According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, they are. An anonymous baseball insider said the following:
"They're going to step up and try to get a top free agent. They'd like to make a splash.''
I have no doubt the Nationals would like to make a splash, but I like to live in a reality-based world. The Yankees seem to need to sign Lee. After missing the World Series this year due to a shallow rotation, it appears they’re going to make him their primary focus. Also, Lee has indicated that he’s interested in the idea of re-signing with the Rangers. While it’s unclear if Lee would be willing to take a home town discount for a team he’s only played with for four months, Arlington is closer in proximity to his home than every other one of his potential suitors.
Where do the Nationals fall in this situation? They’re clearly stuck on the other side of the fence looking in. While they made significant improvements last year, they still have to be looked at as a non-contender that’s still two to three years (at least) away from contending. They have some interesting building blocks, but many of those building blocks (outside of Ryan Zimmerman) are still a few years away from competing at a high level. Jordan Zimmerman is a potential number two starter, but he just came back from Tommy John surgery. Stephen Strasburg has staff ace written all over him, but he’s just started recovering from TJ. There’s no guarantee how he’ll pitch after he recovers. Then you have Bryce Harper. As good as he projects to be, he’s only 17 years old. He could end up a superstar, or he could be one of the biggest busts of all time. It’s way too early to tell at this point.
Despite the strides they made last season, the Nationals still have a lot of rebuilding left to do. Trying to outbid the Yankees on a big time free agent pitcher is not the smartest move for them to make at this time. Even if they succeeded in signing Lee, its unlikely Lee would still be an ace quality pitcher by the time the Nats were ready to contend. The Nationals best move is to be shrewd and patient when it comes to making player moves, not bold and reckless.