- - Monday, February 19, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. — Like a nearby Palm Beach resident, Bryce Harper wants to build a wall.

This is a wall where nothing beyond 2018 exists.

It’s a wall that could be worth up to $500 million — only don’t ask about it.

The Washington Nationals superstar, entering his final contract year, met with those he wants to keep on the other side of his wall — the media — on Monday at Nationals spring training and declared that he would only be answering questions related to the 2018 season.

“I just want to let you guys know that I will not be discussing anything not relevant to 2018 at all,” Harper said to the room full of reporters who came to West Palm Beach to ask questions not relevant to 2018. “I’m focused on this year, focused on winning and playing hard. If you have any questions about anything past 2018, you can call Scott and he can answer you guys. If you guys do ask anything, then I’ll be walking right out the door.”

He read this from his phone as part of an opening statement, and concluded, “There you go.” He seemed pretty proud of himself.

AUDIO: Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon with Thom Loverro

This goes with the philosophy of forward-thinking the Nationals organization seems to have adopted this year. They believe they can will their way to a World Series championship by simply declaring it over and over again.

Now Harper — who stands to become the richest free agent in the history of baseball when that time comes that he doesn’t want to talk about — believes he can simply say he won’t be answering questions about the future that everyone wants to know about, and then no one will ask him.

This is sort of like Michael Scott in “The Office” announcing, “I declare bankruptcy!”

If the 25-year-old Harper believe he can just keep the media on the other side of the wall, then he’s not as smart as I thought. You have all winter to come up with a plan to deal with the media pressure and probing of what will be the distracting burden of a historic free agency, and the best you can come up with is call Scott Boras?

Should I publish Boras’ phone number? I’m tempted to.

Harper was successful Monday, because this was the first time the assembled media had a chance to talk to him this year and had enough other questions to ask and, to be honest, didn’t want to waste that opportunity by having him walk out of the room — though it would have been a classic way to start this storied 2018 season that is all he wants to talk about.

After about the sixth version of “help this team win,” I was thinking about walking out.

This is a player who has embraced his role as one of the game’s young stars, the brash, talented future of baseball. This is the guy with the colorful baseball shoes, the hair flip, the declarations of wanting to “make baseball fun again.”

Now, when he has a chance to help propel one of the biggest storylines of the season — the future of Bryce Harper — he begs off?

It’s Feb. 19. Is the pressure of free agency getting to him already that he so fears dealing with it?

What’s he going to do when the New York media descends on Washington when the Mets come to Washington — or, worse yet, the Yankees this year — and when the team heads up to New York? He’ll be on the front and back covers of the tabloids.

How about the 2018 All-Star Game in his city? How will the wall hold up then? Or will everyone be asking Home Run Derby questions?

Harper touched on a number of generic subjects, including:

Team expectations: “We are expected to win. That’s how it is, We’re expected to win the (National League) East. We’ve expected to possibly win a pennant. We’re expected to possibly win a World Series. As a team, I think we are going to try to do the best that we can. Just got to take it one game at a time and win the East first. Go out there and play our game.”

New manager Dave Martinez: “He’s going to bring an element of the game that we haven’t seen before. He’s going to bring the front office stats to the game and I think that’s great. I think baseball is turning to that side a lot more. I’m looking forward to it.

“You look at a lot of good, young managers, like (Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave) Roberts, (Joe) Girardi was really good with the Yankees, a couple of other guys, A.J. Hinch with the Astros. They have young talent and they run their teams very well. (Cubs manager) Joe Maddon, of course. I am looking forward to learning from Davey, all the little things he’s gotten from Maddon.”

And, of course, he did a little leg work for Boras, as Harper is prone to do: “If I am an organization, I think I want the best players on my team. I think the fans deserve that, the organization deserves that … there is a guy like Jake Arrieta (another Boras client) out there right now. I’d put him on my staff any day of the week. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game and one of the best playoff pitchers in the game.”

There was just one moment, really, where Bryce was Bryce when he slipped this in: “If I stay healthy, I can be one of the best players in the game.”

Yes he can.

Harper, a five-time All-Star and 2015 NL MVP coming off a year where he batted .319 with 29 home runs and 87 RBI in 111 games, says he is healthy, so we can likely expect one of the best seasons from one of the best players in the game.

Beyond that?

Mr. Harper, tear down that wall.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays, available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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