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Inside Baseball with Jon Heyman: Predicting Harper’s market early

Jon Heyman



WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Whether he hits the magical $400 million or $500 million mark, Bryce Harper appears on track to set a contract record when he signs his next deal. While folks have almost written off the Nationals in their hopes to keep him long-term, that isn’t necessarily the case. The Nats could well be in the ballgame, although if they can’t pull it off, strong very early speculation centers on the Yankees and the Phillies, who are expected to be loading back up at exactly the time Harper becomes a free agent.

One rival executive, repeating what’s being heard around the game but isn’t necessarily the case, suggests he believes the Nats are out of play. “How are they going to sign him? They defer money in every contract!” the high-ranking exec wondered. That may be so, but the Nats’ ability to pull off surprise signings (see Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg for a combined $385 million) should not be underestimated.

Nor should their love for Harper, who’s matured into a fine young man after carrying an early ‘cocky’ tag when he came into the game as a teenager. “I always have hope,” Nats president Mike Rizzo says about their chances to keep Harper on an extension. “Who wouldn’t want to have him long-term? We’d love to have him long-term. We scouted, signed and developed him. And he’s been an MVP here. He’s great on the club and in the clubhouse. He’s a wonderful kid who’s been misunderstood.”

True enough, Harper, still only 24, has grown up with the Nats, and knows his place now – he recently gave his preferred spring corner locker stall to veteran teammate and occasional mentor Jayson Werth – no questions asked. “I do what I can,” Harper said with a smirk.

What he does on the field has been magical at times, though he fell back quite a bit last year, whether it be for physical or psychological reasons (he had a shoulder issue he never discusses, and his surprise slide started right after Cubs manager Joe Maddon refused to pitch to him in an early-season matchup). It’s no wonder some teams are lining up for 2018, with Harper and Orioles star Manny Machado at the top of a brilliant free-agent class that also includes Zach Britton, Matt Harvey and many other stars. The O’s made a run at Machado a few years back before negotiations fizzled, and their chances may now be bleak. There’s been no real evidence of long-term talks or progress between the Nats and Harper – a report at the Winter Meetings that they broke off with him demanding $400 million was shot down – and if one thing seems true about Harper it is that while he loves the Nats, he is not the type to sign early.

“Two years is a long way off … You’ve just got to live in the moment,” Harper said. “You can’t really look into the future. And you can’t dwell in the past.”

In this space back in May, it was speculated that Harper might seek to become the first $500-million man, but he said, “I don’t pay attention to what you guys write,” Harper said, putting his hand playfully on my shoulder. “Whatever you write, that’s on you.”

He’s right that you can never be sure what will happen. After a torrid start last season, Harper seemed bothered by an ailing shoulder and/or strategies of avoidance that left him well short of his remarkable 2015 MVP performance. He’s still an amazing star who’s still a kid (though recently married), and while he’ll admit he isn’t the best player in the game at present, he still seems destined to sign baseball’s biggest contract two years from now.

Harper is a four-time All-Star in five seasons of play. He’s one year removed from a 42-home run season with a 1.109 OPS and a 9.9 WAR. He’s remarkably only 24 years old after debuting at 19.

When he spoke about his contract hopes, he emphasized not himself but the potential influence his talks had one everyone around him. He acknowledged that Mike Trout, his former Arizona Fall League teammate and friend, is “the best player in the game,” but Trout has another year before his free agency beyond Harper. Right now Giancarlo Stanton’s $320-million deal sets the standard. But that will be broken sometime within the next three years, and Harper pays attention to what goes on in the game. Pointing around the room, he said he wanted to help “this guy and this guy and this guy.” It was a long list, and maybe it’s my imagination but he seemed to keep his finger pointed a little longer at Trea Turner, who another Nats teammate predicted to win an MVP this year.

