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Scott Boras holds all the cards representing Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg

Scott Boras holds all the cards representing Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg

When Stephen Strasburg opted out of the remaining four years of his contract with the Nationals in November, the team understood it wasn’t going to be the only club bidding for his services.

So when reports broke that the New York Yankees were among the teams meeting with Strasburg, one of the premiere free agents on the market, it likely came as no surprise to the Nationals’ brass in D.C.

But after ESPN reported Thursday that the Yankees have made fellow top free agent starter Gerrit Cole “their clear offseason priority,” the man representing both of them has all the leverage.

On NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast this week, Todd Dybas sat down with fellow beat writers Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post and MLB.com’s Jamal Collier.

When talking about Strasburg’s prospects as a free agent, Dybas pointed to the unique situation the Nationals and Yankees, among other teams, are facing while courting the top two starters of free agency.

“We kind of have a weird dynamic because Scott Boras has the No. 1 pitcher and the No. 1A pitcher,” Dybas said. “It’s not two agents playing off of each other. It’s one guy probably playing his guys against each other going forward and trying to run up both their prices concurrently.”

The Yankees’ interest alone is enough to drive up the expected prices of both Strasburg and Cole. But as Collier notes, New York hasn’t dug too deep into its pockets over the last few seasons.

“The name, the Yankees, still carries so much weight and fear—for people who think they’re going to lose all their best players to the Yankees—but that’s just not the way the team has operated for the last handful of years or so,” Collier said.

However, if the ESPN report rings true and the Yankees do offer Cole a record-setting contract, that would certainly take them out of the running for Strasburg. Yet the high-spending Los Angeles Dodgers are also rumored to be in on Strasburg, meaning the Yankees’ pursuit of Cole likely won’t do much to reduce the price for the Nationals’ free agent.

In fact, Boras could use the fact that Cole’s price is so unaffordable for most teams and try to convince other clubs that Strasburg is a bargain. That could pull more teams into the bidding war and drive up his price.

Dybas believes Strasburg will sign for six years and $200 million, while Dougherty thinks Boras will seek a similar contract to the one another one of his clients received: Max Scherzer and his seven-year, $210 million deal he signed with Washington in 2015.

For their full conversation about both Strasburg and fellow free agent Anthony Rendon, you can listen to the Nationals Talk podcast on Art19, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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There’s a Harper in DC again: Nationals trade for reliever Ryne Harper

There’s a Harper in DC again: Nationals trade for reliever Ryne Harper

It may have taken until Jan. 29, but the Nationals finally made their first trade of the offseason Wednesday when they acquired right-hander reliever Ryne Harper from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for 21-year-old pitching prospect Hunter McMahon.

Of course, he won’t be the first Harper to don the Curly W. He’ll have a lot of work to do if he wants to top the legacy of the former MVP now playing in Philadelphia.

Putting that aside, he’s joining the Nationals coming off a solid rookie season in which he posted a 3.81 ERA with one save and 12 holds in 61 appearances for Minnesota.

At 30 years old, Harper will certainly be a bit seasoned for a second-year player. Per Brooks Baseball, his fastball averaged out at 89.7 mph while he also mixed in healthy usage of a slider and curveball. He isn’t a big strikeout pitcher (8.3 K/9), allowing mostly grounders (38.5 percent) and flyballs (37.3 percent).

Harper was designated for assignment by the Twins to make room for Josh Donaldson on the 40-man roster. Washington was among the suitors for Donaldson; although they didn’t end up signing him, the third baseman still managed to make an impact that affected the Nationals.

McMahon was a ninth-round pick out of last year’s draft who posted a 0.71 ERA over nine appearances last season between rookie ball and Low-A Auburn.

Washington figures to give Harper a chance to compete for a bullpen spot in spring training, joining a crowded group that only has three pitchers guaranteed spots heading into the year: Sean Doolittle, Will Harris and Daniel Hudson.

After the Nationals made the trade official Wednesday, their 40-man roster is now officially full. For fans still holding out hope that Kris Bryant could be going to D.C., this trade only lowers those odds even further after Bryant lost his service-time grievance with the Chicago Cubs.

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Kris Bryant loses grievance against Cubs, chances of trade to Nationals slim

Kris Bryant loses grievance against Cubs, chances of trade to Nationals slim

Kris Bryant will remain signed with the Chicago Cubs for at least the next two seasons, although the team continues to field calls for trade proposals, ESPN reported Wednesday morning.

The Cubs have dangled Bryant in trade talks all offseason after the team signaled its desire to get under the luxury tax. Washington was rumored to have contacted Chicago about the third baseman earlier this winter, but those talks have “gone nowhere” according to The Athletic.

After incumbent third baseman Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels at the Winter Meetings, the Nationals pursued Josh Donaldson in free agency but ultimately refused to meet his asking price. Instead, the team re-signed infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera and will give top prospect Carter Kieboom the chance to compete against him for the starting job in spring training.

THE BIG TWENTY: LOOKING BACK AT THE START OF STRASBURG AND HARPER IN DC

Chicago retaining two years of control over Bryant raises his trade value to the point where the Nationals likely wouldn’t be able to put together a competitive offer. Washington only has one consensus top-100 prospect in Kieboom and has been hesitant to deal him in past trade discussions.

The Atlanta Braves, who lost Donaldson to the Minnesota Twins in free agency, have been rumored to be interested in Bryant and would be in a much better position to make an offer enticing enough for the Cubs to trade him. The same goes for the Texas Rangers, who are moving into a new ballpark this season and would benefit from bringing in a star like Bryant to put fans in seats.

There’s also the likelihood that Chicago holds onto Bryant to start the 2020 season. The Cubs still have most of the core that led the team to its first World Series in 108 years back in 2016 and figure to be competitive in a wide-open NL Central. If they end up struggling to start the year, they could always field calls for him at the trade deadline when there might be more suitors.

Meanwhile, the Nationals appear content with the depth they’ve accumulated at third base. In addition to Kieboom and Cabrera, Washington also signed Starlin Castro and retained Howie Kendrick—both of whom have experience at third. With the team already projected to be close to the luxury tax threshold, a move for Bryant remains unlikely.

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