WASHINGTON — Everywhere Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman goes these days, the same topic arises: What is going to happen with free agent outfielder Bryce Harper?
“As if they think — I guess because I’ve been here forever — I know all the answers to everything,” Zimmerman said Saturday at Nationals Park during the club’s annual fan festival. “Yeah, you get that question quite a bit.”
As much as Washington general manager Mike Rizzo already has done to try to improve a roster that flopped in 2018, that is the essential issue that is going to loom over the offseason until it’s resolved.
Harper was drafted No. 1 overall by the Nationals in 2010, made his major league debut as a teen, won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2012, was a unanimous selection as NL MVP in 2015 — and now could be gone for good at age 26.
“Whatever team he’s on is a better team. He’s one of the better players in the game. A lot of us would love to have him back here. I don’t think there’s anyone that wouldn’t like to have him back,” Zimmerman said. “But there’s a lot of different factors that go into that. It’s a complicated situation.”
Washington, which went 82-80 and missed the playoffs, made a late-season offer to Harper that was not accepted, which was no surprise.
“They haven’t showed their hand either way, as far as what their timeline is,” Rizzo said. “I think their timeline is: When they get the deal they feel comfortable with, I think they’re going to move. I don’t think there’s anything urgency on their part. I think when they get something they like, it’ll probably happen.”
Until then, Rizzo is making moves to shore up his team.
That doesn’t include the outfield, though: The Nationals already have Juan Soto, who was the runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year, along with Adam Eaton, top prospect Victor Robles and Michael A. Taylor.
As for Harper’s future, Robles said: “Everyone asks about that. A lot.”
Rizzo has added a pair of catchers, trading with the Cleveland Indians for AL All-Star Yan Gomes on Friday without relinquishing a top prospect and signing free agent Kurt Suzuki to a $10 million, two-year deal last week.
He brought in a couple of back-end-of-the-bullpen relievers, signing Trevor Rosenthal, a free agent coming off reconstructive elbow surgery, and acquiring Kyle Barraclough from the Miami Marlins.
And he joined Nationals owner Mark Lerner in meeting recently with free agent starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, a left-hander who went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA as an NL All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018.
“We go into the offseason with a checklist every year. We’ve checked a few things off so far, but we’re far from finished. And I think that the Bryce situation and filling some of the other things that we’re trying to do are independent of each other,” Rizzo said. “We’ve always been an organization that ownership has given us the resources to do what we need to do to build a championship-caliber club, and I don’t see that changing.”
NOTES: Asked about how his long-term deal could expire after next season, unless the Nationals pick up an $18 million club option for 2020, Zimmerman said he doesn’t anticipate “having any problems coming to an agreement moving forward.” Added the 34-year-old Zimmerman: “I still would like to get compensated fairly, but it’s not like I’m going to go somewhere else and play for an extra couple bucks. I don’t think it’s any secret I would like to finish here.” … 2B/OF Howie Kendrick will be “full-go at spring training,” Rizzo said. Kendrick tore his right Achilles tendon in May and missed the rest of last season. … Asked whether the Nationals will make a push to sign 3B Anthony Rendon to a new contract this offseason, Rizzo replied: “I think we should. And I think we have. And I think we will continue to do so. He’s a guy that we drafted, signed and developed and he’s one of our own. He’s a terrific player that nobody talks about.”
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