In the first teleconference of the winter of 2011, D.C. Mike Rizzo spoke to reporters about the progress of 32-year-old first baseman Adam LaRoche, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff damage in his shoulder last summer, but was expected to be ready to start the 2012 season healthy. "[LaRoche] started throwing just last week," the Nats' general manager told reporters in the last week of October, "He will be [on] a throwing program and building up to prepare for Spring Training, and he should be full go at Spring Training is the word that I got from not only Adam but from our medical staff."
LaRoche, who eventually shut it down last year when it became clear he couldn't play through his injury, is under contract for one more year at $8M dollars, so when talk has turned to potential free agent targets this winter as it did during an MLB Network Radio interview in early November, the Nats' GM has downplayed the possibility that Washington would be in the market for any of the big name position players like Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder.
Asked directly by MLB Network Radio host and former Nationals' GM Jim Bowden if it was safe to assume from what he'd said that Rizzo wasn't going for those targets, the current general manager said, "I think that's a safe assumption. Things can change rapidly in this business. If a spot were to become available because of a trade if you trade a shortstop or a first baseman type of thing then you may be in that market place, but as it stands right now today in November, we feel that we're set at shortstop, second base and first base."
In an article earlier this fall entitled, "LaRoche getting closer to baseball activities", from (10/17/11), LaRoche told MLB.com's Bill Ladson that,"... the Nationals didn't promise that he would play every day at the position next season," but LaRoche, noting his own contract drew the same conclusion just about anyone who's examined the situation has as he told the MLB.com writer, "'Obviously, anything can happen. That's their decision. That's a pretty big investment for someone who is not playing. I don't know what direction they would go. Obviously, anything is possible.'"
Of course, as early as last September, while the Nationals were publicly stating that they probably wouldn't get involved in the market for first baseman this winter, writers like ESPN.com's Jayson Stark were warning, as he did in a 9/9/11 "Rumblings and Grumblings" column, that if you thought the presence of LaRoche on the Nats' roster or Michael Morse's big season spent mostly at first would deter Rizzo from pursuing, "... someone like Albert Pujols this winter," then you might, as he put it, "... be underestimating Rizzo's drive to build something great."
"Without discussing either of the two monster free-agent first basemen (Pujols and Prince Fielder) by name," Mr. Stark wrote, "Rizzo says first base wouldn't be at the top of his team's list of places to spend its ample resources -- 'but you never want to say never. You never know.'"
New York Post writer Joel Sherman, in a mid-October article entitled, "If Sabathia opts out of contract, Yankees will have competition", had the Nationals on his short list of teams interested in potential free agent left-hander CC Sabathia if he had decided to opt out of him contract and leave New York, but the Post sports writer also reported that while the Nats would likely pursue available pitching options this winter, "Still, there is an expectation that Washington's big money this offseason is targeted toward Prince Fielder."
"The Nats believe they are on the verge of being a winner and can become a big-market team if they are regular contenders," Mr. Sherman wrote, "Plus the same situation that instigated the Werth signing -- an aging owner, Ted Lerner, who wants results now and an ambitious son, Mark, who wants to put his stamp on the team, remain." Signing 27-going-on-28-year-old Prince Fielder would certainly be one way to put a stamp on the team. The '02 Milwaukee Brewers' 1st Round pick is coming off a .299/.415/.566 season, his seventh in the majors, in which he hit 36 doubles, 38 HR's and finished at +5.5 WAR while helping lead the Brewers to the NLCS where they lost to the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.
According to FOXSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi's sources the Nationals are in on Fielder. The FOXsports.com reporter, in an article this morning entitled, "Pujols, Fielder top free-agent market", writes that the soon-to-be-former Brewer, "... has been pursued by a group believed to include the Cubs, Nationals, Rangers and Mariners.":
"Boras declined to say which teams have offered Fielder a contract, but he pointed out that his biggest free-agent hitter last offseason (Jayson Werth) signed the night before the winter meetings began – with a team (Washington) no one expected.
"'People were still at the airport,' Boras said. 'The most predictable part of the winter meetings is the lack of predictability.'"
Are the Nationals in the discussion just because they've spent and offered big money recently? Possibly. They've been mentioned in connection with just about every big name on the market in the last few seasons. Are they actually in the running for Fielder in spite of their protestations? Those "you never knows" have a way of keeping Washington in the discussion, but with the Mike Rizzo's leakproof front office no one really knows. Is Mike "Run Silent" Rizzo (as Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell referred to him recently) up to his old tricks again? Will the Washington Nationals shock the baseball world for the second straight winter?