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Washington Nationals Know What They Want This Winter, Can They Get It?

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Asked for his predictions for how the Nationals will solve their center field and starting rotation needs in a chat last Monday, Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell suggested that if Washington could add Rays' outfielder B.J. Upton and free agent left-hander Mark Buehrle and have the top prospect in the system, Bryce Harper, up in the majors, "... by June," the Nats and their fans, "... can do a lot of dreaming about '12." The Nats skipper Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo are already on record saying they think the team can compete in 2012, would those additions turn them into a contender? 

Mike Rizzo, in a recent interview on MLB Network Radio, said that the Nats' solution for their center field needs, "... would probably come from a trade from our depth, our minor league depth or major-league-ready players."

"We see that there are some good values out there and there's some extremely talented players in the free agent market," Rizzo said, "We just have to decide 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."

St. Petersburgh Times' writer John Romano suggested earlier this week that the new CBA might make Tampa Bay more willing to trade B.J. Upton this winter. In an article entitled, "New baseball labor agreement could hamper Tampa Bay Rays", he writes that under the new rules, "... a free agent will bring compensation only if his former team offers him a one-year deal equal to what the top 125 highest-paid players make, which is currently around $12 million." Under the old CBA, the Rays could offer Upton, 27, a one-year deal after this season the writer suggests, if they were sure that he'd turn it down and was likely to get a multi-year deal as a free agent, but with the change in rules for compensation Tampa Bay would no longer get the compensatory draft picks they would have received in the past:

"But if Upton has a subpar year, the Rays aren't going to offer him the $12 million out of fear he will accept it. And that means he could leave as a free agent, and the Rays would get nothing in return. Thus, trading him this winter might look more attractive."

The Nats, according to multiple confirmed reports, visited with Mark Buerhle last week, but the left-hander is at or near the top of everyone's list of free agent options. 10-12 teams are in the mix for the 32-going-on-33-year-old starter depending on which story you read. With all the interest in the lefty,'s Jon Morosi wrote this week in an article entltled, "Sources: Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs pursuing Buehrle", that Buehrle could potentially, "... sign a contract that rivals the four-year, $56 million deal he signed in 2007." Do the Nationals want to be paying a 36-37-year-old Buerhle $14M per at the end of that deal? Would they be willing to give him a long-term deal if his addition turns them into a contender now? Would Washington be better off giving Roy Oswalt the 2-year/$28M dollar deal some think he'll get this winter? 

The Nationals are taking risks whichever way they go. Upton fills the hole in center field, but isn't the sort of prototypical high-OBP leadoff guy they've been talking about needing. Buehrle and Oswalt fill the need for a veteran arm in their rotation, but the cost could be prohibitive as more and more teams express interest in the two. After C.J. Wilson, whose name hasn't come up much in connection with Washington, Buehrle and Oswalt, there's a steep drop in available pitching talent on the market. International free agents like Yoennis Cespedes and Yu Darvish come with concerns about their talents translating to the major league game. 

The Winter Meetings begin next Monday, December 5-8 in Dallas, Texas. The Nationals know what they want this winter. Will they be able to get it?