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Washington Nationals: Cliff Lee Signs With Phillies, Race For Starters Is On.

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In an interview with Baseball Prospectus writer John Perrotto published this morning entitled, "On the Beat: A Werthy Disguise", D.C. GM Mike Rizzo discusses the Washington Nationals' acquisition of free agent outfielder Jayson Werth and the way in which the Nats came out of nowhere, as some sort of even-more-below-the-radar variation on the "mystery team" phenomenon of free agent negotiations, to sign the 31-year-old Werth to a 7-year/$126 million dollar free agent deal last week:

"'It's really hard in this day and age to make any kind of a deal without someone finding out and it becoming public,' Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. 'I think it speaks to the professionalism on both sides that nothing ever leaked out about our talks. It's hard to fly to California to talk with a high-profile player and his agent without anyone noticing, but we did.'"

The Philadelphia Phillies pulled the same trick last night, though the existence of a mystery team in the negotiations with the 32-year-old starter Cliff Lee was public knowledge for over a week now. The story broke late last night that the Phillies were involved in the chase and by the stroke of midnight, Lee had chosen to return to the so-called City of Brotherly Love on a 5-year/$100M dollar deal that shocked the baseball world, since only hours earlier their involvement in negotiations had remained a secret. 

Those teams still looking for pitching now turn to Carl Pavano, the injured Brandon Webb and the trade market, where the Washington Nationals have been linked time and again over the last weeks with the Kansas City Royals, who are considering unloading 27-year-old ace Zack Greinke and the Tampa Bay Rays, who may or may not deal right-hander Matt Garza. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, one of whom was expected to end up with Lee until the Phillies swept in and stole him, are expected to enter the trade market now that they've missed out on the top available arm. 

If ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick is to be believed, however, the Royals at least, aren't interested in what the Rangers or Yankees can offer. In an article yesterday entitled, "Sources: Jays, Nats after Zack Greinke", the ESPN writer reported that his baseball sources were telling him, "that Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore is actively gauging the market for Greinke, and that both the Yankees and Rangers rank down the list of potential fits for Greinke," while the Nats and Toronto Blue Jays are two teams identified as being, "...best poised to make a serious run at Greinke."

Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore confirmed last night in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Nationals 'aggressively pursuing' trade for Zack Greinke and Matt Garza; but can they make it happen?", that the Nats were continuing to pursue the options available for teams interested in acquiring a top of the rotation arm, though Mr. Kilgore's sources tell him, "... it is difficult to see them actually pulling it off." As has been said from the start of trade talks this winter, teams talking to the Nats want shortstop Ian Desmond or right-handed starter Jordan Zimmermann, and the Nationals aren't willing to part with either player. Mr. Kilgore's source says that, "Everybody else [aside from Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth] is fair game. They're not going to move Desmond. They'd move [Danny] Espinosa in a heartbeat."

Espinosa, Josh Willingham, Roger Bernadina, Drew Storen, Sean Burnett, and even with Jesus Flores' shoulder keeping him sidelined for the better part of the last two seasons, Mr. Kilgore writes that the Nats might consider including Wilson Ramos in a deal that would bring back a Greinke or Garza. The WaPost writer's source doesn't think it will be enough. If the Nats aren't willing to part with either Desmond or Zimmermann, an ace might be out of their reach.

As several writers, including ESPN.com's Mr. Crasnick have written recently, the Royals are looking for a haul similar to that which the Texas Rangers received from Atlanta in return for first baseman Mark Teixeira. Should the Nationals part with Desmond or Zimmermann, both of whom are considered to be keys to the team's future success? Should they overpay for pitching and give Carl Pavano the multi-year deal he's reportedly seeking? Trade for a lesser starter? (Mr. Kilgore reports the Rays' James Shields is still an option.) Or should the Nationals continue developing the talent they have and try to find an top-of-the-rotation arm at the trade deadline or next winter since the Nats aren't expected to make a run til 2012-13 at the earliest? With Lee gone, the pitching market's about to heat up, can D.C. GM Mike Rizzo shock the baseball world again?