Two of the Nationals’ competitors in the NL East have been very aggressive over the first few weeks of free agency, a trend worth keeping an eye on. Both the Philadelphia Phillies (last year’s Division Champion) and the Miami Marlins (the name change becomes official tomorrow) have been publicly active in courting potential new additions at a point where most teams aren’t ready to make formal offers just yet.
Philadelphia has already signed Jim Thome to a one year contract. Thome hasn’t played first base regularly for a number of years, but could potentially help fill the void in the Phillies’ lineup left by Ryan Howard‘s injury. They’ve also been aggressively pursuing Michael Cuddyer – who could strengthen a corner outfield spot or fill in at first base, letting Thome be a potentially dangerous bat off of the bench. There are also numerous reports that the team is near an agreement to resign closer Ryan Madson. Rumor has it the deal could be worth $44 Million over four years.
* Note: SI’s Jon Heyman seems to think the Nationals could be interested in Madson should the deal fall through. That seems highly unlikely given the current construction at the back of the bullpen. There doesn’t seem to be any need for Madson at all in Washington.
The Phillies will still need to address their own free agents, namely Jimmy Rollins and Roy Oswalt (who’s been getting a lot more attention that I think anyone expected). It’s safe to say they’ll probably look into bringing in some additional bullpen help as well.
Meanwhile, the Marlins have held visits for a number of free agents already and have more scheduled. Mark Buerhle, Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, and Carlos Beltran are just some of the names who have been linked to the team thus far. With a new stadium opening and a need to finally win over that fanbase it was expected that the organization would be aggressive this offseason and they haven’t disappointed.
Naturally some of these rumors are nonsense, but the possibilities are still worth keeping an eye on. The Nationals’ chances of winning in 2012 will be directly affected by what the direct competition does to improve themselves. The NL East could shape up to be one very interesting – and perhaps the most compelling – race in 2012 between the Phillies, Marlins, Braves, and Nationals.