The Nats are confident that they'll sign Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper wall of balls.jpgUnlike the case with previous Scott Boras clients, I haven’t heard anyone make even a plausible suggestion that Bryce Harper would try to go back to school, play in the independent leagues, go to Japan or do anything else other than sign with the Nationals before the August 15th deadline.  Nevertheless, reporters keep asking the team how they feel about it. Here’s MASN’s Byron Kerr:

In Cleveland, I got the opportunity to speak with Nationals General
Manager Mike Rizzo regarding this year’s #1 first-year player selection,
catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper.

Mike, having worked with agent Scott Boras while signing Stephen
Strasburg last season, does that give you a leg up in the negotiations
with Bryce Harper this year?

“Each case with each individual and each representative is unique.
We are not going to put any timetables on it. We feel with Bryce like
we did with Stephen, if two parties want to make a deal, a deal will be
made. So, we are optimistic about it.”

Which is what Mark Lerner said last week. And if that’s not good enough, the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore recently spoke with Harper’s college coach who said that Harper’s own parents are firmly in the “we don’t want to hold out; we want to sign and get this over with” camp.

It’s Boras, so we can fully expect the signing to wait until the absolute last minute before the deadline, but Harper is going to sign with the Nats. Which will be more boring than seeing him abuse Northern League pitchers, but which makes total sense for everyone involved.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.