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Nats ready to fire up Hot Stove

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Nats ready to fire up Hot Stove

Technically speaking, the baseball offseason began the moment the San Francisco Giants wrapped up a four-game whitewashing of the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. That was 29 days ago.

In reality, the offseason has barely registered a blip on anyone's radar screen to this point. Yes, free agency kicked off five days after the Fall Classic ended. But do you know how many of the sport's 175 free agents have signed contracts so far? Twenty-one. That's all.

Baseball, as everyone knows, likes to take its time. This is the rare sport, of course, that doesn't feature a clock. So it's only appropriate that it always takes a while for the offseason to kick into high gear.

That time, though, has finally come. Thanksgiving has come and gone, the annual Winter Meetings begin one week from today and the Hot Stove League is ready at last to ignite.

You'll start reading more and more rumors in the days ahead, which players are in discussions with which clubs. You may see a handful of free agents sign deals before anyone arrives in Nashville on Sunday. You'll certainly see a smorgasbord of activity once those Winter Meetings commence at the massive Opryland Resort and Convention Center.

And you'll probably hear the Nationals mentioned as much as almost any franchise in the game, a clear departure from previous offseasons when they existed mostly on the periphery of all the action.

What do the Nationals need? It's been well-documented since mid-October, but let's run through it all again, in order of greatest need...

1. ADAM LAROCHE
So much of the Nats' offseason hinges upon the veteran first baseman. If he returns to D.C., the lineup is set. If he goes elsewhere, the dominoes start falling all over the place, with Michael Morse likely shifting to first base and the club then deciding if it wants to simply give left field to Tyler Moore or pursue a free agent center fielder like Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton and shift Bryce Harper to left field (or Harper to right field and Jayson Werth to left field).

Very little has come to light about the LaRoche market, but this much is certain: The Nationals would happily give their 2012 MVP two guaranteed years at a healthy sum. The question is whether they would be willing to give him three guaranteed years, and if not, whether another club (ie. the Red Sox, Orioles or Rangers) would then be able to swoop him away.

Look for more clarity in this dilemma over the next week or two, with the market perhaps defining itself better to the point LaRoche can finally make his decision and the Nationals can finally proceed with their larger offseason plan.

2. A NO. 5 STARTER
If ever there was a good winter to be in need of a reliable, veteran starter, this is it. There are no shortage of available options via free agency, only a question of how high the Nationals want to set their sets and how much money they're willing to spend to bolster what may already be the majors' best rotation.

At the top end of the spectrum are Zack Greinke and Dan Haren. In the middle of the pack are Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster and Brandon McCarthy. Further down the list are Joe Saunders, Shaun Marcum and Carl Pavano.

And then, of course, there's John Lannan (still under the Nationals' control though now out of minor-league options) and Christian Garcia (who may be converted to a starter next spring).

If the Nationals are dead-set on acquiring one of the big names, they may try to be aggressive and get something done in short order. If they're content to pick from among the rest of the litter, they could take their sweet time and find themselves a better bargain once the dust has settled.

3. A LEFT-HANDED RELIEVER (OR TWO)
Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez are both free agents. Either (or both) could re-sign, though Burnett may command a three-year commitment along the lines of the contract the Giants gave Jeremy Affeldt to stay in San Francisco through 2015.

Who else is out there? There aren't many other quality lefties on the open market. Veterans Randy Choate and J.P. Howell are probably the best of the bunch, which could put some added pressure on the Nationals to at least re-sign Burnett or Gonzalez.

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Nats prospect update: Three minor-leaguers sent to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera

Nats prospect update: Three minor-leaguers sent to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera

The biggest story in Nationals prospects this week is the three Washington lost to the Royals in return for closer Kelvin Herrera. Here’s a look at what the Nationals gave up to add more depth to the bullpen.

Kelvin Gutierrez, AA 3B

The infielder, formerly on the Nationals’ 40-man roster, has posted a .285/.344/.388 line through his six-season minor league tenure. One of his greatest strengths is his speed, with 55 career stolen bases and 14 extra-base hits this season. His other notable tool is his powerful arm strength, which may help explain his transition from shortstop to the hot corner.

Blake Perkins, High A OF

The Nationals chose outfielder Blake Perkins in the second round of the 2015 draft. He has quite a bit of room to improve at the plate, batting .234/.344/.290 this season in Hagerstown. However, what he lacks offensively, he makes up for in the outfield. According to Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser, Perkins has “plus speed, mature instincts, excellent routes and an above-average arm.”

Yohanse Morel, RHP

The biggest wild card of the group, Morel is a 17-year-old outfielder-turned-pitcher from the Dominican Republic. His fastball reaches 95 mph and he certainly has huge potential for growth. He has not yet pitched in the U.S. since making his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in early June.

So, what did the Nationals gain?

Right-handed closer Kelvin Herrera is a two-time All-Star who is currently in the midst of a stellar season. In his Nats debut, he needed just six pitches to shut down the Orioles in the eight. The team is reportedly (and understandably) thrilled to have Herrera joining the roster. Adam Eaton said, "I'm so happy he's here and he's on my team and I don't have to face him anytime in the near future."

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Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The rain was heavy and relentless. As the puddles grew deeper on the tarp at Nationals Park, the Baltimore Orioles were left to wonder if their bid for a rare road victory would be thwarted by, of all things, the weather.

During a season in which very little has worked in their favor, the Orioles withstood a long rain delay to beat the Washington Nationals 3-0 Wednesday night.

Baltimore led 2-0 after four innings when play was stopped. After a wait of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the game resumed with a few hundred fans from the announced crowd of 32,153 sprinkled around the lower seating bowl.

Mark Trumbo homered for Baltimore, and Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hitter in a game that ended long after midnight.

"It was nice," Trumbo said. "I'm glad that we actually kept the game going. Had we not been able to, it might have been a wash. But it ended up being pretty big for us."

Baltimore ended a six-game losing streak to Washington that began last May, won for only the fourth time in 20 games and improved the majors' worst road record to 10-28.

This one was worth the wait.

"It's never easy, especially when you get over the hour mark, two-hour mark," Trumbo said. "Then you have to restart. It's almost two games in one, so, great job by our guys tonight."

The Nationals managed only two hits following the delay, both in the ninth inning.

"It happens. You can't do anything about the rain," manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to come out and get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to make any excuses."

The rain delay cut short a solid pitching performance by Cashner, who allowed three hits and no walks over four innings in his return from an 11-day stay on the disabled list with back spasms.

Miguel Castro (2-2) followed with two hitless innings, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect seventh and Zach Britton got four outs.

Brad Brach allowed the Nationals to load the bases with two outs in the ninth before striking out Mark Reynolds .

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Gio Gonzalez (6-4), and for a while it appeared the drive would be washed out by the rain.

"One pitch. That was the whole game," Gonzalez lamented. "That was it."

Indeed, it all ended well for the Orioles, who added a run in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled off Shawn Kelley and scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia .

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