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Breaking down the surprise new team that jumped into the discussion on Bryce Harper's future

Breaking down the surprise new team that jumped into the discussion on Bryce Harper's future

A new day, a new what-if for Bryce Harper.

Multiple reports stated Thursday he will be meeting with the San Diego Padres on Thursday night in his hometown of Las Vegas. Yes, the Padres, an organization that has averaged 72 wins annually since Harper arrived in the major leagues and has five playoff appearances to its credit during a 50-year existence.

Everyone would be right to consider living in San Diego. But why would Harper?

Location and lifestyle certainly fit. Access to his hometown would be readily available in a day. As previously mentioned, San Diego is San Diego.

Plus, the Padres have 10 prospects in MLB Pipeline’s latest top 100 list. That’s the most in the major leagues.

Which also means San Diego -- with or without Harper -- is not close to winning yet. Its top prospect, Fernando Tatis Jr., should be up this season. Others, like right-handed pitcher Chris Paddack or left-hander Logan Allen, also have a chance to be in the majors on Opening Day. That’s due in part to the Padres’ desperate need for more talent following a 66-win, last-place finish in 2018, their worst season since 2008, and the young players’ skill level.

The Padres also toil in the National League West, which is home to the two-time defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Where San Diego lags is a tradition -- something believed to be sought by Harper as a piece of the total package -- a significant chance at a World Series title in his prime, and overall panache in the sports landscape for one of the game’s most marketable stars.

This meeting could also well be an attempt by Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, to stir a stagnant market. Spilling news about a new meeting Jan. 31 can reboot what had become a lagging, somewhat exhausted, topic. Boras can use this new wrinkle to strike back at any team that believed it could just wait to drive down cost. This is status quo for him. The question is how serious the Padres are or Harper would ever be about them.

As this moves forward, it’s also fitting to recall how Boras managed the Alex Rodriguez negotiations in 2000. Texas outbid everyone, some believe by twice as much, when gifting Rodriguez a record $252 million contract. Boras will always hunt a modern repeat.

Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks. Harper is linked -- in varying degrees -- to the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Nationals and now Padres. However, he remains unemployed and is likely to stay that way well after this conversation.

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As Juan Soto returns, baseball is reminded of just how much it missed him

As Juan Soto returns, baseball is reminded of just how much it missed him

Juan Soto wasn’t in the Nationals’ lineup on Tuesday, but he still found a way to get both his teammates and fans pumped up from the top of the dugout.

No, really. The top of the dugout. Activated from the injured list 12 days after testing positive for the coronavirus, Soto was allowed to return to the team but wasn’t ready to start just yet. He spent the first half of the game sitting in the stands but couldn’t help himself from jumping on top of the dugout when new teammate Josh Harrison launched his first home run in a Nationals uniform.

It was a reminder of what Soto will bring with him once he finally does slot into his normal spot in the heart of the Nationals’ lineup. Of course, he’s brings an elite combination of power and plate discipline that’s matched by few across the sport—never mind among players 21 or younger. The thing is, Soto also has an exuberant attitude that’s contagious in the dugout and a model for how MLB can cater to young fans.

For every historic achievement—youngest player with three home runs in a World Series, MLB record for most walks before turning 21, owner of perhaps greatest teenage season of all time—there’s just as many moments that show his personality bursting out of him—copying Alex Bregman by carrying his bat down to first base in the World Series, drawing the ire of Miles Mikolas for an elongated Soto Shuffle, joking about just wanting to make the team in spring training.

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The baseball community has taken notice, too. Former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz called him a 20-year-old who plays the game with the maturity of a 30-year-old. Fellow young phenom Ronald Acuña Jr. admitted that he thinks Soto is a more exciting player than him. Soto’s agent Scott Boras considers him to already be one of the faces of baseball and he’s not alone in that thinking.

The Nationals have plenty of outgoing personalities. Eric Thames, Starlin Castro and Emilio Bonifacio all signed free-agent deals last offseason to join a clubhouse that already had Soto, Victor Robles and Aníbal Sánchez. So far this season, they’ve showed they still know how to have fun with trumpet celebrations on the basepaths and socially distant dance parties in the dugout.

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But Soto’s status as a star heightens the amount of attention directed at him, something that can only benefit both the Nationals and baseball as a whole given how well he’s handled it since reaching the majors in 2018.

Not only does he give the Nationals MVP-caliber production, but he knows how to pump up his teammates while does it. MLB may be in the midst of navigating a season during a pandemic (and struggling to prevent outbreaks from happening), yet Soto’s return should be a boost for MLB as it competes with NBA and NHL restarts for the attention of sports fans.

Baseball is in a weird state right now. The season is shorter, stadiums are empty and everything from spitting to high fives has been banned. Yet if there’s anyone well-suited to make the best out of it, it’s Soto. And soon, he’ll be able to jump down from the top of the dugout and finally step back into the batter’s box to make his presence known once again.

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Nationals players receive heartfelt hellos in surprise video message

Nationals players receive heartfelt hellos in surprise video message

WASHINGTON -- About 10 minute before first pitch Tuesday, different sounds made their way through Nationals Park.

