The Mets and White Sox also remain interested in Cespedes, but only are willing to offer him three-year contracts. The Nats possibly could land Cespedes with a longer deal, assuming no other teams are involved.
The mere thought of the Nats getting Cespedes raises a number of fascinating questions:
● Which position would Cespedes play?
The Nats recently acquired Ben Revere, presumably to play center, possibly in tandem with Michael Taylor. Jayson Werth, guaranteed $42 million over the next two seasons with a full no-trade clause, is the left fielder. National League MVP Bryce Harper is in right.
The addition of Cespedes likely would mean that either he or Harper would be in center. The Nats, however, want Revere to play regularly — they acquired him in part to be their leadoff man. Perhaps Revere and Werth could share time in left, with Revere occasionally rotating into center and even right to rest Harper.
A trade of Werth would appear highly unlikely.
● Could new Nats manager Dusty Baker help Cespedes achieve greater consistency?
Cespedes, since arriving from Cuba in 2012, frequently has been described as mercurial. Some teams are wary of signing him long-term not only because of his age, but also because of his fractious personality.
Baker speaks Spanish. His specialty is connecting with players. He managed Barry Bonds with the Giants and a Cuban star with the Reds, closer Aroldis Chapman. He surely would welcome the opportunity to manage Cespedes.
● What would be the impact of Cespedes joining the Nationals on the NL East race?
The first sound you would hear is Mets fans howling in protest — Cespedes, like infielder Daniel Murphy before him, would be joining the team’s chief division rival. The twin defections would mirror the departures of Heyward and righty John Lackey from the Cardinals to the Cubs, elevating the rivalry to another level.
Revere, Murphy and third baseman Anthony Rendon all would be options at the top of the Nationals’ order. Cespedes could hit behind Harper; otherwise, that role might fall to a player who is frequently injured, Werth or first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. However Baker lined it up, the Nats would feature a deep, dangerous group.
The Mets would hold the edge in starting pitching, an edge that seemingly will grow more pronounced if, as expected, right-hander Doug Fister leaves the Nats, joining righty Jordan Zimmermann as a free-agent defector. But the Nationals still would have Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of their rotation.
The bullpens would be close — the Mets added to their depth Wednesday by reaching agreement with free-agent lefty Antonio Bastardo. The Nats, meanwhile, have completely overhauled their ’pen, trading righty Drew Storen and adding four relievers — lefty Oliver Perez and righties Shawn Kelley, Trevor Gott and Yusmeiro Petit.
No one should count out the Marlins, who could emerge as a force after hiring Don Mattingly as manager and Bonds as hitting coach. They recently signed free-agent lefty Wei-Yin Chen and are trying to add another starter. But with the Phillies and Braves rebuilding, the focus in the NL East will be on the Nats and Mets.
And if the Nats sign Cespedes, the focus will be that much more intense.