Washington Nationals: Strasburg, Harper Start Normal Offseason Prep
By Ron Juckett
Amid the unknown, Washington Nationals All-Stars Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg will start a normal, healthy, offseason training program.
Washington Nationals stars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper will start their normal offseason conditioning program next week.
Their agent, Scott Boras, chatted with MLB Network’s Jon Morosi Thursday to share the news. The fact it is news at al makes you wonder how honest Harper was with the Nationals about his health.
With Strasburg, the news is good.
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After a flexor-mass strain shut down his season before the playoffs, there was a slight chance he could have pitched in the National League Championship Series or World Series if Washington advanced. They did not, and he never went passed a 35-pitch bullpen session that ended in discomfort after 31 pitches.
With rest and a normal workout plan until the Nationals set up shop next February in West Palm Beach, talk of surgery or an extended shutdown is done. His new seven-year, $175 million contract is now on the books. Coming off a 15-win year in 24 starts, Strasburg goes into 2017 with things to prove.
Without an opt-out in his new deal, Strasburg has to show Washington Nationals fans he is durable enough to throw around 200 innings and make 30 regular season starts. Only in 2014 did he top 200 frames and twice did he take the hill 30 times or more.
His injury played a role in the Nats season ending early as Washington’s starters, outside Max Scherzer, failed to pitch deep in any postseason start.
The two-time All-Star is entering the prime of his career, a strong 2017 will quiet critics.
For Harper, however, the injury story is complicated.
As far as the Nats know, there was no injury, or one they want to mention in public. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci reported before the season ended Harper played the year with a bum shoulder. Something Harper and manager Dusty Baker denied.
A look at the numbers suggests there was something wrong. Harper’s 2016 slash line of .243/.373/.441 is well off his career-best season in 2015. The batting average is a career low and the on-base percentage skews because of the 108 walks he drew.
If you watched his uncertain swing and inability to protect the outside of the plate, you wondered if what ailed him was physical or in between the ears.
On the verge of a huge payday somewhere, Harper hits free agency in two years. Chances are he and the Nationals will sign a deal this winter, before any arbitration hearing, for 2017. This might be the year they buy out his last two arbitration years and first couple free agency seasons. If so, they need to know how banged up that shoulder is.
If he and Boras are right and it is fine, then why was his approach at the plate so poor? Did a May trip to Wrigley Field where Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s decision to pitch around Harper the entire weekend foul up the rest of the year?
As with Strasburg, Harper has stuff to prove for himself. One of the brightest talents the game has ever seen, 2017 is a season where he needs to drive in 100 and crush over 35 home runs.
Next: Grading Jayson Werth's 2016
The Nationals have a team right now that can win a World Series, but only if Strasburg and Harper can be healthy and perform.