Marlins’ rumblings add to NL East intrigue this winter

We’re a few days into free agency, with still almost a month to go before the Winter Meetings, but the rumor mill is cranking hot and heavy. And the team driving many of the rumors is in the Nationals’ division.

The Florida Marlins, all set with a new manager (Ozzie Guillen) and about to get a fresh windfall of cash from a new ballpark, look like the early aggressors in free agency. They reportedly have meetings set this week with White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, Mets shortstop Jose Reyes and Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. None of that means Florida will land any of those players, but it’s clear the Marlins are going into free agency with a different approach than in the past. There’s still plenty of uncertainty about how much money the soon-to-be Miami Marlins will get from their stadium in Little Havana, but after finishing last in the National League East in 2011, they appear to be gunning to put a competitive team on the field next year.

How does that affect the Nationals? Well, the team is interested in Buehrle, according to industry sources, and scouted Cespedes at his workout last week. But at this point, interest is a long way from serious contract negotiations. It’s most significant for the Nationals in the sense that the Marlins are intent on taking a shot at the Phillies and the Braves next year, so Washington might not be the only up-and-comer in the division.

That should make the next few weeks, not to mention next season, a lot of fun. The Nationals will be in hot pursuit of a leadoff hitter, which could be Cespedes or someone like the Rays’ B.J. Upton. They could also have more pitching options if there’s an influx of international free agents, like Japanese pitchers Yu Darvish or Tsuyoshi Wada.

And they’ll have plenty of competition this winter - much of which should be coming from within the division.