Ryan Zimmerman said he's already looking forward to what the Nationals can do in 2016 -- lofty expectations or not -- especially behind newly-minted National League MVP Bryce Harper.
Zimmerman spoke to MLB Network about a variety of topics, including what it's like to face the high expectations his club has faced over the last handful of years and what it takes to live up to them.
"The first four-five years I was here, we were expected to lose 100 games every year," Zimmerman said. "It's way more fun when you're expected to win close to 100 games. That's the beautiful thing about baseball -- the game is not played on paper, and those expectations are made assuming that everyone stays healthy, that people perform to an average season, and that obviously never happens in baseball. That's why [baseball[ is the best -- you play so many games over such a long period of time that you do actually see what team is the best team."
In their quest to become the best next season, the Nationals have an indispensable weapon in Harper, who easily won the NL MVP Award over Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt and Cincinnati's Joey Votto.
"To watch him obviously mature as a baseball player, but mentally, and to see him off the field mature as well -- I don't want to say more impressive because what he's done on the baseball field has been pretty impressive -- but for him to be able to go day to day and do what he did this year and stay healthy and learn the little things it takes to become a superstar player, it's been fun to watch," Zimmerman said.
The spotlight on Harper has not been without controversy, particularly late in the season as the Nationals' disappointing slide was magnified. Much was made of the dugout scuffle between Harper and closer Jonathan Papelbon, but Zimmerman downplayed the argument.
"I don't want to say it's common, but that stuff happens on teams who have good chemistry, it happens a few times a year on teams that have bad chemistry, it happens 10-15 times a year," Zimmerman said. "It just doesn't happen in the dugout to the MVP player in front of 100 cameras. Those guys have talked about it, they've worked it out.
"The best way to explain that is like having brothers in the same room for seven months. Something's going to happen, it's just a matter of who it happens with and where it happens and you hope to kind of be able to hide it. Obviously you can't hide that one. I know Pap and Harp have talked and at the end of the day, all of us want to win."
Certainly the team will have a slightly different feel with some familiar faces departing for free agency and Dusty Baker taking over as manager. Zimmerman said he hasn't spoken to Baker, but has heard all good things about the longtime baseball man.
"Everyone I've talked to doesn't have one bad word to say about the guy," Zimmerman said. "He's kind of become that guy who manages personalities. Obviously he's a great baseball manager and he's done anything and everything you can think of, but I think his big thing is to get that clubhouse together and make it fun, and I can tell you all of us are really looking forward to it."
Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.