- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS | The Washington Nationals worked into the night Wednesday at baseball’s winter meetings having yet to acquire the veteran pitcher they placed at the top of their offseason wish list. But as options continued to be plucked off the market at prices higher than most observers expected, the Nationals maintained a sense of calm about their pursuits.

Milwaukee signed free agent Randy Wolf to a three-year, $29.75 million deal Wednesday, shaking up a crowded market for the second tier of veteran pitchers. Texas landed Rich Harden for $7.5 million in 2010 and an $11 million club option for 2011 shortly after it shipped Kevin Millwood, who will earn $12 million in 2010, to Baltimore.

Those moves jolted a market that some expected to be down for a second straight year in the wake of the recession and sent some teams scurrying away from veteran pitchers that many considered to be overpriced. General manager Mike Rizzo, though, sounded undeterred by the market fluctuations.

He said the Nationals are interested in most of the pitchers they’ve been linked to, including Jon Garland, Joel Pineiro, Vicente Padilla and Jason Marquis. And he wasn’t ready to concede the escalating market meant the Nationals wouldn’t land one of them.

“I guess [saying a deal is for] a lot of money is in the eye of the beholder,” Rizzo said. “I think each pitcher is an individual situation, and there’s a value placed on each individual pitcher. If you sign a player for what you believe and what you deem his value is, that’s a fair and equitable deal.”

Rizzo wasn’t necessarily expecting to leave Indianapolis with a pitcher, but the reality is he could be affected on a couple of moves by whether he can land a veteran starter.

The deadline to tender a contract to left-hander Scott Olsen is midnight Saturday. Olsen, who is coming off shoulder surgery, would make at least $2.24 million in arbitration. But the 25-year-old had three healthy seasons before getting hurt in 2009 and could be a relative bargain if he’s healthy and able to pitch 200 innings.

Rizzo also said the team has some interest in bringing back free agent right-hander Livan Hernandez, who went 2-4 with a 5.36 ERA in his second stint with the team last season. And rumors persisted that future Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who was with Nationals team president Stan Kasten on the Braves’ championship teams of the 1990s, could wind up with Washington.

Pudge introduction Friday

With catcher Ivan Rodriguez taking a physical before his two-year, $6 million contract is finalized, it appeared likely the Nationals would introduce him to the media at 1 p.m. Friday.

Agent Scott Boras praised the signing when he met with the media Wednesday, saying it would “bring a lot of information to a locker room about winning and about game-calling and performing under pressure, all those things. You’re really talking about a library in catching coming to Washington. It’s an opportunity for a young pitching staff and a young catcher. Because he’s our client, we’re very happy.”

Catcher Jesus Flores, who is expected to share time with Rodriguez, is a Boras client, as is Stephen Strasburg.

Rule 5 uncertain

The Nationals went into Wednesday night with a full 40-man roster, meaning they’d still need to make a move if they wanted to participate in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. Washington has the first pick and is believed to have promised the pick to the Yankees as the player to be named later in their deal for reliever Brian Bruney.

Washington is also expected not to tender a contract to catcher Wil Nieves, which would clear room for Rodriguez. But that wouldn’t come until Saturday.

Asked if they planned to participate in the Rule 5 draft, Rizzo said, “We’re going to show up.”

• Ben Goessling can be reached at bgoessling@washingtontimes.com.

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