In February 2018, it was Bryce Harper’s looming free agency, his refusal to discuss it beyond an opening news conference and the start of his seven-month march to the market. In February 2019, Anthony Rendon replaced Harper in the headlines, assured that agent Scott Boras worked for him — not the other way around — and discussed his future in vague platitudes. The Washington Nationals are used to starting spring training beneath the cloud of contract negotiations.

Now batting: Mike Rizzo and Dave Martinez.

It is easy to clump them together because they both head into the year with limited clarity on what lies ahead. But a key difference is that Martinez, the Nationals’ third-year manager, has a club option for 2021, while the general manager’s contract expires at the end of this season. Given Martinez’s option, the Nationals could wait until next offseason to discuss an extension, according to multiple people with knowledge of their thinking. Rizzo’s situation, conversely, has a quickly ticking clock.

When asked about Martinez’s contract in November, Rizzo immediately mentioned the option for 2021. Rizzo added that while it does not preclude the front office and ownership from negotiating now, it does make it so they don’t have to rush through discussions with Martinez. And that could, in theory, bump those discussions to next fall.

“The option adds a layer to the situation for obvious reasons,” Rizzo told The Washington Post in November at baseball’s GM meetings. “You’re sympathetic to someone wanting their future solidified, whoever it is. But also, from a management perspective, you assume that you have that year tacked onto the end of the contract. It doesn’t rule out anything happening this spring, or this season, whenever. It just adds a layer.”

There is precedent for how ownership has handled extensions for Rizzo. The Nationals typically wait a while, as they did in 2016 and then again in 2018, when Rizzo entered the season with an expiring deal and signed his current, two-year contract April 5. Rizzo is making $4 million per year, as reported when that deal was signed two springs ago. Now, having just constructed a World Series-winning roster, his leverage is at an all-time high.

Martinez has that going for him, too, as the manager who brought a title to Washington. But there is next to no precedent for how negotiations will go for him. Since 2005, when the team arrived from Montreal, no Nationals manager has completed three consecutive seasons. The 29 other teams in the majors have had at least one manager do so in the past 15 years. The NFL’s Redskins, remarkably, have had three coaches — Joe Gibbs, Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden — last three consecutive seasons in that time despite less on-field success.

Martinez is in prime position to be the first for the Nationals, figuring that, barring anything untoward, his job is safe for at least another year. The uncertainty rests beyond that. In June 2011, after a win at Nationals Park, Jim Riggleman resigned because the team had not picked up his option for 2012. He told Rizzo that he would not get on the plane to Chicago without assurance. Rizzo couldn’t offer any in the moment. Riggleman then made a buzzing clubhouse both somber and confused.

“I’m 58,” Riggleman told reporters that day. “I’m too old to be disrespected.”

So maybe Martinez, 55, will have a reason to gripe in the coming months. The biggest question of this season hangs above Rizzo’s contract situation. It could be argued that the second-biggest involves Martinez, his club option and when — or even if — the club will pick it up. And while ownership wants to retain both its manager and its GM, and will keep saying so, actions will always speak louder.

Just ask Harper and Rendon.

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