A few Nationals notes as the baseball world shakes off its turkey coma and prepares to descend on Dallas for next week’s annual Winter Meetings…
– The Nationals have been mum on their meeting last week with left-hander Mark Buehrle and his agent, Jeff Berry, at Buehrle’s St. Louis home. Berry, too, declined to comment on the meeting.
This is believed to be the second in-person meeting Buehrle has done with a team — the other being the Miami Marlins. While the Marlins reportedly are optimistic that their pitch, which included bringing Buehrle to Miami to tour their new ballpark and would reunite him with his White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, would be successful, they join the Nationals as just two of about 13 teams reported to have interest in Buehrle. The Cubs, Twins, Rangers, Yankees, Royals, Red Sox Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Angels, Tigers, Cardinals — and of course the White Sox — also reportedly are interested in the left-hander.
As the Nationals have whittled their offseason needs down, Buehrle has become their top free agent target so the in-person visit was generated by their extreme interest in adding him to a rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan.
He fits the bill of what the Nationals are looking for this offseason, a pitcher Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo defined earlier this offseason as “a good leader type of guy that throws a lot of innings that has shown he can win in the big leagues — and really can lead our staff just not by having the best stuff on the staff but by showing how to be a professional and how to be a winner and how to pitch 200 innings in a season many, many times.”
Buehrle is the definition of a horse, having started an average of 33 games in his 11 full seasons in the major leagues and has never once started fewer than 30 in a season. He also averages 223 innings per season — never throwing fewer than 200. Along the way he’s also won a World Series, pitched a no-hitter and a perfect game.
While the Nationals can’t offer the reunion package of the Marlins or the annual cache that a team like the Yankees carries, they can offer a franchise moving in the right direction with an extremely young, talented core that many expect to contend soon — if not in 2012 then certainly in 2013. With Strasburg set to be on an innings limit, Wang still something of a question mark with his injury history and Zimmermann looking to pitch 200 innings in a season for the first time in his major league career, Buehrle, a Type B free agent, would be an extremely welcome addition to the Nationals staff.
His addition would also give the Nationals the leeway to know that they have Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock all ready and willing to contribute at the major league level when needed — or the depth they need to complete a trade (not necessarily with those players, mind you) to acquire a possible center fielder.
What Buehrle’s looking for financially has not been reported precisely but most estimates have him in search of a four or five year deal valued at $15-$16 million per season at least.
– The next name on the Nationals list of potential free agent starting pitchers would be Roy Oswalt, another who fits the bill of what Rizzo is looking for to complete his staff. Oswalt brings with him a few more durability questions as he struggled with a back injury for much of 2011 but he’s also known to be a good clubhouse guy, willing to work with younger pitchers and would most likely cost less (in both dollars and years) than Buehrle.
That price tag also came down a bit over the holiday week as the Phillies declined to offer Oswalt arbitration — this after already declining the $16 million option on his contract for 2012 and instead exercising a $2 million buyout. Oswalt had been projected as a Type-A free agent which means the Nationals would have had to surrender their unprotected 16th overall pick in order to sign him. Without the arbitration offer from the Phillies, Oswalt is on the market without any additional baggage.
– It seemed everyone was watching with a keen eye this past week when Wilson Ramos took the field for the first time since his harrowing kidnapping ordeal and from the reports out of Venezuela, when Ramos stepped up to the plate for his first at-bat Tuesday night the crowd acknowledged the moment with a standing ovation. It was an emotional night for all involved — least of which was Ramos himself — and a significant step in him returning to a normal life in Venezuela. He and his family are set to move into a new house this week in a more affluent section of Valencia. He’s also been working recently with UNICEF as a spokesman to help stop violence in Venezuela and he’s said several times since his kidnapping that it should not dissuade players — especially Venezuelan natives — from returning to their home country to play.
Ramos’ numbers this season in the Venezuelan Winter League will be the last thing anyone asks about when he reports to spring training in February but so far the Nationals catcher is 5-for-21.
Along those lines, though, there is a Nationals catcher whose numbers are drawing attention in Venezuela. Jesus Flores began the Winter League season on a tear and he hasn’t shown any signs of letup despite dealing with a few nagging injuries.
Flores has played 36 games for the Navegantes des Magallanes and thus far he’s hit .377 with seven home runs and 30 RBI. While there’s always a little bit of uncertainty over how much stock to put into Winter League numbers, it’d be silly for anyone to consider this anything but a positive for Flores. The Nationals will have to make some decisions with Flores in the coming weeks as he’s made it clear that he doesn’t exactly fancy himself a backup and Ramos has entrenched himself as the team’s starting catcher. There’s a good chance they could open the spring with both Venezuelan catchers again, but Flores’ numbers help to garner interest for a trade and prove once and for all he’s recovered from the shoulder injury that cost him two years.
Here are a round up of a few other notable performances in the Caribbean Winter Leagues:
1B Chris Marrero (Dominican Winter League) .288 AVG, .387 OBP, .327 SLG, 0 HR, 2 2B
CF Eury Perez (Dominican Winter League) .261 AVG, .364 OBP, 10 SB
P Rafael Martin (Mexican Winter League) 2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 2 K
P Yunesky Maya (Puerto Rican Winter League) 1 IP, 4 ER, 3 H, 1 BB
C Ivan Rodriguez (Puerto Rican Winter League) 10 G, 4-for-36, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 9 K, .135 OBP
INF Alex Cora (Puerto Rican Winter League) 15 G, .250 AVG, 3 2B, 5 BB, .348 OBP
C Carlos Maldonado (Venezuelan Winter League) 22 G, .155 AVG, 16 BB, .338 OBP
P Henry Rodriguez (Venezuelan Winter League) 12.1 IP, 3.65 ERA, 9 H, 5 ER, 11 BB, 10 K
P Josh Wilkie (Venezuelan Winter League) 20 IP, 3.15 ERA, 22 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 18 K
– Of the Nationals’ 26 minor league free agents, they’ve re-signed four of them, according to Baseball America’s Free Agent tracker. They’ve also seen three (Shairon Martiz, Gregor Blanco and Matt Antonelli) sign with the Pirates, Giants and Orioles, respectively.
The Nationals have locked up outfielder Jesus Valdez, catcher Maldonado and infielders Josh Johnson and Seth Bynum to minor league deals for next season.