Ace on Nats' agenda as Winter Meetings near

Ace on Nats' agenda as Winter Meetings near

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals hope to get a lot accomplished during the annual Winter Meetings, which start on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. They are looking to improve their starting pitching, offense and bench.

All eyes will be on free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee, and Washington will be in the mix to acquire his services. The talks between the Nationals and Lee are expected to heat up by next week. Washington has to come up with a game plan to convince Lee that it is the right team for him.

However, general manager Mike Rizzo said recently that the Nationals would not get into a bidding war for Lee, and the GM has other ideas to fill the void. He has already expressed interest in Jorge De La Rosa, Carl Pavano and Brandon Webb. The possibility of landing those pitchers seems unlikley. De La Rosa was close to signing an extension with the Rockies on Tuesday morning, while the Nationals are one of many teams looking to acquire Pavano and Webb.

"We have to take each case individually," Rizzo said. "We are going to be very realistic on our chances to sign Cliff Lee. We are going to speak to him and his representative and see where it takes us. We are certainly not going to put our eggs with the Lee basket, because we are going to be one of many people trying to acquire his services.

"But we have other irons in the fire. We have a lot of other decisions to make and a lot of other people to talk to. We are going to make a prudent baseball move via free agency or trade. But we are certainly not going to make a move [just to make a move]."

Free agency isn't the only option. Rizzo could trade for a starting pitcher. If a pitcher like Rays right-hander Matt Garza or Royals right-hander Zack Greinke is available, don't be surprised if Rizzo tries to work out a deal. However, opposing teams most likely would ask for either shortstop Ian Desmond or right-hander Jordan Zimmermann -- or both -- in return.

"We need a front-of-the-rotation guy to put everybody in their proper places in the rotation," Rizzo said. "That's the No. 1 priority going into the offseason. We definitely have depth."

Pitching isn't the only thing that needs fixing. Rizzo also stated that he would like to acquire a bat at the top of the order to set up the sluggers that follow.

There aren't many good leadoff hitters available, except for Carl Crawford, but the Nationals will not be the only team wanting his services. They likely would have to overpay to convince the free-agent outfielder to come to Washington.

Look for center fielder Nyjer Morgan to get a second chance at the top spot, if the Nats don't acquire a leadoff hitter via free agency or trade.

With Adam Dunn not expected to be back with Washington, the club needs to find a replacement at first base.

Look for the club to go after a defensive-type first baseman. Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena, who is at the top of Washington's list, though he had a regular season to forget in 2010, hitting just .196. If they can't get Pena, look for the Nationals to go after Adam LaRoche or James Loney.

The Nationals will also look to strengthen their bench and are interested in utility men Willie Bloomquist, Aaron Miles and Miguel Cairo, according to a baseball source.

Washington wants more than just offensive production and solid defense off the bench. The club wants reserves who will accept their roles. The source said too many of the Nats' reserves harped about playing time last season.

Entering the offseason, Mike Morse and Alberto Gonzalez are the only reserves who will likely be back with the Nationals.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.