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Will the Nationals make their near-annual run at a big-name Scott Boras client?

Players represented by agent Scott Boras have often found work with the Nationals once the calendar turns to the new year. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)
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Nationals pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach in fewer than 40 days, meaning a plodding MLB offseason will soon be thrust into a late-winter frenzy as teams run out of time to fill their rosters. The Nationals have made a few necessary moves, like re-signing Brandon Kintzler and landing Matt Adams, but they still require more. They need bench help. They could use a fifth starter. And, of course, there’s the annual Scott Boras client to sign.

In January 2013, owner Ted Lerner agreed to a deal for Rafael Soriano, an unsigned Boras client, to the surprise of many in the front office. In January 2015, the Nationals unexpectedly leaped into the pursuit of Max Scherzer, whom they signed to the biggest contract in team history. In late February 2017, after spending most of the offseason lukewarm on catcher Matt Wieters, they suddenly signed him, too. When big-name Boras clients linger into the new year, the Nationals linger, too, as potential suitors, regardless of whether they have an obvious need.

Candidates for the Nationals’ annual Boras-related splash abound this year. They have already endured a wave of rumors regarding Jake Arrieta, who would likely command a contract large enough that ownership would need to be convinced of its wisdom. In recent years, no one has proved himself more able to convince Nationals ownership of the value of his players than Boras.

While they didn’t need Scherzer at the time and had a starting catcher when they signed Wieters, the Nationals do not seem likely to create room for free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. Ryan Zimmerman is entrenched at first base, and Hosmer is too one-dimensional defensively to make any sense long-term. Hosmer’s former Royals teammate, Mike Moustakas, would require similar uncomfortable shuffling. In theory, he could play third if Anthony Rendon moves to second and Daniel Murphy plays . . . well, the trouble there is obvious.

But if there is a dark horse among the big Boras clients this winter, perhaps it’s J.D. Martinez, who could serve as power-hitting outfield insurance in the event Bryce Harper departs in free agency next winter. The Nationals, with a glut of outfielders and a payroll that already positions them above the competitive balance tax threshold for 2018, seem unlikely to outbid other Martinez suitors, such as the Red Sox.

Perhaps the most logical Boras splash would actually fit something of a need. Former Royals and Rockies closer Greg Holland, who reestablished himself as a reliable late-inning option with a strong season in Colorado last year, is one of the only elite relievers left on the market. The Nationals have checked on the asking price for nearly every late-inning type this winter, securing one in Kintzler, though they could use another. They have three proven relievers and are already over the CBT threshold for a second consecutive year, which could reduce their incentive to engage in a bidding war with other contenders for Holland’s services. The right-hander could end up out of their price range but, should he remain unsigned in the weeks to come, perhaps that will change, as it has for Boras clients before him.

Speaking of which, another still-unsigned Boras client is Jayson Werth, who has not been on the Nationals’ list of priorities this winter. In fact, the consensus in the organization was that last year was the end of their partnership, and that Werth would have to find a job elsewhere –perhaps in the American League, where he could serve as a designated hitter. Werth still seems likely to land elsewhere, but he has been a surprise offseason signing for these Nationals before. Given who represents him, as with so many other Boras clients, one simply cannot rule the Nationals out.

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