DALLAS — For the first six years of their existence, the Washington Nationals had a firm stance against issuing no-trade clauses to free agents. They adopted the policy from former team president Stan Kasten, but they broke it after Kasten's departure when they gave a full one to outfielder Jayson Werth last year.
If they want to lock up one of their top free agent targets this offseason, they may have to do it again.
The Nationals are among at least 14 teams who have shown interest in left-hander Mark Buehrle, and there are multiple reports that the former White Sox stalwart is insisting on a no-trade clause in his next contract. That is a position the Nationals are open to.
"I guess since we've opened that door," said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, though not speaking specifically about Buehrle. "We prefer not to and they'll be a huge part of the negotiation — but for the right person, right player and the right fit, I think you have to be open-minded and flexible enough to at least think about it and talk about it."
The Nationals have made it clear that Buehrle is one of their top priorities. Buehrle's contract demands have not been disclosed, but estimates range from $12 million to $15 million per year for anywhere from three to five years. Those aren't terms that will necessarily scare Washington off, but for the team to add him to a rotation that is expected to include Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan, they may have to relent on the no-trade policy once again.
Rizzo spent Day 1 of the 2011 winter meetings talking with "two teams and two agents" but didn't feel the team was close on a free agent signing or a trade. The competition for the top starting pitchers — Buehrle, left-hander C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt — also has pushed the Nationals to explore possible trades for starting pitching.
"We certainly have been active in the starting pitching trade market," Rizzo said. "There are a lot of appealing pitchers to us."
Werth could play CF
The Nationals have made no secret that they're looking to fill their vacancy in center field but with a thin free agent class at the position and the trade market an expensive one, Rizzo said the team is comfortable standing pat and playing Jayson Werth in center in 2012.
"We felt that [Werth] played quite well out there [in September] so it doesn't really key-hole us into having us to make a trade for a center fielder because we feel we could have a center fielder in-house already," Rizzo said. "We know that we've got in-house candidates with [Bryce] Harper and others that could fill that bill."
That would then give them a hole in right field that they could fill with Bryce Harper. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he's comfortable letting Harper compete for the major league team in spring training with the main question being can he handle it mentally.
Rizzo concedes that what the Nationals are looking for is a very specific — very rare — type of talent, which leads the teams who have them to ask to be compensated accordingly. For the Nationals, that price could be too high — especially since they think they have internal solutions, albeit ones who are more than one year away from the big leagues such as Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin.
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