The latest on the lefties

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - While reporters, executives and other baseball people trickled into the Swan and Dolphin Resort here in the Orlando area throughout the day yesterday, the Winter Meetings officially begin today.

Get pumped, people. Or don’t. Either way.

There might not be as much excitement about the Winter Meetings among Nationals fans as there has been in past years, largely because most of the major moves that general manager Mike Rizzo needed to make this offseason have already been made.

But don’t take that to mean the Nats are guaranteed to be quiet in Orlando. They still have a few holes on the roster to fill, and you can never count out the old surprise blockbuster, which Rizzo has pulled off in the past. (Jayson Werth, anyone?)

Local beat reporters will meet with Rizzo late in the afternoon each day of the meetings, and we’re scheduled to have our set session with manager Matt Williams at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. I’ll also be sure to keep you posted on all the latest rumors and rumblings that pop up throughout the day.

After getting a chance to spend some time in the hotel lobby and talk to some people last night, I wrote that the Nationals have stepped up their interest in left-handed reliever Eric O’Flaherty, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent back in May.

The Nats aren’t alone in their interest in the 28-year-old southpaw;’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Dodgers and Phillies are also in on O’Flaherty.

Despite the fact that they’re making a play for O’Flaherty, the Nationals are still high on J.P. Howell, according to a source, and some within the organization are pushing for the Nats to go with the former Dodgers and Rays southpaw. He was a Nats target last offseason, is now a free agent again, and will likely score a multi-year deal this winter.

Per the source, the Nationals viewed Howell’s initial asking price as a bit too high earlier this offseason, and now they’re trying to decide which lefty will be the best fit at the right cost.

I talked to one rival executive last night who wondered whether the Nationals are playing up their interest in O’Flaherty in order to see if Howell’s camp softens their contract demands a bit. Howell surely has multiple teams interested in his services, but if he sees the Nats closing in on O’Flaherty, potentially taking one of his top suitors out of the market for a lefty reliever, his camp might be willing to drop their asking price.

That might not be the case at all. The Nats have seen first-hand how dominant O’Flaherty can be, and they might legitimately have lots of interest in him. But that’s the type of speculation that makes the hot stove what it is.

In 62 innings with the Dodgers this season, Howell posted a 2.03 ERA and 1.048 WHIP, both career highs. The 30-year-old allowed just two homers all year and held lefties to a .164/.225/.227 slash line.

Keep Scott Downs in mind as a third option that the Nats could consider as a left-hander in the bullpen. Word is the Nats are fairly high on the 37-year-old, although I’ve heard he’s considered more of a fallback option at this point.

Downs posted a 2.49 ERA in 43 1/3 innings over 68 appearances between the Angels and Braves this season. His splits against left-handed hitters (.259/.333/.296 in 2013) are not as strong as those put up by Howell or O’Flaherty, and he worked at least one full inning in just 38 percent of his appearances this year.

Regardless, it seems fairly likely at this point that Rizzo and the Nats will end up with at least one free agent lefty. They’ve kicked the tires on a number of options and seem to now be settling in and starting to target a select few.

We’ll see if they have one on board before shipping back to D.C. later this week.

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