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Wire Taps: Nationals ready for Bryce Harper return; Jeremy Hellickson developing slider; Craig Kimbrel rumors churning...

Catch up on the last 24 hours in Nationals news before Max Scherzer takes the mound this afternoon (on MASN)...

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MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, what did we used to talk about before Bryce Harper was a free agent? Asking for a friend.

Here’s the news from Nationals Park:

Craig Kimbrel has been linked to the Nationals. His destination could shape the NL East race. (WaPo)
The Nationals remain interested in Craig Kimbrel, especially in the context of keeping the rest of their bullpen healthy. The Phillies and Braves aren't out of the picture. The NL East could shape up to be a nearly nuclear arms race — or the luxury tax could prevent everyone from spending in a shocking turn of events.

After a hug or high-five, Mike Rizzo wants to beat Bryce Harper’s butt in D.C. return (WaPo)
Harper returns to Nationals Park on April 2nd. Mike Rizzo thinks Max Scherzer will likely be on the hill. They're ready to battle.

With Bryce Harper in Philly, there’s no clear favorite in the stacked NL East (WaPo)
The Mets added 22.0 wins this offseason. The Nats added 7.5. The Phillies added... 5.5? (The Nats, for what it's worth, are still projected to finish at the top of the division, either tied with the Phillies or five games ahead of the Braves.)

Last words on Bryce (Sweetspot — Nationals Baseball)
"Yes, yes attitude matters, but production matters more. No one is talking about Bryce's hair tosses if he delivered 4 straight seasons like 2015. In the end that's what's going to make him loved or hated. He can't ‘effort’ his way to their hearts. That's for guys with low expectations. Guys like Bryce need to perform. If he does it'll be great. If not it will be rough."

Hellickson working on slider, quick-pitch delivery (MASN)
Jeremy Hellickson added a slider this offseason, though he isn't quite sure if he'll use it in regular season games. “It’s a good rotation to learn a slider from,” Hellickson said. “So I’ve obviously asked all those guys. Corbin coming over with probably the best slider in the game, talked to him a little bit. Yeah, just trying to get comfortable with it, and really like any pitch, try to get to where I can throw it at any count, any situation.”

Why the Nationals’ pursuit of Kimbrel is more complicated than it may appear (The Athletic)
The Nationals aren't closed off to the idea of signing Kimbrel. But they recognize that such an addition to payroll could hamper them when they try to extend or re-sign Anthony Rendon in terms of going over the luxury tax and losing draft picks as a punishment.

Bowden: Offseason grades for the NL East (The Athletic)
The Braves and Marlins had pretty boring offseasons. The Nationals, Phillies, and Mets — less so. The Phillies understandably get the A+ here.

The craziest Phillies offseason ever: Inside the winding path that led to Bryce Harper (The Athletic)
A longform read on how Matt Klentak and John Middleton really, really thought the Phillies would never sign Harper. It goes through every text, every deliberation, every turn in the story that is blissfully over.

Nationals newcomer Dozier fixing injury-induced swing flaws (AP)
Brian Dozier thinks he created some bad habits last year, but "everything's going as planned" — and Dave Martinez predicts a return to form for the second baseman.

Hot hitter: Harper bests LeBron jersey mark (ESPN)
"According to Fanatics, the top three markets for sales of Harper jerseys so far are Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York."

Washington Nationals Top 50 WAR Leaders Quiz (Blake Finney/Sporcle)
This is tough. If you have 15 minutes to waste, go for it.

Thinking of burning your Bryce Harper gear? Donate it instead and get a shot of whiskey. (WaPo)
“It definitely hurt that Bryce went somewhere within the division,” Laura Licata, the social media coordinator for The Big Stick, said in a phone interview Monday. “We wanted to have a way for fans to let go and say goodbye, but also not be a classless fan base and just set fire to perfectly good clothing that other folks might need.”

Unclear future not weighing down focused Stevenson (MASN)
Andrew Stevenson probably knows he's towards the bottom of the Nats' outfield pecking order. He probably knows he could be trade bait. He probably knows he'll be stuck in Triple-A yet again. He doesn't seem too worried about it, and is ready to serve as a jack-of-all-trades in the outfield if called up.

Dear Bryce Harper: Thanks. (Love, a Nats fan.) (WaPo)
"I’m taking your picture down from my office cube, but I hope you’re happy in your new life. Thanks for all the home runs, and for making baseball fun, like you promised you would."

The Washington Nationals Need to Extend Anthony Rendon (Baseball Essential)
"The Nationals losing Harper doesn’t come as a surprise, but losing the star outfielder and Rendon in back-to-back offseasons is a pill the franchise can’t swallow; they need to pony up the money to keep the homegrown product in the nation’s capital for the entirety of his prime."