Blue Jays could go young in rotation with Drew Hutchinson, Marcus Stroman

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With J.A. Happ struggling and reportedly dealing with back issues, the number of openings in the Toronto rotation has increased from one to two. According to MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, Drew Hutchinson is now looking like a good bet for one of those spots, with Happ, 2012 first-round pick Marcus Stroman, Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers in the mix for the other.

Stroman’s inclusion would be quite the surprise, even after his excellent performance last season in Double-A (9-5, 3.30 ERA, 129/27 K/BB in 111 2/3 innings) quieted those who doubted he’d make it as a starter. However, GM Alex Anthopoulos said service time won’t be an issue delaying his arrival and that he’s prepared to pick the best five.

Hutchinson likewise figured to open the season in the minors after returning from Tommy John surgery late last year, but he’s turned some heads with his performance this spring.

“He’s off to a great start, he’s definitely opened some eyes, he’s a strong candidate to make the rotation but he’s got to make it. But I love what I see,” Anthopoulos said.

Given the Jays’ struggles the last couple of years, Anthopoulos probably can’t afford to be particularly concerned with delaying arbitration and free agency eligibility with his prospects. If Stroman looks like one of the five best starters, it’s worth carrying him. After all, Anthopoulos isn’t likely to be around for the bill coming due unless the team starts to turn it around.

The Nationals expect Bryce Harper to test free agency

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Earlier this week at the Winter Meetings, Scott Boras said that he and the Washington Nationals had had preliminary discussions about a contract extension for Bryce Harper. Harper, of course, can become a free agent following the 2018 season and is widely expected to command the largest contract in baseball history.

While that may have given some Nationals fans hope that no other team would get the chance to bid on him, the Nationals are of the view that they have no shot to sign Harper before he at least tests the free agent market. From USA Today’s Bob Nightengale:

A lot of this seems like mutual posturing, doesn’t it? Boras trying to make it appear as though the he and Harper are giving the Nats a fair hearing and the Nats trying to make it appear as though, no matter what they do, Harper is going to hit the market. I tend to believe, personally, that Boras and Harper are hellbent on testing the market, but it’s possible that there is some number that the Nats can offer to head that off, right? Maybe?

Either way: big year ahead for Harper.