By Bryan Frantz

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper’s 2016 season has been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny, and there is substantial reason to believe he was playing through injury throughout.

With the Nationals reporting for Spring Training this week, the media finally got its first chance to talk to the star right fielder again. The news that came out was curious, but it reinforced that theory.

The idea that Harper was hurt all season has come up several times before, though the public has yet to get a clear answer on the issue.

It was reported several times, mostly by respected SI writer Tom Verducci, that Harper was playing the season with an injured shoulder. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo refuted that story time and again throughout the season.

That story was never going to fully go away until both parties (Harper, or his agent Scott Boras, and Rizzo) gave the same answer, either in the affirmative or in the negative. That has not yet happened, and it’s only gotten more clouded since the end of the season.

Bryce Harper’s Struggles Can Be Traced to 2 Pitches

Preceding Harper’s comments were some by Boras earlier this month, when he declared the Nationals star had played through an “issue” in 2016 that caused him discomfort but allowed him to play through the season.

For what it’s worth, Harper’s season wasn’t necessarily a bad season — he hit .243/.373/.441 with 24 home runs and stole a career-high 21 bases while walking 108 times — but compared to his incredible 2015 season that led to a unanimous NL MVP award, it was a significant decline.

The 2017 season should provide some clarity as to what Harper truly is. If he puts up 2015-esque numbers and contends for another MVP award, he’ll not only expect a massive payday, but the theory that he was playing through an injury in 2016 will have some credence.

If he puts up a 2016-esque season, however, the claim made by Harper and Boras might be proven inaccurate, and maybe the consensus on Harper changes for the worse.

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