The last time they convened at the Anatole Hotel in Dallas for baseball's Winter Meetings, the Nationals did so with a clear-cut wish list. The Nationals' top priority during that week in Dec. 2005? Acquire a veteran starting pitcher.
By the end of those meetings, former general manager Jim Bowden had done nothing to address his club's rotation but instead made headlines with a surprise deal: the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano from the Rangers for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and Armando Galarraga.
The Soriano trade caught everyone by surprise. Though his name had been floated around before, no one was speculating about the possibility of that trade going down during the Winter Meetings. Instead, the focus on Bowden and the Nationals that week was on his pursuit of a reliable starting pitcher to join John Patterson and Livan Hernandez atop their 2006 rotation. Their No. 1 target at the time: A.J. Burnett.
It's always amusing to think back to weeks like that and remember how out-of-the-loop I (and my fellow beat writers) were when it came to the Soriano trade talks. Nobody had reported any hint of evidence to suggest a deal was in the works until it had already been finalized.
Last year's Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World brought a similar surprise deal, seemingly out of nowhere. Nobody predicted Jayson Werth would sign with the Nationals for seven years and 126 million, and nobody knew GM Mike Rizzo had been quietly working on that deal for several weeks.
Point is, you never really know what the Nationals might have up their sleeves this time of the year.
Rizzo has repeatedly said his two priorities this winter are acquiring a veteran starting pitcher (just as was the case back in 2005) and a starting center fielder. And there's no reason to question his sincerity in that regard.
At the same time, history suggests there could be more going on behind the scenes than we realize. Maybe Rizzo has been ironing out details of a possible trade. Maybe he's trying to convince a top international free agent to come to D.C. Or maybe he's just doing what he's claimed to be doing all along: Trying to fill those two previously revealed roster holes.
This much I know for certain: After learning our lesson the last time we gathered in Dallas, we shouldn't allow ourselves to be surprised if the Nationals do indeed pull off another Winter Meetings surprise.