The World Series is scheduled to end Thursday at the latest, which means we're no more than nine days from the start of free agency. And that means plenty of juicy rumors are going to start orbiting around the Nationals regarding which players might be coming to Washington.
They've already started; Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes were linked to the Nationals in reports this week, and the team is likely to be interested in C.J. Wilson, as well. But it's best to head into the hot stove league with a realistic version of what the team will be able to get done.
Their top priorities this winter are a starting pitcher and a leadoff hitter, which makes Fielder a less likely candidate for a big contract. But the Nationals will come up in connection with Fielder because of his agent (Scott Boras) and because Adam LaRoche is heading into the final year of his contract while returning from shoulder surgery. Is it impossible that the Nationals sign the slugger? No. But they have bigger needs.
Reyes and Wilson would fit those needs, though Reyes' walk year stats (a .384 OBP and an .877 OPS) were well above his career averages and the Nationals gave an above-market deal to a player who met that description last year. Wilson also is coming off the best year of his career, and is likely to get plenty of interest this winter from teams that need a starter. Both players could get nine-figure deals, but either one would make more sense for the Nationals than Fielder.
There's also the possibility that the Nationals could stay away from all three players and pursue cheaper options, especially in light of the contract negotiations with Ryan Zimmerman that are likely to get started this winter. A deal for Zimmerman would likely be well above nine figures, and few teams can (or should) absorb more than a couple of those contracts. The Nationals don't need to look much further than the Mets to see what happens when those deals don't work out.
Is it possible the Nationals sign a big-name free agent this winter? Yes. But it's equally likely that they don't, and it seems farfetched that they would pursue more than one of the top players this winter. That's why, as the rumors heat up, it's worth parsing through them with some perspective