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Plenty of storylines for Nats at Winter Meetings

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Plenty of storylines for Nats at Winter Meetings

Executives, managers, coaches, scouts, trainers, traveling secretaries, PR reps, agents, equipment reps, broadcasters, writers and pretty much anybody else associated with the sport of baseball all are making their way to Nashville today for this year's Winter Meetings, which officially commence Monday morning.

This is the third time the gargantuan Gaylord Opryland Resort has hosted the event in the last nine years. Perhaps I'll actually have figured out how to navigate my way through the place this time around after two previous failed attempts, though I doubt it.

(Side note: Next year's Winter Meetings are actually coming to Washington for the first time, or more specifically, National Harbor.)

The Nationals have a track record for making news while in Nashville. In 2007, they traded for Elijah Dukes. In 2012, they signed Dan Haren, while Davey Johnson issued his "World Series or Bust" proclamation. Hmm, looking back on things, the Nats don't exactly have a strong track record for wise decision-making while at the Opryland.

There's no way to know for sure what will transpire over these next four days, but here are a few storylines that bear watching...

CAN THE NATS LAND DARREN O'DAY?
The No. 1 available free agent at the Nationals' No. 1 position of need appears to be getting close to making a decision. And, according to various reports over the last few days, that decision likely is going to come down to the Nationals or the Orioles.

O'Day blossomed into one of baseball's best setup men the last four seasons in Baltimore, capped by his All-Star campaign in 2015. And he'd be a welcome addition to a Nats bullpen in need of an overhaul.

Here's the key question: Are the Nationals (or the Orioles or anybody else) willing to offer O'Day the 4-year contract he reportedly seeks? The sense here is that the Nats won't go that far. They just haven't shown any inclination in the past to make that kind of long-term commitment to a reliever, especially one who's already 33.

Ultimately, Mike Rizzo and Co. may hold out hope that O'Day is more interested in coming to D.C. (where his wife, Elizabeth Prann, works as a reporter for Fox News) than in taking a potential 4-year offer elsewhere. Whatever his decision is, it figures to come sometime soon.

IS BEN ZOBRIST A REALISTIC POSSIBILITY?
If bullpen help is No. 1 on the Nationals' winter shopping list, a left-handed bat (preferably one versatile enough to play multiple positions) would follow close behind as a strong No. 2. And nobody fits that description better than a guy Rizzo has coveted for awhile: Zobrist.

The trouble, as always, is that pretty much every team in baseball covets Zobrist, who can play second base, the corner outfield positions and corner infield positions, is a switch-hitter, a popular clubhouse guy and all-around fine ballplayer. So there's a lot of competition for him.

The Mets have already declared their willingness to give the 35-year-old Zobrist a 4-year deal. Would the Nationals match that offer in an attempt to sign with them instead of their division rivals? They may get an opportunity to make a first-hand pitch this week: Zobrist lives in Nashville, so he could be the rare player who actually appears at the Winter Meetings for face-to-face talks.

WILL DREW STOREN, JONATHAN PAPELBON OR YUNEL ESCOBAR BE TRADED?
Perhaps the most fascinating decisions facing the Nationals this winter involve the potential shopping around of those three veterans. There's a different reason to consider trading each of them — Storen because he and the organization appear to have lost all trust in one another, Papelbon because he choked Bryce Harper and arguably played a major role in destroying the 2015 season, Escobar because he's coming off a career year and the club has internal options to replace him — but none is going to be a simple transaction.

Everybody in baseball knows the deal with Storen and Papelbon, severely reducing their values. Rizzo has said he would only trade either if given a real baseball offer. Whether that happens, and whether he's been bluffing, remains to be seen.

Escobar could be a bit easier to deal, with plenty of clubs intrigued by a versatile infielder coming off a season in which he hit .314 and under contract for a respectable $7 million in 2016 (with a $7 million option for 2017).

We don't know if a trade involving any of these three will go down this week, but it's safe to say their names will come up a lot.

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Sean Doolittle speaks out against disbanding of several minor league affiliates

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Sean Doolittle speaks out against disbanding of several minor league affiliates

When Sean Doolittle speaks, it's usually a pretty good idea to listen.

The latest piece of news the Nationals' closer has weighed in on? The proposed changes to baseball's minor league system, in which several teams may lose their affiliations and 1,000 players -- not to mention countless local employees -- would lose their jobs.

Doolittle is responding to reports of incoming changes that would drastically alter the shape and, more importantly, scope of minor league baseball. 

In an era with rapidly-declining attendance and fan interest every year, it's confusing to Doolittle and others why Major League Baseball would take actions to limit exposure to thousands of fans.

Doolittle points out in his thread of tweets why this seems counter-intuitive to what baseball is trying to do in winning over young fans. At the end of the day, the decision comes down to money, which will ultimately hurt fans in more remote areas of the country.

The Nationals and Orioles would be impacted too. The Frederick Keys, Baltimore's Single-A affiliate, is on the chopping block despite some of the best attendance numbers and community efforts in their league. The Hagerstown Suns, the Nats' Single-A affiliate, are also potential victims.

Once again, baseball is having the wrong conversations when it comes to improving the sport. Hopefully cooler heads like Doolittle's prevail and local teams across the country can continue to operate, bringing baseball to new fans everywhere.

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Former Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn on MLB's 2020 Hall of Fame ballot

Former Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn on MLB's 2020 Hall of Fame ballot

The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced on Monday the 32 names that are on the 2020 ballot, and one former Nationals player was listed.

That would be first baseman Adam Dunn, who played for Washington for two seasons, 2009 and 2010. 

In his two seasons in the nation's capital, Dunn displayed the power that had only been seen by Alfonso Soriano before in a Nationals uniform. Dunn hit exactly 38 home runs in both seasons, topping 100 RBIs during both campaigns, too.

Of course, should Dunn be selected into the Hall of Fame, the Nationals would not be his primary team. The slugger spent the first eight seasons of his MLB career with the Cincinnati Reds, and spent three and a half seasons with the Chicago White Sox following his time in D.C.

2020 is Dunn's first year on the ballot. While he had a long, respectable career, it's unlikely he's voted in right away, if at all.

The Nationals still don't have a primary member in the Hall of Fame, as catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez is currently the only player in the Hall that sported a Curly W since the team relocated to Washington from Montreal in 2005.

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