Mark Zuckerman

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No major moves, but Nats weren't quiet at meetings

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No major moves, but Nats weren't quiet at meetings

NASHVILLE — The Nationals arrived for the Winter Meetings four days ago with plenty of uncertainty surrounding their bullpen, interest in adding a left-handed bat and questions about the potential for them to do something really dramatic.

They departed the Winter Meetings on Thursday morning with slightly less uncertainty surrounding their bullpen, the same level of interest in adding a left-handed bat and continued questions about the potential for them to do something really dramatic.

On the surface, it may appear like the Nationals accomplished very little at the Opryland Resort. They made no official transactions, aside from taking former first-round pick Zack Cox (a third baseman in the Marlins’ organization) in the Class AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft.

But they did come to terms with right-hander Yusmeiro Petit on a contract that includes a $2.5 million salary in 2016 and then a $3 million club option (with a $500,000 buyout) for 2017, a source familiar with the deal confirmed. That contract should be announced within the next few days, giving the team a new long reliever and spot starter who can fill Craig Stammen’s old role.

The Nationals also continue to work on a deal with reliever Shawn Kelley, though the source said those negotiations are not finalized. If the two sides can work it out, Kelley would join the bullpen as a right-handed middle man and possible set-up man, perhaps taking the role Aaron Barrett had before tearing his elbow ligament.

Combine those potential additions with last week’s signing of veteran lefty Oliver Perez, and the Nationals have made some significant strides toward rebuilding their relief corps.

The two biggest bullpen questions, of course, remain unresolved. The Nationals have been listening to offers for Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen but haven’t come close to dealing either right-hander, a source said. So much hinges on what happens with those two disgruntled relievers, and all options remain in play. Both could return in 2016, only one of the two could be retained or both could be gone. This remains general manager Mike Rizzo’s biggest — and most challenging — task of the offseason.

“I think it’s been consistent,” Rizzo said of the interest level in Papelbon and Storen. “There’s a market for relievers. As we’ve seen with the free agent signings, the reliever market is booming. There’s a lot of teams looking for relief pitching.”

In their search for another left-handed bat, the Nationals have come up empty so far. They were aggressive in pursuing Ben Zobrist, offering the prized free agent more than the $56 million he wound up taking from the Cubs according to a source familiar with the negotiation. They looked into Neil Walker before the Pirates dealt their second baseman to the Mets for left-hander Jon Niese. They could still find that bat elsewhere, whether in the form of another second baseman like Daniel Murphy, an outfielder like Gerardo Parra or someone else via trade.

“In a perfect world, the lefty bat is important, but we want to improve our club,” Rizzo said. “The balance in the lineup is an aspect, but it’s not something that’s the end all and be all. We’d like to be more balanced, but if we have a quality player that improves our lineup and improves the club, then we certainly are going to look at all avenues of it.”

As for a surprise, dramatic move … well, the fact Rizzo admitted making an offer for right-hander Mike Leake (who is projected to receive something in the realm of $80 million) provided a bit of a window into the Nationals’ thinking. They might not be serious about Leake, but it should be clear they’re open to adding another prominent starting pitcher to a rotation that doesn’t necessarily need one.

“It’s not a necessity for us right now, but we’re always in the market to improve the ballclub anyway we can,” Rizzo said. “If we have to strengthen a strength or try to refine a weakness, there’s different levels and different strategies going on at the same time.”

To use one of Rizzo’s favorite lines, the Nationals have a lot of irons in the fire. Who knows what will emerge out of all that, but if the general manager is true to his track record, the Hot Stove League won’t flame out simply because the Winter Meetings have come and gone.

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Report: Nats sign swingman Petit to 1-year deal

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Report: Nats sign swingman Petit to 1-year deal

NASHVILLE — Needing an experienced long reliever to take over the role vacated by last week's parting with Craig Stammen, the Nationals reportedly have come to terms with former Giants right-hander Yusmeiro Petit on a 1-year contract.

The Petit agreement, reported by the New York Post's Joel Sherman, has not been confirmed by the Nationals and is pending a physical.

Petit is no stranger to Nationals fans, who have seen firsthand the impact he can have on a game pitching long relief. The right-hander famously tossed six scoreless innings of 1-hit ball in Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS, earning the win for the Giants in their 18-inning triumph that altered the complexion of the series.

