LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- And so the Winter Meetings have come to a close after four days spent tracking down lots of rumors but only three actual roster alterations: Jayson Werth and the two Rule 5 picks.
Make no mistake, though: The Nationals were very much front-and-center at the Swan and Dolphin Resort, beginning with the Werth blockbuster and continuing with rumors about the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, the search for a first baseman, the trade market for Zack Greinke and the trade market for Josh Willingham.
This was the fifth Winter Meetings I've covered as a Nats beat writer (missed the 2008 and 2009 events) and this was by far the most involved and visible this franchise has been at one of these things. The only other move that remotely compared to this was the Alfonso Soriano trade, which came late one night at the 2005 meetings in Dallas. And that was merely one surprising trade in an otherwise uneventful week for the Nationals, who remained well on the periphery everywhere else.
Perhaps the most significant thing the Nats did here this week wasn't simply signing Werth. As big as that was, the more significant development to me was that this franchise stepped up and made it clear it intends to compete with all the big boys on just about every prominent name available.
No, they didn't acquire anyone else before leaving town, but that wasn't from lack of trying. They met multiple times with Lee's agent. They met multiple times with Carl Pavano's agent. They made an offer to Carlos Pena. They had discussions with Adam LaRoche. They inquired about Greinke. They took calls on Willingham and others.
When Scott Boras held court yesterday afternoon, the Nationals came up perhaps more than any other team, whether in relation to Pena, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Prince Fielder or even Adrian Beltre (who they're not pursuing, by the way). That's never happened before.
Will all of this actually result in Mike Rizzo making another major move in the coming weeks? We'll see. Clearly, he intends to acquire a left-handed-hitting first baseman. LaRoche, who is also talking to the Orioles, is the obvious choice. I wouldn't be surprised if they get something done with him in the near future.
As for a pitcher ... well, that's going to be much tougher. I think it's safe to assume Cliff Lee won't be wearing a Nationals jersey on Opening Day 2011. Not that Rizzo didn't make a legitimate run at him. He kind of stammered when asked this morning whether he's made a formal offer to Lee before then declaring he wouldn't comment on that, but it's probably safe to say he has. That offer, though, is for six years, tops. No chance the Nats go to seven years, which the Yankees reportedly did this morning. Throw in news of the Rangers' front office flying to Arkansas today to meet with Lee and agent Darek Braunecker in person, and it's pretty obvious the Nats aren't going to win this derby.
I also would be surprised if the Nationals land Pavano. I just don't get the sense they're willing to offer up much for the 35-year-old. Certainly not a three-year contract as the Twins are reportedly considering. Maybe not even a two-year contract. And a trade for Greinke or Garza, while not impossible, still seems unlikely given the massive asking price from Kansas City and Tampa Bay.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but the fact Rizzo was willing to take a starting pitcher (Brian Broderick) in this morning's Rule 5 draft suggests to me he anticipates a wide-open competition for several spots at the back end of the rotation this spring. That wouldn't be necessary if he had a true No. 1 along with Jordan Zimmermann, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis and John Lannan.
None of this is to suggest the Nationals didn't accomplish plenty this week and won't accomplish more before pitchers and catchers report in two months. But even if they don't, even if Wednesday's Werth introduction at Nationals Park is the only major press conference of the offseason, the Nats have taken a step forward in the last week.
If nothing else, the rest of the baseball world now realizes these guys are serious about stepping up their game. After six years of hanging around the periphery and watching everyone else soak up the spotlight, that's not an insignificant accomplishment.