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If Nats sign Zobrist, Escobar could be traded

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If Nats sign Zobrist, Escobar could be traded

NASHVILLE — The Ben Zobrist Sweepstakes appears to be approaching the finish line at last, with the highly coveted veteran scheduled to meet with Nationals officials today at the Winter Meetings and then make a decision where he'll sign sometime shortly after that.

And as of last night, all indications were that Zobrist's decision has come down to the Nats and their chief division rival, adding an extra layer of intrigue to the proceedings.

Zobrist reportedly had narrowed his search to three finalists over the last week: the Nationals, Mets and Giants. But San Francisco general manager Bobby Evans suggested to reporters Monday that the versatile 34-year-old prefers to primarily play second base. The Giants were interested in him primarily as an outfielder, likely taking themselves out of the mix and leaving Zobrist to decide between the Nationals and Mets.

The Nats would want Zobrist to man second base on a regular basis while also serving as a backup to Jayson Werth in left field and (on rare occasions) Bryce Harper in right field.

"We have interest in him," GM Mike Rizzo said yesterday. "He fits for us at several positions. But second base is a position that I think he likes best, and he fits for us best at second base. But with that said, this guy can play all over the field and a guy that has great versatility."

Rizzo spoke glowingly about Zobrist, who is expected to command a 4-year contract that won't expire until he is 39 but remains one of the sport's most fundamentally sound, all-around players.

"Zobrist is a good fit for about 30 teams in the big leagues," Rizzo said. "He's, first of all, a really good player. He's good on both sides of the ball, can really do everything on the baseball field. He's a good baserunner. He can hit for a little power. He's a good defensive player at several positions."

Should they be able to land Zobrist, the Nationals would face a potential logjam in their infield. With Anthony Rendon slated to return to third base on a full-time basis in 2016 and Zobrist presumably taking over at second base, the club would have to choose one player among the trio of Yunel Escobar, Danny Espinosa and top prospect Trea Turner to play shortstop.

Rizzo wouldn't commit to any of the three yesterday, suggesting only that he's not going to be in the market for another shortstop.

"I have a comfort level that if today was Opening Day, we have a shortstop on the roster and feel good about it," he said. "Several of them. That's why we have spring training. We'll figure out where every player fits. But we're strong and deep up the middle, and that's a good place to be."

Escobar would be a logical candidate to be traded, and still could be even if the Nationals don't sign Zobrist. The veteran infielder is coming off a career year in which he hit .314 and is slated to earn a relatively affordable $7 million in 2016. The Nats could sell high on Escobar and still feel comfortable with their infield depth.

"He's a versatile player that's a good hitter and a really good, big-league player," Rizzo said. "Yeah, there's been several teams interested in him."

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May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?

RELATED: 2018 SPRING TRAINING REPORT DATES

Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.

RELATED: FORMER NATS PITCHER ARRESTED WITH MORE THAN 40 POUNDS OF SUSPECTED COCAINE

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.

RELATED: NATS REVEAL 2018 SPRING TRAINING TV SCHEDULE

He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.

RELATED: WHEN PITCHERS, CATCHERS REPORT FOR SPRING TRAINING