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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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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

RELATED: NATIONALS REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE

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Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

When it comes to sports, we sometimes forget that the athletes we look up to are just normal people. Normal people who have a lot to prove to millions of people on a weekly basis. Former Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel has discussed one of his human moments in an interview with 590 The Fan in St. Louis.

Ankiel admitted to drinking vodka during his plight as a pitcher. He referenced his first two starts of the 2001 season, in particular against the Arizona Diamondbacks where he allowed his anxiety to give in to alcohol to soothe him. In the previous postseason, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to throw five wild pitches in a single inning. 

It may have worked for a couple of games but Ankiel eventually realized it was only making matters worse.

Ankiel began playing in Majors at the age of 19, and has had a fluctuating career through six teams. All the while, he has kept a “never give up” mentality.

Why the sudden need to vent? Ankiel is getting up close and personal with his upcoming book, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed my Life” which is co-written by sports writer Tim Brown. The book will be released on April 18.  

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