If not the Nats, the Yankees and Phillies do appear to be the most logical landing spots, and you hear them a lot in connection with Harper, as both teams are in rebuilds now (the Yankees’ is more of a modified rebuild) and have deep pockets, though one deeper than the other. Harper won’t discuss other teams (though it’s well documented he was a Yankees fan as a kid, for what that’s worth, and I’ve heard Yankees people more than once mention that fact) but he gushes about the Nats. “I enjoy Washington and playing in that historic town of monuments,” Harper said. “I love driving on 395 and getting off at the exit. It’s home. I love standing out in right field and hearing the cheers. I don’t hear those anywhere else.”

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The Nats have treated him exceptionally well, too, and this isn’t lost on Harper. They gave him $13.625 million in arbitration this year (MLBTradeRumors, which is great for aggregating trade rumors, had guessed $9.3M, more than $4 million less). He suggested he stays out of the way in talks, though he seems more interested than he lets on. “I let Mr. Boras and the Nationals work that out,” he said.

As far as the Nats go, you can see the love is reciprocal. He spoke glowingly of the entire Lerner family, who have among the deepest pockets in terms of personal wealth in the game, and said this about Rizzo: “He’s had my back since the beginning.” That’s surely true, as Harper has naturally gone through some rough patches, beginning with not knowing his place in the clubhouse as a kid. (Nothing could be further from the truth now.)

But while his free agency is two years away, I buy the Yankees and Phillies speculation. Yankees people regret just missing out on Trout (they were poised to take him a few spots after the Angels nabbed him with pick No. 25 of the 2009 draft) and dearly miss having marquee players with the Core Four (plus Bernie Williams) long gone, and Alex Rodriguez only a spring instructor. The city buzz around them is dwarfed by that of their less-storied neighbor in Queens, the Mets, and they don’t like that one bit.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are a top revenue team with a huge new TV contract, and amazingly only one player signed beyond this year, that being Odubel Herrera, whose price tag was comparatively modest, and also reasonable. The Phillies haven’t hidden the fact they could be primed to load up in a couple years, either. “We know the more significant investments are coming,” Klentak said. “It’s more a matter of when and not if. That’ll be dictated by the development of the team. I have no doubt our ownership group will make the necessary commitments.”

A lot can happen in the two years before Harper can become a free agent. But it’s never too early to speculate.

Here are our best guesses …

1. Yankees. They will likely be begging for marquee stars when Harper becomes free, and he’ll surely be at or near the top of their list – except in the highly improbable event the Angels make Trout available. He’s tailor made for Yankee Stadium, and right field seems open at the moment – unless Aaron Judge can prove otherwise (and even if he can, he can always move to left). Odds: 9-5.

2. Nats. They love Harper, and he loves them. One rival owner says the Nats should trade Harper after the year. “They have a window now,” that owner said. But that may be wishful thinking. They’ve surprised us before with some nine-figure deals. And the relationship with agent Scott Boras can’t be discounted, both at the ownership and GM levels. Odds: 2-1.

3. Phillies. They seem primed for a big move in two years. By that time, many of their kids may be ready. They also have big-time revenue, the kind that competes with the biggest of the teams. Odds; 5-1.

4. Cubs. They’ve built their marvelous team mostly with drafts and trades, giving them room to maneuver. They also obsess over age, which is probably a smart way to go. But they are thought to be interested in staying below the luxury tax threshold, and they have more great bats coming. It seems that if they were to spend, it’d have to be on pitchers, especially with Jake Arrieta a free agent to be. Odds: 20-1

5. Dodgers. They have the revenue, and it’s the closest big-revenue team to his Las Vegas home. They keep making noise about cutting payroll, and getting under the luxury tax threshold, however. Odds: 25-1.

6. Field. The Giants could be on the market for an outfielder by then. The Rangers have done some big deals before. The Red Sox can never be counted out. And you never know when it comes to a player this special. Odds: 15-1.

Around the camps …

28 Aug 2016: Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb (22) [9902] singles to center in the first inning during the Major League Baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Diamondbacks at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz. The Diamondbacks defeated the Reds 11-2. (Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire)

Arizona Diamondbacks

This could be an interesting team at the trade deadline, if things aren’t going exactly as planned … Some see Jake Lamb as a coming star.

