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Rizzo looking to make Nats a 'championship caliber club'

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Rizzo looking to make Nats a 'championship caliber club'

The Washington Nationals' 2015 season did not end the way anyone had hoped as a roster loaded with talent failed to even make the playoffs. Now with the team already losing Jordan Zimmermann and likely to lose Denard Span and Ian Desmond to free agency, general manager Mike Rizzo has his work cut out for him this winter.

Finding players to add to the roster, however, has proved easier said than done.

The Nationals have been in the running for several big name free agents, but have thus far failed to coax any of them to come to Washington. The most recent example is Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward who chose to sign with the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

"It was a disappointment obviously that we didn't land Jason who's a terrific player, a great citizen and an all-around good guy," Rizzo said. "But those things are expected. We have alternative plans for everything that we get done and for things that we don't get done so we wish him well and we'll certainly make arrangements to improve the roster other ways."

The team made what Rizzo said was "competitive market value deals" for Heyward, infielder Ben Zobrist and relief pitcher Darren O'Day, all of whom chose to sign elsewhere.

RELATED: Dusty Baker further explains controversial comments

Despite the misses so far in free agency, Rizzo is unconcerned. He said he was in contact with "several players" who could serve as potential replacements for Span in the outfield. He also said the situation in the infield is not quite as dire as some may think.

"We still have very good depth in the middle infield," Rizzo said. "We've got two young players [Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo] and [Danny Espinosa] that's a veteran player. We like the skill-set of all three of them and we would feel good about going to spring training with those guys."

One place in which the Nationals have not "struck out" this offseason is relief pitching. The team's bullpen was a mess last season and fixing that was clearly a priority for Rizzo who has thus far has acquired Trevor Gott and Shawn Kelley.

"Trevor Gott is a very aggressive young controllable right-handed pitcher," Rizzo said. "He's got mid to upper 90's velocity, got good movement on his fastball. We took a good look at his delivery and the way he attacks hitters and it was something that we really liked and we think that he's going to be a major factor for us not only this year but down the road too. ... Kelly's another aggressive right-handed pitcher that attacks hitters. He's got a really good sinking fastball and a wipeout slider in a guy who's pitched leverage innings for different teams, proved that he could do it in big markets like New York City and was great with the Padres. We liked what we saw when he pitched against us at times and our scouts really liked he's demeanor and his aggressive nature on the mound."

The team further supplemented the bullpen by signing Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit, the latter of which Rizzo confirmed on Saturday was a done deal pending a physical.

"[Petit]'s a terrific Major League pitcher," Rizzo said. "He's a good swing guy, started games for a world championship team, pitched leverage innings in playoffs. He's battle tested and really gives the manager a lot of freedom and diversity. He can start, he can relieve, he can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, he can spot start for you and he can be in the rotation for you."

For a team that has made the playoffs only twice since coming to Washington in 2005 and has never won a playoff series, the pressure is starting to mount on Rizzo to show results. Because of that, do not expect Rizzo to sit back quietly this winter and watch big names pass the Nationals by. He has proven aggressive in free agency this offseason, though largely unsuccessful, and indicated more moves were to come.

"We're just out scouring and looking for players that help improve the roster and make us a championship caliber club."

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

Its 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.

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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