Nationals get started at the winter meetings with no major moves ahead

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Eric O’Flaherty is one target as the Nats look for a southpaw reliever. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Nationals’ contingent, after much de-icing and runway waits of Godot proportions, arrived here at the winter meetings yesterday. Sunday was for socializing and settling in, and the meetings will begin in earnest today at the Swan and Dolphin resort in Orlando, where the temperatures are expected to climb into the 80s today. Don’t feel too envious; no one here ever leaves the lobby.

The action will commence today, but the Nationals’ have already made their major move of the winter with the Doug Fister trade. Baseball people here continue to be amazed that the Nationals were able to land Fister and the price they did. No one who’s brought up the trade has considered it anything but a coup for Washington.

The deal, coupled with Nate McLouth agreeing to terms Friday, will make for a quiet winter meetings for the Nationals. They’re set with their eight position players. Some wondered if the acquisition of McLouth – who will take his physical early this week in Washington to complete the deal – could open the door for the Nationals to listen on Denard Span. That’s not happening.

The Nationals still view Span as the same player they coveted enough to part with Alex Meyer for. One overlooked benefit Span brings is his club option for 2015 at $9 million. (Really, it’s more like $8.5 million, because it would cost the Nationals $500,000 to buy him out of his contract.) At the rate this winter’s free agent market has gone, that could constitute a major bargain next winter if Span has a solid 2014.

The Nationals’ primary order of business in Orlando is to sign (or, less likely, trade for) at least one left-handed reliever. They do not feel obligation to sign a lefty here over the next three days, but it’s a good bet they do.

The Nationals are “definitely talking” to Braves free agent Eric O’Flaherty, who is coming off Tommy John surgery. He wants only a one-year deal in order to re-established himself as a closer candidate, and he would be ready to pitch by early-to-mid May.

At the start of the winter, according to a person familiar with the Nationals’ thinking, their top target for lefty relief was J.P. Howell, an eight-year veteran who had a 2.03 ERA over 67 appearances for the Dodgers last season. During Washington’s discussions with Howell’s representatives, Howell wanted a longer contract than the Nationals were willing to give him. They still like Howell and things could pick back up, but as of now they haven’t found common ground – which is what happened last winter between the Nationals and Howell, too.

Behind Howell on the Nationals’ board were Scott Downs and Boone Logan. They’re also still talking with Oliver Perez, who is represented by Scott Boras. The Nationals’ search for a lefty still seems to be a fluid situation, but it will likely sort itself this week in Orlando.

The Nationals will also poke around for some more bench help. For now, though, they feel comfortable going to spring training with Danny Espinosa as the primary backup infielder. Teams trying to buy low on Espinosa – and there have been a lot of them – have been told the Nationals will not sell low on him.

The last time the Nationals came here for the winter meetings, they shocked the baseball industry with Jayson Werth’s seven-year, $126 million contract. Don’t expect anything close to that, but expect a few tweaks that start to finalize the Nationals’ roster.

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