Atlanta Braves

Recent performances by Max Fried and Patrick Weigel were extremely encouraging. Fried dominated the heart of the Tigers’ excellent right-handed-hitting lineup, and retired Justin Upton, the star he was traded for in a four-for-one deal … Good stuff is being heard about Matt Kemp and Brandon Phillips. Kemp is in much better shape. While he helped turn around Atlanta’s offense last year, he was bigger than life.

Baltimore Orioles

Orioles people like Pedro Alvarez, but there’s no evidence there’s been renewed contact with the free agent who hit well for them last year … Some O’s people seem to wish Wieters never left. But Dan Duquette pointed out Welington Casillo actually had a higher WAR last year than Wieters … The big decision in O’s camp may be whether to let Dylan Bundy throw his slider/cutter. Chris Davis came back from a BP session muttering, “What the… was that?” it’s such a devastating pitch. But Orioles people are so concerned about Bundy’s health they aren’t sure they’ll let him throw the pitch. He still has a fine repertoire, even without the pitch … The Orioles offered Zach Britton a deal for two years plus an option. After seeing what Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon got, it is hard to see Britton delaying his free agency by accepting a team option for a third year. Worth a try, though … Britton actually had a nice case for the Cy Young award last year (my take: I think he deserved it if you count relievers at all; otherwise it should have been Justin Verlander or Corey Kluber – so yes, we blew it). But Britton said his wife, who happens to be a lawyer, never was tempted to take to Twitter. Presumably, she doesn’t have the twitter following of Kate Upton, anyway … Orioles people believe Hunter Harvey, back in mid-year, and Corey Sedlock will be stars … O’s people would love to see Mike Wright make the team … Mark Trumbo is expected to spend more time at DH and in left field than in right field this year. Duquette did a very nice job getting him back … This could be good news for the O’s: three starting pitchers in their walk year (Wade Miley, Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez) … They remain baseball’s most under-rated team.

Boston Red Sox

It’s concerning that David Price is seeing Dr. Neal ElAttrache and Dr. James Andrews for his forearm strain … Mexican League pitcher Hector Velazquez had a purchase price of only $30K but has escalators based on consecutive days at the MLB level, according to Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald … BoSox exec on Pablo Sandoval” “He’s worked his fanny off … literally.”

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs and Jake Arrieta’s agent Scott Boras spoke within the past few weeks, and there was said to be “no traction.” The expectation is that Arrieta will be a free agent at year’s end. Cubs people love Arrieta, and helped turn him into a big star. However, the belief is that they wouldn’t go more than four years, if that. Arrieta is looking for a mega deal along the lines of the Max Scherzer contract with the Nats … The Cubs looked closely at Brad Ziegler this winter, making a play for him at one point … There are rumblings that the Cubs, as profitable as they are, are concerned about staying below the luxury tax threshold.

Chicago White Sox

Nice to see the ChiSox retire Mark Buehrle’s number. Well deserved.

Cincinnati Reds

There are reportedly concerns about Anthony DeSclafani’s elbow now, after Homer Bailey went down earlier. Doug Fister, Colby Lewis and Jake Peavy would seem to be fits. Peavy has the connection from his heyday in San Diego to Kevin Towers, a Reds exec.

Cleveland Indians

Whether Michaael Brantley can make it to Opening Day or not, this is the team to beat in the American League again.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies may be ready. People around camp have been impressed by the preparation of the core group of veterans (Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado, D.J. LeMahieu, Gerardo Parra, etc.), and all the imports give them a chance. “With the growth of the young guys plus the additions, and with the assumption of health, the goal this year is to compete for the playoffs,” Rockies GM Jeff Bridich said. “I think that’s a realistic and good goal.” … The Rockies tried to engage CarGo in extension talks, but those are on hold, at least for now. Gonzalez is a free agent after this season, so it’d be difficult to extend him at this point … The intention upon signing Greg Holland was to give him the ninth inning, but the Rockies aren’t going to rush him and aren’t saying when they believe he will be ready to do so. In the meantime, the Rockies have a very good alternative in Adam Ottavino.

