Rizzo on search for center fielder: “There’s nothing imminent”

DALLAS - If the Nationals moved any closer to trading for a center fielder at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday, general manager Mike Rizzo isn’t tipping his hand. The lobby scuttlebutt at the Hilton Anatole had the Nats linked to several potential center fielder/leadoff hitter types - the Yankees’ Brett Gardner, the Rays’ B.J. Upton, the Angels’ Peter Bourjos and the Orioles’ Adam Jones among them - but Rizzo was his usual conservative self when he met with reporters seeking an update on his pursuit.

“Just more meetings with some potential fits for us, but nothing to announce,” Rizzo said in his fifth-floor suite. “I wouldn’t call it progress. I would call it progress maybe just because we’ve touched base and communicated with some capable guys. ... But right now, there’s nothing imminent that’s we’re going to get done.”

That’s not for a lack of trying, mind you. While Rizzo said yesterday that the Nationals had met with two teams and two agents on the meetings’ first day, he wouldn’t divulge any numbers when asked about the number of potential trade partners he’s spoken with. He did say that the Nationals have expanded their search to include players not on their radar when they arrived in Dallas.

“I think we have expanded the search,” Rizzo said. “We’ve talked about a lot of players, a lot of scenarios, a lot of combinations with different teams.”

According to baseball sources, the Yankees shot down the Nats’ attempts to deal for Gardner, who is playing left field because Curtis Granderson is manning center. The Nationals have also been linked to Ben Revere and Denard Span of the Twins, Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish of the Red Sox and, should he be non-tendered by the Mets, Angel Pagan.

But the talk that seemed to have the most traction may have been Washington’s latest pursuit of Upton, a player the Nationals tried unsuccessfully to deal for at the non-waiver trading deadline in July. While Rizzo generally avoids discussing specific players, he did speak candidly about his team’s chances of finally pulling off a trade for Upton.

“I don’t think much has changed from when we’ve talked with that specific player,” Rizzo said. “I don’t like to talk about specifics or hypotheticals, but I don’t think anything has changed on that front. We have a comfort level of the player and we know what value we would give up for him. What goes into that equation is control of the player, what the player makes and what player you’re giving up to acquire him.”

The Rays asked a lot for Upton at the deadline and the Nationals weren’t willing to meet their price. But almost six months have passed and Upton is that much closer to free agency after the 2012 season. Tampa Bay may want to get something for him instead of letting him walk for free, as they did with Carl Crawford, whose exit to Boston last winter brought much criticism from the Rays’ fan base.

Tampa Bay would likely want a package of players - most of them major league-ready - for Upton. The Rays need a first baseman and a catcher.

In the above exclusive video interview with MASNsports.com following his daily briefing, Rizzo said that the Nats are both inquiring about specific players and fielding inquiries from other teams who feel that they can help fill Washington’s hole. Rizzo also talked about how dangerous it is to give multi-year deals to pitchers and Washington’s drive to land a new member of the rotation.

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