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Would you believe the Nationals “are a potential sleeper team” for Cliff Lee?

Cliff Lee

Texas Rangers’ Cliff Lee (33) pitches during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during Game 1 of the American League Division baseball series, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Chris O’Meara

Jerry Crasnick of writes that the Nationals “are a potential sleeper team in the competition to land” Cliff Lee, quoting “one baseball insider” as saying: “They’re going to step up and try to get a top free agent. They’d like to make a splash.’'

Perhaps, but the odds of the top free agent on the market choosing a team that has lost 298 games in the past three seasons seems pretty slim unless the Nationals offer significantly more years and/or money than everyone else. And what are the chances of the Nationals out-bidding the Yankees for Lee?

Crasnick notes that “if the Nationals fail to land Lee"--and I’d change the wording from “if” to “when"--they’ll likely turn their attention the trade market, perhaps going after one of the Rays’ starters like Matt Garza or James Shields. That’s a whole lot more plausible, and Shields in particular has already been linked to a few teams as a possible trade target.