17 September 2016: Detroit Tigers Starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) [4956] delivers a pitch to the plate during the first inning of the Major League Baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Detroit Tigers

Justin Verlander’s idea to stop PED use in baseball? Test players every day. … J.D. Martinez said he’s surprised but pleased to still be with the Tigers (he was talked about in a number of trades, including that proposed straight-up deal for the Mets’ Michael Conforto that was mentioned in this space last week). There seems to be a lot of that feeling in Tigers camp – extra excitement that the old band was kept together, to the surprise and delight of most. “I’m definitely happy to be back,” Martinez said. “I love these guys. I love our chances. Martinez realizes it isn’t over yet, and that if the Tigers don’t look like a contender, he may be back on the trade market. “It all comes down to how we start. If we start good, I think we should be OK. If we start bad, I think I’ll be gone.” … Verlander’s fiancée Kate Upton had reason to complain. There are stats showing Verlander’s second half was among the best of alltime, right up there with second halves performed by Johan Santana and Sandy Koufax.

Houston Astros

Mike Fiers has the inside track for the No. 5 starters job. Chris Devenski is another option … I am still going to need explanation for $52 million for Josh Reddick. Great guy, but woeful finish with the Dodgers. Corner outfielders were not at all in vogue. The Mets couldn’t trade Jay Bruce at all. Is Reddick that much better?

Kansas City Royals

The Royals love Eric Hosmer, and GM Dayton Moore has exchanged some texts with agent Scott Boras  … Luke Hochevar, working his way back from thoracic outlet syndrome, is hoping to be ready to pitch this season … The second base competition is interesting. About four candidates are vying. It’s early but Whit Merrifield, Christian Colon and Raul Mondesi Jr. all look good so far.

Los Angeles Angels

Garret Richards, a potential No. 1 starter, pitches Sunday. Huston Street, coming off knee surgery, goes Friday. With health, the Angels will surprise some folks … Mike Trout loves everything about Anaheim except the weather. Trout, a weather buff and Jim Cantore friend, says he goes home to New Jersey to experience weather … Danny Espinosa said he’s thrilled to be home with the Angels. The Santa Ana product went to Long Beach State. He felt the time was right to leave the Nats … Folks expect the Angels to spend big next year, with the awful Josh Hamilton contract finally off the books. One free agent to keep an eye on might be third baseman Mike Moustakas, a high school product out of the L.A. Valley (Chatsworth High).

Los Angeles Dodgers

“Other than power, Logan Forsythe is just as good as Brian Dozier, maybe better,” one scout opined. So that may turn out to be a decent pickup … The Dodgers also had looked closely at Stephen Drew this winter … Bellinger “could be a 50 homer guy,” one scout said. While that seems high, no one doubts his potential … Eric Gagne has now thrown for four teams while also preparing to pitch for Team Canada in the WBC.

Miami Marlins

The Marlins may carry eight relievers, and it’s possible all eight will be right-handed. The only thing that could change that is a quick recovery for Jeff Locke. Marlins people mention that Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa and others are very good against lefties. They still like southpaw Hunter Cervenka a bit, but he needs to contain wildness … Jose Urena has to make the team, as he is out of options. “He’d never clear,” one scout said … J.T. Realmuto has been working out at first base, and may make a nice option there vs. left-handers to Justin Bour, the starter who pounded righties but still needs to improve vs. southpaws … Shortstop J.T. Riddle has impressed early in camp. With Adeiny Hechavarria having a rough year in 2016, it might be worth keeping an eye on him … Adam Conley was clocked at only around 90-91 in his first outing, raising concerns. One scout said, “He needs to throw 94 or 95 to win.”

