VIERA, Florida — When Bryce Harper showed up at Space Coast Stadium a year ago and met with reporters on the first day of Spring Training, there was no question about his confidence and how he felt this team would do last year. Remember the line: “Where’s my ring?”
There wasn’t much of that this year as he sat in the same dugout on Monday and spoke for 17 minutes. He’s coming off an MVP year, but is anxious to move on and looks forward trying to improve on an 83-win season that ended in disappointment for this club.
“I just want to win,” Harper said. “I don’t care about accolades or numbers or anything like that. I just want to win ballgames and do everything we can to get to the next level and I know if I can stay healthy and do everything I can to help this team win, we’ll be fine. Last year definitely was a disappointment for us, but it happens. That’s the way baseball works. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other teams that are playing well.”
Harper entering his fifth season, but despite last year’s breakout, he isn’t ready to assume the leadership role on this team quite yet.
“I don’t think I’m a leader,” he said. “I think I’m more just a guy playing the game. I think J-Dub (Jayson Werth) and Zimm (Ryan Zimmerman) and all those guys are the leaders. Those are the guys that are going to go about it every single day and do the things they think are right for this team.”
Harper enters the season for the first time as the unquestioned best player on this Nationals team and in the top tier in all of Major League Baseball. There’s no doubt he has leadership potential and one day he could be a leader for this team, especially if he continues to do the right thing every day and perform the way he has been. But for now, he prefers to be a guy that leads by example.
“I’m not a very vocal guy,” he said. “I really go out there and just play the game I can, not take a guy to the side or in front of the camera and be like, ‘Oh, hey, you got to do this.’ It will be more of being inside the clubhouse and do everything I can to help guys out if they need it.”
Dusty Baker agrees with Harper when told about his right fielder’s comments.
“I think he’s right,” Baker said. “He has leadership potential, but he’s not a leader yet. How many people are going to follow the youngest kid in the room? Just because you’re the most talented doesn’t mean that you’re the leader. I don’t think it’s really fair to put that on him. I think he has some good examples for the day he does take over the leadership role.”
While we will continue to talk about this topic for the foreseeable future, especially with all Harper has accomplished and the potential he has to get better, his contract situation is one that won’t be going away either.
Even though he’s not a free agent for another three years, the question of how much will Harper’s next contract will be worth seems to be a popular one, with everyone having an opinion and speculating. Will it be $400 million, $500 million or more?
Harper doesn’t want to talk about that now,
“I got three years to play, three years to do everything I can to play this game,” he said. “Talking about 400 (million) or whatever everybody was talking about, everyone talking about money. You can’t put limits on players, you can’t put limits on what they do and that’s on the field, off the field with everything they do. Everybody says sky’s the limit, but we’ve been on the moon. So you can’t really say that.”
As far as the speculation that the Yankees are preparing from now to sign him in three years, and the Yankee fans expecting to see him in pinstripes?
“I’m a National, that’s what I want to be right now,” he said. “I have the “W” on my chest for the next three years. I’m very humble to put the W on my chest every single day, I love the nation’s capital. I love D.C., getting chills just thinking about that right now. It’s such monumental town, it’s a beautiful town. I look forward to playing there every single day for the next three years and that’s what’s on my mind right now.”
Harper also addressed the Jonathan Papelbon choking incident today and said it was the one and only team he would talk about it.
“It’s something that happened,” Harper said. “It got blown up out of proportion with the media and what not. It got squashed that day. Things that happened during the course of the year, it’s part of baseball, sports and life. We’ll try to do everything you can to not let it happen again. Hopefully, we go about it the right way and come together as a team and family. That’s all that matters. I want to win. I want to be a family out there.”