The Nationals did not meet with the representative for free agent pitcher Cliff Lee on Wednesday, but general manager Mike Rizzo said he still feels confident in the team's presentation to the premier pitcher in this year's free agent market.
Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, has reportedly left the Winter Meetings in Orlando, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Wednesday night the team had made an offer to the left-hander, who won the 2009 AL Cy Young and has pitched in the last two World Series for the Phillies and the Rangers.
That Braunecker left the Dolphin Hotel at Walt Disney World could be interpreted as a good thing for the Nationals, who would have more time to woo Lee away from the Yankees or Rangers, the teams believed to be the favorites for Cliff Lee. Rizzo said on Tuesday he considers the Nationals "a real longshot" for Lee, and said on Wednesday that nothing has changed on that front. But team and industry sources have said the Nationals intend to make a real push for Lee, though they are cautious about being used for leverage, as they feel they were in 2008 when Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees.
"I don't really know where he's at in regards to getting a deal done soon," Rizzo said. "It's a major deal, so it wouldn't surprise me if it went beyond the meetings."
Rizzo said the pitching market, in general, remains heavily tilted toward the sellers, as the Nationals expected it to be; free agents are commanding large contracts, while young, controllable pitchers like Tampa Bay's Matt Garza and Kansas City's Zack Greinke are fetching their teams big trade offers.
He did say the Nationals have met this week with Jonathan Maurer, the agent for former Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb. The former Cy Young Award winner is coming off shoulder surgery, and presents an injury risk for whichever team signs him. But Rizzo, who drafted Webb while he was Arizona's scouting director, said his scouts think Webb is healthy, adding he isn't concerned about reports last month that the right-hander is only throwing in the low 80s.
"He's a guy that doesn't rely on power to get his outs," Rizzo said. "He's the consummate sinkerball guy. He throws a heavy ball, and when he was at his best, he was 88-90 (mph). At one time, when we drafted him, he was (throwing) 94, and he throttled down to 90 to get that movement on his sinker."
Rizzo also said the Nationals are optimistic about re-signing Chien-Ming Wang, and didn't rule out adding both Wang and Webb, who are each attempting to return from shoulder surgery.