Milwaukee Brewers

Word is, the Brewers are targeting 2019 for contention. Based on their pipeline, they may be right on time … “I like what I saw of the Brewers,” one scout said. “They’re starting to collect a lot of interesting young players.”

Minnesota Twins

In talks with the Dodgers regarding Dozier, while the Twins first asked for one of top prospects Bellinger, Yadier Alvarez and Walker Buehler to be combined with Jose De Leon, but word is they made lower requests than those eventually. In any case, L.A. settled on Forsythe … While Pedro Alvarez would make some sense for them, there’s been no contact recently … It would be a shocker if the Twins took someone other than Hunter Greene, a pitcher-shortstop from Giancarlo Stanton’s high school in the Los Angeles Valley, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.

(Photo by Bennett Cohen/Icon Sportswire)

New York Mets

The Mets’ admission that Opening Day was unlikely for David Wright inspired some pretty dire reports and headlines, including this one from the New York Post: “Is this the End for David Wright.” The Mets’ history of optimistic takes on injuries to their players may have led to the media taking some extra leeway with the story. But Wright’s own list of injuries means the question raised about his Mets future is probably no more than sense. A shoulder impingement diagnosis has been added to back and neck woes which have limited his ability to stay on the field the past couple years. And it certainly isn’t a good sign that the neck surgery he had may be the second, or third, most concerning ailment. The chronic back issue, stenosis, is still seen as the main issue. In any case, best wishes to a great guy, whether this is it or not … Yoenis Cespedes has “no business being in left field with an eight arm,” one scout remarked, referring to the top grade given. “He should be in right field, and (Jay) Bruce or (Michael) Conforto in left field.” My take: Cespedes should be in center. That’s where he’d serve the team best … Jay Bruce could play some first base, especially with Lucas Duda ailing. Duda’s injury was originally described as a hip, but he called it a back, which is what killed his 2016 season … Of the top 14 curves by spin rate, Seth Lugo had 13 of them last year. He’s off to a great start as he vies for a rotation spot … After seeing his Arizona Fall League performance I am adjusting Tim Tebow’s chances to become a real major leaguer, from 1,000-to-1 to 1,500-to-1. Still a good story, though.

New York Yankees

GM Brian Cashman was told he only had $4 million after spending $99 million on Aroldis Chapman and Matt Holliday. So while he dabbled with Travis Wood and Jerry Blevins, ultimately Chris Carter ($3.5 million) and Jon Niese ($1.25 million, minors deal) made sense … Cashman says he had trade offers for Brett Gardner. Those offers are said to have involved no money changing hands, but the Yankees didn’t like the returns … Aaron Judge is wowing them with some huge bombs in spring training. It is between him and Aaron Hicks in right field … Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, clearly wished to distance himself from the Yankees negotiation. But it’s his company Solamere Capital and his eldest son Tagg who have been in talks to buy a small stake of the Yankees (Tagg didn’t return an email to him). Even a small stake isn’t cheap. Each percent of the Yanks goes for around $25 million to $30 million – or close to three times what George Steinbrenner paid for the entire team in the early ‘70s. The Steinbrenners aren’t going anywhere; it’s only a point or two the Romney family is discussing with a limited partner, who is selling for estate planning purposes.

Oakland Athletics

Prediction: Young first baseman Ryon Healy is going to do some major damage this year … Sonny Gray has a chance to be the most coveted player at the deadline, along with the White Sox starter Jose Quintana … Rajai Davis is a plus for any clubhouse.

Philadelphia Phillies

Nick Williams has been very impressive in Phillies camp. Lot of potential there … Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins are showing the same power they demonstrated in the minors. “The power is real,” one scout observed … Scott Kingery, who Tommy Joseph called “Scotty Jetpax,” has wowed them in camp early with his speed at second base … Joseph showed his big-time power by launching a home run to the Tiki Hut on the left-field pavilion.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Francisco Cervelli looks like he got a great deal signing for $31 million for three years during the season. Good story, too.

