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Nationals extend Bryce Harper through the 2018 season

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The Nationals signed star outfielder Bryce Harper to a one-year contract extension through 2018, the team announced on Saturday. Terms of the extension have not been formally released, but according to reports from FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, they include a $21.65 million salary and an additional $1 million bonus if Harper secures another MVP title. Per Heyman, it projects to be Major League Baseball’s biggest one-year salary bump for a would-be arbitration-eligible player.

However you slice it, it’s a huge chunk of change for one of the league’s most valuable players. Harper slugged his way to a cumulative 23 fWAR for the Nationals over the last five years, earning four All-Star nominations, a Silver Slugger award, and NL Rookie of the Year and MVP honors to boot. While he hasn’t yet returned to the record-setting pace he maintained in 2015, replete with 42 home runs and a .330/.460/.649 batting line, he’s been one of the most consistent and productive hitters in either league. Through his first 31 games of the 2017 season, the 24-year-old is batting a tremendous .372/.496/.717 with 10 home runs and 2.4 fWAR and has already started to form a strong case for MVP consideration.

Harper is set to enter free agency following the 2018 season and will almost undoubtedly test the waters in search of another mammoth deal. For now, however, he’ll continue setting records for the Nationals, and if all goes according to plan, help power them through another postseason run come October.

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.