It has been quite the offseason for Bryce Harper, who in addition to winning the National League MVP award has dyed his hair blonde, been a presenter at the NASCAR Awards, and now has a rap song by Wale inspired by his historic 2015 campaign due out this week.
These days, Harper is showing up just about everywhere. But Sunday was the first time this winter the Nats beat corps got to catch up with the superstar right fielder. That allowed us to get his take on many things that have changed with the Nats, including their hiring of manager Dusty Baker.
"I'm definitely excited," Harper said. "Having a guy at the head of the throne in Dusty Baker, who has been in a lot of clubhouses and has had a lot of superstar players and things like that. He's been around the game for a long, long time. He played for some great teams, as well."
Though Harper is happy to have Baker in store, he made it clear throughout 2015 that he enjoyed Matt Williams as his manager. He often spoke of how Williams helped his development as a player and even defended him towards the end of the season when his job was in jeopardy.
"I think that was just what the organization wanted. Anything the organization wants to do, I'm all for it," Harper said of Williams' dismissal.
"I tip my cap to what Matt did for me. Being able to learn from a guy like that, a guy that hit over 50 homers in one year and then however many in his career, he's been unbelievable. He was awesome to be able to talk to every single day hitting-wise. I've talked to him a couple times this offseason and I've wished him the best of luck. I'll see him down the road, definitely."
Part of Williams' demise involved his mishandling of the fight between Harper and Jonathan Papelbon. Harper was asked about the closer and their relationship on Sunday.
"Last year is behind us. I'm not even worried about last year. It was a terrible year for what we are about. We need to go into this year with the right mentality," he said.
Harper has already turned the page toward next year. He currently weighs 210 pounds, but plans on reporting at 205. Carrying a lighter frame, he believes, is better for preventing injuries. And, of course, it worked pretty well for him in 2015.
Harper had one of the best seasons of all time last year, but hopes to improve and get even better. One area he thinks that is possible is with baserunning. Since stealing 18 bases as a rookie, he has notched only 19 total steals in the three years since, including six last year.
"If I'm allowed to," Harper said of wanting to steal more often. "I know I can score from first, I've done that a couple times. I did that a couple times this year. But I'd like to be able to score from second or third. Hopefully I can get a little better on the basepaths and hopefully Davey [Lopes] and Dusty, I can see where that lies. If it means we're going to score some more runs, then that's huge for us."
The Nationals have been close to signing several of the top free agents this offseason. They have pursued Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name two, but have fallen short.
Harper has been keeping up with all of it and believes in the Nats' front office, despite the fact they've missed out on a few players this winter.
"We've done a pretty good job of going out trying to get guys. We just haven't been fortunate enough to have those guys come to play for us. We've put money on the table and done things we've needed to do, but we just haven't been fortunate enough to have those guys come in and play for us.
"We've got work to do this offseason, as [Mike] Rizzo has said. And like I said, I've got Rizzo's back no matter what. He does a great job through the minor leagues all the way to the big leagues. We've got [Lucas] Giolito in the minors, we've got [Erick] Fedde. We've got some guys who are almost ready coming up. Giolito throws a billion miles per hour. Whatever they do with him, I'd like to have him on our staff or even in the bullpen. That'd be something I'd think about. We're young, but we're good. If that's Micheal Taylor or Trea Turner, I believe in this organization. Rizzo is still not done and hopefully we make a splash here and there and see what we can do."
When it comes to the future, the million dollar question is whether Harper will sign a long-term extension with the Nationals. His contract runs through the 2018 season, but beyond that there is uncertainty.
When asked about the potential for a new deal, Harper wouldn't get into specifics.
"I think that will play out when it does. I'm just worried about this year and the next couple of years. I'm very fortunate to be able to be a National and play this game every single day. I love these fans and I love this organization. It will play out in the next couple of years."