Finding free agents who want to be in D.C. a far cry from three years ago

What a difference a year makes.

Or three years.

Remember those days when free agents shied away from D.C. as a preferred destination?

Zack Greinke turned down the Nationals a couple of years back (that worked out for him with the Dodgers this year, but that is not my point). There were a few seasons where high-priced free agents couldn’t be persuaded to consider the Nationals.

Not anymore.

After two miserable seasons, the Nationals grabbed Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with the No.1 overall draft selections.

Then, the Jayson Werth signing for the seven-year, $126 million two years ago was laughed at by many so-called baseball know-it-alls. Sure it was (and still is) a lot of money and was a gamble, but the Lerners sent a clear message that they were not afraid to spend money to get name free agents to consider D.C.

The names kept getting better and better on the pitching side, too, from Jason Marquis to Edwin Jackson to Dan Haren.

General manager Mike Rizzo said that those players and a good team attract players as much as anything else. When you are a free agent, you want to choose a team that is already good so you can add to that success, rather than having to be a part of another rebuild.

“I think that (D.C.) is a nice destination for players,” Rizzo said this week on his conference call regarding the signing of Haren. “It is a beautiful city and a great ballpark, it has got a great fan base. It is an up-and-coming team. For a pitcher, it is a great place to be with the amount of runs we score, the defense we play, the athleticism we have on the team. It really attracts a lot of players.”

You win 100 games in 2012, between regular season and playoffs, and that snowballs into 2013.

A prospective free agent looks at the Nationals and sees Werth, Strasburg, Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and a complete lineup that is still relatively young. They see an extended, positive ride upward for the Nats.

“People recognize where we are at as a minor league system and as a big league club,” Rizzo said. “They really recognize that this team which is going to be good to play for for a long time. It has gotten a lot easier to talk to players and players are actually seeking us out to recruit us for them.”

It would be interesting to be in on those hot stove meetings from 2007-2010 and see how they are now. The Nationals have very few holes to fill on a stacked lineup card and those job vacancies that do exist have more than a good allotment of successful free agents that want to go along for the ride.

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