D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was on the air, talking to MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern when he learned that the Washington Nationals' top target, Mark Buehrle, had agreed to a 4-year/$58 million dollar deal with the Miami Marlins. The Nats were reportedly one of the last two teams involved in the bidding for the 32-going-on-33-year-old former Chicago White Sox' left-hander. The Miami Marlins, whose Winter Meetings spending spree has seen them sign closer Heath Bell for 3-years/$27, shortstop Jose Reyes for 6-years/$106 and now Buehrle (4-years/$58), reportedly outbid the Nats by significant amount though there's only been speculation about what Washington's final offer to Buehrle might have been...
When Buehrle's deal was announced, but still unconfirmed, Rizzo was asked by the MLB Network Radio hosts what the Nationals would do if it was true? "I think we go to Plan B," the Nationals' general manager said, "If that's true. Mark [Buehrle] was our acquisition target in the free agent market, and a great fit for us. Like I said, he's going to do what's best for his family and we wish him well." Once it was confirmed, Rizzo said the Nationals were, "... going to have to move on. We have secondary plans in place and like I said, we like the rotation that we have. It's very young, but it's very deep and talented. So, we'll have to see where we're at and corral the troops and see where we go from here."
There's some disagreement in reports coming out tonight about what the Nationals' secondary plans might be. Depending on what you read, the Nats may or may not be turning to 34-year-old right-hander Roy Oswalt, who is said to be looking for a 3-year deal. Other reports before the Buehrle deal were saying the former Astros and Phillies' starter was not a backup plan if Buehrle signed elsewhere. Rizzo talked about C.J. Wilson in this afternoon's interview, describing the 31-year-old, seven-year veteran as, "... a power pitcher with great stuff, at a great age to hit the free agent market. He's proven durable since he's come from the bullpen to the starting rotation. And he's a fierce competitor and a tough kid."
It's unclear right now if the Nationals will pursue either of the two top names remaining on the pitching market. Somewhat unbelievably, the Marlins are still talking about possibly signing C.J. Wilson in addition to the players they've already added (and somehow discussing Prince Fielder too). Wilson has been tied to the Los Angeles Angels too, with the California-born left-hander reportedly considering deals of 5-6 years from the Angels and Marlins, respectively, this afternoon.
Washington also came into the Winter Meetings looking for a center fielder, and though they've talked often recently about the possibility of Jayson Werth playing center so they can sign potentially sign a corner outfielder or add 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper to the Opening Day outfield if there's no center fielder/leadoff man to be found, Rizzo did talk about 26-year-old soon-to-be-free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes during this afternoon's interview. "I defer to our scouts on this," Rizzo said, "I saw him in a workout setting and you know how difficult it is to determine anything there."
"Our scouts like [Cespedes]," Rizzo continued, "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."
As for other potential free agent outfield options, Rizzo said, "We're in more of the trade mode than we are in the free agent mode this year. We're not going to force anything. We've got a lot of lines in the water. We've got a lot of different options out there that we're discussing with teams. And we've got some flexibility. The reason that we put Jayson Werth in center field in September was to find out and gauge what he can do as a defensive center fielder [and we feel] comfortable with him as a defensive center field option for us."
"[Werth's] a routes and reads type of guy," Rizzo said, "He's not the blazing, closing-speed type of guy, but he knows how to play the game and he's got a great baseball I.Q. and really takes great angles and great routes at the ball. So we feel good that he's a solid, average defender in center, so that gives us an option, it opens up a pool of players that we wouldn't have if he couldn't play center field. In the long term, in the perfect world, we'd like to get that speedy, rangy, leadoff type of center fielder. We're not going to rush into anything, because they're tough to find and when teams have them they're very costly to acquire."
Asked by the former Nats' GM if he'd considered the possibility of pursuing the Orioles' Adam Jones (who may or may not be available according to which sources you read), Rizzo said the 26-year-old, six-year veteran, "... is a terrific player. He's a guy that we've investigated and we like. He's a very toolsy player. Offensive-minded, roams center field very well. He's one of the real good center fielders in the game and he certainly fills the need that we have for a center fielder."
The 2011 MLB Winter Meetings aren't over yet...