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Nats head to Winter Meetings with to-do list

Nats head to Winter Meetings with to-do list

Nats head to Winter Meetings with to-do list
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals head to the Winter Meetings in Dallas next week still looking for a No. 1 starter for their rotation, a leadoff hitter/center fielder, and trying to fill holes in their bench.

General manager Mike Rizzo said he wants a pitcher who has a history of throwing 200 innings every year.

The Nationals already had a face-to-face meeting with free-agent pitcher Mark Buehrle, a guy who could lead a rotation which includes Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.

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Buehrle has thrown at least 201 innings for 11 years in a row and he has also been regarded as a good guy in the clubhouse. Last season, Buehrle was 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA while throwing 205 1/3 innings for the White Sox.

If the Nationals sign Buehrle -- a Type B free agent -- the White Sox will receive Draft-pick compensation between the first and second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. The White Sox offered Buehrle arbitration last week.

However, the Nationals will not have to surrender a Draft pick if they sign free-agent right-hander Roy Oswalt, who most recently pitched for the division-rival Phillies.

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Oswalt has pitched over 200 innings in a season eight times. This past season, Oswalt, 34, pitched in a career-low 23 games for Philadelphia, going 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA. He missed over a month because of back issues. But the Nationals feel he is still healthy enough to make an impact to the rotation.

During his 11-year career, Oswalt is 159-93 with a 3.21 ERA. He has won 20 games in a season twice.

After Dec. 1, keep your eye on left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who is expected to become a free agent.

The Nationals have scouted Wada "a lot" this past season and "the team considers him an option." The 30-year-old has played his entire career with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League, going 16-5 with a 1.51 ERA this past season.

In the club's search for a leadoff hitter/center fielder, Washington is reportedly interested in Yoenis Cespedes, a five-tool player from Cuba who is expected to become a free agent sometime this offseason.

Whether Cespedes is going to become a leadoff hitter remains to be seen. If the Nationals don't get Cespedes, look for the Nationals to make a trade for a center fielder. Before last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, the team had interest in Denard Span of the Twins and B.J. Upton of the Rays.

Manager Davey Johnson seems convinced that shortstop Ian Desmond can still be the leadoff hitter his club needs. Although Desmond hit .253 in 2011, he hit .281 while manning the top spot in the batting order.

The Nats' bench was one of the least productive in baseball this past season, and Johnson didn't like that the bench was built around speed and defense. Look for the Nationals to try to add players who can be productive.

Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel are free agents who could return to the club. Nix and Ankiel could provide power off the bench, while Ankiel could provide excellent defense in the outfield.

The Nationals could be busy in the Rule 5 Draft. Last year, they took right-handers Elvin Ramirez and Brian Broderick in the Major League phase, and right-hander Michael Allen in the Triple-A phase. Neither of the Major League-phase picks worked out.

Look for the Nationals to be right in the middle of the action in Dallas.

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.

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