Friday, December 30, 2011

Strangest Moment of 2011

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Jim Riggleman's resignation minutes after a walk-off win? Doesn't get much stranger.
OK, we've run through the greatest moments of the year and we've looked at the worst moments of the year. Now, before we tie a bow on 2011 and move ahead to the promise of 2012, we take one final look back ... at the strangest moments of the year.

And make no mistake, there were some strange moments in NatsTown. There was a previously popular center fielder getting traded for a bag of peanuts days after getting into a clubhouse fight with a teammate. There was a manager resigning moments after his team won in dramatic fashion. There was an interim manager getting ejected during his first game at the helm. There was a rookie pitcher hitting a home run on the very first pitch he ever saw in the big leagues. And there was the sight of a $126 million right fielder knocking giant foam presidential caricatures to the ground, winning the nightly race himself and then declaring himself "the last remaining member of the Bull Moose Party."

Let's run through the five finalists, one bizarre moment at a time...

That Nyjer Morgan and the Nationals parted ways in less-than-loving fashion was no surprise. That relationship has steadily deteriorated over

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Worst Moment of 2011

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Livan Hernandez gets yanked after blowing an 8-0 lead to the Cubs on July 7.
Yesterday, we looked at the Nationals' best moments of 2011, and there was little doubt what moment you all felt topped them all. The September four-game sweep of the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park easily won the poll, with Wilson Ramos' June 21 walk-off homer against the Mariners and Stephen Strasburg's Sept. 6 return to the mound finishing well behind.

Today, we turn the tables and look at the worst moments of the year. I was actually surprised how difficult it was to come up with five finalists for this category. If you're looking for evidence of the progress the Nationals made in 2011, this might be it right here. These five moments, while certainly upsetting, really don't seem that terrible in the grand scheme of things.

One quick note before we get to the nominees: You'll notice I haven't included the Ramos kidnapping/rescue in any of these end-of-year polls. That was a conscious decision on my part. Obviously the kidnapping represented the worst moment of the year for the Nationals, and obviously his rescue runs away with the title of best moment of the year. But to lump a life-and-death saga like that alongside mere baseball events would be wholly unfair to Ramos, his family and the Nationals.

With that, here are the nominees for Worst Moment of 2011...

Ryan Zimmerman had already entered the regular season less than 100 percent healthy, having strained an abdominal muscle and his groin

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Moment of 2011

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Wilson Ramos' June 21 walk-off homer against Seattle was a high point of the year.
There really are only three things that happen in the baseball world during the final week of December: 1) Front offices are closed, resulting in a decided lack of Hot Stove news, 2) Hall of Fame ballots are due, which means I better get cracking on mine and 3) Baseball writers desperate for material resort to posting year-in-review stuff.

Guess what that means? It's time to vote for your favorite moments of the year in NatsTown!

We'll break this up into three parts over the next three days. Today we'll look at the candidates for Best Moment of 2011. Tomorrow we'll run through the choices for Worst Moment of 2011. And then on Friday we'll break out the Strangest Moments of 2011.

Here are my finalists for Best Moment of 2011...

After reeling off eight straight wins to put themselves on the precipice of a .500 record, the Nationals suffered a tough loss to the Orioles on June 19 and then two nights later found themselves in a 5-1 hole to

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The revised state of the farm system

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Bryce Harper still remains as the organization's top prospect.
Last week's acquisition of Gio Gonzalez cost the Nationals four of their best prospects: right-handers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, left-hander Tommy Milone and catcher Derek Norris. And in the immediate aftermath of the trade, skeptics wondered whether a Nationals' farm system that had slowly developed into a respectable entity had just been ransacked beyond repair.

To be sure, it's difficult to pluck four top prospects out of an organization and expect there to be enough depth already in place to cover those losses. But the cupboard isn't entirely bare for the Nationals. There's actually quite a bit of elite talent still in the system, especially in the pitching department.

Yes, Peacock and Milone were two of the organization's most-advanced pitching prospects, and Cole had perhaps the best pure stuff out of anyone in the system not named Stephen Strasburg.

But don't forget the Nationals acquired a pair of highly touted, college pitchers in the early round of this summer's draft in Alex Meyer and Matt Purke. Meyer, the 23rd overall pick in the country, just came off a

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lannan vs. Wang vs. Detwiler

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John Lannan led the Nats in wins and innings but must compete for a job in 2012.
One of the significant domino effects of last week's Gio Gonzalez trade -- as has been pointed out -- is the logjam it suddenly creates at the back end of the Nationals' rotation.

Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann may be assured of the top three spots come Opening Day, but there are now only two remaining jobs and three more-than-viable candidates in John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler.

So what do the Nationals do? There's no clear-cut solution. Wang is already signed for $4 million (plus incentives). Detwiler is out of options and thus can't be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers (something that would almost certainly never happen). And Lannan (after leading the staff in wins, starts and innings pitched) is due to earn roughly $5 million through arbitration.

When asked about this dilemma Friday night during his conference call announcing the Gonzalez trade, general manager Mike Rizzo reiterated the importance of stockpiling as much pitching depth as possible and

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rizzo on CF, 1B and what's left to do

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Mike Rizzo gave another endorsement for Adam LaRoche as his first baseman in 2012.
Last night's teleconference offered us beat writers a chance to ask Mike Rizzo about all angles of the Gio Gonzalez trade, but a few other topics were brought up and are worth sharing.

