Will the Nationals make an early pitch to keep Bryce Harper? They're not saying.

Washington Post

Next year, the Washington Nationals will not operate in the shadows at the Winter Meetings as they are this week at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel. They will be front and center in Las Vegas because hometown kid Bryce Harper will be a free agent fielding pitches from clubs willing to give him the most lucrative contract in professional sports history. It will be the most important week during the most important offseason in Nationals history.

That's unless the Nationals somehow preclude Harper from hitting free agency with a contract extension. Washington has exclusive rights to negotiate with Harper until after the 2018 campaign. Scott Boras, Harper's agent, almost always has his clients reach free agency, but the Nationals did strike a deal with Stephen Strasburg, another Boras client, months before he was slated to become a free agent last year.

Will the Nationals try that with Harper? Probably. Why not? General Manager Mike Rizzo, however, declined to reveal if that's the club's plan on Tuesday afternoon.

"We're not going to discuss what we're going to do with Harp other than we love having him in the organization," Rizzo said in the Nationals' suite at the Winter Meetings. "We're the team that drafted him, developed him and he's performed greatly for us. But we're going to keep all those discussions internal."

The Nationals and Harper agreed to a one-year, $21.625 million contract for 2018 in May, eliminating the need for arbitration - and reducing the risk of producing resentment between them and their prized former MVP. The salary is the highest for an arbitration-eligible player in league history and likely the lowest Harper will make for the rest of his career.

Harper will have his suitors next winter. The New York Yankees, Harper's favorite team growing up, presumably won't be in the mix after acquiring Giancarlo Stanton over the weekend, but the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies figure to bid for his services. Washington will have stout competition.

For now, Harper will play right field and bat somewhere in the middle of the order in 2018. He will be the everyday linchpin for a franchise starving for postseason success for at least another year with next winter's sweepstakes looming - unless the unexpected happens before then.

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