Bryce Harper is aiming to rejoin the Nationals on July 1

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Bryce Harper has not yet been cleared to catch fly balls or take swings six weeks after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, but Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com reports that the Nationals are hoping to have him back in the lineup by July 1.

Nationals manager Matt Williams told Zuckerman that July 1 “would be a good target, but we just don’t know … it depends on how everything else goes.” He then added that Harper is “itching” to return, but the team is taking things cautiously with the 21-year-old.

Whenever he does return Harper’s presence could cause the Nationals to shift Ryan Zimmerman back to the infield after bringing him off from the disabled list as a left fielder this week. Zimmerman has also been taking ground balls at first base recently and an outfield with Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth wouldn’t leave much room for him.

Of course, that’s at least 3-4 weeks away and these things often sort themselves out.

Phillies, Red Sox interested in Carlos Santana

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The Phillies and Red Sox appear intent on pursuing free agent first baseman Carlos Santana, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports. Santana rejected a one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Indians on Thursday and is expected to draw widespread interest on the market this winter. The Mets, Mariners, Angels and Indians could make a play for the infielder, though no serious offers have been made this early in the offseason.

Santana, 31, is coming off of a seven-year track with the Indians. He batted .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and 3.0 fWAR last season, making 2017 the fourth-most valuable year of his career to date. Although he was primarily stationed at first base over the last year, he could step back into a hybrid first base/DH role with the Red Sox, who are hurting for infield depth with Hanley Ramirez still working his way back from shoulder surgery.

As for Santana’s other suitors, the Mariners are far less likely to pursue a deal after trading for Ryon Healy last Wednesday. Neither the Mets nor the Phillies have a DH spot to offer the veteran infielder, and the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins appears to be blocking the way at first base. Then again, Santana may not find a more enticing offer outside of Cleveland, where Edwin Encarnacion might otherwise be the club’s best option at first base. During the GM meetings, Indians’ GM Mike Chernoff said he “love to have both [Santana and Jay Bruce] back” in 2018, but hasn’t backed up that love with any contract talks just yet.