So consider this your last-minute Christmas gift: "Rizzo Unplugged"...

Q: Are you still pursuing a center fielder?
Rizzo: "We're always looking to improve our ballclub. We feel if the right fit for a center fielder -- a long-term center fielder -- came to us, we would certainly be aggressive and go after it, either via the free agency market or the trade market. We certainly haven't gotten off that. We still feel that's a need for us. We do feel we have in-house candidates for us right now that can fill that position very effectively, being Jayson Werth could move to center field and then we would open up a bigger pool of candidates for a corner outfield position. We feel that position hasn't really changed this offseason so far. Like I said, we're still looking for a long-term, permanent fit for us and we just haven't found that yet. We're still attacking all avenues to try to get one."

Q: What's at the top of your offseason checklist now?
Rizzo: "We'd like to do some subtle things. We'd like to improve our

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rizzo: Gio "brings a presence" to Nats

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Gio Gonzalez and minor-league right-hander Robert Gilliam come from Oakland to D.C.
Updated at 8:35 p.m.

The Nationals' blockbuster trade to acquire Gio Gonzalez is now official. Both the Nationals and Athletics announced the six-player deal this evening, with Gonzalez and minor-league right-hander Robert Gilliam coming to Washington, and minor leaguers Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Derek Norris and Tommy Milone going to Oakland.

Gonzalez is 31-21 with a 3.12 ERA and 368 strikeouts over the last two seasons and earned his first All-Star berth this summer. The 26-year-old left-hander immediately joins Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann to form a potent trio of young power arms atop the Nationals' rotation.

"He brings a presence in our rotation," general manager Mike Rizzo said during a conference call with beat writers. "He's had success. He's been a workhorse ... and gives us a young corps of starting pitchers at the major-league level that really is in the realm of something we've never had here before."

Rizzo said talks with A's GM Billy Beane began more than one month ago and picked up some steam two weeks ago at the Winter Meetings

Quantifying the Nats' improvement

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A healthy Stephen Strasburg is the biggest reason the Nats will improve in 2012.
No matter what you think about the Gio Gonzalez trade, whether Mike Rizzo gave up too much for the left-hander or not, you have to acknowledge it makes the Nationals a better team in 2012.

How much better? Ah, glad you asked. I'm about to do something I don't often do: Delve into sabermetrics. Specifically the all-everything stat known as WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

For the uninitiated, WAR attempts to quantify how many wins a particular player can add to his team beyond what a faceless, Class AAA call-up would produce himself. It's by no means a perfect stat, because it's calculated through all kinds of secret formulas people like you and me can't figure out on our own (unlike, say, on-base percentage or ERA). There is also more than one formula for WAR: one devised by and one devised by (the latter of which gives more weight to defense).

But if nothing else, it's a fun way to try to project how much a team has or has not improved from one season to the next, so let's take a

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The net effect of "Nat Gio"

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Ross Detwiler could get squeezed out of the rotation with Gio Gonzalez now a National.
Thursday's acquisition of Gio Gonzalez -- and, more specifically, the dealing away of Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Derrek Norris and Tommy Milone -- sparked all kinds of reaction across NatsTown.

There was excitement from those thrilled to be getting a 26-year-old All-Star who can't become a free agent for another four years. There was disgust from minor-league aficionados who can't believe the Nationals gave up as much as they did.

Even Bryce Harper felt the need to chime in, first posting on his Twitter account: "SHOCKED!!!!!" and later adding "Now all we need to do is get Prince!hah"

(Oh, dear.)

Now that the dust has settled and we've had a chance to analyze the situation, the ramifications of this blockbuster start to come into focus.

Nats get Gio for Peacock, Norris, Cole, Milone

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has spent the last two winters desperately seeking to add another front-line starter to pitch alongside Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann in his rotation. Today, Rizzo finally got his man, but the price to acquire him was steep.

Washington has agreed to acquire left-hander Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for catcher Derek Norris, right-handers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole and left-hander Tommy Milone, a source familiar with the deal confirmed this afternoon. ESPN's Keith Law was first to report the trade.

Gonzalez, 26, blossomed into one of the American League's better pitchers over the last two years, going a combined 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA while averaging 184 strikeouts per season. A first-time All-Star in 2011, he has also led the majors with 183 total walks over the last two seasons.

The Miami native and 2004 first-round draft pick instantly gives the Nationals a formidable trio of young power pitchers, all of them under
Read more

What's an appropriate package for Gio?

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Gio Gonzalez is 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA (and 183 walks) the last two seasons.
It appears we're nearing a resolution on the Gio Gonzalez trade free-for-all that's been brewing for several weeks now, ever since the Athletics started hinting they were looking to deal the young left-hander.

The Nationals, to no one's surprise, are interested. General manager Mike Rizzo checked in with counterpart Billy Beane during the Winter Meetings, though came away at the time feeling like Beane's asking price -- three or four top prospects -- was far too high.

Two weeks later, has that price come down? Or is Rizzo willing to give up more now than he was then? Or are the two sides not nearly as close to completing a trade as it might appear?

