Previewing the Winter Meetings


The annual Winter Meetings are always a source of countless rumors, rumblings, trades, and signings. They kick off tomorrow in Dallas in what is expected to be a busy few days after what has been a largely uneventful offseason to date. GM Mike Rizzo will be in attendance, trying to fill some of the remaining holes on the Nationals’ roster. So, let’s see if we can preview what to expect over the coming days.

Center Field

This has long been a public priority for Rizzo and the team’s front office. But there hasn’t been much discussion on the topic this winter, aside from the handful of candidates we’ve looked at (and ruled out) here at DoD. Rizzo has long said he’d like a center fielder who can bat leadoff but Bill Ladson of mentions that now Rizzo would be willing to bring on one who’d hit in the middle of the order as well. Perhaps that opens up the options, but it does create the additional need of finding a leadoff hitter.

One name to keep an eye on here could be Yoenes Cespedes. The Cuban defector is expected to establish temporary residency in the Dominican Republic in the coming days and will then be eligible for free agency. Rumor has the Yankees, Tigers, and Marlins as the most aggressive suitors thus far. But the Nationals, Cubs, Rangers, and others have all been discussed as possibilities as well. What will be interesting is to see which team decides to skip waiting on Cespedes, and jumps to acquire the next best available center fielder before someone else can.

One of our most frequent commentors and the author of another Nationals blog – aptly titled Nationals Arms Race – Todd, had a great post up last week looking at the center field options. He took a thorough (and I really mean thorough) look at all of the starting center fielders in MLB during the 2011 season, systematically ruling options out for a variety of reasons. It’s definitely a worthy read and really gives you a good sense of what is actually available.

Starting Pitching

One way or another this concern needs to be resolved, and that could happen this week. It would not be a surprise to see at least one of Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt, and C.J. Wilson sign in the coming days. Buehrle is the one who has been connected most to Washington and of the three I believe he’d be the best fit. I’m more concerned about giving him too many years (I wouldn’t go more than 3) than too much money. Wilson I don’t want anything to do with in Washington.

Japanese standout Yu Darvish is expected to be posted after the Winter Meetings, again potentially causing teams to sit back and wait to see if they can land the top International free agent available. Perhaps the Nationals can step in and sign Buehrle while some of his other suitors wait to see how the posting system plays out on Darvish. It’s possible the Nationals wait and see if they have the highest bid for Darvish. It will be interesting to watch how this one plays out. He’s easily the most hyped pitcher to come out of Japan, moreso than Matsuzaka in some regards.

I personally would prefer the team addressed other needs rather than focusing on pitching in the coming days. I think the team has a great deal of pitching depth and spending big bucks on an top free agent may not be the best way to approach preparing for the 2012 season and beyond. Should the four pitchers mentioned above end up with other teams, I think there still could be viable options the team could look at to solidify the rotation.

Leadoff Hitter

Should the team acquire a center fielder who doesn’t fit in the leadoff spot, this will be another area that will need to be addressed. Internally Ian Desmond is the most logical choice, though not the preferred one. Danny Espinosa could be another possibility, but I think he and Ryan Zimmerman make a solid 2-3 part of the lineup and I’d prefer not to change that.

Left-Handed Relief Pitching

While not a major concern, I’d imagine that the team will at least evaluate the available options for left-handed relievers. Sean Burnett will return in 2012 as the primary option out of the bullpen and he’s a solid option the team can rely on. The team does also have Tom Gorzelanny and Doug Slaten on the 40-man roster, though both are potential non-tender candidates (the non-tender deadline is December 12th). Another option, at least from a depth standpoint, could make sense and could potentially be available this week.

Outfield Depth

Rick Ankiel, Jonny Gomes, and Laynce Nix are all gone via free agency. Not only does the team need to find an everyday center fielder, but they also will need to look into signing some outfield depth as well. This may not be a high priority at the Winter Meetings, but it’s a consideration to keep in mind as the days continue.

Potential Trade Options

Ladson mentions four current Nationals that could be discussed as trade options this week: outfielder Roger Bernadina, catcher Jesus Flores, and pitchers Ross Detwiler and Drew Storen. Bernadina and Flores could be options for teams, but there always seems to be a fair amount of similar players available on the market at the same time so the returns may not be significant for either player. Bernadina is likely nothing more than a 4th outfielder at this point and Flores is no longer an everyday catcher because of the presence of Wilson Ramos. If the team truly believes Derek Norris is ready to backup Ramos, then Flores becomes more expendable.

Detwiler reportedly was sought after by the Astros at last season’s trade deadline when the two sides discussed Michael Bourn. Rizzo passed, at the time, but he could shop the left-hander. He could be pushed out of the rotation and may bring more value in trade than he would out of the bullpen.

Storen, while discussed in rumors last July regarding Minnesota’s Denard Span, doesn’t seem likely to be moved. I think it would have to be in a deal for a top notch center fielder (one who isn’t available via trade) for Storen to be dealt this winter.