Welcome to the hot stove league

Now that the 2011 World Series is over - having concluded with another comeback by the St. Louis Cardinals to cap a remarkable run to their 11th championship - we’re officially turning over the baseball calendar. The offseason is upon us, and for the Nationals, this year’s Hot Stove League could be an eventful one.

First, a quick primer on the important dates to watch over the next few weeks:

* Now that the World Series is over, Major League Baseball’s unofficial moratorium on off-the-field news is over. That means we should get an announcement from the Nationals next week about their 2012 manager - and everyone expects the team to reveal that Davey Johnson is coming back for a full season.

* Teams have five days after the World Series to negotiate with their free agents before they hit the open market. The Nationals’ highest-profile free agent is Chien-Ming Wang, though Rick Ankiel, Todd Coffey, Alex Cora, Jonny Gomes, Livan Hernandez, Laynce Nix and Ivan Rodriguez are eligible to leave, as well.

* The Nationals also have five days to put their two players on the 60-day disabled list (Cole Kimball and Adam LaRoche) back on the 40-man roster.

* By Nov. 18, teams have to set their 40-man rosters for the Rule 5 draft. They can still outright players after that date, but they can’t add any new internal players after that date.

* Teams have to offer arbitration to their free agents by Nov. 23 to secure draft pick compensation if the player leaves in free agency. The Nationals could offer Gomes arbitration if he winds up as a Type B free agent, and he might take the offer.

* The Winter Meetings - the annual highlight of the offseason - are Dec. 5-8 in Dallas. Traditionally, they’re in a minor league city, but this year, they move to the backyard of the two-time American League champion Rangers. Free agents have to accept arbitration from their former teams by Dec. 7.

* Lastly, teams have to tender 2012 contracts to the rest of their players by midnight Dec. 12.

So that covers the when and how. But as for the who, what, where and why? Well, that’s where the fun comes in. And as things get started, it’s where I’d like to hear from you.

Tell me the biggest move or two you think the Nationals need to make this offseason. Do they need to pursue a big free agent like Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder? Should the top priority be a pitcher, a leadoff hitter or something else? Should they try to leverage some of their pitching prospects in a trade?

Leave your suggestions in the comments, and we’ll get the hot stove heating up.