We should have an answer to all of those questions in the near future, but for now let's talk about the real issue in this matter: What is an

Video: Hot Stove talk on CSN

The Nationals' name has come up plenty of times this winter as potential suitors for a host of available player, but until news broke late last night about a near-deal with utilityman Mark DeRosa they had yet to sign anyone to a major-league contract.

What about some of those ever-present rumors? Are the Nationals serious about acquiring either Roy Oswalt or Gio Gonzalez to be their No. 3 starter? Are they still looking for a center fielder, or was the Mike Cameron move all we can expect? And what about that Prince Fielder-to-D.C. rumor that just won't go away?

I addressed all of those topics last night during a segment on CSN's SportsNet Central with anchor Julie Donaldson. Click on the above video to watch. (Note: The segment aired before the DeRosa news broke, so there's no mention of it.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nats close to signing veteran DeRosa

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Mark DeRosa hit 23 homers in 2009 but played only 73 total games the last two years.
The Nationals are close to signing Mark DeRosa to a one-year contract, giving the club a veteran utilityman who can play all over the field and come off the bench, albeit one who has been hampered by injuries the last two seasons.

The deal has not yet been completed and won't be until DeRosa passes a physical, according to a club source.

DeRosa, who turns 37 in February, hit 23 homers in 2009 with the Indians and Cardinals and then parlayed that success into a two-year, $12 million contract with the Giants. But he played in only 73 combined the last two years with San Francisco, hampered for much of that time by a left wrist injury that briefly threatened to end his career.

There were, however, glimmers of hope for the veteran when he returned from the disabled list in August. In 29 games over the

Nats claim infielder from Phillies

The Nationals have claimed minor leaguer Carlos Rivero off waivers from the Phillies, adding a potential backup infielder to the mix.

Rivero, 23, hit .260 with 16 homers, 71 RBI and a .326 on-base percentage in 136 combined games between Class AA Reading and Class AAA Lehigh Valley this season. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Venezuelan brings some pop in his bat and the ability to play both positions on the left side of the infield.

Originally signed by the Indians out of his native country, Rivero will report to big-league camp next spring and compete for a spot on the bench. He's immediately added to the Nationals' 40-man roster.

Go for it now? Or go for it in 2013?

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Roy Oswalt would help the Nationals in 2012 but probably leave after one year.
For seven years, we've heard the Nationals espouse a plan of action that has been focused far more on slow-and-steady progress than immediate success. Every move the franchise has made -- especially in the three years since Mike Rizzo took over as general manager -- has prioritized long-term benefits over short-term satisfaction.

Along the way, we've all pondered the same question: When will it be time to attempt to win now, to "go for it" without fear of sacrificing the future?

For the first time since the franchise arrived in town, the answer isn't crystal clear. No previous Nationals roster has remotely been ready to contend, so it was foolish to believe one or two key additions would turn a last-place club into a potential wild-card winner. But now, it's fair to raise the question.

On the heels of a surprising 80-win season, and with loads of young talent both on the current big-league roster and on the cusp of

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nats sign 9 to minor-league deals

The Nationals announced the signings of nine players to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training: outfielders Jason Michaels, Xavier Paul and Brett Carroll; infielders Chad Tracy, Andres Blanco and Jarrett Hoffpauir; catcher Carlos Maldonado; and right-handers Jeff Fulchino and Waldis Joaquin.

The club also announced it has extended spring training invitations to reliever Rafael Martin, catcher Sandy Leon and outfielder Corey Brown.

Of the non-roster invitees, Michaels, Tracy and Paul have the most big-league experience.

Michaels, 35, is a career .263 hitter with 59 homers and a .339 on-base percentage in parts of 11 seasons with the Phillies, Indians, Pirates and Astros. The veteran, who has played all three outfield positions, hit just .199 in 89 games with Houston this season.

Tracy, 31, owns a career .278 average, 79 homers and .337 on-base percentage in seven seasons with the Diamondbacks, Marlins and Cubs. Originally drafted in 2001 by Nationals GM Mike Rizzo (when he was scouting director for Arizona), the corner infielder played this season in Japan.

Paul, 26, is a .246 hitter with a .288 on-base percentage in 183 career games (128 of them coming this season with the Dodgers and

Determining a pitcher's value

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The Rangers will pay $51.7 million for the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish.
Well, we now know who has won the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish (the Texas Rangers) and how much it cost to win that right ($51.7 million). That's the largest posting fee ever paid out to a Japanese club from a major-league franchise, narrowly besting the $51.1 million the Red Sox dished out five years ago to win negotiating rights with Daisuke Matsuzaka.

We'd known since Friday that the Nationals chose not to submit a formal bid for Darvish. It's probably safe to say now they were aware some other club was going to top the Dice-K posting fee, and in their minds Darvish simply wasn't worth it.

How much would the Nationals have been willing to pay to win the rights to Darvish? We'll never know, but suffice it to say the total sum had to be considerably below the Rangers' winning bid. Otherwise, they might have submitted it, thinking they at least had a chance to come away as the high bidder.

This is the debate that plays out every day in the front offices at 1500 South Capitol St., and it's become the story of the offseason so far:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nats sign Cameron to minor-league deal

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Mike Cameron hit .203 in 78 games this season, 45 of them with the Marlins.
Stymied thus far in their quest to find a long-term answer in center field, the Nationals today came up with what appears to be a short-term solution: Mike Cameron.

