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Nats facing Harper questions with few answers

MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- They all hear some version of the same question, one that has hovered over the Nationals' entire offseason and the franchise dating back years. As the team held its annual Winterfest event this weekend at Nationals Park, it was inescapable for Nats players and coaches. They're used to it, though, because whatever direction the Nationals go this offseason, whatever conversations they engage in, the question usually finds a way to come up.

"Where is Bryce Harper going to sign?"

WASHINGTON -- They all hear some version of the same question, one that has hovered over the Nationals' entire offseason and the franchise dating back years. As the team held its annual Winterfest event this weekend at Nationals Park, it was inescapable for Nats players and coaches. They're used to it, though, because whatever direction the Nationals go this offseason, whatever conversations they engage in, the question usually finds a way to come up.

"Where is Bryce Harper going to sign?"

"I guess they think, because I've been here forever, I know all the answers to everything," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said with a smile.

"[I've been asked] quite a lot," closer Sean Doolittle said. "Like they think I have some sort of inside info. I've been reading all the stuff just like everybody else."

"I've had 10 fans [this weekend] say, 'Bring him back. Bring him back. Bring him back,'" manager Dave Martinez said.

Nationals GM: Harper not holding up club's plans

Such is the hype around Harper's free agency, which has been one of the most anticipated in recent baseball memory. The speculation began two years ago that he could command the largest contract in baseball history, and it has only intensified in the years since.

"We've been dealing with it for a while," right-hander Max Scherzer said with a laugh. "This isn't a new thing. We've been dealing with it for a little more than two years now."

But now everyone is looking for answers.

Upon arriving to D.C. on Friday at Reagan National Airport, third baseman Anthony Rendon, about as quiet and low-key a player on the roster, was questioned by TMZ about Harper's future.

"That man has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated since he was like 15," Rendon said Sunday with a laugh. "So, if you're on the same team as him, everybody knows about him, so I'll get a lot of questions. 'Oh you play for the Nats, you know Bryce?' 'Nah, I don't know who he is. Never seen him before.'"

One person who has kept in contact with Harper this winter is hitting coach Kevin Long, but not to discuss free agency or even talk about hitting. The two consulted on some of Harper's picks before he was a guest on ESPN's "College Gameday" last week.

"He tends to go MIA this time of year," Long said. "He knows if he needs to get a hold of me, he can. But we really haven't talked in depth about where he's going. I hope it's here, but I don't know."

General manager Mike Rizzo said Saturday he did not have any clear timetable for when Harper would like to make his decision, but reiterated that Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, knows where the Nationals stand.

For now, the next move lies with Harper as the speculation around his free agency is set to ramp up again next week when the Winter Meetings begin in Harper's hometown of Las Vegas.

"Obviously, I've got no answers," Martinez said. "He's got big decisions to make. Big decisions."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals