Waiting for the action to heat up

We’re getting close.

After weeks of chatter but minimal action, the hot stove is finally getting ready to heat up.

Things often develop slowly during the baseball offseason. Teams spend weeks kicking the tires on players, feeling out agents and determining where their priorities lie. Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, all the talk will start to get put into action.

A week from today, the annual Winter Meetings will begin. I’ll fly down to Nashville on Sunday afternoon, grab some good barbeque and get all set up for the madness, which will likely kick off in earnest on Monday morning.

The days will be long, the rumors will be aplenty, and for me, the coffee will be flowing.

The meetings might be a week away, but there’s already word that one major free agent could come off the board before the action even begins down in Tennessee. According to a report in the Tampa Bay Times, center fielder B.J. Upton is looking to make a decision on where he’ll sign sometime this week.

The Nationals have some light interest in Upton, but even if they don’t end up landing him (which seems to be likely), his decision could end up significantly impacting how they attack the rest of the offseason.

The two teams who have been most heavily linked to Upton have been the Braves and Phillies. Should he sign with one of those two squads, the other might have to turn its attention to Michael Bourn, the speedy center fielder who the Nationals have been interested in for some time.

If Upton picks a team other than the Braves or Phillies, both of those teams might then have to bid against each other for Bourn, boosting the demand for his services and perhaps taking things to a level the Nationals are unwilling to go. And given the Phillies’ stated desire to upgrade in center field this offseason, they might put on the full-court press in their pursuit of the 30-year-old.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that the Nationals end up without Upton and Bourn. In that case, they might be more likely to bring back Adam LaRoche and keep their 2012 lineup pretty much intact for 2013. Doing so gives them a good lefty/righty balance and ensures that they have a well-rounded lineup and proven power from 1-8 in their order.

The other option is letting LaRoche walk and moving Michael Morse to first base. That then leaves the Nats either slotting Tyler Moore in as their everyday left fielder or adding a left-handed-hitting outfielder to play left or center and help balance the lineup.

This obviously is a lot of ifs, but that’s what we deal with this time of year.

Upton could be the first of many dominoes to fall, and even if he doesn’t land in Washington, his decision could impact the Nationals as the Winter Meetings creep closer.

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