The Nationals agreed to terms with the veteran outfielder on a minor-league contract, according to a source familiar with the deal. Cameron, who turns 39 next month, isn't guaranteed to make the Opening Day roster. If he does, he won't be counted on to be an everyday player, but he could wind up platooning in center field with a left-handed hitter (perhaps Roger Bernadina or Rick Ankiel) or coming off the bench.

Either way, the Cameron signing seems to indicate the Nationals intend to plug their hole in center field with stop-gaps for now, keeping the position open for whenever top prospect Bryce Harper is deemed big-league ready. Once that happens, Harper could take over in right field, with Jayson Werth sliding over to center field.

Once one of the premier center fielders in baseball, Cameron is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner who has struggled both to stay

Full minor-league staffs announced

The Nationals formally announced their full minor-league coaching staffs for 2012 today, promoting from within for their top two affiliates while hiring an experienced manager from outside to take over at high-Class A Potomac.

As was previously revealed, Tony Beasley will move up to manage Class AAA Syracuse after spending this season at Class AA Harrisburg, while Matthew LeCroy is promoted to manage Harrisburg after holding that position at Potomac in 2011.

The new skipper at Potomac will be Brian Rupp, who spent the last eight seasons managing or coaching in the Royals' system. Brian Daubach returns to manage at low-Class A Hagerstown, and Gary Cathcart returns at short-season Class A Auburn. Tripp Keister takes over as the new manager of the rookie Gulf Coast League Nationals after six years at Wesley College.

Here are the full minor-league staffs...

Manager: Tony Beasley
Pitching coach: Greg Booker

Does bullpen need bolstering?

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Sean Burnett struggled in the first half this season, then turned it around.
We've spent plenty of time this offseason talking about several areas the Nationals are hoping to bolster -- the rotation, the outfield, the bench -- but there's one aspect of the roster that has barely drawn mention so far this winter: the bullpen.

That's testament to the quantity of quality arms the Nationals have stocked away down there, a unit that posted the majors' fifth-best ERA this year (3.20) despite throwing the fourth-most innings (520 2/3) while also leading the league in relief wins (31).

Even so, plenty of teams with top-notch bullpens could find themselves needing to make offseason changes for a number of reasons: free agency, retirement, an inconsistent arm or two.

What makes the Nationals' relief corps less in need of help, though, is the fact every returning member is 29 or younger and under club control for at least one more season.

Closer Drew Storen is only 24. All-Star Tyler Clippard will turn 27 just before pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Lefties Sean

Friday, December 16, 2011

No bid on Darvish? No big deal

US Presswire file photo
The price tag for Yu Darvish was too high for the Nationals' tastes.
So it turns out the Nationals did not submit a formal bid for Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish. (That's according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. I haven't been able to confirm it myself yet, but I have no reason to doubt the validity of Kilgore's report.)

In the end, though they liked Darvish's repertoire and chances of becoming a big-league starter, the Nationals weren't confident enough in the right-hander's ability to dominate at this level to commit an enormous amount of money toward acquiring him.

And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that line of thinking. It actually makes a lot more sense than getting into an out-of-control, blind bidding war over a player who has never thrown a professional pitch in the United States.

Stop for a moment and think about just how much money another team -- the Blue Jays appear to be the consensus choice right now -- is going to end up paying for Darvish. The posting fee alone is going to

Can Morse do it again?

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Michael Morse clubbed 31 homers, drove in 95 runs and hit .303 this season.
There's no debating Michael Morse's importance to the Nationals in 2011. During a season in which Ryan Zimmerman missed 2 1/2 months, Adam LaRoche missed four months and Jayson Werth produced some of the worst offensive numbers of his career, Morse's presence in the middle of the Nationals' lineup was absolutely crucial.

The stats spoke for themselves: a .303 average, 31 home runs, 95 RBI, a .910 OPS. The fact Morse had never come close to producing like that previously in his career only made those numbers all the more impressive.

That fact, however, also leaves plenty doubting whether Morse can duplicate his 2011 output in 2012 and beyond. Those gaudy numbers might well have been a fluke, and the odds of Morse doing it again next year are minimal. Right?

Actually, that's probably not a fair assessment. Sure, Morse had never put up numbers like that before. But that was a product of his lack of

Thursday, December 15, 2011

24 hours later ... still waiting

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Several clubs placed bids for Yu Darvish, but we don't know which won yet.
UPDATE AT 9:08 P.M. -- It doesn't look like an announcement is coming anytime soon. Danny Knobler of reports the Fighters aren't expected to make their decision until just before Tuesday's deadline. Could be a long weekend, folks.

It's now been 24 hours since the window for major-league clubs to post bids on Yu Darvish expired, and during that time we've learned ... well, not a whole lot.

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters have yet to reveal which club won the bidding rights for Darvish, or even how many clubs submitted formal bids before yesterday's 5 p.m. EST deadline.

The Fighters officially have until Tuesday to make their decision, though reports both from the United States and Japan last night suggested an announcement would come this morning. That, of course, has yet to happen.

