Nats GM Rizzo dodges question on long-term talks for Harper

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OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — If Bryce Harper's representatives have had real discussions about a long-term contract with the Washington Nationals, general manager Mike Rizzo is not tipping his hand.

Meeting with reporters Monday at baseball's winter meetings, Rizzo deflected a question about whether he's engaged Harper or agent Scott Boras about an extension for the slugger who was the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year and 2015 NL MVP.

"It's not like us to discuss anything that we (say) when we're talking to players about anything, so I'm not going to answer any of those kind of questions," Rizzo said. "Those are private discussions between us and the players."

Harper — who is coming off a down year, hitting .243 with 24 homers and 86 RBIs for the NL East champions — is under Washington's control for two more seasons.

He can become a free agent for the first time after the 2018 season.

"With every player that you acquire, it's a possibility that you may lose them in their specific time frame. With Bryce Harper and every other player that has a contract expiring, you better make plans," Rizzo said, when asked about preparing for the chance that Harper could leave in 2018. "And it's not just Bryce Harper; it's everybody on the roster."

Rizzo said he speaks weekly with Boras — and other agents. That the GM would be in regular contact with Boras is hardly surprising, given that he represents several Nationals in addition to Harper, including pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon.

"We're constantly talking to him throughout the year, throughout the winter, during the season," Rizzo said. "They're not specific negotiations, but they're discussions about strategies and philosophies and all those things that come into it."

Among other topics touched on by Rizzo:

— Things "just didn't work out" with closer Mark Melancon, who was acquired by Washington at the trade deadline last season and agreed to a free-agent deal with the San Francisco Giants. Rizzo said the Nationals offered "market value," but "the Giants offered him more."

— With Melancon's departure, Rizzo acknowledged the obvious, saying: "The bullpen is something we're going to have to address."

— On the possibility of trading for White Sox starter Chris Sale or Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Rizzo said: "We've had ongoing discussions with a lot of different teams. The White Sox and the Pirates have been two of them. But we've got a lot of lines in the water. We've got a lot of irons in the fire. ... We're going to be aggressive if the occasion arises, but we're going to be prudent and smart about it."

— On whether he feels a sense of "urgency" to improve his roster, Rizzo responded: "I think urgency is a mistake. We're coming off a 95-win team with a good young core of players and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

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