The voices coming across the speakers and bouncing through the empty stadium were more high-pitched than usual. The Nationals have used several season-ticket holder videos as part of their game presentation during this fan-less season. But, this was different, as voices from dads, wives, sons, daughters and moms suddenly populated the video board, grabbing everyone’s attention.

Spunky Maverick and Brayden Eaton began. Brooklyn and Greyson Gomes followed with a brief sister-brother battle. And on went the video filled with missing faces before the Nationals’ 5-3 win against the Mets which yanked their record to 4-4.

Family logistics are always a challenge for major-league players. Normal times are difficult enough with 81 road games after spring training, then weeks of postseason play possible. A modest family room exists just across the hall from the home clubhouse entrance in Nationals Park. It has a play area outside to occupy the little ones until their dads can come out of the clubhouse either postgame clean or before they start a late-night routine.

Sometimes, families are able to travel on the plane. However, a multitude of in-house and real-life complications exist. School schedules, summer camp, age gaps between the kids changing where they want to be or what they will accept. And, of course, just how much traveling the organization gives clearance for.

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Everyone playing this season knew the detachment was going to be extreme. Sean Doolittle moved into a separate apartment from Eireann Dolan, his wife, who has an underlying lung condition. Ryan Zimmerman chose not to play in part because of the complications with seeing -- or not seeing -- his family. Some players had their children in Washington at first, but sent them home before the season began. The next time they would see them was unclear.

Daniel Hudson, father to three daughters, sat down with his wife to discuss all facets before the season began. Should he play? If he does, what does that mean for them? Back in the middle of July, he wasn’t sure when his wife and girls would be around. He was only sure they mostly would not be.

“it's tough but it's just part of it,” Hudson said then. “It's probably more difficult on my wife than anyone, having three kids under six by herself. But she was willing to make the sacrifice, and I felt like I needed to be here with the guys to try to get this thing going.

“It's nothing we haven't been through before. I was without them for multiple months last year coming from Toronto and they were back in Arizona. Public schools open in July in Arizona, where we live anyways, so I didn't see them except for about a week for Labor Day and they came obviously for the World Series. That's the only time I saw them all last summer. So it's nothing we haven't been through before, it's just part of the job and like I said, I feel like it's harder on the spouses more than anything. They deserve all the credit, not us. We just go play baseball. They hold the fort down. They are rock stars in my eyes, anyways."

The messaging was flipped Tuesday night on the video board. Hudson’s three daughters -- Baylor, Parker and Millie -- spelled out “N-A-T-S, Nats, Nats, Nats!” the best they could. Baby Millie, inadvertently made famous last fall, appeared more compelled by a leaf on the door mat than joining her sisters.

Tyson and Owen Kendrick, mainstays in the 2019 clubhouse, addressed Juan Soto, Kevin Long and Chip Hale, because the trio would often field and hit and throw with them. Their dad received a brief hello while the pair thanked those three for helping them. Being left out for the most part made Kendrick laugh.

“That’s the way it goes,” Kendrick said. “I’m their dad. I’m no different to them. It’s no different than me telling them something, then somebody else tells the same thing, but they listen to the other person. But it was really cool. That just shows you how much they love the guys and love being around the team. There’s a lot of guys they connect with here.

“I definitely miss that -- having them around. I talked to them the other day, and they’re like, ‘Man, we don’t want you to retire because you can’t go out like this from COVID.’ They want me to play another year so they can come back to the locker room and hang out. They want an opportunity to see my last game, and I think that’s something you think about with this situation we’re in. It’s unprecedented and nobody’s done this before. But, they don’t want to be sitting at home, just like we want them to be here.”

Carter Kieboom’s family chimed in. Aníbal Sánchez’s daughter, Annabella, advised to him to stay healthy and “stay in the houses” while his son, Aníbal, fidgeted with an oversized bat. Brooklyn Scherzer smirked her way through telling her dad she loves him. One of Davey Martinez’s granddaughters, Everly, delivered an emphatic, “Hi, papa!” The whole thing was a surprise and a jolt.

“No one knew that that was coming,” Martinez said. “I was shocked. I saw my daughters and my sons all up there. My grandbabies. And, I miss ‘em. I miss them tremendously. It was good to see them up there and I think that uplifted the boys a lot. I really do.”

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Martinez, who has an underlying heart condition, often FaceTimes his son and daughters and the little ones. Everly is a talker. Amora, his other granddaughter, is shy. His safety is on the minds of everyone who is not here to see him, protect him, or hug and laugh with him.

“I text my kids probably every day to see how they’re doing, how they’re holding up,” Martinez said. “We’re really close. To see them on the board like that was awesome. It really was. Breaks my heart that I can’t see them. But, they get it, they understand, they just want me to be safe.”

Family after family, dog after dog, finished the roughly four-minute miss-you card. It was a potent digital reminder of what is going in for Major League Baseball in 2020. No family, no fans, no normalcy. Heartfelt hellos on the video board will have to do.

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