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As Dave Martinez joins Nats, could Bryce Harper be out soon?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

By HOWARD FENDRICH

AP Sports Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) There will be one very important question hovering over Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals throughout spring training and the entire 2018 season: Will this be his last year with the club?

Sure, there are plenty of other story lines to keep an eye on, from Dave Martinez's debut as a manager in the majors, to the pursuit of a third consecutive NL East title, to Max Scherzer's bid for a fourth Cy Young Award.

Nothing will generate as much interest, or will have as profound an effect on the team, as what happens with Harper, who can become a free agent after the coming season.

The 25-year-old Harper's representative, Scott Boras, already has been talking about his guy as an iconic player with iconic value , and it's hard to argue. Which is why, after making a little more than $13.5 million last year and a little more than $21.5 million this year, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, 2015 NL MVP and five-time All-Star is sparking conversation about deals worth a half-billion dollars.

The right fielder hit .319 with 29 homers and 87 RBIs in just 111 games in 2017, and is expected to lead what could again be a formidable lineup that will include Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Eaton.

"I wake up a lot of mornings and just jot names down on the lineup. I'm excited to get these guys in here," Martinez said. "Up and down the lineup, we've got versatility. We've got speed. We've got power."

He gets to work with very much the same roster that Dusty Baker took to two postseasons in two years as manager before losing the job because of two NL Division Series exits.

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Some other things to know about the Nationals before their first official camp workout on Feb. 16:

NEW LOOK

OF Jayson Werth is gone after seven years in Washington. While his clubhouse influence was large, he was no longer a middle-of-the-order big bat; Adam Eaton, recovered now from a torn left knee ligament that cost him nearly all of last season, will take over in left field. 1B-OF Matt Adams replaces Adam Lind on the bench.

ROOKIES TO WATCH

Not much room for inexperienced players. Two who could make an impact are 26-year-old RHP A.J. Cole, who has 22 career appearances in the majors and could be the No. 5 starter, and 20-year-old OF Victor Robles, who made the postseason roster in 2017 despite only 24 at-bats for Washington.

THEY'RE SET

The lineup is pretty much locked in, although Martinez says he is still fiddling around with possible batting orders (including possibly hitting the pitcher in the No. 8 hole). Also set are four rotation places (Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark) and relief in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings (in order: Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle). Given the relative weakness of the division, another Nationals title will be expected.

THEY'RE NOT

The closest thing to a real question mark is at catcher, where Matt Wieters labored through 2017, batting .225 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs. That's why the Nationals might be interested in J.T. Realmuto of the Miami Marlins, if the trade price is right.

ON DECK

There only competition to keep an eye on is at the fringes of the roster. Will it be Cole or Erik Fedde who takes the opening in the rotation? Will it be Pedro Severino or non-roster invitee Miguel Montero at backup catcher? Mainly, spring training will be for reading tea leaves about Harper's future and seeing how Martinez settles into his new role.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Updated February 8, 2018

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