Choosing not to wait until next month's winter meetings to start wooing free agents, the Nationals are making their case in person today to perhaps their top target: left-hander Mark Buehrle.
General manager Mike Rizzo and other club executives are meeting with Buehrle at his St. Louis home today, a source with knowledge of the discussions confirmed. The veteran pitcher is the first free agent visited by Nationals officials this winter.
It's not known if Mark Lerner is among those who flew to St. Louis, but the Nationals principal owner has joined Rizzo on such recruiting trips in the past, including last winter's face-to-face meeting with Jayson Werth.
Rizzo spoke earlier this offseason about his desire to add another starter to a rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan (plus several prospects trying to force their way into the discussion). The qualities Rizzo said he was looking for -- a veteran with a track record for pitching 200-plus innings per season who can mentor the Nationals' younger starters -- appeared to perfectly describe Buehrle.
Buehrle, who turns 33 in March, has made at least 30 starts and totaled at least 200 innings each of the last 11 seasons for the White Sox, posting a collective 161-119 record and 3.83 ERA over that span. The crafty left-hander owns one of the slowest fastballs among non-knuckleball pitchers in the majors -- averaging 85 mph this season -- but his rate of two walks issued per nine innings is second only to Roy Halladay among all active pitchers with at least 2,000 career innings.
Given his track record and the thin market for pitchers this winter, Buehrle is likely to command at least a three-year deal in excess of 40 million and could get a four-year contract that tops the 50 million mark.
The White Sox are holding out hope they might be able to re-sign the St. Louis native, who might prefer to stay in the Midwest, but other clubs including the Marlins and Yankees are likely to join the Nationals in the mix.