Here's what we do know: At least four major-league franchises submitted bids for the 25-year-old right-hander. The Yankees and Cubs are definitely involved. The Rangers and Blue Jays are likely involved. The Nationals have not revealed anything in the last day about their

The largest contracts in Nats history

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Jayson Werth's $126 million contract is easily the largest in Nationals history.
As we all sit around waiting for word out of Hokkaido, Japan, where the Nippon Ham Fighters are deciding which of several posting bids from MLB clubs for pitcher Yu Darvish to accept, it seems an appropriate time to recall all the previous mammoth contracts handed out by the Nationals over the years.

Let's see, there's Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million deal. And there's Ryan Zimmerman's five-year, $45 million extension. And then there's ... well, there really haven't been any others that deserve to be uttered in the same sentence as those two.

Which is fairly remarkable in and of itself. The Nationals have been in D.C. for seven years now, and during that time they've handed out a whopping two contracts whose total value exceeded $20 million.

Oh, they've tried to give out more than that. Remember the failed bids for Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke and (most

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bidding for Darvish ends, wait begins

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Yu Darvish will know which MLB club won the bidding on him soon.
Updated at 8:12 p.m.

The posting period for Yu Darvish expired at 5 p.m. EST, leaving any major-league clubs that bid on the Japanese sensation with nothing to do but wait to find out who won.

MLB teams had four days to submit blind bids to Darvish's Japanese club, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, unaware what other teams were bidding or how much they were bidding.

The Fighters technically have four days to select a winning bid, but sources familiar with the process said a decision is expected to be announced tonight or early tomorrow.

According to various reports and industry sources, only two clubs are known to have submitted bids so far: the Yankees and Cubs. A host of clubs made it known they did not submit bids: the Red Sox, Reds, Tigers, Dodgers, Orioles, Twins, White Sox, Phillies, Pirates, Rockies, Rays and Angels.

The Rangers, who have been mentioned as a likely frontrunner throughout the process, are believed to have not submitted

Beltway Baseball - 12/14/11

It's been a while since our last episode of Beltway Baseball Live, so there wasn't shortage of material this afternoon when Chase Hughes joined me to discuss the Nationals' offseason to date. We also were joined by a special guest: Amanda Comak of the Washington Times.

Topics on the table today include:d The Nationals' failed attempt to sign Mark Buehrle and what they might do now to bolster their rotation, the possibility of Jayson Werth moving to center field and opening up right field for Bryce Harper and the club's decisions Monday night at the non-tender deadline.

And as always, we fielded your questions on the Nats. Thanks to everyone who sent in submissions. Enjoy the show!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Which non-tenders could Nats go after?

US Presswire photo
Virginia native Joe Saunders is suddenly available after the D'backs non-tendered him.
As you already know by now, the Nationals tendered contracts to six of their seven arbitration-eligible players before last night's deadline, cutting ties only with reliever Doug Slaten.

You may not, however, have stayed up late enough to read a complete list of all the players non-tendered before midnight. Those players are now suddenly free agents and there for any other club to gobble up, including the Nationals.

Before we take a look at a few intriguing names who might pique Mike Rizzo's interest, we should note that the Rays did tender B.J. Upton a contract last night. So forget about the center fielder becoming available and signing with the Nationals this winter. (Upton, of course, still is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2012 season, so the Nats could try to sign him then. Or they could continue to try to work out a trade for him, though those talks have gone nowhere for two years now.)

Anyways, here are four players non-tendered by their clubs last night who could draw some interest from the Nationals...

The 30-year-old lefty didn't have a bad season by any stretch of the

Monday, December 12, 2011

Slaten is Nats' lone non-tender

US Presswire photo
Doug Slaten struggled this year and missed three months with an elbow injury.
The Nationals elected not to tender Doug Slaten a contract before tonight's midnight deadline, cutting ties with the left-handed reliever and making him a free agent.

The Nats did tender contracts to their six remaining arbitration-eligible players: Tyler Clippard, Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny, John Lannan, Michael Morse and Jordan Zimmermann, according to a club official. All will remain in the organization and have until next month to negotiate 2012 salaries with the club or else exchange formal arbitration figures.

Slaten's non-tender didn't come as a huge surprise. The 31-year-old was remarkably ineffective when healthy this season, posting a 4.41 ERA, allowing 43 percent of batters he faced to reach base while also allowing 47 percent of runners he inherited to score. He also missed three months in midseason with an elbow injury.

With a $695,000 salary this season, Slaten would likely have been in line for a modest raise next year through the arbitration process. The

Rijo to be arrested in Dominican

Jose Rijo, the former Reds postseason hero and Nationals executive who lost his job as a result of the 2009 Esmailyn Gonzalez scandal, is slated to be arrested in his native Dominican Republic sometime in the next two weeks for being in contempt of court.

German Miranda, the head of the Dominican's Justice Ministry Anti-Laundering Unit, announced today that Rijo will be arrested before Christmas Eve for his failure twice to appear in court for questioning about his business dealings with a fugitive wanted on charges of murder and narcotics trafficking.

Matias Avelino Castro is wanted on charges of murdering journalist Jose Silvestre and narcotics trafficking. Miranda told a Dominican television network he has evidence linking Castro's seized businesses in the Dominican (valued at $2.6 million in the United States) with Rijo. He said Rijo, 46, could be charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive and with forming part of Castro's businesses.

Rijo didn't show up for questioning November 3, claiming stomach

To tender or not to tender?

