- Associated Press - Monday, February 19, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Bryce Harper is focusing on his immediate future. But don’t bother asking him about plans beyond this year.

“If you guys do talk anything about that, I’ll be walking right out the door,” he said Monday.

Everyone around baseball knows the Washington Nationals slugger could be part of a huge free agent class after the coming season. But if teams are saving money by passing on currently available players in hopes of signing a big star next year, that doesn’t sound like the best way to impress Harper.

“I think if I’m an organization or a team I want the best players on my team,” Harper said. “My fans deserve that, the players deserve that.”

Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon and potentially Clayton Kershaw could be free agents next offseason.

Some within the industry suggest this market is slow because teams have their eyes on 2019 - pitchers Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb and third baseman Mike Moustakas are among the players looking for work with spring training already underway. Slugger J.D. Martinez and the Red Sox reached agreement on a $110 million, five-year deal late Monday afternoon.

“I’m not sure what people are thinking or anything like that, but if I’m a fan base or I’m a team and you’re trying to lose ballgames to get the No, 1 pick, I’ll take a Jayson Werth or anybody like that over a first round pick any day of the week,” Harper said.

A five-time All-Star and 2015 MVP, Harper addressed the media on Monday for the first time this spring. He made a point of telling reporters he wouldn’t discuss anything beyond the 2018 season.

Harper said the knee injury that limited him late last season is no longer a concern. He didn’t dwell on Washington’s loss to the Cubs in a five-game NL Division Series.

“They beat us and that was it,” Harper said.

The NL East champs three of the past four seasons, the Nationals have yet to win a playoff series since relocating to Washington in 2005.

Harper pointed to the career of former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, who reached the Super Bowl as a rookie but never returned, as proof that he won’t take any playoff appearance for granted.

“You always want to get there and get there and get there because you might never get back,” Harper said.

Washington is once again well positioned for a playoff run. In Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals have arguably the best 1-2 pitching combination in the National League. With Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Harper in the middle of the lineup, Washington’s bats have plenty of thump.

“We’re expected to win,” Harper said. “That’s how it is. We’re expected to win the East. We’re expected to possibly win the pennant and expected to possibly win the World Series. I think as a team we’re going to try to do the best we can and do everything possible to win ballgames. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time and win the East first.”

Harper believes new Nationals manager Dave Martinez brings something new to the Washington dugout. Joe Maddon’s bench coach with Tampa and the Chicago Cubs for the past 10 seasons, Martinez has a modern approach.

“He’s going to bring an analytic side to the game that we haven’t seen before,” Harper said. “He’s going to bring a little bit more of a front-office stat-kind-of-thing to the team as well. I think that’s great. I think baseball’s turning to that side a lot more.”

Martinez doesn’t need much in the way of advance metrics to understand what he has in Harper.

Only 25, Harper already has 150 homers in his six major league seasons. The outfielder hit .319 with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs in 111 games last year.

“I saw him hit in the cage the other day,” Martinez said. “He’s a different character - very intense - and he’s looking forward to the 2018 season. That’s his concern. He wants to stay healthy all year and if he does that he’s going to put up some big numbers.”


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