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Shields among Nats' top targets

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Shields among Nats' top targets

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Winter Meetings officially begin today, but with all the pertinent parties already in place last night the rumor mill started churning out juicy bits of information.

And with the Nationals garnering far more attention than in previous years, what quickly became clear was that Mike Rizzo is considering some very big names to fill the final hole in his starting rotation.

Though Rizzo could stick with the conventional path and sign one of several high-priced free agents on the market, he's also using the trade route to pursue a starter.

And perhaps his best possible trade partner is Rays general manager Andrew Friedman.

The Rays are loaded with pitching, but in their never-ending quest to keep payroll down are willing to listen to offers for their higher-priced starters. Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price would be the ultimate catch, but the price tag for the 27-year-old lefty is likely to be astronomical, so the more likely target remains right-hander James Shields.

Shields, 30, is an obvious fit with the Nationals. He's a workhorse who has averaged 222 innings over the last six seasons. He's a power pitcher who ranked third in the AL in strikeouts each of the last two seasons. And, perhaps most important from the Nationals' perspective, he's under control for two more years.

The Nationals don't want to put all their eggs into a make-or-break run for the World Series in 2013, but they also don't want to saddle themselves with too many more long-term contracts that could prevent them from locking up their own maturing players (like Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond).

Shields is due to make $10.25 million in 2013; the Rays then hold a $12 million option (with a $1 million buyout) on him for 2014. Those numbers would work well from the Nationals' standpoint, essentially filling the $11 million slot Edwin Jackson held last season.

Shields won't come cheap when in comes to players Tampa Bay wants in return. And already the speculation centers on two members of the Nationals' everyday lineup: Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa.

Rizzo is perfectly willing to trade Morse -- provided, of course, he can re-sign Adam LaRoche -- but he's less willing to deal Espinosa. The Nationals do have an obvious replacement at second base in Steve Lombardozzi, with Anthony Rendon figuring into the infield picture as well sometime in the next few years.

But Rizzo remains a steadfast Espinosa supporter, and manager Davey Johnson stands firmly in his corner as well.

Espinosa could wind up the deal breaker in any talks with the Rays. But whether or not something comes together over the next three days, it's clear the Nationals have multiple different paths en route to the starting pitcher they covet.

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Bryce Harper sends 'Wow' tweet after Nationals trade for Adam Eaton

Bryce Harper sends 'Wow' tweet after Nationals trade for Adam Eaton

Nationals star Bryce Harper has had an eventful week, which included finding out that he might not be the Nationals star much longer. 

An anonymous club executive said that the Nationals won't meet Harper's demands for a 10-year, $400 million contract, and are prepared to let him walk when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. 

That happened on Monday, then on Tuesday Washington missed out on trading from White Sox ace Chris Sale, who ended up going to Boston. 

And then on Wednesday, the Nats ended up trading their pile of top pitching prospects to the White Sox anyway, but instead of getting Sale, they got centerfielder Adam Eaton

Eaton, 28, has never been an All-Star. But he finished last season with a .284 batting average, .362 slugging percentage, 59 RBIs and 14 home runs. He's also an asset defensively in the outfield. 

But the pitching prospects Washington gave up – Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning – amounted to a steep price for Eaton. So steep that the Nats reportedly offered almost the same package of prospects for Sale. 

Within minutes of the Eaton trade news breaking, Harper tweeted this. 

He followed it up with a message of welcome a few minutes later.

Obviously, the initial tweet is what grabbed peoples' attention. But who can really say if Harper meant it as a positive or negative reaction to the Eaton trade? Frankly, it might not have anything to do with the trade at all. 

Plenty of other "wow" things happened this week. 

MORE NATIONALS: Dusty Baker takes part in “Play Ball” clinics in D.C.

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Nationals deal top prospects Giolito, Lopez and Dunning to White Sox for Adam Eaton

Nationals deal top prospects Giolito, Lopez and Dunning to White Sox for Adam Eaton

The Washington Nationals were unable to trade the farm to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for former Cy Young winner Chris Sale. But still looking to make a splash, the Nationals went back to the White Sox, and have made a deal.

Multiple sources have confirmed that the Nationals will trade Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning to the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton, pending physicals.

Eaton, 28 years old, will be entering his sixth season, having played two seasons with the Diamondbacks and two season with the White Sox.

Eaton has never made an All-Star team, but has a solid OBP of .357 and has back-to-back seasons of 14 home runs and at least 50 RBIs. He also has a very friendly contract, having recently signed a five-year, $23.5 million contract.

In return, the White Sox get a treasure trove of prospects.

Giolito is the top prospect in the Nationals' organization and one of the top prospects in all of MLB. He appeared in six games for the nationals in 2016, finishing with a 6.75 ERA and 11 strikeouts. Lopez, the No. 4 prospect in the organization, appeared in 11 games in 2016, finishing with a 4.91 ERA and 42 strikeouts.

Dunning, one of the ace of the Florida Gators' staff, was selected by the Nationals with the 29th pick of the 2016 MLB Draft.

But considering the Nationals were willing to give up numerous top prospects for Chris Sale or Andrew McCutchen, it's puzzling that the Nationals would receive just Eaton in return.

Heading into the 2016 winter meetings, it was well known that the Nationals were interested in making a big splash and shaking things up.

It looks like they're doing just that.