US Presswire photo
Tom Gorzelanny would probably make at least $2.5 million in 2012 if tendered.
One of baseball's complicated, oft-misunderstood deadlines comes tonight at midnight when all teams must tender contracts to all players who don't have 2012 contracts yet but are under team control.

What in the world does that mean? Let's try to explain in simple terms...

Only a handful of players on every team's 40-man roster right now have actually signed 2012 contracts. Pretty much the only ones who have are veterans with long-term deals (like Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman) or younger players who were given multi-year contracts right out of the draft (like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper).

Everyone else on the roster is under the team's control -- they aren't eligible for free agency -- but don't yet have 2012 contracts with agreed-upon salaries. Before midnight tonight, teams must declare whether they intend to sign (ie. tender) those players or cut them loose (ie. non-tender).

The majority of players who fall into this category (those with less than three years' big-league service time) are tendered contracts,

Friday, December 9, 2011

Balester traded to Tigers for Perry

US Presswire photo
Ryan Perry owns a 4.07 ERA in 139 career big-league games.
The Nationals have swapped right-handed relievers with the Tigers, sending Collin Balester to the Tigers for Ryan Perry.

The impetus of the trade, from the Nationals' perspective, might be the roster flexibility it will provide. Balester will be out of options in 2012 and thus can't be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers. Perry, meanwhile, has one option year remaining, allowing the Nationals to retain his rights even if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster.

Perry, 24, owns a 4.07 ERA in 149 appearances over the last three seasons with Detroit, but he's had trouble sticking in the big leagues because of consistency issues. Drafted by the Tigers only three years ago as the 21st overall pick, Perry reached the majors after only one minor-league season and only eight appearances at Class AAA.

With a fastball that averaged 94.1 mph this season, Perry will have a shot to make the Nationals' bullpen out of spring training as a middle
Read more

Spring training schedule out

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Space Coast Stadium will again house the Nationals next spring.
Here's a little ray of sunshine to brighten your mood at the end of an uneventful week for the Nationals in Dallas: The spring training schedule is out, and it's only 72 days until pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Fla.

The Nationals announced their official reporting dates today: Pitchers and catchers are due on Feb. 19, position players arrive on Feb. 23 and the first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 25 on the practice fields adjacent to Space Coast Stadium.

This will be the franchise's 10th consecutive spring in Viera, and it could be one of its last. Ownership has made no secret of its desire to relocate to a new spring facility, preferably on Florida's Gulf Coast (perhaps in Arizona, though that appears to be a last-resort threat).

Why the motivation to move? A glance at the upcoming Grapefruit League schedule reveals the answer. Because there are now only three other clubs training on Florida's east coast (the Mets, Cardinals and

Nats, Zim can learn from Pujols drama

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Ryan Zimmerman has two years remaining on his contract.
Now that the dust has settled from a wild Winter Meetings in Dallas, the baseball world is starting to come to grips with the idea of Albert Pujols playing in Anaheim. It's not at all where anyone expected the game's best player to land. And it's certainly not St. Louis, where most assumed he would stay.

The lesson to be learned here, of course, is that no matter how much we want to believe iconic players will forever be attached to one franchise, this remains a business first. Players want to have the ability to choose the city where they'll be the most comfortable and/or make the most money.

In Pujols' case, the comfort of Anaheim appeared to slightly outweigh the money of Miami (not that $254 million is chump change). The entire package clearly enticed Pujols more than what he would have received had he remained with the Cardinals.

Though the endgame for Pujols played out over a few frantic hours in Dallas Wednesday night, this drama had been developing over the

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wrapping up the Winter Meetings

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Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson were busy but didn't add any players this week.
DALLAS -- It would be easy to look at the contingent of Nationals officials who departed the Anatole Hotel this afternoon without having acquired any big-league players and declare these Winter Meetings a failure for D.C.'s ballclub.

To be sure, the Nationals arrived in Dallas Sunday night wanting to make a significant addition to their roster, and believing they had a good chance of doing just that.

But it's unfair to declare this week a failure for the Nationals without knowing what the next two months still have in store for them. Though these four days at the Winter Meetings offer the best opportunity for all clubs to wheel and deal and make moves, the Hot Stove League doesn't close up shop today just because everyone bolts town.

"I think the Winter Meetings were productive, very productive," Rizzo said this morning. "We were extremely busy on a lot of different

Darvish posted, will Nats submit bid?

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Yu Darvish will pitch in the United States in 2012.
DALLAS -- Until Angels owner Arte Moreno decided to steal the show at the Winter Meetings this morning -- did you know the $325 million Moreno just gave to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson is $145 million more than he paid to buy the entire franchise eight years ago?! -- the big story in town figured to be Yu Darvish's decision to bring his talents to the United States.

Darvish made it official late last night, posting on his personal blog that he has decided to use the posting system in place in Japan to make himself available to major-league clubs.

So, will the Nationals submit a bid for the 25-year-old right-hander? Mike Rizzo was coy about the subject when asked this morning following the Rule 5 draft.

"We're not going to comment on if we're going to submit a bid or not," the general manager said. "Strategically, it doesn't benefit us to

Nats lose Meyers, Komatsu in Rule 5 draft

Updated at 11:06 a.m.

