- Randy Winn/RW's agent is feeding reporters bad info in order to drive up his price, or
- the reporters are getting bad information, or, and this is the one I like since we haven't heard a denial from the Nats,
- the Nats are trying to tell teams they are willing to make some deals (I'm glancing in your general direction Josh Willingham & Adam Dunn) without expressly saying it.
The second guess is certainly possible, though I'm not sure how hot the traffic is for Randy Winn / Nationals / Dbacks hot stove reports. Are you really going to report something you think might not be true to grab all THOSE hits?
So that leaves me with the third guess, that the Nats themselves put the rumor out there. (Contrast that to the D-backs where there is actual interest in Winn noted, but the mlb site remains quiet) Why put out the rumor without actually working to sign Winn? Because with regards to this rumor signing Winn is an afterthought (or possibly not even that) not a goal. No, the goal would be to let all other GMs know that the Nats view their current lineup of OFs as flexible.
Why not come out and say "We would trade Dukes." or "We would trade Willingham"? One reason is obvious - you could really piss off the player you say you want to deal - and if you don't end up dealing him that could end up causing unnecessary friction. Another reason is because you don't have just one person you could deal, you have multiple ones. You aren't going to deal them all, of course, but by not mentioning anyone in particular you put them all out on the table and let the other team pick and choose at them. The deals are potentially better (since they don't know who you really want to deal) and at the same time you can go back to the individual player and say "Oh, it's not you. Don't worry.", without being too much of a liar.
Of course if we can see this, it's pretty obvious that the players and their agents can see this too. Which makes this whole subterfuge kind of pointless, in theory. I guess, though, it's kind of like manners though, or social decorum. A player will know when they are on the block, and that creates a certain level of animosity but they also understand it's business and they could be dealt at any time. As long as you don't point them out in particular they can put it past them and play on. However, you start mentioning specific names and it becomes personal. It's not just business, it's something wrong with them. I guess.
Still the end result is that the Nats are ready to deal - Dukes, Willingham, Dunn one of these could likely be gone by the time pitcher and catchers report (like 45 days!). Is that ok? You can hardly complain about blowing up a 59 win team, but they've been blowing up this team for a few years now - at some point you have to build it up.