WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Bryce Harper isn't talking about the future.
On Monday afternoon, Harper addressed reporters for the first time this spring training and refused to discuss anything beyond the Washington Nationals' upcoming season. That includes potential free agency.
"I will not be discussing anything relative to 2019 at all. I'm focused on this year. I'm focused on winning and playing hard like every single year."Nationals star Bryce Harper
"I will not be discussing anything relative to 2019 at all," Harper said, wearing a Nats cap backward and reading prepared opening remarks from his phone. "I'm focused on this year. I'm focused on winning and playing hard like every single year. So if you guys have any questions about anything after 2018, you can call [agent] Scott [Boras] and he can answer you guys. ... If you guys do talk anything about that, then I'll be walking right out the door."
The former No. 1 overall pick in 2010, Harper debuted in 2012 at the age of 19. In 2015, he won the National League's Most Valuable Player award, becoming the youngest player ever to be voted a unanimous MVP, after a season in which he hit .330 and led the NL with 42 home runs. Despite a down season in 2016, he returned to form last year and was considered an MVP front-runner before suffering a gruesome knee injury in mid-August that all but ended his regular season.
Last May, Harper and the Nats agreed to a $21.65 million deal for the 2018 season that was the largest one-year pact ever given to an arbitration-eligible player. When that contract expires in November, the 25-year old superstar is widely expected to ink a historic deal as the headliner of a star-studded free-agent class that includes Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson. That is, if the Nationals aren't able to sign Harper to a long-term extension before then.
On Monday, Harper made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in discussing his contract status, instead choosing to focus on how he can help the Nationals -- who are favorites to win their third straight NL East title -- advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since moving to Washington, D.C., in 2005.
"We're expected to win the East. We're expected to possibly win a pennant, and we're expected to possibly win a World Series," he said. "As a team, I think we're going to try to do the best we can and do everything possible to win ballgames. We've just got to take it one game at a time and win the East first. Because the Mets are tough. The Braves are good. Philly, Miami, whatever. Miami plays us pretty dang well. We've just got to go out there, play our game and see what we can do."
Fielding questions for nearly 20 minutes, Harper also addressed the situation in Miami, where the Marlins have cut costs by trading away reigning MVP Giancarlo Stanton and other key players under a new ownership group that includes former Yankees great Derek Jeter.
"I was very shocked that they were going to let go of [Christian] Yelich, [Marcell] Ozuna and Stanton because that's one of the best outfields in the game," Harper said. "You can't say enough about what Stanton did last year, what Ozuna did last year, and what Yelich has done the last couple years. I thought they were a great team. I thought they just had to add a couple more pitchers and they would've been pretty dang good."
Harper seemed equally surprised about the historically slow free-agent market in which numerous big-name players still remained unsigned as spring training began last week.
"If I'm an organization or a team, I want the best players on my team. My fans deserve that. The players deserve that," Harper said. "There's a guy like Jake Arrieta out there right now. I'd put him on my staff any day of the week. He's one of the best pitchers in the game, one of the best playoff pitchers in the game. You saw what he did last year, the year before.
"You look at a guy like J.D. Martinez, hit 40 homers a year, taking great swings, doing great things to help a team win ballgames. A guy like Adam Lind, one of the best bench guys in the league and he still doesn't have a job. Or, I don't think he does. No. I'd take him any day of the week. I'm not sure what people are thinking, or anything like that. But if I'm a fan base or a team and you're trying to lose ballgames to get the No. 1 pick, I'll take a frickin' Jayson Werth over a first-round pick any day of the week."
On Monday, two days ahead of Washington's first official full-squad workout, Harper took batting practice at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the spring training complex that the Nationals share with the Houston Astros. This Friday, the Nats kick off their spring training schedule with a game against Houston.