With Thanksgiving in the rearview and the Rumorpalooza known as the winter meetings one week from beginning in earnest, we have reached the time of year when baseball’s hot stove cranks up.

It’s been a slow start, as usual, with Jonathan Papelbon and Grady Sizemore the only big names to have inked deals so far. But with the collective bargaining agreement done and December creeping up, things should start to move — and the Nationals should start making their big-picture alterations for 2012 and beyond. The Nationals have done their preliminary work, but their main questions remain the same: How will they try to upgrade their rotation, and how will they land a center fielder?

The Nationals really want Mark Buehrle, but so do a lot of teams. Washington officials traveled to St. Louis last week to meet with Buehrle and his representatives at the left-hander’s home. A similar overture helped the Nationals land Jayson Werth last winter. Buehrle will require less money, but there is probably more competition for his services: About a third of the league has reportedly shown interest in him.

If the Nationals can’t convince Buehrle they’re ready to win, or if one of Buehrle’s many suitors bowls him over with an offer the Nationals won’t match, then the Nationals will move on to Roy Oswalt as the veteran they hope to pair with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann at the top of their rotation.

If the Nationals can’t land either veteran free agent, they could be more motivated to go after one of the top Japanese pitchers available, free agent lefty Tsuyoshi Wada or superstar Yu Darvish, who likely will become available through the Japanese “posting” system in which teams bid to buy the rights to negotiate with the player.

If the Nationals do not land a starter in free agency, don’t expect them to make a major trade for a pitcher. They want to add a top-shelf veteran starter, but with Strasburg, Zimmermann, John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler and Brad Peacock in the fold, they don’t feel forced to add starting pitching.

Soon, perhaps by the time the meetings start in a week, the Nats may have a clearer picture of how they’ll proceed on the starting pitching market. Meantime, their mission to acquire a center fielder still needs to be figured out.

General Manager Mike Rizzo said he feels the “most logical” way for the Nationals to land the center fielder they’ve wanted would come through a trade. That won’t be easy. Minnesota General Manager Terry Ryan said he does not want to trade either Denard Span or Ben Revere, two speedy players the Nationals showed interest in at July’s trade deadline. B.J. Upton is another possibility, and Rizzo likes him, but the price for his services rose as he finished the season on a tear — .333/.432/.606 with five homers in September.

The Nationals also have a pair of international players on their radar: Nori Aoki, a Japanese leadoff-type hitter who will be posted, and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, an athletic power hitter who will command more than $30 million once becomes a free agent.

The Nationals’ offseason could still veer in several directions. The overwhelming likelihood is, we will not see a repeat of last season, when the Nationals stunned the league with their nine-figure deal for Werth. But in a week from now, if not sooner, their winter should begin taking shape.