Bryce Harper strolled through the curtains into the makeshift media area at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Sunday morning, and spoke in the nation’s capital for the first time as the National League’s Most Valuable Player at this weekend’s Winterfest.
“It was just very good for our family, the organization and the team,” a humble Harper said about his honor.
As phenomenal as Harper’s record-breaking season was, it was not without a controversy. The slugger was involved in a dugout brawl with closer Jonathan Papelbon on Sept. 27 at Nationals Park, the altercation caught live on TV cameras. The embarrassing melee has left general manager Mike Rizzo reportedly scrambling to trade Papelbon, thus preventing a potentially sour carryover into the 2016 season.
Clubhouse leaders Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman believe the Nationals are capable of moving past the brawl without letting it serve as a distraction. Harper sidestepped dealing with Papelbon directly on Sunday when delivering his forecast for 2016.
“Last year is behind us,” Harper said. “We’re not even worried about last year. It was a terrible year for what we were about. We need to go into this year with the right mentality - with the win mentality - of going in there with a chip on our shoulders trying to win ballgames. And hopefully everybody counts us out so we can prove everybody wrong.”
Coming off Harper’s breakout MVP season, there has been a lot of chatter about the Nationals beginning negotiations on a new contract extension. The 23-year-old’s current deal doesn’t expire until after the 2018 season, but there is a fear that the closer the Nats get to that date, the further Harper and agent Scott Boras get from re-signing.
“I think that will play out when it does,” Harper said. “I’m just worried about this year and the next couple years. I’m very fortunate to be a National and play this game every single day and I love these fans. I love this organization. I think that will play out in the next couple years.”