What the heck is going on with the Washington Nationals?
On Sunday, the Nats incensed rival clubs by signing free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract.
Now the buzz at the winter meetings is that the Nats could offer free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee a seven-year deal for even greater dollars.
The Washington Post quoted a club source saying such a proposal is “not happening,” refuting a report by the New York Daily News.
Maybe not, but that didn't stop one exec from telling Jon Paul Morosi the Nationals are "on everybody," including Lee. They are trying to make a statement.
No team would ever admit to planning such an offer, but such a proposal is at least conceivable from the Nats, given the immense wealth of their owner, Ted Lerner.
Before the Werth signing, the Nats actually drew criticism from their fans for their lack of spending.
But Lerner, 85, could be turning into the next Tom Hicks or Mike Ilitch — an owner who suddenly decides, “Dammit, I want to win!”
Even if the Nats aren't serious about Lee, they're one of the teams pursuing the next-best starter on the free-agent market, right-hander Carl Pavano. A three-year, $30 million commitment might be necessary to get Pavano done.
One thing is certain: The Nationals want to be ready to contend by 2012, when prized right-hander Stephen Strasburg will be recovered from Tommy John surgery and prized outfielder Bryce Harper could be ready for the majors.
How the Nats get there remains to be seen.
-Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi