pick this past June, you could understand why the Nationals don't want to over pay in terms of dollars or prospects to make a deal for an outfielder or sign someone long-term that could potentially block one of the prospects already in the organization. The Nationals have been stockpiling pitchers for the last three drafts and have a number of arms on the way up. The Nats seemingly aren't going to let themselves be pressured into making a deal for the short-term that is going to harm the franchise's development long-term. Their reluctance to panic and attempt to keep up with the moves some of their NL East rivals are making this winter could be seen as a sign that they think they're closer to competing than others believe, and think they've built up a system that will allow them to remain competitive in the future.

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