Harper, Baker, Nationals head to camp aiming to erase 2015
FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2015 file photo, new Washington Nationals baseball manager Dusty Baker, left, accompanied by general manager Mike Rizzo speaks during a news conference in Washington. As they try to forget about 2015 and get started on 2016 at spring training, the best news for the Washington Nationals is that unanimous NL MVP Bryce Harper is still around. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) As they try to forget about 2015 and get started on 2016 at spring training, the best news for the Washington Nationals is that unanimous NL MVP Bryce Harper is still around.
''Sky's the limit. I don't think he's going to do anything but continue to do what he's done. He's even got room to get better. That's the scary part,'' backup Clint Robinson said. ''Bryce hasn't even hit his full potential yet, I don't think. You can always get better at things, even though it may seem like he can't.''
After batting .330 with 42 homers and 99 RBIs, while leading the majors in slugging percentage (.649) and on-base percentage (.460) and finishing second in runs (118), Harper – who turned 23 in October – already is generating speculation about how much he might command when eligible for free agency after 2018.
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Could he be baseball's first $400 million man? What about a contract worth half a billion dollars? More?
''That'll play out when it does,'' Harper said. ''I'm just worried about this year and the next couple years.''
When the Nationals begin reporting to Viera, Florida, this week, much of the attention will be on Harper, of course, but also on what's new – and what isn't.
After the team didn't come close to expectations by going 83-79 and missing the playoffs last season, manager Matt Williams was fired. Things got ugly at the end, too, with closer Jonathan Papelbon grabbing Harper by the throat in a dugout scuffle between the teammates during a game in September.
Dusty Baker was hired to replace Williams, and while there were some changes made to the roster, it was mostly tinkering, rather than major moves.
Some other things to know about the Nationals heading into spring training:
WHO'S GONE: A bunch of familiar faces are no longer around, including starter Jordan Zimmermann, shortstop Ian Desmond, reliever Drew Storen, center fielder Denard Span, third baseman Yunel Escobar and pitcher Doug Fister.
MURPHY ARRIVES: The biggest arrival is second baseman Daniel Murphy, who homered in a record six consecutive postseason games and was voted the MVP of the NL Championship Series for the New York Mets. He also made key errors in two World Series games.
SIMILAR LINEUP: Other than the additions of Murphy and outfielder Ben Revere, the lineup remains very similar to a year ago. The difference, the Nationals hope, is that folks such as Anthony Rendon (311 at-bats in 2015), Jayson Werth (331) and Ryan Zimmerman (346) will be healthier. ''We're much more balanced right now. We're a different offensive club this year,'' Rizzo said. ''Offensive efficiency should go up. We're going to strike out less. We're going to put the ball in play more. We're going to be more athletic and faster.''
REBUILT BULLPEN: Washington traded Storen to Toronto for Revere, and opted to keep Papelbon, while reconstructing the middle relief corps, adding Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez, Yusmeiro Petit and Shawn Kelley. ''We feel good about where we're at in the bullpen,'' GM Mike Rizzo said. ''We've got depth. We've got quality. We have guys who pitched in an array of roles in the back end of games.''
SCHERZER, STRASBURG AND CO.: Rizzo did not add any starters, other than Bronson Arroyo coming off Tommy John surgery, so he is hoping he can count on Joe Ross, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez to fill in the innings after the 1-2 combination of Max Scherzer – who threw two no-hitters last season – and Stephen Strasburg.
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