San Diego Padres

The Padres’ interest in bringing back Jake Peavy seemed fairly mild. But he has delayed his signing with anyone due to his interest in spending time with his four boys while he has a divorce, he told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN … The Padres have hired Preston Mattingly, son of Don and former Dodgers top draft choice, for the scouting department. Terrific young man. He will learn from Logan White, the man who picked Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager among other big stars.

July 20, 2016: St. Louis Cardinals Catcher Yadier Molina (4) [4199] is excited coming back to the dugout after hitting a home run during game 1 of a MLB doubleheader between the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

St. Louis Cardinals

Yadier Molina’s contract talks should be interesting. He is the backbone of the team, but the Cardinals haven’t been particularly nostalgic about contract negotiations and they have Carson Kelly coming. One more stat on Molina: He is one of four catchers that leads in bringing along effective young starters (at least 70 starts within four years of their debuts, along with Buster Posey, Matt Wieters and Russell Martin … Jordan Schafer is an interesting one. Formerly an outfielder only, he is listed as a pitcher after doing well enough in the Dodgers Double-A and Triple-A. Word is, he will need to make the team as a pitcher. But if he does he could be the first ever pitcher/pinch runner (he has over 100 career steals, as the commissioner Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out) … Jose Adolis Garcia, a recent Cuban sign, is expected to start at Double-A. But his play could change that … Of the Cubs’ alleged dominance, owner Bill DeWitt said, “We’re not backing off.”

San Francisco Giants

The Aaron Hill signing gives them some nice third base insurance … Tim Lincecum, who’s a notorious perfectionist, hasn’t set up his individual showcases yet. But there are teams interested.

Seattle Mariners

This team is going to rake, and will be dependent on how sound all their pitchers are, especially the top three of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton … The most under-rated player in the game may be Kyle Seager.

Tampa Bay Rays

Alex Colome has the potential to become a big trade target, possibly for the Nats or anyone else who’ll need a closer. Washington will not part with top outfield prospect Victor Robles for him, however … The Rays are off to a strong start in spring. Nick Franklin (2.357 OPS), Tim Beckham, Ryne Stanek and Jose Alvardo are making a strong early impression. And Jesus Sucre has a 2.417 OPS so far. Sweet Jesus!

Texas Rangers

Texas higher-ups absolutely love Rougned Odor, as evidenced by the enthusiasm they showed while going to bat for him following his fight with Jays star Jose Bautista. And as reported in this space first, they’ve offered him a long-term deal patterned after the pre-arb deal the Indians gave Jason Kipnis, who got $52.5 million for six years and a team option. Odor is younger and has more power, but Kipnis had an All-Star selection and MVP votes when he got that deal. Odor’s agents, led by Rick Thurman, met with Rangers GM Jon Daniels and their staff within the past couple days, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and MLB Network first reported. However, they are only said to be in talks … Good for Rangers owner Ray Davis stepping out to say they would “love to” extend star pitcher Yu Darvish. There seems to be some general optimism surrounding these major negotiations … Manager Jeff Banister is said to be a fan of Pedro Alvarez from his Pittsburgh days. But the team has not been tied yet to Alvarez. Can’t rule it out, though, as they lost Mitch Moreland, and others … Josh Hamilton was always seen as a low-risk deal, and it looks like it’ll be little gain, as well. While he hasn’t given up, more knee problems put his career at risk.

Toronto Blue Jays

Alvarez could make sense for them, too. With the loss of Edwin Encarnacion they are still an offensive deficit from a year ago … Dexter Fowler’s tweet to disagree with the travel ban presumably would have gone over bigger had he signed with the Jays, who offered a four-year deal. Considering Fowler’s wife was born in Iran, it should have come as no surprise he wouldn’t be a fan of the travel ban. Yet, he took hits all over the internet … One rival team took a poll regarding which two players they would have loved to see removed from the 2016 Jays, and the winners were: Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin. One of them is now gone.

