Bryce Harper made headlines last Spring, angered non-Nationals fans and gave opposing teams clubhouse message board fodder with his response to Washington's signing of free agent starter Max Scherzer, as if opposing teams and their fans needed more reasons to get angry after just about every preseason prognosticator said they saw the Nats as World Series contenders before a single regular season out was recorded.
"To be able to have a guy like Scherzer come in?" Harper said.
"I just started laughing. I was like, 'Where is my ring?' Because it's absolutely stupid how good our staff is. I mean, to add a Cy Young, to add a guy that is unbelievable in the postseason, if you have to go into a five-game set in the postseason, looking ahead... you have to go into a five-game set against a team, you're going to have to face [Jordan] Zimmermann, [Doug] Fister, Scherzer and [Stephen Strasburg]. Good luck."
"I absolutely love this organization. I love the city that I play for. And I’m not done here. Like I said five years ago when I first signed here, I’m going to bring back a title to D.C., no matter what. I’m getting chills thinking about it. I absolutely want to do that for this organization, this town. I don’t care how long it takes me, I’m going to stick and do what I need to do to help this organization win."
The Nationals never got to test out that rotation in the postseason, falling short of their goal of repeating as the NL East division winners and then taking the next step in what ended up a disappointing 83-79 season.
Harper, however, did what he could to try to help the Nats bring a title to D.C., putting up a .330/.460/.649 line with 38 doubles and 42 home runs over 153 games and 654 plate appearance in a 9.5 fWAR campaign which earned him the NL MVP.
With changes to the rotation, bullpen and infield, Harper talked at Nats WinterFest, before the Nationals added veteran Ben Revere to the outfield mix, about how the expectations will be different this time around though the goal will be the same.
Washington won't be the unanimous preseason favorites to win the NL East, National League or the World Series this time around, but as Harper told reporters, including the Washington Post's Chelsea Janes, proving people wrong might be more fun than proving them right.
"I hope everybody in the book dismisses us," he said.
"Because that means we’re going to go out there and do everything we can to prove people wrong. We’re a great team, we’re a great organization. I think we have the staff, I think we have the coaches and the manager to do it.
"I truly think we have the lineup to be one of the best lineups in all of baseball. I think being able to go in with that process of learning who we are, learning our DNA and playing the game the right way every single day, and I think that’ll show.
"I think we’re going to have a great NL [East]. You’re gonna play against the [New York] Mets and the [Miami] Marlins and teams that are definitely up and coming. Very excited for this year to come, and we’ll see what happens."
Will the Nationals be able to put the disappointment and drama of the 2015 campaign behind them and get to where they were hoping they would last season with new manager Dusty Baker at the helm now, new coaches and a few new faces in the lineup?
"Last year is behind us," Harper insisted this winter.
"Not even worried about last year. It was a terrible year for what we were about and we need to go into this year with the right mentality, with the win-mentality of going in there with a chip on our shoulders trying to win ballgames and hopefully everybody counts us out so we can prove everybody wrong."