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Do Washington Nationals believe Bryce Harper will test free agent market next winter?

USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale wrote on Twitter today that the Nationals believe Bryce Harper will test the free agent market next winter rather than sign an extension with Washington beforehand...

Divisional Round - Chicago Cubs v Washington Nationals - Game Five Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

When he met with reporters on the second day of the 2017 MLB Winter Meetings on Tuesday afternoon, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo initially declined to confirm whether or not there had been any further talks with outfielder Bryce Harper about a potential long-term extension that would keep him from testing the free agent next winter.

“We’re not going to discuss what we’re going to do with Harp,” Rizzo said, “other than that we love having him in the organization.

“We’re the team that drafted him, developed him, and he’s performed greatly for us, but we’re going to keep all those discussions internal.”

The next day, however, Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, told reporters in his annual Winter Meetings scrum that he’d recently met with the Nationals’ owners to discuss what the future holds for the 25-year-old, 2010 No. 1 overall pick.

“We had a meeting with Washington ownership about a month ago,” Boras said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, “just for some preliminary discussions.

St. Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“Other than that, it’s probably something we’ll address as time goes forward.”

Later that afternoon, Rizzo acknowledged that the talks took place, telling reporters they’d covered a lot of ground when Boras, “... made his annual pilgrimage over there to Palm Springs and had a good, long discussion,” with the Nats’ ownership.

Asked if he was encouraged by the talks, Rizzo said, “I’m not going to read too much into it.”

“It was a preliminary conversation,” he explained. “It’s something that we wanted to do.

“We’d like to get more momentum and obviously everyone’s heart is in the right place and we’ll see where it takes us.”

With the years and big dollars that Harper is expected to get, these negotiations can get complicated, the GM explained.

“They’re a huge commitment for ownership and there’s a lot of things that when you talk about those type of numbers for a particular player, there’s something that — when I always talk about those type of deals, you’re signing the person and more so than the player,” Rizzo said.

Earlier this morning, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported on Twitter that his sources told him the Nationals expect Harper to test the free agent market:

Taking a player to free agency to test the open market would be standard operating procedure for Boras, unlike what happened with Stephen Strasburg in May of 2016, when the Nationals’ then soon-to-be-free agent signed a 7-year/$175M extension with Washington months before he would have hit the free agent market.

Rizzo said then that he didn’t think the deal with Strasburg, another Boras client, would affect negotiations with Harper.

“Each case is different, each personality is different. Each player is different,” Rizzo said.

“Their wants and needs are different and I think that they are independent of each other."

If Harper reaches free agency, there will be plenty of suitors, and with the 2018 Winter Meetings being held in his home town of Las Vegas, the baseball world could be in for quite a show.

“I think he’ll draw some interest,” Boras deadpanned in an MLB Network Radio interview this week.

“I think that there may be a potential fit in the baseball world.”