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Nats reflect on Zimmermann's departure: 'He left a huge mark on this organization'

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Nats reflect on Zimmermann's departure: 'He left a huge mark on this organization'

When newly-signed reliever Shawn Kelley walked around the Washington Convention Center Sunday at Nationals WinterFest, it's fair to wonder how many fans did a double take. Not only was he a fresh face on a revamped bullpen, he was also donning jersey No. 27. As in, the number that belonged to Jordan Zimmermann for the past six seasons. Kelley may have just arrived in D.C., but even he realized how strange a sight that must be for the locals. 

"Is that too soon?" Kelley asked a Nats clubhouse manager shortly after he received his new uniform. The response: "Nah, it's just a number. Nobody will mind." 

And just like that, the Nats have begun Life After Zimmermann. The 29-year-old right hander, who signed a five-year, $110 million dollar contract with the Detroit Tigers in late November, was considered by many to be the best starting pitcher in the organization's 10-year history in D.C. Though the career stats were impressive  —  he posted a 70-50 record with a 3.32 ERA from 2009-2015 — Zimmermann's old teammates emphasized over the weekend that the void created by his departure goes far beyond his on-field production. 

"He left a huge mark on this organization with what he did," former rotation-mate Gio Gonzalez said. "We lost not only a great teammate, but a family member too." 

"Those things are sad," added left fielder Jayson Werth. "You go through those things as you go on through your career. You play with guys and you're like family. When somebody goes the other way, it's kind of like a time of your life is gone. From that perspective, it's sad. Jordan was a great player and a great person."

Of course, Zimmermann signing elsewhere didn't catch Nats players or fans by surprise in the least. It was widely known that the Wisconsin native, whose contract with Washington ended after 2015, would very likely leave so that he could play closer to his home state. Not that the expectation of his exit lessened the sting. 

"I think we all knew it was coming, but I'm very happy for him," second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "He's a great guy. He's a guy that you want on your team. He goes out there and competes every day. He's not going to give up. It doesn't matter if he's pitching well or if he's having an off-day, he's not going to give up. He's going to keep grinding. He's a guy you want on your staff." 

The loss of Zimmermann, in addition to the likely loss of longtime shortstop Ian Desmond, is yet another signal of the organization's clear shift toward building a younger roster. Veterans like Zimmermann, Desmond and centerfielder Denard Span will be replaced with the likes of low experience, high upside players like Joe Ross, Michael Taylor, Trea Turner and (eventually) Lucas Giolito. However, the team's new direction didn't stop the longest tenured National of them all, Ryan Zimmerman, from reflecting on the group of players that helped take the organization from a perennial bottom feeder to being among the upper tier in the National League. 

"We had a really good thing for a long time," the first baseman said. "We did a lot of things and took this organization to a place that it obviously it had never been before and sort of set the bar to where now every year we expect to contend and expect to try and win the division.....I think that group will always be special to us [and] to the fans who saw me, Jordan, Ian — they basically saw us grow up. Those things happen, they end."

But, as Zimmerman conceded, the Nats must move on. 

"Honestly, maybe it's good to have a little shake up sometimes too," he said. "You can always look at it that way."

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm