Nationals lurking in Cliff Lee sweepstakes

While the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees are the obvious frontrunners for marquee free agent starter Cliff Lee, sources say the Washington Nationals are a potential sleeper team in the competition to land Lee. "They're going to step up and try to get a top free agent,'' one baseball insider said. "They'd like to make a splash.''

The Nationals are looking for a top-end veteran starter, and Lee would help sell some tickets and fill the enthusiasm void in Washington while Stephen Strasburg recovers from Tommy John surgery. If the Nationals fail to land Lee, they'll look for pitching elsewhere on the free agent market or try to swing a deal for a James Shields, Matt Garza or another starter who might be available in trade. One problem is, the Nats have no interest in parting with young middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, so GM Mike Rizzo's trade chips are limited.