The Washington Nationals have money to spend and they have, in the past, shown a willingness to spend it while pursuing the likes of Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke over the last few years. They signed Jayson Werth to a 7-year/$126M deal in 2010. The Nats have made big trades too, acquiring starter Gio Gonzalez and center fielder Denard Span from the Oakland A's and Minnesota Twins in separate trades in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
But coming off a disappointing 86-76 season in 2013, they haven't, "...made any substantive changes this offseason, other than hiring Matt Williams as manager," as ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote in an article on Wednesday morning on potential suitors for Robinson Cano should the free agent second baseman not return to the New York Yankees.
In the nation's capital, "...there is an expectation within the organization that the young players who struggled last year will be better in 2014," Mr. Olney notes. Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo has stated often this winter that he believes in the core of the team. Though Rizzo has talked mainly about supplementing what is already there with bench help and bullpen additions, the Nats have been mentioned as players in just about every major free agent and trade discussion there is out there this winter.
• Ellsbury: The Nationals are reportedly interested in free agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is after a long-term, big money deal, though in-house option Denard Span is under contract for 2014 with an option for 2015 and a potential next-gen center fielder, in 23-year-old, 2011 1st Round pick Brian Goodwin, is on the way up while 22-year-old outfielder Michael Taylor was recently added to the Nats' 40-Man roster to protect the '09 6th Round pick from selection in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.
Signing Ellsbury would cost the Nationals their 1st Round pick (20th overall) since the Boston Red Sox made a 1-year/$14.1M qualifying offer which the 30-year-old, seven-year veteran turned down. Nats' GM Mike Rizzo has said he's reluctant to part with this year's top pick after surrendering the Nationals' first round pick last winter in order to sign free agent closer Rafael Soriano. That fact hasn't stopped the rumors of interest though.
• Starting/Relief Pitching: More than one writer has sources who have said the Nationals are interested in David Price should the Tampa Bay Rays decide to trade him. Same with the Detroit Tigers' Max Scherzer. Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore has reported on interest in Chicago Cubs' righty Jeff Samardzija on behalf of the Nats. Free agent Matt Garza, who wouldn't cost the Nats a draft pick? √ Another report by the WaPost Nationals beat writer said that they'd scouted Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Detwiler and a group of young pitchers their GM believes can fill out the rotation if necessary.
Rizzo has talked openly about wanting to bolster the bench. Left-handed relief help is on the the list too, with Manny Parra, Boone Logan, Javier Lopez and others mentioned as potential targets.
After signing on to return to San Francisco this week, Lopez told reporters, including the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman, that, "... he gave serious thought to accepting an offer from the Washington Nationals." Lopez got a 3-year/$13M deal from the Giants. Manny Parra signed with Cincinnati, taking a 2-year/$5.5M deal from the Reds on Wednesday. Oliver Perez is still a possibility. The Nationals expressed interest in J.P. Howell last winter.
Sammy Solis and Ross Detwiler could always help out in the pen, with Detwiler, in particular, an option if the Nats do sign or acquire one of the starters they're rumored to be after. Rizzo told MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson in a recent interview that he felt Detwiler could, "...bolster our bullpen and give us some depth as a starter," and then mentioned Solis again as someone who could help the team this season.
• Cano: As for the everyday lineup? There doesn't seem to be much room for movement. Ryan Zimmerman is Rizzo's third baseman. He's said LaRoche will play first. He doesn't want to trade Anthony Rendon. Any trade talk or rumors of interest involve the Nationals shuffling things up in the infield or trading Span or LaRoche, who is coming off a down year in the first year of the two-year deal he signed with the Nats last winter. With Bryce Harper, Span and Werth in the outfield, things appear set.
ESPN.com writers Jayson Stark and David Schoenfield both considered the possibility of the Nationals pursuing Robinson Cano in recent articles anyway.
Stark said the Nationals, "...have numerous dollars in the checking account to blow up the headlines with a move like this." All they would have to do is trade LaRoche to make room, with Rendon moving to third, and Zimmerman shifting to first. ESPN.com's David Schoenfield suggested LaRoche could either move to the bench or a team, "...that needs a first baseman, like the Pirates."
The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, who wrote a speculative piece about the Nationals pursuing Rafael Soriano last winter before they surprised many in baseball by signing the closer, wrote Wednesday about the possibility of the Nats pursuing Cano. The 31-year-old free agent is a unique talent that doesn't become available often. Rendon could be traded for pitching or used off the bench for a year before moving to third once LaRoche's contract is over. It would be a win-now move that would instantly improve a team already considered a contender.
ESPN.com's Buster Olney joined the chorus too, listing D.C. as one of the three top destinations for Cano, though Mr. Olney's and all of the articles mentioned above start with the assumption that Cano ends up returning to New York. The Nationals owners, "...the Lerners, will always have the financial clout to get involved in anything," Mr. Olney writes, "no matter the level." The addition would provide the Nationals with an imposing lineup. How likely is such a signing? Mr. Olney puts the Nationals second on the "if not the Yankees, then..." list.
The Yankees, of course, reportedly spoke to Cano again on Wednesday.
New York Post writer Ken Davidson wrote that a source told him the free agent's camp, "...already has come down a little," from the $310M figure they floated early. The Yankees, he writes, "...are currently at seven years and $168 million," and wouldn't need to go up much to get to the $200M+ Davidson predicts Cano will eventually receive. "If another team goes significantly over that figure," he adds, "then the Yankees would have an intellectual right to go forward without the franchise player."
The Nationals have the sort of money it would take. They have shown a willingness to spend. They will continue to come up as an option for every player out there until the players actually sign. Will any of these big names actually end up in Washington?
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