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Washington Nationals: 2011 Hot Stove Rumors/Chatter...Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish, Nori Aoki.

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• Fun With Predictions: The LA Angels surprised just about everyone by entering the discussion late in the game and signing Albert Pujols after the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins were thought to be alone in the market for the 31-year-old, 11-year veteran. Pujols' 10-year/$254 million dollar deal was a year longer and $34M dollars richer than the 9-year/$220 million dollar deal SI.com's Jon Heyman predicted in a November 21st Hot Stove preview entitled, "Projections for Pujols, Fielder, Reyes and the top 65 free-agents."

Jose Reyes got the six years, but $18 million less than the 6-year/ $120 million dollar deal Mr. Heyman predicted. C.J. Wilson got 5-years/$75 million from the Angels, $5 million less than guessed, but the then-SI.com writer had narrowed the field to the AL's LA team and the New York Yankees, who surprised some (including Wilson) when they didn't end up pursuing the left-hander. Two of the three teams he had in the race for Mark Buehrle, the Marlins and Washington Nationals, ended up the last two teams bidding for the former White Sox lefty who got $2 million dollars more (4-years/$58) than the 4-year/$56 million Heyman predicted...

Mr. Heyman was one of the national baseball writers who put the Nationals in the Prince Fielder market. Should the Nats pursue the burly Brewers' first baseman, he noted that the 27-year-old slugger and his agent Scott Boras were looking for 8-years/$200 million, but projected an 8-year/$195M dollar deal. Yoenis Cespedes, the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder who's currently establishing residency in the Dominican Republic has been mentioned as a target for the Nationals for some time now, is rumored to be getting anywhere from $30-60 million once he's officially available. Mr. Heyman's prediction was for the power-hitting outfielder to sign for $40 million.

D.C. GM Mike Rizzo watched Cespedes in person at a recent private workout, and he told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern recently that his scouts like what they've seen. As Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore noted recently in an article entitled, "Yeonis Cespedes not the only Cuban player Mike Rizzo scouted in the Dominican Republic", the Nationals were also in the Dominican Republic to watch 19-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler and others. How much they're willing to commit to Cespedes in unclear.

The WaPost writer, in another Nationals Journal post entitled, "Nori Aoki a possible backup plan for the Nationals in center field", added the 29-year-old Yakult Swallows' speedy, Gold Glove outfielder Norichika "Nori" Aoki to the list of potential solutions to the Nats' center fielder search. Adam Kilgore didn't predict how much it would cost the Nats to acquire Aoki through the posting system. Jon Heyman predicted a $10 million dollar posting fee and a 3-year/$15 million dollar deal for an outfielder he describes as, "... the best pure hitter to come from Japan since Ichiro." If Aoki leaves Japan, he finishes his time with the Swallows with three batting titles, six Gold Gloves and a .336/.411/.472 career slash. In a Sponichi article this weekend translated at Yakubaka.com, Aoki told reporters he has no real preference for where he plays next season. "'I do not have any requirements for where I want to play,'" Aoki's quoted stating, "'but it would help if the team had another Japanese player. That way I would be able to exchange words.'"

After the best hitter to come out of Japan in years, there's Yu Darvish. The 25-year-old pitcher posted this past Thursday and MLB teams have until Wednesday (12/14) at 5:00 pm EST to submit bids for the right-hander. ESPN.com's Buster Olney pointed to the Texas Rangers as the team, "... regarded within the industry as the favorites to land," the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters' starter. SI.com's Jon Heyman's prediction? $40 million dollar posting fee and a 5-year/$60M dollar deal. Of course, the Rangers, like a lot of other teams, are saying they probably won't be going after Darvish...How about one more scouting report?

This one comes from Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo and D-Backs' scout Mike Brown, who, Mr. Cafardo notes, was Darvish's pitching coach for three years in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters:

"'He’s the real deal,' Brown said. 'He’s got great stuff, a great presence on the mound. He would definitely be a top pitcher here if he comes out.'"

Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell recommended a less expensive alternative as a solution for the Nats' pitching needs in an artile entitled, "In MLB free agency, teams face the Albert Pujols dilemma: How much is too much?", suggesting that the Nationals, "... only other logical play," is to go for 34-year-old free agent Roy Oswalt. If he's healthy, the WaPost writer adds, "... the Nats would offer him their $35-$40 million Buehrle deal in an instant." SI.com's Mr. Heyman? Though Oswalt's said to want a multi-year deal, Mr. Heyman predicted he'd sign a one year for $11 million dollars.

The Winter Meetings are over. The Hot Stove season's just getting started. The next big decision? The Nationals have to decide whether or not to tender contracts to pitchers Doug Slaten and Tom Gorzelanny and catcher Jesus Flores. Is Flores Wilson Ramos' backup in 2012? Is Gorzelanny Davey Johnson's left-handed long man? Do the Nats finally part ways with Slaten? The Nationals have until midnight on Monday to decide?