According to a Washington Post report by James Wagner this week, quoting "a person familiar with the situation", the Washington Nationals offered free agent utility man Ben Zobrist a 4-year/$60M contract before he decided to sign a 4-year/$56M deal with the Chicago Cubs, reuniting him with his former Tampa Bay Rays' skipper, Joe Maddon.
"The Nationals weren’t close in the sweepstakes because Zobrist didn’t feel as comfortable in the Nationals' clubhouse," the WaPost writer noted, citing "another person familiar with the situation".
MLB.com's Bill Ladson talked to Zobrist about the Nationals' offer after the deal with the Cubs was announced:
"The offer was competitive. They are a good team. That’s why I was going to meet with them before this went down. [The Nationals] did put a competitive offer out there and made a push to get me. We were considering it. In the end, when [the deal with the Cubs] came across the table, it was desirable to us."
So, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo was asked, after missing out on Zobrist, where would the Nats look next as they tried to add a left-handed bat to their roster this winter?
"There are different avenues," Rizzo told reporters on the third night of the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee's Opryland Resort and Convention Center, "the trade avenue that we've looked hard into and also there are several free agent options out there too. So we're looking to improve ourselves any way we can."
As Rizzo explained it, the Nationals aren't desperate to add the bat they're said to be after though they are exploring all their options.
"In a perfect world, the lefty bat is important," he said. "But we want to improve our club. And the balance in the lineup is an aspect, but it's not something that's the end-all and be-all, we'd like to be more balanced, but if we have a quality player that improves our lineup and improves our club, then we certainly are going to look at all aspects of it."
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal reported last night that the Nationals did at least explore one interesting trade option:
If the Nationals can't find that bat on the free agent market, Rizzo did say that he thinks they have the prospects to make a trade for what they think they need, though some top prospects are, of course, untouchable-ish...
"There's a small handful of players that we would be very reluctant to move," Rizzo explained. "You never say never to any deal, but there is a group of guys that it would be very difficult to move, and those deals where you package a group of prospects together to get an established player would have to be a special type of established player for us to do that."
He was clear, however, that he thinks the Nationals do have the prospects to make a deal if the right one is there.
"We have a deep farm system," Rizzo said, with prospects other teams like.
"There are teams that call us all the time about players that we don't even consider in our top five of ten prospects that are intriguing to other teams, so we have a deep farm system that we could do a lot of things, but it has to be the right move to utilize those prospects, because they're very valuable."
"We feel good about our minor league system," Rizzo said on Monday, when asked about the possibility of dealing from the Nats' prospect depth.
"We feel that we have a deep prospect list and there [are] a lot of teams that are interested in our prospects, so the possibility is there if we so desire to go out and make a trade for a veteran player with our prospects.
"It's always a possibility. But we balance that with what's the best way to construct the 25-man roster and if that's the best way we've shown that we've done it in the past, but we feel really fortunate that we have such a deep system with such quality prospects that teams covet."
Will the Nationals be looking for players with multiple years of team control? Or are they willing to take on a player who is closer to or headed for free agency in the near-future?
"It's always a factor in what we do and you have to weigh it as such," Rizzo said of considering team control.
"We like to make trades that you can control the player more than one year, but we've made some trades that were kind of one-year-type of deals too. It depends on who you're giving up and how much the acquisition impacts your team this year, but usually we think of the more years of control the better we like it."
Asked to characterize the work they've done at the Winter Meetings, the Nats' GM said they laid some groundwork for future talks.
"Some things come together faster than others," Rizzo explained, "but if we were to leave here without making an impactful trade or free agent signing, it wouldn't shock me, but it also wouldn't shock me if we did something here."