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Bryce Harper's contract demand reportedly forcing Nationals to move on after 2018

Bryce Harper's contract demand reportedly forcing Nationals to move on after 2018

It is no secret that Bryce Harper's next contract could very well be the largest contract in baseball history.

The 2015 N.L. MVP has reprotedly been looking for something in the realm of 10 years, $400 million.

The Nationals would love to keep the cornerstone of their franchise, but with Harper garnering such a monumental price tag, the team may have no other choice but to move on when his contract expires in 2018.

With the MLB winter meetings taking place at the National Harbor in Oxen Hill, Md. this week, talks of Harper's contract situation have arisen again, and according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the news might not be good for Nationals fans. 

The Washington Nationals, balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension, now are preparing themselves to be without their All-Star outfielder after 2018, a high-ranking Nationals executive told USA TODAY Sports.

The executive spoke to USA TODAY Sports on Monday only on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.

Agent Scott Boras says the only active negotiations of late have involved a one-year deal in 2017. Harper, who made $5 million last season, is eligible for salary arbitration.

RELATED: NATIONALS DECLINE TO TENDER CONTRACT ON SPEEDY OUTFIELDER

Harper is one of Major League Baseball's top stars but with the Nationals already investing $84.7 million in 2019 salaries to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, the money just might not be there for the Nationals to spend. 

The Nationals, who had begun preliminary negotiations this year to retain Harper beyond 2018, believe the chasm in their talks now have become too great to overcome. While no specific dollar amount has been broached by high-powered agent Scott Boras, the executive says Harper is seeking a deal more than 10 years in length, believing it would exceed $400 million.

The Nationals' reported mood toward moving on from Harper after 2018 could explain why the Nationals are aggressively pursuing former N.L. MVP Andrew McCutchen and former A.L. Cy Young award winner Chris Sale. 

In the grand scheme, not much has changed. Harper was always expected to command the largest cotnract on the market. But the latest news shines a light on the possible direction of the Nationals' front office. 

2018 is still a long ways away, but this could be an early sign of things to come, one Nationals fans have been hoping they would never have to see. 

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Adam Eaton picks up where he left off in the World Series: homering off the Astros

Adam Eaton picks up where he left off in the World Series: homering off the Astros

The last time Adam Eaton faced Astros starter Justin Verlander, it was Game 6 of the World Series.

Eaton stepped into the left-handed batter’s box with one out in the top of the fifth and sent the second pitch he saw, a hanging changeup over the middle of the plate, down the rightfield line for a game-tying solo home run. Verlander hopped up as soon as the ball was hit and looked at the ball in contempt as it sailed into the deflated Houston crowd.

The future Hall of Famer was slated to start against the Nationals in their spring training contest Thursday but was scratched with groin tightness and ended up throwing a simulated game instead.

Verlander was spared from having to face Eaton again, but the Nationals’ outfielder hit his first home run of the spring anyway.

If Eaton could have it his way, he’d probably like to face the Astros every at-bat. He hit .320 with a pair of homers and six RBIs in the World Series—although it wasn’t enough to beat out Stephen Strasburg for World Series MVP honors.

In case you wanted to revisit that Game 6 bomb, the video is embedded for your viewing pleasure.

Eaton went 2-3 with a walk, double, home run and three runs scored before being lifted for prospect Luis Garcia in the sixth inning.

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Sean Doolittle credits lavender oil on his glove for calm demeanor in October

Sean Doolittle credits lavender oil on his glove for calm demeanor in October

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle moves a glove out of the way as he reaches into a shelf in his spring training locker and grabs a different one, which he then hands over with a simple, if unusual, instruction:

“Smell it.”

So, of course, you do -- getting a sweet, soothing whiff of lavender, the sort you might get from a candle or bowl of potpourri. And now you know what Doolittle sniffed each time he jutted his right elbow toward home plate and tucked his glove under his chin to get his catcher's signs during last season's World Series.

At the suggestion of Washington's director of mental conditioning, Mark Campbell, Doolittle put lavender oil on the leather laces around the webbing of his glove for the postseason. It helped the lefty relax on the mound after a rocky regular season, much the way the bullpen as a whole morphed from disaster to asset in 2019, a trend of improvement the club figures will continue in 2020.

"I was so nervous during the playoffs. I was just a big ball of stress. Lavender has a lot of calming and soothing to it," Doolittle explained last week. "When I came set, I could smell it. It worked, man."

In October, he produced two saves and three holds, a 1.74 ERA and a .167 opponents' batting average as the Nationals went 8-1 in his appearances along the way to a championship.

"When you're a reliever and pitching in high-leverage situations in must-win games, and you're on-call every night for like a month, it starts to take its toll on you. And it's a challenge to stay even-keeled and to really manage that energy. That's the hardest part," Doolittle said. “(Campbell) helped me out a lot. My regular season did not go the way I wanted it to go, but I was very proud of the way I was able to get myself together and be really effective in the playoffs."

The same could be said about Washington's entire relief corps.

Doolittle wound up with his most appearances (63) since 2013, a career-worst ERA of 4.05, a 6-5 record and six blown chances -- twice as many as in 2017 and 2018 combined -- to go with a career-high 29 saves.

He was part of unit that had an ERA above 5.50, but got help at the trade deadline. Acquiring Daniel Hudson from Toronto, in particular, was key, even if additions Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland dealt with injuries.

"On paper," pitching coach Paul Menhart said, "we are a lot stronger."

General manager Mike Rizzo brought back Hudson ($11 million, two years) and brought aboard Will Harris, a free agent from Houston ($24 million, three years).

Both can take on some of the late-inning responsibilities that Doolittle bore so often, getting worn out before heading to the injured list in August with a knee issue.

Elías (14 saves for Seattle in 2019) and Strickland (14 saves for San Francisco in 2018) have closer experience. Tanner Rainey can throw 100 mph and owns a tough slider.

So Rizzo should be able to forgo his usual in-season 'pen padding.

"Definitely is a good feeling knowing that we started spring training with a bunch of guys that have competed in the back end of the bullpen," manager Dave Martinez said. "If one of the guys needs a day off -- or two -- you have another guy that can cover. To have those guys here, whew, it was definitely on our list of 'to-dos.' I'm going to like looking down at that sheet of paper, going, 'Oh we've got Harris. We've got Hudson. We've got a healthy Strickland. And 'Doo' to close it out."

Like Doolittle's special, scented postseason glove, several teammates have some sort of 2019 memento they've held onto.

In a closet at home, Hudson keeps the glove he chucked after recording the last out against the Astros in Game 7 -- the initials of his wife and two oldest daughters are stitched on there; he used a marker to write the initials of his third daughter, who was born during the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals. Yellow-tinted sunglasses worn in the dugout for good luck sit in starter Aníbal Sánchez's locker. Outfielder Michael A. Taylor stored for safekeeping the baseball he dove to catch, with Doolittle on the mound, to end the NL Division Series against the Dodgers (Taylor says a teammate unsuccessfully tried to take that ball during the on-field scrum, but wouldn't reveal who).

When Doolittle heads out for the ninth inning this year, he'll have to do so with a new piece of leather: He switched glove companies in the offseason.

Might replicate that lavender treatment, though.

"I now associate that smell with having success in high-leverage situations. And managing myself. There's really positive energy associated with that: We won the World Series. I got to contribute. And I pitched pretty well," he said. “So there's definitely a connection there for me. It's definitely been ingrained, so we'll probably stick with it.”

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