DALLAS -- Mark Buehrle has narrowed his list of potential employers down to five clubs, and the Nationals remain among the lead contenders to land the free agent left-hander.
Though he hadn't been contacted by Buehrle's representatives as of this afternoon, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has been given indications his team has as good a shot at landing the 32-year-old as any others still in the mix and that a decision should be coming in the near future.
"From my meeting with him, I don't think he wants this to be a long, drawn-out process," Rizzo said. "I think he wants to get comfortable with a team, be treated fairly, make a decision and get on with the offseason and his preparation for spring training."
Buehrle has been the Nationals' top pitching target since the offseason began, so much so that Rizzo and other members of the front office flew to St. Louis last month to meet with the pitcher and his family at their home. That face-to-face recruiting session, Rizzo believes, left the Nationals in an advantageous position.
"There was a connection there," the GM said. "I went in there and really gave him a presentation of what we're all about, what we're trying to do now and what we're trying to do in the future, what part does he play in it. ... I thought at the beginning there was a lot of interest. And when we left, there was a great interest in the Washington Nationals."
The Nationals appear to be joined by the Rangers and Marlins as finalists for Buehrle. The other two teams aren't yet known, but the Twins did make him a formal offer this week. The White Sox, Buehrle's lone employer since he was drafted in 1998, believe they are no longer in the mix.
Terms of any offers made to Buehrle so far haven't come out, but he's expected to command at least a three-year contract worth in excess of 40 million, possibly a four-year deal. Buehrle also has made it known he wants a full no-trade clause, something the Nationals gave to Jayson Werth last year and are willing to do again "for the right player and the right fit," Rizzo said this week.
Marlins president David Samson told reporters today he won't budge on his policy of refusing to give no-trade clauses to free agents, which could hinder their ability to land Buehrle.
Buehrle, who has pitched at least 200 innings and won at least 10 games each of the last 11 seasons with Chicago, is perhaps the most sought-after starter on the market this winter. In years past, it was difficult for the Nationals to sell such players on the idea of coming to Washington.
Now, on the heels of an 80-win season and the promise of more progress in the immediate future with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper leading the way, it's becoming easier to convince top-tier players to consider the Nationals.
"We're beyond the point where we apologize for not being very good and for rebuilding," Rizzo said. "I think we're a solid team. We have a chance to compete, and we get that point across. ... It's an easier presentation to put together, I know that. It's much more to the point of: Here we are, here's how we're going to win and here's what you're going to do to help us get there. We can base that on facts and names, and not just concepts and philosophies."