“The market,” Rizzo said, “will change our preference.”
The market, starting Sunday at the winter meetings in Dallas, will begin to shift and develop more rapidly than ever. The Nationals have enjoyed a relatively quiet offseason thus far, having re-signed Chien-Ming Wang, met with free agents and scouted international players. That figures to change this week during baseball’s annual player movement spectacle.
The Nationals’ priorities have not changed this winter. They still want to add a veteran starting pitcher to match with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. They want to land a center fielder, preferably one who can lead off, and preferably through a trade. In less high-profile matters, they want to upgrade their bench, a weakness last year.
Their preliminary offseason work will be put into action when the Nationals’ contingent arrives in Dallas on Sunday. The meetings begin in earnest Monday and last until Thursday, closing with the Rule 5 draft.
Last year, the Nationals used the spotlight of the winter meetings to make their biggest splash since the franchise moved to Washington. On the Sunday before the meetings officially began, Rizzo stunned the industry when he signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract.
Several people familiar with the Nationals’ plans do not expect them to deliver a similar blockbuster this year, with the team preferring to complement its established young core rather than overhaul the roster. But, as the Werth signing showed, the Nationals cannot be counted out.
If the Nationals do make another splashy move, it likely would not come at first base. Though the Nationals have been connected through reports with slugging free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, people familiar with the team’s plans said they do not plan on targeting a high-profile first baseman. The plan is to let Adam LaRoche, who will make $8 million this year after recovering from shoulder surgery, take the position.
Instead, the Nationals’ statement signing this winter, if there is one, will likely be a veteran starting pitcher. At the start of the offseason, the Nationals’ main target was left-hander Mark Buehrle, an 11-year veteran who fulfills Rizzo’s qualifications — a reliably effective innings-eater. The Nationals showed their seriousness in Buehrle by flying to his home in St. Louis for a visit.