WASHINGTON -- For as long as Bryce Harper's pending free agency has been discussed, at least since sometime shortly after he won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2015, people have been sizing him up for pinstripes, speculating on the possibility that he would eventually sign with the Yankees.After all,
WASHINGTON -- For as long as Bryce Harper's pending free agency has been discussed, at least since sometime shortly after he won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2015, people have been sizing him up for pinstripes, speculating on the possibility that he would eventually sign with the Yankees.
After all, New York would be one of the handful of teams willing to dish out the record-breaking contract he will reportedly seek. (The Yankees even got under the luxury tax threshold this offseason.) It's been said that Harper admired the Yankees growing up and that he wears No. 34 because the numbers add up to seven, which is the number Harper's favorite player, Mickey Mantle, wore.
On Tuesday, however, prior to the start of a two-game series between the Nationals and Yankees, Harper was uninterested in answering questions about any of that.
"I'm a National now," Harper said. "We're going into this series trying to win some ballgames. That's the only thing on my mind."
No, Harper did say, he has not given any thought to how he would fit into the Yankees' crowded outfield picture, with both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton under contract. No, he has not paid attention to Clint Frazier or Frazier's haircut despite their exchanged Twitter messages last winter. He swatted away all of the questions he was peppered with on Tuesday afternoon that addressed his future and his possible relationship with the Yankees.
"I'm focused on what we can do as a team," he said. "I'm focused on this series and trying to win ballgames, and that's what it's all about -- going out there and trying to not worry about who you're playing or who you're facing that day."
Instead, Harper doubled down on his message from Spring Training. Although he did not "walk out that door," as he once threatened to do when asked about his pending free agency, he did decline to answer any questions about his future beyond the 2018 season.
"He's been great," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "For me, it's nice to write his name in the lineup every day, it really is. He never talks about anything. All he talks about is helping us win on a daily basis. He's a National. That's the way he views it."
Although Yankees manager Aaron Boone also did not give much insight into a possible connection between Harper and New York, he did point out that the Yankees have always taken steps to improve when they have the opportunity.
"I don't comment on other players and what's going on with them, but look, we're the New York Yankees," Boone said. "I know from the Steinbrenner family on down to [general manager] Brian Cashman, we're never going to be bashful about trying to make our team the best, whether that's improving our farm system and drafting and developing -- we've done a great job with a lot of our young homegrown players -- to being active in free agency, to being active at the Trade Deadline when that comes. We're always going to be aggressive and feel like we're in a position to do things that give us a great chance to be a good club."
Perhaps to further emphasize his point about being focused on the now, Harper proceeded to put on a hitting display during batting practice in front of a pack of fans arriving early at Nationals Park. He launched home runs to all parts of the field, including one to center field that nearly hit the scoreboard.
Harper is starting to be a bit streaky at the plate, and he is in the middle of an uneven stretch. In 12 games in May, he is slashing .216/.259/.569, including an 0-for-19 stretch that matched the longest of his career. Five of his 11 hits have been home runs, although he has been less successful on balls in play (.158 average), which suggests he has run into some poor luck.
"I feel good," he said. "I think as a lineup, we're doing a great job of getting runs on the board and putting good swings on pitches, and if we can keep doing that, keep doing it as a team and myself, then we'll be OK."
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.