Rizzo on Harper, Arrieta and more at the Winter Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The 2018 Winter Meetings are, in all likelihood, going to be the Bryce Harper Winter Meetings. With baseball’s annual event just happening to be held in Las Vegas at the same time the town’s most famous native professional athlete just happens to be a free agent, a circus atmosphere is pretty much expected by everyone.

Unless, of course, the Nationals somehow find a way to re-sign the star right fielder to a long-term extension before then.

What are the odds of that happening? Well, Nats fans shouldn’t hold their breath. Scott Boras clients rarely re-sign with their original clubs before testing the open market, with Stephen Strasburg (who re-upped with the Nationals six months before becoming a free agent in 2016) an obvious exception.

Harper-HR-Swing-White-Sidebar.jpgBut that doesn’t mean the Nats can’t at least try. Whether they intend to do that, whether they intend to hold serious discussions that include hard contract numbers this winter is a subject they don’t intend to make public.

“We’re not going to discuss what we’re going to do with Harp, other than we love having him in the organization,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We’re the team that drafted him, developed him and he’s performed greatly for us. But we’re going to keep those conversations internal.”

Given how many Boras clients he employs - eight of the 37 players currently on the Nationals 40-man roster - Rizzo has regular discussions with the super agent on a host of topics. So it’s not like there haven’t already been and will continue to be plenty of opportunities to discuss Harper.

But there are countless reasons for Harper not to be motivated to sign a deal now, even if his desire is to spend the rest of his career in Washington.

He’s coming off a season that was stellar for 4 1/2 months but then was interrupted for 6 1/2 weeks by a knee injury that left him something less than 100 percent in peak form for the playoffs. He’s about to play for his fourth different manager in seven seasons with the Nationals, with rookie skipper Dave Martinez an unknown quantity. And he’s playing for a franchise that, while highly successful in the regular season, has yet to win a postseason series despite four attempts, perhaps tempting Harper to want to see what life is like with a franchise that already has some positive October history.

The Nationals can try all they want to engage Harper in talks at the 2017 Winter Meetings. Deep down, though, they probably know this saga isn’t going to really get serious until the 2018 Winter Meetings.

Other highlights from Rizzo’s media session this afternoon ...

* Though they’ve met with “a lot of agents, a lot of teams” over the last 24 hours, the Nationals aren’t close to consummating any deals. “Nothing imminent,” Rizzo said.

* Despite the recent (and unusually early) run on free agent relievers, the Nats aren’t feeling pressure to jump into the mix. That’s in large part due to the large pool of quality pitchers available this winter.

“The relief market, I think it’s a robust market,” Rizzo said. “The supply ... there’s a lot of good relievers out there. We’re gauging that market and the trade market for them.”

* Asked about this morning’s reports connecting his team to Jake Arrieta, Rizzo downplayed interest in the free agent right-hander: “We’re just in the information-gathering stage right now. He’s a great pitcher, but we’re nowhere close to doing anything.”

(In other words, Rizzo is only three pages into Boras’ 75-page binder on Arrieta that has been distributed to clubs this week.)

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