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Free agents like Haren now open to Nationals' pitch

Elaine Thompson/AP Dan Haren

The Nationals endured it again and again during their endless rebuilding days. Desperate for talent and finally willing to overpay for it, they would be linked to a marquee talent and inevitably lose out on that player. It happened with Mark Teixeira after the 2008 season when they offered him more money than even the Yankees. He went to New York.

A 2010 trade for Zack Greinke was scuttled when Greinke blanched. He didn't think Washington could be competitive given what the Nats were prepared to give up for him. He was traded to the Brewers instead.

Times have changed for general manager Mike Rizzo. And that process really began even before Greinke rejected that trade.

Two weeks earlier, Rizzo gave outfielder Jayson Werth a seven-year, $126 million deal. The team had signed Adam Dunn before the 2009 season, but that contract came after the market crashed on the big first baseman. Werth's signing was the first time a prominent free agent actually took the Nats' cash when he had other options. The latest to do so? Veteran free agent pitcher Dan Haren, who agreed to a one-year, $13 million contract with the Nats last week.

"When the Nationals really showed interest, I was really zeroed in on them," Haren said.

Haren, 32, grew up in the Los Angeles area and had spent most of his career with teams on the West Coast. As recently as two years ago, a pitcher of his caliber -- a three-time All-Star -- wouldn't have given Washington a sniff. But after the Nats won 98 games in 2012 and with the majority of the roster back for another try, players are far more willing to listen to Rizzo's pitch. Or even make one of their own.

"I think this is a nice destination for players. It's a beautiful city. It's a great ballpark. We've got a great fanbase. It's an up-and-coming team," Rizzo said. "[Players] really recognize that this is a team that's going to be good to play for for a long time. So it's a whole lot easier to talk to players and to recruit players. Players actually are seeking us out to recruit us for them."

- Brian McNally