WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Before he began his first press conference of the spring, Bryce Harper sat down at the table, adjusted his hat and then pulled out his phone. He had prepared a statement to read to the jam-packed room, ready to cut off the questions he knew would be coming.
Harper said he would not be answering any questions about his future beyond the 2018 season, when his highly anticipated free agency is set to begin. He directed all inquiries to his agent, Scott Boras, and threatened to walk out of the room if asked about his impending free agency.
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"I will not be discussing anything relative to 2019, at all," Harper said Monday afternoon. "I'm focused on this year. I'm focused on winning and playing hard, like every single year."
Harper's impending free agency will be one of the biggest storylines throughout all of MLB this season. He will headline perhaps the biggest free-agent class in baseball history, which will include stars such as Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and potentially even Clayton Kershaw. Harper is expected to be the biggest prize considering his rare combination of talent, accomplishments and youth. He will turn just 26 years old this October, but is already a five-time All-Star, former Rookie of the Year and the National League Most Valuable Player Award winner.
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Rarely do players in their prime at that age hit the open market, so some predict Harper could command the largest contract in baseball history as a result -- even topping the 13-year, $325 million pact Giancarlo Stanton signed with Miami in 2014.
However, Harper still has one season left on his contract in Washington, and he intends to stay focused on that.
"I just think every single year I go in, I have my same goals, I have my same plans. And that's to win," Harper said. "That's to be prepared to focus on every single day and do the things I can to help this team win."
Harper proved again last season that he is one of the sport's most dynamic players when he stays on the field. In 111 games last year, he belted 29 home runs with a 1.008 OPS and was worth 4.8 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs. But a bone bruise and hyperextended left knee caused Harper to miss about a month, only to return just in time for the postseason. Aside from a mammoth home run in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Cubs, Harper struggled to find his timing for much of that playoff series.
The knee did not hinder him at all this offseason, however, and Harper showed up to camp appearing to have gained a few more pounds of muscle. Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo has worked out with Harper for years in the offseason and said Harper was "as focused as he's ever seen him" this winter. It's similar to a year ago, when Harper arrived to camp having added a few pounds of muscle and then played like an MVP candidate for the season's first half before his injury.
"Stay healthy. That's all I want to do," Harper said. "If I stay healthy, I can be one of the best players in the game."
The Nationals are hopeful for more of the same this season.
Along with Harper's contract status, the Nats have a few other prominent players with expiring contracts, meaning 2018 might be Washington's final chance to win the World Series with its current core. Harper has been a key contributor to the Nationals' teams that have won four division titles in six seasons, even as a few members of the rest of the cast have moved on recently.
"I think I've been lucky enough to play for a great team," Harper said. "We've gotten to the playoffs numerous times. You look at a young guy like [Dan Marino] that gets there their first year and never gets back. It's tough. You always want to get there and get there and get there, because you might never get back.
"Every single year you come in here and try to win ballgames and do the things you can to help this team win. We all want to come together and pull on the same rope. We do it every single year. We're expected to win. That's how it is. You always have that pressure, you always have that pressure to win and everything like that. But we've got a great team, and we've been so close."
This could be the final time Harper arrives to the Nationals' complex in West Palm Beach for Spring Training. And if so, his focus remains on this final season, and he does not want to look to anything beyond.