Nats ready to wheel and deal in Dallas

Nats ready to wheel and deal in Dallas
December 4, 2011, 2:13 pm
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With every general manager, every manager, every front-office executive and every agent in the business gathered in one massive hotel for four full days, it's nearly impossible for baseball's Winter Meetings to come and go without producing major news.

No one ever knows for sure which players will sign, or which teams will be most active, at the annual meetings. But by the time the participants scatter Thursday morning following the Rule 5 draft, at least a handful of predominant storylines will have emerged.

And if history holds true, the Nationals are likely to find themselves somewhere in the middle of it all.

It was at the 2005 Winter Meetings at the same Anatole Hotel in Dallas where ex-GM Jim Bowden acquired Alfonso Soriano from the Rangers. It was at the 2007 meetings in Nashville where Bowden traded for Elijah Dukes days after getting Lastings Milledge from the Mets. It was at the 2009 meetings in Indianapolis where Mike Rizzo convinced future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez to sign a two-year deal with the Nationals. And it was at last year's meetings where Rizzo doled out 126 million to Jayson Werth, sending reverberations throughout Walt Disney World.

Whether Rizzo has a similarly bold move up his sleeve this week remains to be seen. But if we are to believe all the chatter that has spread in the months leading up to this year's meetings, it does appear the Nationals' name is going to come up a whole lot in connection with some big-name talent.

Rizzo hasn't disguised his desire to land a veteran starting pitcher, someone who can be penciled in for 200 quality innings while also offering guidance to young aces Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. But there are plenty of other suitors for the three free agent starters who fit that description -- Mark Buehrle, C.J. Wilson and Roy Oswalt -- so it may still take some time for the pitching market to play itself out.

Rizzo also has made it clear he's seeking a center fielder, someone who ideally could lead off and reach base at a high clip but above all else hold down a position that has been in flux since the day the Nationals arrived in town. An astounding 28 different men have played center field for the Nats over the last seven seasons. Knowing that, Rizzo would like the 29th man at that position to actually stick around for a while.

Unfortunately, there aren't any real viable center field options in free agency. So Rizzo may have to get creative, whether in the form of an international signing such as Cuba's Yoenis Cespedes or a trade for an existing big leaguer such as Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton.

Trade talks figure to be plentiful this week for the Nationals, who for the first time actually have the organizational depth to deal young players from a position of strength (such as pitcher, catcher or middle infielder) in order to acquire something they still lack.

Don't be surprised if you hear John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, Jesus Flores or Ian Desmond's name crop up the next few days in trade rumors. That doesn't mean Rizzo is actively seeking to move any of that bunch, but any of them could help bring that center fielder or veteran starter the Nationals covet so much.

Will Rizzo have pulled off a major deal by the time the meetings end Thursday morning? Not even he knows that answer yet.

But deal or no deal, it's probably safe to assume the Nationals -- as has almost always been the case -- will be among the most active teams at this year's Winter Meetings.