24 August 2016: Washington Nationals relief pitcher Blake Treinen (45) hands the ball to manager Dusty Baker (12) at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. where the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Washington Nationals, 10-8. (Photograph by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

(Photograph by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

Washington Nationals

Scouts seem to like Blake Treinen to win the closing job. “He has the best stuff,” one scout said. But it’s going to take more than stuff, Nats people believe. Both Dusty Baker and Mike Rizzo cited the makeup of eighth-rounder Koda Glover, a full-blooded Cherokee, as giving him a shot to pull off the upset. Endy Romero and Shawn Kelley are among the other participants, though Kelly seems to be more suited for set-up due to two Tommy Johns in his past, they say … Joe Nathan has looked good early, throwing up to 92 mph already, which is a good sign. They are rooting for him to make the team. While his 89 percent save percentage, which is even better than Mariano Rivera in the regular season, makes him an all-time great closer, they really hope he’s just on the roster … Max Scherzer has begun throwing off a mound but won’t rush it. Opening Day is a question, but it shouldn’t be long after that, if at all … Scherzer says the knuckle didn’t bother him during games down the stretch, (or even Game 5) but killed during warmups. Eventually, a break was discovered … The Nationals are trying to trade Derek Norris, but with no takers, he could be released … Wieters was a great pickup for them, and GM Mike Rizzo was sold when he left camp for a day trip to interview Wieters at his Georgia home. Nats people say they’ve heard Wieters got 1,500 on his SATs. Can’t hurt … The one knock on him is so-so framing numbers. Scherzer and other pitchers say those numbers are overdone. Scherzer admits some of that is on the pitcher … Another issue was a deep forearm cut suffered by Wieters in a household injury. Agent Scott Boras said the injury was a 10-week injury and was part of the reason for the delay … Dusty Baker is concerned about all the lefties, so it’s possible Jayson Werth could bat 2nd in the order to break up the lefties. So Adam Eaton, while a candidate to bat at the top of the order, isn’t a shoo-in … There are deferrals in Joe Blanton’s $4-million, one-year deal … Rare track and field note: Werth’s mother Kim Schofield Werth had all her track records erased from the Southeast (Springfield, Ill.) record book because they “wanted to give someone else a chance.” Has anyone ever heard of such baloney? (Disclaimer: I covered her brother Dick Schofield when he was with the Angels). Schofield Werth was in the Olympic trials in her day. Her son can still run a bit, by the way … It was nice to see Stanford man Jeremy Guthrie playing chess against a machine in the clubhouse. The machine won, Guthrie admitted … Trea Turner will be MVP, a teammate predicted. Scouts are still evaluating his shortstop play. One said he was only so-so at short last year in the minors. “He would have been up sooner had he played a better short,” Nats people seem unconcerned … Scouts marvel at the talent of outfield prospect Victor Robles. “No way should the Nationals consider trading him,” one scout said.

Jon Heyman is an MLB Insider for FanRag Sports, featuring breaking news, information and his Inside Baseball column, which appears on FanRagSports.com every Thursday. Heyman also has been an insider at MLB Network since the channel launched in 2009 and is a regular contributor to WFAN in New York, where he appears weekly on the Joe and Evan Show and previously appeared on the Mike and the Mad Dog Show. He also appears on WSCR in Chicago, WBZ-FM in Boston and the Petros and Money Show on Fox in Los Angeles. Heyman comes to FanRag Sports from CBSSports.com, where he worked for five years and wrote the popular Inside Baseball notes column. Before going to CBS, Heyman worked for five years at Sports Illustrated and SI.com, where he was a senior writer and started an Inside Baseball Column. Heyman worked for 16 years at Newsday in New York, where he was the Yankees beat writer, a baseball columnist and finally a general sports columnist. Heyman started his career at the Moline (Ill.) Daily Dispatch, then moved to the Los Angeles Copley Newspapers (Torrance Daily Breeze and Santa Monica Outlook) before going to Newsday. Heyman at one time also served as a national baseball writer for The Sporting News. Heyman is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The Santa Fe, N.M. native grew up in Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Long Island.