DALLAS -- The Nationals lost two prospects this morning in the Rule 5 draft, watching as the Yankees took right-hander Brad Meyers and the Cardinals took outfielder Erik Komatsu away from them.

The Nats did not select any players themselves in the draft.

Meyers, 26, had been a reliable starter in the Nationals' farm system and went 9-7 with a 3.18 ERA and a stellar 116-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 games this season, most of them at Class AAA Syracuse.

The Nationals' minor-league pitcher of the year in 2009, Meyers had since seen several other prospects -- Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone, Sammy Solis, among others -- leapfrog him on the organizational depth chart.

"You can only protect so many players, and we felt ... that we have enough depth to absorb if we were to lose a starting pitcher or two," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We actually anticipated losing more than one starter in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 draft. It goes

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What's Plan B? It might be the status quo

DALLAS -- Mike Rizzo sat in his suite at the Anatole Hotel at 3 p.m. today and spoke confidently about the Nationals' chances of signing free agent left-hander Mark Buehrle.

"I feel good about it," the Nationals GM said. "I feel good about how we presented it, and I feel good about the fit and the opportunity and had good dialogue with Mark and his people. So, yeah, we feel good about ourselves."

Roughly 30 minutes later, Rizzo was being interviewed on the radio -- by Jim Bowden, of all people -- when he learned Buehrle wouldn't be signing with the Nationals but rather with the suddenly free-spending Marlins, who locked him up for four years and $58 million.

Talk about a tough way to find out your top offseason target spurned you for a division rival.

Later in the evening, after he'd had time to digest the news, Rizzo

Buehrle signs 4-year deal with Miami

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Mark Buehrle has chosen the Marlins over the Nationals.
Updated at 5:23 p.m.

DALLAS -- The Nationals made Mark Buehrle their No. 1 -- and only -- free-agent pitching target. They made their case to the veteran left-hander in person at his St. Louis home last month and then again this week to his agent at the Winter Meetings. Within the last hour, general manager Mike Rizzo felt good about his club's chances of landing the hurler.

It appears that was all for naught.

Buehrle has agreed to a four-year, $58 million contract with the Miami Marlins, a source familiar with the deal confirmed this afternoon, ending the Nationals' quest to add another front-line starter to a rotation that already features young aces Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.

The exact terms of the Nationals' final offer to Buehrle aren't known, but sources said they offered at least three years at a comparable annual salary rate (roughly $14 million). It's unclear if they matched

Trade for Gonzalez unlikely

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A's left-hander Gio Gonzalez has burst onto the scene the last two years.
DALLAS -- Despite some mild interest from the Nationals in acquiring Gio Gonzalez, the Oakland Athletics don't intend to trade the young left-hander at the Winter Meetings.

Gonzalez's name has surfaced in the last 24 hours as a hot trade target of several clubs after word got out the A's might be willing to deal the 26-year-old lefty. The Nationals inquired about his availability, according to a source familiar with the discussions, but talks never progressed.

Even if the A's were willing to deal Gonzalez, general manager Billy Beane is seeking a significant haul in return, perhaps three or four top prospects. The Nationals probably wouldn't meet that kind of hefty demand, despite the attractiveness of a pitcher like Gonzalez.

In only two seasons as a full-time, big-league starter, Gonzalez has

Buehrle market tied to Pujols, Wilson

US Presswire photo
Mark Buehrle is considering the Nationals, along with four other teams.
Updated at 12:58 p.m.

DALLAS -- Though the Mark Buehrle sweepstakes is moving toward a resolution -- he has narrowed his search down to three clubs, according to a source familiar with the talks -- the veteran left-hander may not be able to make his final decision until other top free agents have made theirs.

If general manager Mike Rizzo had his way, the Nationals would lock up the 32-year-old hurler right now.

But some of Buehrle's other pursuers are currently negotiating with other players and may not know if they're still interested in signing the pitcher until they've settled those other negotiations.

The Marlins, for example, have expressed strong interest in Buehrle. But if they win the Albert Pujols lottery, they're not going to have

Marlins' spree won't alter Nats' course

US Presswire photo
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has been the center of attention at the Winter Meetings.
DALLAS -- Ponder this for a moment: Two days into the Winter Meetings, the New York Yankees have been virtually invisible around the Anatole Hotel, barely registering on the awareness meter. Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins are the absolute center of attention, making news by the hour and leaving packs of reporters to trail owner Jeffrey Loria through the lobby like he's the pied piper.

Welcome to the bizarro Winter Meetings.

The Marlins were at it again last night, trying to lock up a 10-year deal with Albert Pujols worth a reported $220 million. The Cardinals were trying their darndest to hang in the race and retain the sport's best player. And supposedly a "mystery team" had emerged as another last-minute suitor for Pujols (though no one could confirm who that team was after the Angels and Cubs insisted it was neither of them).

Watching all this unfold from afar were the Nationals, who are not involved in the Pujols sweepstakes but obviously have some interest in the outcome of this Hot Stove drama. If the slugger winds up in Miami

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rizzo unlikely to trade away big leaguers

DALLAS -- When approaching other clubs about the possibility of acquiring a center fielder or starting pitcher, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo usually learns the asking price includes young, big-league talent.

To this point, Rizzo has been unwilling to meet those demands. And he appears to be staying true to that belief at this week's Winter Meetings.

