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Giolito signs for 2.925 million

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Giolito signs for 2.925 million

MIAMI -- No stranger to down-to-the-wire negotiations with draft picks, the Nationals agreed to contract terms with first rounder Lucas Giolito less than one minute before today's 5 p.m. deadline, giving the young right-hander 2.925 million and thus subjecting themselves to a tax for exceeding Major League Baseball's new draft pool cap.

How close to the deadline did the Nationals get before finalizing the deal?

"Dangerously close," general manager Mike Rizzo said prior to tonight's second-half opener at Marlins Park.

Giolito, who turns 18 on Saturday, told the Los Angeles Times he agreed to the deal with only 30 seconds to spare.

As is typically the case, the drawn-out negotiations were over dollar figures. The Nationals felt all along Giolito wanted to sign with them but wanted to receive more than the approximately 2.8 million the club had remaining from its pool of 4.4 million for its top 10 draft choices.

Per MLB's new collectively bargained rules, any club that exceeds its draft pool limit up to 5 percent is subject to a 75 percent tax. Any club that exceeds that number by 5 percent to 10 percent is subject both to the 75 percent tax and the loss of a future draft pick.

In the end, the Nationals were willing to pay the tax (which in this case equates to roughly 75,000) but not to lose a future pick. The final figure they agreed upon with Giolito brought their total spending to roughly 2.5 percent above the cap.

"We thought that the amount of money we spent on this particular pick was a value to us," Rizzo said. "And we felt that we wanted this player in the system. We thought for his value and his upside, this was a good, fair number for both sides."

A top prospect at North Hollywood's Harvard-Westlake School whose fastball reached triple digits, Giolito was at one point projected to go high in the first round of this year's draft. But concerns about his throwing elbow -- he sprained the ulnar collateral ligament -- lowered his draft stock and he fell to the Nationals at No. 16.

Nationals team doctors examined Giolito and came away convinced the elbow was not enough of a concern to detract them from drafting the pitcher. He'll now report to the club's spring training complex in Viera, Fla., and begin a rehab program before team officials decide whether he'll pitch in any minor-league games this season.

"We're going to assess that when he gets down to Florida," Rizzo said. "We do know he's throwing loss-toss. He's throwing off flat ground. His arm strength is good. But he hasn't climbed on a mound and thrown off a mound yet."

With Giolito under contract, the Nationals wound up signing their top 14 picks from this year's draft and 23 of their top 24 picks. (The lone exception: outfielder Brandon Smith, their 15th round pick.)

In the end, Rizzo was most pleased with the Giolito signing.

"He was the coup of our draft," the GM said. "We thought he was a big-time prospect that fell to us at 16. To get a guy that we had so far up the board at 16, and then to get him signed, we feel really good about it."

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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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