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2012 MLB Winter Meetings: Washington Nationals Rumors - Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse, James Shields

The MLB Winter Meetings really get started tomorrow morning in Tennessee, but the rumors are already flying and the Washington Nationals are being mentioned often with Zack Greinke, James Shields and others reportedly targets of the defending NL East Champs.

Christian Petersen

"He's still learning how to make adjustments up here," Davey Johnson told reporters who wondered about second baseman Danny Espinosa's struggles late this season in particular, but also throughout a 2012 campaign which saw him put up a .247/.315/.402 line with 37 doubles, 17 HRs, 20 stolen bases and a National League high 189 Ks in 160 games and 568 PA's over which he was worth +3.8 fWAR. Espinosa was just one player, the Nats' manager explained, who still had room for improvement who could help take Washington to the next level in 2013. "We still," Johnson said, "... a lot of guys haven't hit their stride. There's still a bigger ceiling for a number of players on this ballclub."'s Ken Rosenthal mentioned Espinosa, the Nats' 25-year-old '08 2nd Round pick, as a player to watch at the Winter Meetings which officially begin tomorrow in Tennessee where the baseball media and team executives have gathered to talk trades and rumors and test the market for available free agents on the market this year. Espinosa, Mr. Rosenthal writes, "... is likely to draw interest from teams who need either a second baseman or shortstop, and the Nats could be open to moving him in the right deal."

Steve Lombardozzi could play second if Espinosa were dealt; the as yet unproven Anthony Rendon was thought to be close to MLB-ready before he was drafted though he's dealt with injuries and the Nats might need to make room in the infield in the near-future the logic goes. Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore considered the possibility in a Nationals Journal post tonight, acknowledging that the Nationals' infielder's name is bound to come up this week, but writing that the two people charged with making the decisions, "General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Davey Johnson are major advocates of Espinosa."

Michael Morse's name will likely be bandied about as well this week. It has been for some time already and was again when the Nationals acquired Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins last week, essentially pushing Morse to either first or if Adam LaRoche is signed, potentially out of the nation's capital in a potential deal for the pitching the Nationals are known to be after this winter...

New York Post baseball writer Joel Sherman (@JoelSherman1) wrote on Twitter tonight that the Nationals are definitely in on free agent pitcher Zack Greinke, confirming some of the chatter about the Nats' continued interest in the right-hander. "Nationals in on Greinke, if fail there watch them on #Rays [James] Shields using bats like Espinosa and Morse/[Tyler] Moore, Also some interest in Anibal [Sanchez]." The WaPost's Adam Kilgore, the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, and's Bill Ladson all mentioned Shields as a potential target, especially considering the contract the 30-year-old seven-year veteran is signed to for 2013.

Coming off a (15-10), +4.3 fWAR season in 2012 in which the Rays' starter had a 3.52 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 58 walks (2.29 BB/9) and 223 Ks (8.82 K/9) in 33 games and 227.2 IP, Tampa Bay picked up the club option included in the 4-year/$11.25M dollar extension he signed in 2008 which will pay him $10.25M next year with another club option for 2014 which would pay $13M if it was picked up.

Do the Rays have interest in Morse or Espinosa? Will the Nats make a serious bid for Zack Greinke? Will D.C. GM Mike Rizzo find the bullpen arms the Nats need? Or sign LaRoche? It's Hot Stove time...