Confirming and debunking some Nats rumors

Confirming and debunking some Nats rumors
December 5, 2011, 2:52 pm
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DALLAS -- The Winter Meetings officially begin today, but there was already plenty of action at the Anatole Hotel last night as executives, agents and media began pulling into town. (For those who missed it, the big development was the Marlins and Jose Reyes agreeing to a six-year, 106 million deal. A press conference is scheduled for today.)

And, as I surmised yesterday before leaving D.C., the Nationals have found themselves in the thick of several hot rumors circulating around the lobby.

Unfortunately, several of these rumors aren't grounded in very much fact. This is one of the problems with the way these meetings are now covered in the Twitter Age: One prominent writer hears something juicy, posts it online and everyone else takes it as gospel, leading other writers to post similar tidbits based strictly on the original rumor making its way around the room.

So let's run through a couple of these Nats-related items making the rounds and attempt to offer some clarity for the confused...

Is Mark Buehrle or C.J. Wilson their top pitching target?
Some rumor began spreading yesterday that the Nats were hot after Wilson and that they were suddenly the frontrunners to land the left-hander. That doesn't appear to be the case at all, based on the club sources I've spoken to.

Yes, the Nationals have had some discussions with Wilson's agent, Bob Garber, but that may also have to do with the fact Garber also represents Roy Oswalt. If Mike Rizzo is going to check in with Garber on Oswalt, might as well inquire about Wilson as well.

In the end, the Nats have some interest in Wilson, but not at the price he's expected to command when this is all said and done. Rizzo has been clear from the get-go: He wants a veteran starter with a proven track record of success. And the pitcher who best fits that description is Buehrle, who indeed remains the Nats' top target at the moment.

Now, that doesn't mean the Nationals are going to get Buehrle, who appears to have all sorts of suitors and three-year contract offers from several clubs. Buehrle also appears to be insisting on a no-trade clause. That's something the Nationals wouldn't have done in the past -- Stan Kasten proudly touts the fact he's never given a no-trade clause to anyone in any sport -- but they did give in to Jayson Werth's demands one year ago. So it's possible they'd concede to Buehrle if things progress to that point.

But let's make this clear: Buehrle is the Nats' preferred choice among the free-agent pitchers. Oswalt is probably second. Wilson is a distant third.

What center fielders are potential trade targets?
With no real attractive center fielders on the free-agent market -- Coco Crisp doesn't appear to be on their radar at the moment -- the Nationals are probably going to have to seek to fill this need via trade. Rizzo pretty much said this himself publicly prior to the meetings.

So who's in the mix? Various names were being tossed around yesterday, including the Angels' Peter Bourjos, the Rays' B.J. Upton and the Mets' Angel Pagan.

We've been talking about Upton around here for a while, so that's no surprise. And the Nats do have legitimate interest in him. It's just a question of what Rizzo is willing to give up in a trade, especially when there's a chance the Rays will non-tender Upton in a couple weeks and make him a free agent.

Bourjos would be a fantastic acquisition. He's only 24 years old, put up solid numbers in his first full big-league season, plays a stellar center field and is a prototypical leadoff hitter. So why on earth would the Angels seek to trade him? Well, they're not particularly shopping him around, but they also know they've got Mike Trout (considered by some the top prospect in baseball, ahead of Bryce Harper) waiting in the wings. So it's possible they'd be willing to move Bourjos to clear space for Trout. But they're still going to want plenty in exchange for him, so the price might prove too steep for the Nationals.

Pagan probably wouldn't be a long-term solution for the Nats, but the 30-year-old could be available as the Mets potentially clean house. That organization is a complete mess right now, and in the wake of Reyes' departure to Miami, GM Sandy Alderson told New York reporters last night his franchise lost 70 million this year.

Are they seriously talking to Prince Fielder AND Albert Pujols?
This was probably my favorite "rumor" of the evening, brought to you by a certain former GM of the Nationals now hosting a radio show and blogging for ESPN.com.

So, does this thing actually have any legs? What do you think? I've been debunking the Fielder-to-D.C. rumor since August, and nothing has happened since then to make me change my mind. NO ONE affiliated with the Nationals has ever suggested they were seriously interested in Fielder. Rizzo has made it clear he intends to open 2012 with Adam LaRoche (already scheduled to earn 8 million) at first base and Michael Morse in left field, with the possibility that Morse winds up at first base somewhere down the road (especially if LaRoche is traded andor Bryce Harper is called up from the minors).

Plain and simple, Fielder is not on the Nationals' radar. And what about Pujols? Uh, no.