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Inbox: How likely is it Harper remains with Nats?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier fields questions from Nationals fans
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals made a few moves on the free-agent market this month to jump-start their offseason, agreeing to deals for right-hander Brandon Kintzler and first baseman Matt Adams. It's the kind of activity Washington is expected to take part in, making minor tweaks around the edges of its roster to fine-tune a team coming off back-to-back postseason appearances.

But there are still a few questions on the minds of fans as 2017 winds down and a crucial '18 draws near.

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals made a few moves on the free-agent market this month to jump-start their offseason, agreeing to deals for right-hander Brandon Kintzler and first baseman Matt Adams. It's the kind of activity Washington is expected to take part in, making minor tweaks around the edges of its roster to fine-tune a team coming off back-to-back postseason appearances.

But there are still a few questions on the minds of fans as 2017 winds down and a crucial '18 draws near.

Once the Yankees completed the trade for Giancarlo Stanton earlier this month, it opened the door for some people to wonder whether New York would be off the table as a landing spot for Bryce Harper if he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. First off, I never really bought into the perceived inevitability that Harper would end up with the Yankees. Yes, he wears the No. 34 because the numbers add up to seven and he idolized Mickey Mantle. Harper loves history and winning and the Yankees offer plenty of both. Not many teams will be willing to dish out the type of long-term contract Harper has been long rumored to seek next offseason, but the Yankees are a team that can.

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Now, the Yankees seem set with Stanton and Aaron Judge filling up their corner outfield/designated hitter spots. And considering Harper could command a contract in free agency that will exceed even Stanton's enormous deal, is there room for two on the same roster? It's really impossible to know whether the Yankees have ever planned on pursuing Harper and how much this month's trade impacts that at all. But they have also been clearing salary in an attempt to get under the luxury tax threshold of $197 million this upcoming season, which could put them in position to still be significant players during next year's historic free-agent class if they wanted to. The Dodgers have also started doing this, and they also offer many of the same advantages as the Yankees and are closer to Harper's home in Las Vegas.

"I think everyone positions themselves; everyone's got their long-term plans. We're no different," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We try to focus in on ourselves. We've got a strategy in place. We've got a blueprint to be good for a long period of time. And that continues."

Harper will still have a number of willing suitors if he hits the free-agent market, including the Nationals. The chances of the Yankees being a potential suitor are probably less than they were, but I would not count anyone out.

Like Harper, Rizzo is also entering the final season of his contract with the Nationals, as his deal expires at the end of October. However, I would not read much into the lack of contract extension talk just yet. Nationals ownership has traditionally been hesitant to agree to long-term extensions for anyone other than players, including managers and GMs. The Nats did not pick up Rizzo's current two-year option until midway through the 2016 season. In November, Nationals owner Ted Lerner did tell The Washington Post that he wanted Rizzo to stick around.

"I would hope [he'll be back]," Lerner told the Post. "We haven't reached that stage yet, but we would hope to continue success with him."

Rizzo has also said he will not campaign for a contract extension, but he is open to discussing the possibility once ownership approaches him. Rizzo has built the Nationals into a sustained winner with a roster set to compete again in 2018. But as we saw with Dusty Baker at the end of this year, if expectations are not reached, perhaps there could be consequences. But for now, the Nats seem happy with Rizzo as GM.

The Nationals checked in on J.T. Realmuto at the Winter Meetings, according to a source, but were told then that the Marlins were planning on keeping him. MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reported Miami is not actively shopping Realmuto, but will listen on all players.

While Washington has said it is set at catcher, the fact that the club already has committed $10.5 million to Matt Wieters next season means it might be hesitant to make a major move for another catcher. If the Nats do bring in another backstop, it seems more likely to be a veteran to help spell Wieters. Or perhaps the Nationals blow the Marlins away with an offer for Realmuto; however, that has not been the way Washington or Rizzo has operated. If Miami decides to actively shop Realmuto, I would expect the Nats to get involved, but it does not appear the Marlins are right now.

I have to say that one of my biggest concerns with the new coaching staff is the absence of Davey Lopes. This is a team that should be using speed as a primary weapon, and Lopes' coaching was essential to the younger speedsters on this team. Can you reassure me that both the coaching staff and Martinez will still buy into this approach and that they have the tools to make good on the potential headaches for opposing pitchers and defenders? -- Dean C. in Charlottesville, Va.

There's no question Lopes made a huge impact in his two seasons with the Nats, helping them take advantage on the bases. However, Lopes was likely to be done coaching after 2017 anyway. One thing Lopes instilled in the Nationals' players was to be aggressive.

"I think it's just a matter of being confident," Trea Turner said. "I think that's one thing I took away from Davey. He was always running no matter what, and he got mad at you if you didn't. It goes a long way, and I think that's kind of what I'm taking away from him, his aggression and confidence."

I expect manager Dave Martinez to give his players freedom to be aggressive on the bases, and new first-base coach Tim Bogar has already said he will communicate with each player to determine what best works for him.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper