Mark Zuckerman

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Nationals make offer to starter Leake

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Nationals make offer to starter Leake

Updated at 6:09 p.m.

NASHVILLE — Seeking more depth for a rotation that is losing two key stalwarts to free agency this winter, the Nationals made an offer to right-hander Mike Leake this week at the Winter Meetings, general manager Mike Rizzo confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

Rizzo didn’t provide specifics of the offer and framed it as just one of “several” that have been put on the table for free agents over the last few days.

“We’re checking in on a lot of fronts, both pitching and position-player wise,” he said. “I wouldn’t describe it as any further along than a lot of other things that we have.”

RELATED Do the Nats need another left-handed bat?

Leake likely wouldn’t come cheap; he has been projected to command a contract in the range of 5 years and $80 million. That would represent the second-largest deal the Nationals have ever given to a pitcher, trailing only Max Scherzer’s record-setting, 7-year, $210 million contract from last winter.

Leake has posted solid-if-unspectacular numbers over his career; he’s 64-52 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in six seasons with the Reds and Giants. But his biggest selling points are durability and reliability — he has made at least 30 starts in each of the last four seasons — and he has strong supporters within the Nationals organization, headlined by Dusty Baker (who previously managed him in Cincinnati).

“We’re very familiar with him,” Rizzo said. “He’s a very athletic pitcher and does a lot of things right. Like I said, he’s one of many things we have in the fire right now.”

The Nationals don’t need to add starting pitching this winter, with Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross already a formidable quintet, and top prospect Lucas Giolito perhaps ready to debut sometime in 2016. But the losses of Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister to free agency this winter does leave the organization with less depth than it has had in the past.

Rizzo has never been reluctant to add pitching even when his staff already appears complete, most notably when he signed Edwin Jackson prior to the 2012 season and Scherzer prior to this season. He attempted Wednesday to downplay the current interest in acquiring another starter.

“I would describe it as tepid,” he said. “It’s not a necessity for us right now, but we’re always in the market to improve the ballclub any way we can. 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.”

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Do the Nats need another left-handed bat?

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Do the Nats need another left-handed bat?

NASHVILLE — The Nationals’ pursuit of Ben Zobrist wasn’t lip service. They made a serious run at the veteran free agent, so much so that one source familiar with the process said they actually offered more money than the $56 million he wound up taking from the Cubs last night.

That said, the Nationals didn’t desperately need to acquire Zobrist. They have no shortage of viable candidates to fill out their infield. And they have two quite established corner outfielders who aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future.

One question, however, does remain: Do the Nationals really need another bat in their lineup, particularly a left-handed one?

Bryce Harper made it clear on the season’s final day he believes so.

“The one thing we definitely need is another left-handed bat, and hopefully a huge right-handed bat to hit behind me or in front of me,” Harper said. “If we can do that, that would definitely help us out and put us up to the top.”

The “huge right-handed bat to hit behind me or in front of me” Harper alluded to is already on the roster. Actually, the Nationals have one right-handed bat to hit in front of him (Anthony Rendon) and another to hit behind him (Ryan Zimmerman). They just need both guys to stay healthy in 2016.

That left-handed bat, though, remains elusive. As things stand today, there may be only one other left-handed bat in the lineup altogether. Here’s what a projected 2016 lineup looks like at this moment…

LF Jayson Werth (R)
SS Yunel Escobar (R)
3B Anthony Rendon (R)
RF Bryce Harper (L)
1B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
2B Danny Espinosa (S)
CF Michael Taylor (R)
C Wilson Ramos (R)

That is way too right-handed-heavy. And nothing changes in that regard if and when Trea Turner takes over as either the everyday shortstop or second baseman, being right-handed himself.

So there appears to be legitimate reason for the Nationals, after missing out on Zobrist, to pursue another left-handed bat. There aren’t a ton of options that would fit, but here are two potentially intriguing possibilities…

Daniel Murphy: The Mets’ postseason hero was the talk of the baseball world throughout October, but you haven’t heard much about him over the last month. That’s because everybody had Zobrist higher on their wish lists of second basemen. There’s no denying Murphy’s offensive capabilities, though. No, he’s not the Ruthian power hitter he appeared to be for three weeks in October, but he does boast a career .288/.331/.424 slash line that bears some resemblance to Zobrist’s stats. Defensively, he’s poor, and that would be a concern. But his bat certainly would look nice somewhere around the middle of the Nationals’ lineup and would help bring some much-needed balance.

RELATED Nationals lose out on top free agent target Ben Zobrist

Gerardo Parra: The Nationals were interested in the outfielder over the summer, but the Brewers wound up dealing him to the Orioles instead. Parra struggled in 55 games in Baltimore, hitting a scant .237/.268/.357. But he has established himself as a good hitter over the entirety of his career (.277/.326/.404). He also excels in the field and can play all three outfield positions. His acquisition would give the Nationals four starting-caliber outfielders and would put pressure on Dusty Baker to find playing time for all. But as a left-handed hitter, Parra would be a natural fill-in for either Werth in left field or Taylor in center field.

The markets for Murphy and Parra have yet to heat up, but the expectation around the Winter Meetings all week has been that Zobrist’s signing would start the chain of dominoes. The Nationals may or may not wind up with either guy, but they certainly don’t want to find themselves empty-handed when that final domino does fall.

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Nationals lose out on top free agent target Ben Zobrist

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Nationals lose out on top free agent target Ben Zobrist

NASHVILLE — The Ben Zobrist Sweepstakes finally resolved itself Tuesday night at the Winter Meetings, and though the Nationals didn't land the highly coveted free agent, they can at least take solace knowing he's not headed to their biggest division rival.

The Cubs, never considered among the favorites to sign Zobrist, swept in at the last minute and inked the versatile veteran to a 4-year, $56 million contract, a source confirmed to CSNchicago.com. (FoxSports.com was first to report the deal.)

The Nationals, who a source said were willing to give Zobrist four guaranteed years, were in the running for him earlier Tuesday, but the field narrowed to the Cubs and the Mets later in the day. New York had been more aggressive than any other club in pursuit of Zobrist this winter and now is left scrambling to find a starting second baseman (potentially needing to look into re-signing Daniel Murphy).

Zobrist, one of the game's most fundamentally sound and versatile players, was appealing to the Nationals, but the club wasn't desperate to acquire him. With Anthony Rendon, Yunel Escobar, Danny Espinosa and prospects Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo already in the fold, they have multiple options around the infield.

That said, the Nationals' interest in Zobrist was legitimate, and general manager Mike Rizzo met with his representatives multiple times at the Opryland Resort this week.

"We put a nice, hard push to acquire a really good player, and we'll see what place he chooses to play," Rizzo said Tuesday afternoon, before Zobrist made his final selection. "But we put a good effort in place, and we think he's a guy that would help his club."

In the end, familiarity may have been the deciding factor for Zobrist. Having spent most of his career playing for Joe Maddon with the Rays, the 34-year-old now is reunited with his former manager in Chicago.

[RELATED: Appreciating Jordan Zimmermann’s Nationals career]