Whatever the reason, whether it be their previously expressed interest or their recent willingness to spend on the free agent market, the Washington Nationals continue to be mentioned as potential suitors for Zack Greinke's services this winter. The 29-year-old, nine-year veteran is coming off a 2012 season split between Milwaukee and Anaheim which saw him go (15-5) with a 3.48 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 54 walks (2.29 BB/9) and 200 Ks (8.48 K/9) in 34 starts and 212.1 IP over which he was worth +5.1 fWAR, tied for 5th in fWAR amongst pitchers league-wide with the Rays' David Price and the Rangers' Yu Darvish, behind only the Nats' Gio Gonzalez (+5.4 fWAR), the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (+5.5 fWAR), the Mariners' Felix Hernandez (+6.1 fWAR) and the Tigers' Justin Verlander (+6.8 fWAR).
As is to be expected for a pitcher with a Cy Young and the type of numbers Greinke has on his resume, the right-hander is rumored to be in line for what could be a record-setting deal.
Greinke met with the Los Angeles Dodgers this week according to reports and he's scheduled to meet with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who acquired him in a trade with Milwaukee last July, parting with three prospects including shortstop Jean Segura two years after the Brewers traded for Greinke in a 4-for-2 deal with Kansas City which saw the Brewers send four prospects to the Royals in exchange for the pitcher and infielder Yuniesky Betancourt.
Greinke declined to waive his no-trade clause so Kansas City and Washington could work out a deal when the Royals made him available in 2010, but expressed interest in the organization at the time based on the pitch the Nationals made to the '02 1st Round pick when they spoke at the Winter Meetings that year.
Now that he's a free agent again, there's been plenty of speculation that the Nationals might make another offer to Greinke. Immediately after Washington acquired Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins this past week, adding a relatively inexpensive center fielder instead of one of the more expensive free agent options, the chatter started up again. Though FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal admitted he had no idea if the Nats would even bid on Greinke this time around, he wrote that he thought the pitcher might look at Washington now as a more attractive destination:
"I will guarantee you that Greinke is aware of every move and possibility. He is a student of the game, not to mention an independent thinker. Think he wouldn’t want to join a rotation that already includes [Jordan] Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez? Or pitch in the National League, backed by the league’s best defense?
"The Nats led the National League last season in defensive efficiency, the rate at which balls in play are converted into outs. Their trade for Span, a highly rated center fielder, will make the defense even better, especially if the Nats keep LaRoche — and make no mistake, they want to keep LaRoche."
CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman too mentioned the Nationals as a team that might spoil the Dodgers' plan to outspend the rest of the interested teams with their windfall of TV money allowing them to simply top the best offer out there. "But if one team is looking like perhaps the biggest threat to the Dodgers," Mr. Heyman wrote, "it may be the Nationals."
The CBSSports' writer puts the Nationals in the mix with the Dodgers, Rangers and Angels and writes that, "The Nats love Greinke," have tried to get him before and according to Mr. Heyman, Greinke himself reiterated what he's said previously about passing up the Nats' offer when the reporter spoke to the pitcher this past summer. "He rejected the Nationals only because he didn't think they would win, and he appeared to have some misgivings about that call as Wasington was en route to the best record in the majors."
Nats' owner Theodore Lerner, in particular, impressed Greinke, who told the Washington Post's Dave Sheinin in a March 2011 article that his entire family had liked the idea of going to Washington, D.C. "What got us talking seriously was the fact their owner wants to win really, really bad,'" Greinke told the WaPost reporter, "'They convinced me they were really trying, and I believe them.'" CBSSports.com's Mr. Heyman points to the Nationals' owner as a wild card in the market for Greinke this winter:
"The Nats do have a rich, very good octogenarian owner in Ted Lerner, so they could be a wild card. One interested party wondered whether the "Ilitch effect'' might take hold, where Lerner puts the balance sheet aside and tries to stamp his already excellent team as the clear National League favorite."
"What's not to like?" D.C. GM Mike Rizzo asked reporters, including the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, who wondered about the Nationals' interest in Greinke. In an MLB Network Radio interview, Rizzo said he'd definitely thought about the possibility of adding the pitcher to his already-strong rotation, but noted that it was difficult to, "... have three hundred million dollar players in a payroll that has to be at a certain level," though he did note that the Nationals have shown, "... a propensity to go out and go after the best guy available," in recent years.
After acquiring Span, the Nats' general manager made clear in a conversation with reporters that he wasn't done doing what he can to improve the roster of the 98-win team that took the NL East last season. "We haven't taken anything off the table," Rizzo said, "We're still going to be active in the trade market, in the free agent market. [The trade for Span] does give us some flexibility and some options. We've got some good, young controllable players, which is always a good thing for an organization to have and we're going to make the best decisions for the long-term well-being of the franchise."
Whether or not that approach includes spending an exorbitant amount to put together what would arguably be the best rotation in baseball with the addition of Greinke, we'll have to wait and see...