Washington let Ian Desmond, a 2004 3rd Round pick by the Montreal Expos and a lifetime National to his point, walk as a free agent this winter after the two sides tried and failed over the years to come to terms on a long-term extension.
Stephen Strasburg, the top pick of the '09 Draft and another Tommy John survivor, is on his way to free agency after the 2016 campaign if he doesn't sign on to stay in the nation's capital at some point before the end of this season.
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo was asked directly at the Winter Meetings this week if the Nationals have talked extension with Strasburg?
"We've always tried to think about our core players, to extend them to contracts," Rizzo said.
"We tried it with several of the players that have left us for free agency in the past. I would conceive we would do the same for him."
What about Bryce Harper, the no.1 overall pick in 2010, who's coming off an MVP season?
In an MLB Network Radio interview last month, Rizzo talked at length about the possibility of a contract that would make Harper a National for life:
"It's part of the new baseball," he said. "With these enormous contracts, they're long-term, they're extremely expensive, The percentage of the total payrolls come into play. It depends on what payrolls you're looking at, it kind of dictates how much you can allocate to a single player. I think the most important part of this discussion you guys are having is, you've got to sign the right guy. He's got to have the right attitude, the right character, he's got to be the type of person that you feel can handle that big of a load of expectations -- handle the money, is always an issue -- and handle the power of being the face of the franchise. I think that lesson no.1 is get the right guy. Have it be the right type of person that you want that will handle the mantle of that big enormous contract and the enormous expectations that come with it and pick the right character guy to do it."
Harper finished his fourth major league season with a .330/.460/.649 line, 38 doubles and 42 home runs in a 9.5 fWAR campaign in 2015 in which he played 153 games and made 654 plate appearances, career highs across the board.
Rizzo was asked this week if he expected Harper to produce similar numbers again this season?
"There's no question," he said. "We expect for Harper to be healthy and if he's healthy for the whole year we'll see the results. He's that type of player.
"The season he had this year, without the protection of the guys [like Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth] in 2015.
"In 2016, if those guys are who they've been in the past then he's going to have a lot of protection and the team that scored the third amount of runs in the National League should score a lot of runs next year."
So when do they start talking an extension for Harper, who will otherwise hit free agency after the 2018 season?
"We've got quite a bit of control left on him," Rizzo said this week. "He's going to be a unique and special situation for the franchise and I'm sure that will be a discussion with myself and ownership in the future."
Harper's agent, Scott Boras, was asked in an interview of his own at the recently-completed Winter Meetings if the Nationals had approached him about an extension for Harper?
He told reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman that it's up to the Nationals to initiate talk of a long-term deal:
"I think those are club dynamics. Whenever any team approaches me about any player, obviously we have dialogue with them. But at this point in time, Bryce is going to be there for three more years, very happy there. So we’ll just go forward."
Rizzo described Harper, who turned 23 in October, as a unique and special case. Boras described him a "generational player":
"I think with each player like that, you have generational players, I think each organization is going to have its own philosophy about how they handle him and what they do. So that’s really something I’m sure the brain trust of the Nationals have to sit down and look at. And when they have a plan, we’ll let you know."
Dusty Baker, who will be the third manager in D.C. in Harper's four major league seasons, talked this week about how he views the right fielder.
He's managed Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, "and I had [Ken Griffey, Jr.]," Baker added, "and I had [Joey] Votto. I'm pretty lucky."
He was asked how Harper compared to some of those players, and if he saw any similarities?
"I would say at his age, I would probably compare him more to Junior than I would anybody because Junior came in, he came in scalding. Let's not forget Barry struggled -- I think he had .236 one year. Sammy wasn't Sammy when he first came up with the White Sox. So I would say Bryce is probably closest to Junior."
So how much is this generation's Ken Griffey, Jr. worth? Is it inevitable that Harper tests the free agent market? With a deal less and less likely the closer he gets to free agency, is now the time to get a long-term contract done?