Wednesday, December 8, 2010, 7:48 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Washington Nationals made the biggest splash of the offseason (the 126 million Jayson Werth signing) before many MLB executives had even arrived for the start of the Winter Meetings.
In the 72 hours since that blockbuster move, though, the Nationals' roster has remained unchanged. Despite plenty of talks with a host of agents and other team officials, they haven't been able to acquire the pitcher, first baseman or other role players they still covet.
Mike Rizzo isn't worried. Even if he leaves the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort Thursday morning without any more acquisitions, the Nationals general manager believes the work done here will lead to something in the weeks to come.
"I don't want to put a time frame on a deal, because it doesn't really matter to me when it gets done," Rizzo said late Wednesday afternoon. "You lay a lot of foundations here in trades and talks with agents about free agents. You never want to put yourself into a time crunch, because you never know when the deal will come."
The Nationals remain very much in pursuit of a front-line starting pitcher and a left-handed-hitting first baseman who can fill the void created by Adam Dunn's departure for Chicago.
Rizzo did not meet Wednesday with Darek Braunecker, the agent for prize free agent Cliff Lee, who left town without a deal in place with any of the clubs in the market for the 32-year-old left-hander. The Nationals and Braunecker did meet twice this week, though, including a Tuesday afternoon session in Rizzo's suite and intend to make a competitive offer for Lee (though not for seven years despite rampant speculation, club sources insisted).
The New York Yankees, long believed to be the frontrunners to acquire Lee, did make an "aggressive" offer to Braunecker on Wednesday that various reports said was for six years and anywhere between 135 million and 150 million. Other clubs believed to be in contention for Lee include the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and perhaps one or two others that have not become public yet.
If the Nationals can't pull off a Lee blockbuster -- and Rizzo still refers to his team as a "long shot" to do that -- the remaining pitching options are thin. They've met with the agent for right-hander Carl Pavano, but a club source said they're reluctant to submit a long-term offer for the 35-year-old. Rizzo has inquired with the Royals about a trade for ace Zack Greinke, though Kansas City's asking price remains exorbitant.
There are a number of cheap, low-risk pitchers on the Nationals' radar, including Chien-Ming Wang and Brandon Webb. Both right-handers are attempting to return from major shoulder surgeries, and the Nationals already paid Wang 2 million this year without him ever appearing in even a minor-league game.
Rizzo, though, said he's open to re-signing Wang (who was non-tendered last week) to a minimum-salary deal with incentives if the right-hander wishes to return. Wang did pitch in two Florida instructional league games in October, reaching the high-80s with his fastball. Rizzo said he doesn't need to see him throw again this winter before deciding whether to extend a contract offer.
Webb, the 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner with the Arizona Diamondbacks who has essentially missed the last two seasons, was clocked in the mid-80s earlier this fall, though Rizzo said he's less concerned with the sinkerballer's lack of velocity than he would be with a power pitcher.
Would the Nationals be willing to sign both Wang and Webb, or would they only take one rehabbing right-hander or the other?
"I wouldn't call it an eitheror situation," Rizzo said. "I think all these signings are part of the big puzzle. One piece here may affect a piece there, depending on what the costs are at these different positions."
One position the Nationals absolutely must address is first base, and Rizzo reiterated Wednesday that he's only looking at solutions outside the organization. Thus, he would not be comfortable using outfielder Josh Willingham or utilityman Michael Morse at first base on a daily basis.
The Nationals' top two targets as soon as Dunn signed with the White Sox last week were Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche. Pena, though, signed with the Cubs early Wednesday morning for one year and 10 million. It's believed the Nationals offered the veteran a multi-year contract, but he said he preferred to sign with Chicago and attempt to resurrect his career after hitting only .196 this season for the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I had some opportunities to go multi-year," Pena said. "However, I just thought that to play for the Cubs was my preference. When I looked around at the teams that were interested ... I still thought that the Cubs were my best option."
That leaves only LaRoche as a preferred, left-handed target of the Nationals, though he's coveted by several other clubs as well, including the Baltimore Orioles. Despite the lack of other options, Rizzo doesn't feel pressured to get something done.
"I don't want to ever feel rushed to do a deal," he said. "When you feel rushed to do a deal, you make a deal that you may not have wanted to do. We're going to look at all our options, and we feel that there's still a lot of good options out there. We'll see where it takes us."