MORE NATIONALS:  Do the Nats need another left-handed bat?

Petit, 31, posted nearly identical numbers in 2014 (3.69 ERA in 39 games) and 2015 (3.67 ERA in 42 games) but was non-tendered by San Francisco, which chose not to go to arbitration with him. He is eligible for free agency next winter.

Over an 8-year career with the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Giants, Petit owns a 20-27 record and 4.59 ERA, with 57 of his 161 appearances coming as a starter. The Nationals would be looking at him as a reliever but would know he was available as an emergency starter if needed.

That's a role Stammen held for them the last four seasons but opened up when the club decided not to tender the popular right-hander a contract last week after an injury plagued year. Stammen missed most of 2015 with a torn flexor tendon in his throwing arm, and though he is encouraged about his prognosis for 2016, the club wasn't willing to take the risk and offer him the minimum $1.8 million salary he would have been required to receive had he been tendered a contract.

Asked Monday who would fill Stammen's role, general manager Mike Rizzo suggested a potential acquisition.

"We certainly have several internal candidates that we'll look to, and there's possibly something in the trade market or free-agent market that appeals to us," he said. "We'll definitely look into it."

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Boras: Onus on Nats to initiate Harper talks

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Boras: Onus on Nats to initiate Harper talks

NASHVILLE — If the Nationals harbor any hopes of keeping Bryce Harper in D.C. long-term, the onus will be on them to initiate negotiations, agent Scott Boras said Wednesday.

“I think those are club dynamics,” Boras said during his customary gaggle with reporters on the third day of the Winter Meetings. “Whenever any team approaches me about any player, obviously we have dialogue with them. But at this point in time, Bryce is going to be there for three more years, very happy there. So we’ll just go forward.”

Harper isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season, so this may not seem like a front-burner issue. But given all the factors at play — Harper’s just-completed MVP season, the fact he could hit the open market at 26, Boras’ reluctance historically to have his clients re-sign before becoming free agency — this winter might be the Nationals’ best shot at accomplishing what admittedly would be a gargantuan task.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals make offer to starter Leake

There has been no indication from either side that actual talks have occurred yet, and general manager Mike Rizzo suggested this week it’s not high on the current priority list.

“We’ve got quite a bit of control left on him,” Rizzo said Tuesday. “He’s going to be a unique and special situation for the franchise. I’m sure that’ll be a discussion with myself and ownership in the future.”

The framework for a potential long-term deal with Harper is difficult to put into concrete terms, because there aren’t many (if any) similar scenarios in baseball. The two most comparable players and terms might be Giancarlo Stanton’s record deal with the Marlins (13 years, $325 million) and Mike Trout’s relatively modest deal with the Angels (6 years, $144.5 million).

Stanton’s contract includes an opt-out after six years, potentially making the slugger a free agent at 31. Trout, meanwhile, still has the ability to hit the market at 29. Neither is a perfect comparison to Harper.

Boras, as he is wont to do, spoke glowingly about Harper on Wednesday, propping him up as a “generational player.” The hidden message: Whatever deal he signs, whenever he signs and with whomever he signs it, it’s going to be unlike anything the sport has seen before.

“I think with each player like that, you have generational players, I think each organization is going to have its own philosophy about how they handle him and what they do,” the agent said. “So that’s really something I’m sure the brain trust of the Nationals have to sit down and look at. And when they have a plan, we’ll let you know.”

There doesn’t appear to be any discussion at the moment of similar talks with another of Boras’ high-profile Nationals clients, Stephen Strasburg, who is eligible for free agency after the 2016 season. The club faced the same situation last winter with Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond and all but conceded they would have each in uniform for only one more season.

“We’ve always tried to think about our core players, to extend them to contracts,” Rizzo said. “We’ve tried it with several players that have left us for free agency in the past. I would concede we would do the same for [Strasburg].”

For now, the two sides simply need to come to terms on his 2016 salary, hoping to avoid arbitration. (The right-hander is likely to make something in the neighborhood of $10.5 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projections.)

Said Boras: “We’re discussing his contract, certainly for purposes of arbitration, doing that thing.”