As Harper in­trigue per­sists, it’s busi­ness as usual for Nats

The Washington Post Sunday - - NFL WEEK 13 - BY CHELSEA JANES [email protected]­post.com

Ryan Zim­mer­man gets asked the ques­tion all the time. He doesn’t know any more than they do, he tells them. Just be­cause he has been a Wash­ing­ton Na­tional for­ever doesn’t mean he knows where Bryce Harper will sign.

Hit­ting coach Kevin Long said he had gone so far as to con­sult with Harper this off­sea­son — about his picks for his ap­pear­ance on ESPN’s “Col­lege GameDay” a week ago.

“He tends to go MIA this time of year,” Long said. “. . . But we re­ally haven’t talked in depth about where he’s go­ing. I hope it’s here, but I don’t know.”

On Satur­day of the team’s an­nual Win­terFest at Na­tion­als Park, Man­ager Dave Martinez counted at least 10 fans who asked him to bring Harper back.

“Ob­vi­ously, I’ve got no an­swers,” Martinez said. “He’s got big de­ci­sions to make. Big de­ci­sions.”

Gen­eral Man­ager Mike Rizzo didn’t have an an­swer about Harper, ei­ther. And he said he doesn’t know when he might get one.

“They haven’t showed their hand ei­ther way as far as what their time­line is,” Rizzo said. “I think their time­line is: When they get the deal they feel com­fort­able with, I think they’re go­ing to move. I don’t think there’s any ur­gency on their part.”

As the ques­tion of where Harper might go con­sumes the base­ball off­sea­son, Rizzo and his staff have not been con­tent to stand pat. By the time much of the 40-man ros­ter and coach­ing staff re­con­vened in the Dis­trict this week­end, Rizzo had added re­liev­ers Trevor Rosen­thal and Kyle Bar­r­a­clough and catch­ers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, who will com­bine to fill one of the gap­ing holes in the ros­ter en­ter­ing the win­ter. They have been one of the more ag­gres­sive teams this off­sea­son, un­de­terred by Harper’s loom­ing de­ci­sion, which will have pro­found im­pli­ca­tions for their fu­ture.

“I think that the Bryce sit­u­a­tion and fill­ing some of the other things that we’re try­ing to do are in­de­pen­dent of each other,” Rizzo said. “We’ve al­ways been an or­ga­ni­za­tion that own­er­ship has given us the re­sources to do what we need to do to build a cham­pi­onship-cal­iber club, and I don’t see that chang­ing.”

In other words, Rizzo plans to pro­ceed in­de­pen­dent of Harper’s de­ci­sion, to the ex­tent that such a thing is pos­si­ble with ques­tions con­stantly swirling.

Among the other things on his check­list: a proven starter. He and prin­ci­pal team owner Mark Lerner took free agent left-han­der Patrick Corbin out to din­ner and showed him around Na­tion­als Park this past week.

“We have in­ter­est in him. We had a nice dis­cus­sion with him. I had a per­sonal dis­cus­sion with him. He wanted to come down and see what we had down here and visit the city and the club­house,” Rizzo said. “I thought that was a pos­i­tive re­ac­tion by him. I’m not go­ing to read too much into it.”

But one can read into the fact that the Na­tion­als hosted Corbin, who is ex­pected to sign for nine fig­ures. They al­ready needed front-line start­ing pitch­ing, and Rizzo ad­mit­ted their ro­ta­tion depth di­min­ished fur­ther when they traded Je­fry Ro­driguez to the In­di­ans in the Gomes deal Fri­day. Rizzo in­di­cated the Na­tion­als saw Ro­driguez as a long-man-in-the­bullpen type. But they need as many po­ten­tial start­ing can­di­dates as they can get.

“Mike, he’ll get some­thing done,” Martinez said. “Right now, we’ve got three, four good start­ing pitch­ers. We could add one more, maybe two — who knows?”

The Na­tion­als still need to add to their bench. They feel good about their sit­u­a­tion at sec­ond base, Rizzo said. They hope Howie Ken­drick will be ready for reg­u­lar duty af­ter tear­ing his Achilles’ ten­don in May. If he isn’t, Wilmer Difo can spell him. And then, as Rizzo put it, “we have two studs” in the mi­nor league sys­tem who are “more than ca­pa­ble” of play­ing sec­ond base. One of those studs is Carter Kieboom, who fin­ished last season in Class AA. The other is Luis Gar­cia, who is 18 and fin­ished last season at Class A.

But an­other, less-talked-about pri­or­ity might be se­cur­ing the fu­ture of An­thony Ren­don, the per­pet­u­ally un­der­rated third base­man who has been as cru­cial to the suc­cess of the Na­tion­als’ lineup over the past few sea­sons as any­one. Rizzo said last month that the Na­tion­als had talked about an ex­ten­sion for the 28-year-old, who will be a free agent af­ter the 2019 season. Satur­day, he re­it­er­ated his de­sire to sign Ren­don long term.

“I think we should [try to sign him to an ex­ten­sion]. And I think we have [tried]. And I think we will con­tinue to do so,” Rizzo said. “He’s a guy that we drafted, signed and de­vel­oped, and he’s one of our own. He’s a ter­rific player that no­body talks about.”

Ren­don is rep­re­sented by agent Scott Bo­ras, who also rep­re­sents Harper. Rizzo dead­panned that he has done busi­ness with Bo­ras be­fore. But no one is talk­ing about Rizzo’s con­ver­sa­tions about Ren­don, or even some of Bo­ras’s other clients, such as free agent starter Dal­las Keuchel. Un­til Harper makes his de­ci­sion, the Na­tion­als will op­er­ate un­der his shadow, check­ing things off their list, seem­ingly un­fet­tered by his choice but un­able to es­cape the one ques­tion no­body seems able to an­swer.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

“Ob­vi­ously, I’ve got no an­swers. He’s got big de­ci­sions to make. Big de­ci­sions,” Man­ager Dave Martinez, above, said of Bryce Harper.

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