Despite interest from several teams in players off the Nationals' roster, Rizzo isn't interested in parting ways with those key pieces who have already established themselves in the major leagues.

"We like the interest level of our organization," he said. "With that said, we try and stay away from our good, young, core group of guys

Nats like chances of landing Buehrle

US Presswire photo
Mark Buehrle is seeking a three- or four-year deal with a no-trade clause.
DALLAS -- Mark Buehrle has narrowed his list of potential employers down to five clubs, and the Nationals remain among the lead contenders to land the free agent left-hander.

Though he hadn't been contacted by Buehrle's representatives as of this afternoon, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has been given indications his team has as good a shot at landing the 32-year-old as any others still in the mix and that a decision should be coming in the near future.

"From my meeting with him, I don't think he wants this to be a long, drawn-out process," Rizzo said. "I think he wants to get comfortable with a team, be treated fairly, make a decision and get on with the offseason and his preparation for spring training."

Buehrle has been the Nationals' top pitching target since the offseason began, so much so that Rizzo and other members of the front office flew to St. Louis last month to meet with the pitcher and his family at

CF trade market appears thin

US Presswire photo
The Nats like Peter Bourjos, but the Angels don't plan to move him.
DALLAS -- Though the Nationals would love to emerge from the Winter Meetings with a new center fielder, their lack of viable options at the position makes that a daunting challenge.

With few appealing choices on the free-agent market, general manager Mike Rizzo has suggested a trade is the most likely avenue toward acquiring a center fielder. But the trade market at these meetings doesn't appear to be much stronger.

Of the three names most often mentioned as possible targets -- B.J. Upton, Peter Bourjos, Angel Pagan -- only Upton is expected to be made available, according to baseball sources.

Bourjos -- a speedy, 24-year-old who excels in the field and is under team control for five more seasons -- fits the Nationals' needs. But a source familiar with the Angels said that club has no interest in trading

Re-evaluating the rotation

US Presswire photo
Davey Johnson takes questions during yesterday's media session.
DALLAS -- If the first 36 hours of this year's Winter Meetings are an indication of things to come, the majority of my time here is going to be spent refuting bad rumors spreading through the lobby at the Anatole Hotel like wildfire.

The latest head-scratcher came last night when former big-league executive and current radio host Jim Duquette posted on his Twitter account that the Nationals had offered C.J. Wilson a six-year deal. This suddenly became the talk of the lobby, with media members and rival executives alike questioning how that could possibly be true.

Well, it wasn't. Club sources shot that rumor down within an hour, insisting no such offer had been made nor would be made at any point. How many times do I need to say this: Mark Buehrle is the Nationals' top pitching target right now. They have no serious interest in C.J. Wilson. Got that? Good.

There is some growing question, though, about the Nationals ability to actually convince Buehrle to choose them over the dozen or so other

Monday, December 5, 2011

Who decides if Harper makes club?

DALLAS -- Davey Johnson has never been afraid to throw a supremely talented prospect to the wolves and let him play against big-league competition while still in his teens. Johnson, you may remember, was a driving force behind Dwight Gooden's promotion to the Mets at age 19 despite the fact he had never pitched above Class A.

"I had to fight for a young pitcher, who was 19 years old in New York," Johnson said today, recalling his conversations with Mets GM Frank Cashen in 1984. "Just keep an open mind, and let's see what he does in the spring and then evaluate whether he makes the club or not. And after many conversations, I finally got him to agree to that. And the rest is history."

So it's not surprising Johnson is perfectly willing to let Bryce Harper compete for a spot on the Nationals' Opening Day roster this spring. The outfielder only turned 19 in October and has only 37 games of experience at Class AA, but he thrived against top competition in the

Davey: LaRoche "100 percent right now"

US Presswire photo
Adam LaRoche missed most of last season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
DALLAS -- Adam LaRoche has fully recovered from the shoulder tear that sidelined him the majority of the season.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said today the veteran first baseman is ready to go now and will be able to participate fully when spring training opens in mid-February.

"The word I got is he's 100 percent right now," Johnson said during his media session at the Winter Meetings. "He's feeling great. I'm sure he'll come down early [to spring training] and get after it."

LaRoche appeared in a career-low 43 games this season, batting a career-worst .172 with three homers and 15 RBI, before succumbing to the torn labrum that had hampered him since spring training. Already signed for $8 million in 2012, the 32-year-old will enter camp

Rizzo on no-trade clauses, Werth in CF

US Presswire file photo
Mike Rizzo gave Jayson Werth a no-trade clause as part of his seven-year contract.
DALLAS -- The Nationals as a franchise had never included a no-trade clause in any contract prior to last winter. Ex-team president Stan Kasten had long stood by a personal policy against such concessions to players.

But Kasten's departure combined with Jayson Werth's arrival changed all that one year ago. Though they were reluctant to do it, the Nationals included a full no-trade clause in Werth's seven-year, $126 million contract.

Fast-forward to this year's Winter Meetings, where one of the Nationals' top targets on the open market -- left-hander Mark Buehrle -- has indicated he wants a no-trade clause himself. So, is Rizzo willing to do it again?

"I guess we've opened that door," Rizzo said this afternoon during his daily press briefing. "We prefer not to, and they'll be a huge part of the negotiation. But for the right player and the right fit, I think you